At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles. BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles. All cheese-doodling ended in 2010, and there hasn't been any in far too long. Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

ODD AND ETHNIC - DUTCH REFORMED

What do you call one Dutchman? -- A believer.

What do you call two Dutchmen? -- A church.

What do you call three Dutchmen? -- A schism.


The Godol Hador (http://godolhador.blogspot.com/) writes: "There are about 20 ‘major’ world religions currently extant, which are subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many smaller ones too. 34,000 separate Christian groups alone have been identified in the world. Also, if you include all the different religious traditions that ever were, you get about 12,000 faiths. "
[See remainder of his post here: http://godolhador.blogspot.com/ ]


Well, the Godol Hador and his readers have already mentioned Mormonism in many details (including special Mormon undergarments, for illustration of which a zesty picture was provided), but one religion they have not mentioned is Dutch Reformed Christianity. Perhaps because it is goofy.

[Lest you jump all over me for dissin' someone else's belief system, I make haste to mention that unlike you, I am entitled to diss all over Dutch Reformed. From the sixth generation after the black death through the thirteenth generation, ancestors of mine have been Dutch Reformed - seven generations of pissy Protestants, of which five were in the new world. That's on my father's side. On my mother's side it's severe Scots-Irish Presbyterians mixed with even more Dutch Reformed. Even though the last three generations on either side have not been pissy Protestants (being instead rather sceptical of and casual about religion), I've got Dutch Reformed coming out the ears. In part this is also because I lived in the Netherlands (for sixteen years, from my second to my eighteenth year), which, of course, is more or less the great elephant burial ground of Dutch Reformed. So, I'll diss Dutch Reformed all I darn well want.]



I shall not delve into the arcane mysteries of Dutch Reformed belief, primarily because you, the reader, do not really need to know these things.
If you are Jewish, it would be too much information about something you normally think of as avodah zara.
If you are Dutch Reformed yourself, you are probably already twisted as all git-out.
And if you are something else, you would not understand anyway because it is more intense and complicated than anything in your own simple-minded denomination.


I shall instead somewhat superficially describe the chain of events whereby the one became the many, and the many ended up picking fights with each other.


The whole ghastly mess starts with the Frenchman Jean Cauvin (John Calvin, 1509 - 1564), a theology and law student at Paris, whose strident call for reforms in the Church resulted in him fleeing for his life in 1533, eventually ending up in Geneva in 1536. His thought was influenced by much of the theological ferment then current in Europe, including Lutheranism and Anabaptism.

There are also indications that much of his thought was influenced by headaches, gout, indigestion, kidney stones, and rheumatism, and many other aches and pains. This is significant - Calvinism is rigid and unyielding, and very tolerant of pain.

Two of the basic themes that he developed further were Biblical authority (as opposed to Church authority) in matters of the faith, and predestinationism (which more or less means that if you ain't one of the select, it doesn't really matter what you do in your life, you're hosed anyway).


He was a voluminous writer, publishing several volumes of commentary on both the Tanach and the Christian Subsequentia (N.T.).
[Lest you ask, I must add that his Bible commentaries are not comparable to Rashi, Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, Sforno, et al - don't ask.]


Two major ethno-denominational groupings eventually formed that were based on Calvin's thought: Scotch Presbyterianism, and Dutch Reform.
[And both of those ethno-denominational identitities come with "baggage" and "issues". Hmmph.]


At the same time as Calvin was stirring up a mess in the Alps, Netherlandish cities and nobles were getting steamed over Philip the Spaniard's attempts to unify the Netherlands into one coherent legal and administrative system.

The Netherlands which Philip had inherited were a loosely unified mess of conflicting law codes and civic privileges, sporadically called to order by a grand meeting of the States General in Brussels. While all territories were represented in the States General, not all played along with its decisions, and even fewer had any intention of doing so in any consistent manner. Other than in name, their unity lay in resisting Philip and disagreeing with each other.

The Dutch have always been a quarrelsome bunch of stubborn pissants. Which, at that time, was also evident in the various re-interpretations of Christianity gaining currency in the Netherlands - yet another situation that contributed to Philip's ire.


