LESSON 2: THE REFORMATION IN THE NETHERLANDS
BIBLE READING: 2 Peter 1:15–21
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The 95 theses of Luther were known throughout Germany within 4 weeks. They were also known in surrounding countries. The books of Luther were published in Basel, Switzerland and in Antwerp, the Netherlands. These books were shipped to various other countries. Tradesmen would bring the books of Luther along on their business trips.
Monks from various monasteries would be the first ones to read these books. In this way the idea’s of Luther and his new views on Scripture entered the minds of the clergy. These books were quickly forbidden by the Roman Catholic Church. However people continued to read them. Some monks were put to death for agreeing to the criticisms of Luther against the Roman Catholic doctrines.
THE REFORMERS’ WRITINGS ENTER HOLLAND
Books written by Luther were sold as early as 1518 in the city of Antwerp. The monks of a monastery in Antwerp agreed completely with the ideas of Luther. The result was that the government disbanded the monastery and the monks were taken prisoner or fled to Germany. Two monks, called Hendrik Voes and Jan van Essen were burnt to death on the city square of Brussels. While they were in the flames they sang:
“O God, we praise Thee, we acknowledge Thee as Lord.
Eternal Father, Thou art everywhere adored.
The cherubim and seraphim their homage show Thee:
O Thou Lord God of hosts art holy, holy, holy!
Both heaven and earth are filled with Thy majestic splendour
To Thee all angels loud and ceaseless praises render.”
The writings of Luther had great influence among the clergy of the Netherlands. However Luther also promoted submission to the government. The government of Holland was very anti-protestant. Luther’s position on submission hindered the forming of a Protestant Lutheran church in the Netherlands. Eventually, not the German reformers, but the Swiss reformers had greater influence on the developments in the Netherlands. Heinrich Bullinger from Zurich and John Calvin of Geneva were the two reformers who heavily influenced the reformed cause in the Netherlands.
Especially Calvin had great influence in the Netherlands, through the theological academy which he had instituted in Geneva. Men from various parts of Europe studied there, and also various Dutch students attended Calvin’s academy. The result was that these young men brought Calvin’s ideas home to the Netherlands. Calvin also supported the institution of churches even against the will of the government. Thus, in spite of the opposition of the Roman Catholic king, the church in the Netherlands was formed according to the reformed principles taught by Calvin.
WAR WITH SPAIN
In the 16th century the Netherlands was under the dominion of the Roman Catholic king of Spain. He was very much in favour of the Roman Catholic religion. He hated the Protestants. The Dutch population started to revolt against the king of Spain, Phillips II. The Spanish king sent soldiers to Holland to subdue the country. The Roman Catholic inquisition tortured and killed thousands of people. Some think that about 20 to 30 thousand people were killed because of their faith.
Ministers would preach in the open air since they were not permitted to assemble in churches. Thousands of people would flock to such worship services. The government did nothing against this open air preaching. The result was that the reformed leaders became bolder and requested the government’s permission to make use of church buildings.
However the common people were no longer patient with the Roman Catholic Church. Around 1566, in many places in Holland, people invaded the church buildings and smashed all the statues. The reformed ministers did not condone this. The result was that the Spanish king was furious and sent an expedition army to Holland to crush the reformation and to re-establish the Roman Catholic Church.
Then the War of Independence broke out which lasted from 1568 – 1648. In the first years of this war many Dutch cities declared that they would resist the king of Spain. The Dutch provinces joined forces and fought against the Spanish soldiers.
The Dutch people received help from a German called William of Orange. He was born in 1533 in his ancestral castle in Dillenburg, Western Germany. Through inheritance he became the ruler of a certain part of Southern France called Orange. Therefore he was called William of Orange. He also inherited the jurisdiction over certain parts of the Netherlands. He was very much opposed to the tyrannical policy of king Phillips II of Spain towards Holland. William joined the Reformed side and at his own expense raised an army that could fight against the Spanish troops. He became the leader of the Dutch War of Independence. He was assassinated in 1584. His sons succeeded him. The present queen of the Netherlands is a descendant of this William of Orange.
By God’s grace the Reformed side won and slowly but gradually the Netherlands became an independent nation which officially adhered to Reformed Protestantism. The Reformed Church became the official state church in the Netherlands.
THE BELGIC CONFESSION
Confessions were written to summarize the beliefs of the church. We still adhere to these confessions. We can mention the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism.
The Confession of Faith was composed in 1559 and published in 1561 by Guido de Bres, a Flemish minister, who died as martyr in 1567. In view of the severe persecutions of the enemies of the Gospel, this confession was intended, to be an open testimony of what the Reformed Churches really believed. It was presented to King Phillips II of Spain, who at that time was also the ruler over Holland and Belgium. Philip II persecuted the Reformed people cruelly and by means of this testimony the Reformed Church tried to persuade the king to stop the persecutions.
In 1571 the first synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands already adopted it as a doctrinal standard.
The Belgic Confession deals with:
- God, Scripture, Trinity, in articles 1-11.
- Man and creation, sin, election in 12-17.
- The Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour in 18-21.
- Salvation in 22-26.
- Church and sacraments, office bearers in 27-35.
- Government and last judgment in 36-37.
THE HEIDELBERG CATECHISM
The Heidelberg Catechism originated in Heidelberg, a city in southern Germany. It was composed by Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus, who were commissioned by the pious Prince Frederik III, who ruled over that part of Germany called the Palatinate. This god-fearing ruler requested the two theologians to write a manual for instruction in the Christian doctrine. It made its first appearance in the beginning of the year 1563. A few years later, in 1566, Peter Dathenus, a Flemish minister, published a rhymed version of the psalms for public worship in the Churches of the Netherlands, with the addition of three liturgical forms, a few prayers, and also a translation of the Heidelberg Catechism. From the beginning the Heidelberg Catechism was very highly valued, and was adopted by various synods to serve as a doctrinal standard for the instruction of the youth.
The Heidelberg Catechism has been translated into many languages and is being used in different countries up to this present day. Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, South Africa and other countries in Africa and in Asia can be mentioned.
The theme of the Heidelberg Catechism is “the only Comfort in life and death”. After the introduction in Lord’s Day 1, it can be divided into three parts:
- Lords Days 2-4 deal with the knowledge of sin and guilt
- Lords Days 5-31 deal with the knowledge of deliverance and grace
- Lords Days 32-52 deal with the life of gratitude.
- How were the disciples enabled to be witnesses of Christ?
- To which events is Peter referring in verse 16?
- Why must the church show the light of God’s Word by confessions?
- How is God’s sovereignty displayed in a reformation?
- In what way are we very privileged above many around us?
* This Bible Study was produced by the Youth & Education Committee of the Free Reformed Churches,1997, under the title, “Church History.” It is aimed at a Senior Young Peoples level.
Click on the tag “Bible Study: Free Reformed Church History” below for more lessons in this study