The situation exploded in 1567 when Philip sent the Duke of Alva (may his name be erased!) into the Netherlands to eradicate dissent and destroy heresy. In 1568 Alva had two of the grande seigneurs of the Netherlands, (counts Egmont and Hoorne), executed in the Grande Place in Brussels. Their crime was not disloyalty or treason, but that they had been too permissive of Protestantism, even though they themselves had remained Catholic.

The executions may have been pointless. But they did serve as tinder.


For the next four years, Alva savagely suppressed all dissent, political and religious, throughout the Netherlands, painting a swath of blood and murder across all the provinces. The tide turned in 1572 when the Sea Beggars captured Briel in 1572, gaining a foothold along the coast. Within the next few years the rebellion gained strength and territory, eventually unifying all of the northern provinces. Protestants, who faced certain death in the south, fled north in large numbers, and contributed their skills and their lives to the cause of the rebel republic .


[Among the refugees from the Spanish terror were two ancestors of mine, Willem van Deursen (b. 1542) and his son Peter Jansen van Deursen (b. 1575), who left Brabant and ended up in the city of Haarlem, where in 1607 Abraham Pietersen van Deursen was born (1607 - 1678?), who would subsequently emigrate to New Amsterdam.]


The war between Spain and the Dutch lasted until 1648, by which time Protestantism, in it's rather severe Calvinist form, had become entrenched in the north. Thenceforth Dutch quarrelsomeness would have the perfect medium in which to manifest itself - religion. Not until twentieth century politics would another so perfect vehicle for petty dispute and despicion come along (and how the Dutch enthusiastically jumped on that bandwagon is another story).


Among the first actions that the Calvinists theocrats took was the banning of Catholicism in Protestant cities. Thereafter they started fighting among themselves.

Not only in the Netherlands.

The first Dutch Reformed church in the new world was established in New Amsterdam in 1628 (about six years before my first American-born ancestor, Isaac Abrahamsen van Deursen (b. 1635) saw the light), and the first church was built in 1633 on what is now Pearl Street in Manhattan. The Brits eventually seized the property for military purposes, and a new church was built in 1693 on Exchange Place. By the end of the century Dutch Reformed congregations had arisen all over New York and New Jersey, including areas which are now Hareidi strongholds such as Brooklyn, Flatbush, Hempstead, Monsey, Paramus, etcetera.


By 1792 the Dutch American churches split off from the Dutch churches, at which time they already consisted of various splinter groups on both sides of the Atlantic.


In 1816 Dutch government meddling created even more splinter groups, all disunited in opposition to the official approved Dutch Reformed denomination. In 1822 more seceders split off from the Reformed Church in America to form the True Dutch Reformed Church, while in 1834 dissidents left the Reformed Church in the Netherlands to form two new denominations, the Christelijk Afgescheiden Kerk (Christian Separatist Church - CAK) and the Gereformeerde Kerk onder het kruis (Reformed Church under the cross, aka the Cross Churches).


That's not the end of it. Did I mention that the Dutch are a stubborn bunch of quarrelsome pissants? I really should have.


In 1841 pastor Ledeboer and his group in the Netherlands bailed out and set up shop separately, along with others (forming the Ledeboerian faction). A number of these people headed for the U.S. in 1846 under the leadership of Pastor Albert Van Raalte, becoming the second group of people to immigrate to North America to get away from religious freedom (the Puritans having been the first). They established the settlement of Holland, Michigan (gosh what an imaginative name for a settlement of Dutchmen!). By 1850 they had more or less united with the Reformed Church in America.


Shortly thereafter, a group of dissenters split off from the Second Reformed Church (in Grand Rapids) and the Fourth Reformed Church (in Pella) to form the Christian Reformed Church. The True Dutch Reformed Church joined with the Christian Reformed Church in 1890, forming their own classis within the movement - classis Hackensack. In 1908 most of classis Hackensack withdrew from the Christian Reformed Church in a dispute over the faithful joining civic lodges or fraternal organizations.


Please note that 'Second Christian Reformed' is USUALLY a term for split-offs from the Fourth Christian Reformed church (Pella), which itself is a split-off variant of Dutch Reformed.

Second Christian Reformed should not be confused with Third Christian Reformed or First Christian Reformed, even though most Christian Reformed Churches adhere to the same source documents: The Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort.

Many Christian Reformed Churches, when they still worshipped in Dutch (in some places up until the nineteen-seventies or eighties!) still held to the Psalter of Petrus Datheen (1531 - 1588) (though note that some "Reformed" Churches held instead to the Psalter of Marnix Van St. Aldegonde (Philip van Marnix, lord of St. Aldegonde, 1538 - 1598), and a few deviants had long since switched to either the first or second Statenberijming, which dates from governmental meddling in church affairs starting in 1816 under William I).

Meanwhile, back in the swamp..., errm, I mean the Netherlands, several of the congregations of the Christelijk Afgescheiden Kerk and the Cross Churches combined to form another denomination - the Christelijk Gereformeerde Kerk (Christian Reformed Church, but not the same as the Christian Reformed Church in the American Midwest. In 1886 Doctor Abraham Kuyper and his followers split off from the official Dutch Reformed Church to unite with Christelijk Gereformeerde Kerk.


The Ledeboerian churches in the Netherlands joined with the remaining Cross Churches in 1907, forming a denomination which called itself the Gereformeerde Gemeenten (Reformed Congregations).


The remaining Ledeboerians in America had meanwhile formed the Netherlands Reformed Church in Michigan (in 1877), but, inevitably, there were more schisms to come.


In 1924, Reverend Herman Hoeksema of the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids refused to agree to the teaching of the doctrines of common grace and presumptive regeneration, and left the church with most of his own congregation, plus a congregation in Kalamazoo, and other dissidents. In 1926 they organized the Protestant Reformed Churches. Their unity lasted for less than thirty years, nearly half of the members splitting off in 1954 to form the Orthodox Protestant Reformed Churches - which came in out of the cold in 1961, when they joined up with the Christian Reformed Church in 1961.


During WWII the Dutch showed that unity in hard times is hard - and a new denomination resulted: Gereformeerde Kerk Nederland - Vrijgemaakt (Reformed Church Netherlands - disassociated). By the nineteen fifties, this new denomination was also present in the U.S. and Canada.


Meanwhile, back in the swamp.....

A group seceded from the Gereformeerde Gemeenten (Reformed Congregations) over a doctrinal point that is totally incomprehensible, and became the Gereformeerde Gemeenten in Nederland (Reformed Congregations in the Netherlands). Their American branch is called the Reformed Congregations in North America.


Things have not been static since the nineteen sixties. In fact, far from it - since then the following dissenting North American denominations have been formed: Alliance of Reformed Churches, Christian Presbyterian, Orthodox Christian Reformed, United Reformed. And there are others.


The recent mega-merger in the Netherlands of the Nederlandsch Hervormde Kerk, the Gereformeerde Kerk Nederland, and the Dutch Lutheran Church has of course resulted in even more break-aways.


Well, you know what they say - you can't split rotten wood.




--- - --- - --- - --- - -


Addendum: In some ways, the events described above explain my own spiritual journey. Clearly an inherited propensity toward dissidence has found its end expression in a wholesale rejection of everything connected to the Christian Subsequentia (otherwise known, for some inexplicable reason, as 'New Testament'). But, having in a sustained fit of scepticism chucked out two thousand years of Roman cultic belief, I do not find myself with any greater conviction jumping into another religious derech. Instead I prefer to somewhat cynically, somewhat critically, explore a branch of monotheism that in its origins is close to what my grandparents knew (and paid scant attention to).

One could ask why I don't explore Buddhism or Islam (or other cults).


In what way do either of these speak to the pissant Dutchman within?



Both are foreign, both reject fundaments that are part of the subconscious western intellectual inheritance, fundaments which resonate with truth. Neither expresses the weltanschaung that we cannot know for certain, and may never know for certain. And neither have the same understanding of mercy and personal growth that is part of the tradition of both Rabbinic Judaism and it's crazy cousin Christianity.

Neither Islam nor Buddhism present a road through the same appealing scenery - only in their Hieronymus Boschian vistas do they even look familiar.


I cannot under any circumstances imagine myself EVER reciting the Muslim credo.

The magic syllable 'um', the mantra of which that is a part ("um money podmey um"), and my own lovely navel, will never be the triple nexus of my faith.


But 'Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad' has a ring to it.


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