Christianity in Holland Today
It is recorded of John Newton that he said: ‘I read the newspaper that I may see how my heavenly Father governs the world.’ Spurgeon said that he read the newspaper to find illustrations for his sermons. In our 21st century it is very revealing to read God’s Word side by side with the newspaper. We see how God’s Word is fulfilled in current developments in society.
Recently, I was struck by a sequence of, in themselves, unrelated events within our government and nation, published in newspapers in the Netherlands. These events give evidence of the glaring reality that we are entering a new period in Western society, an era in which the Christian faith will be marginalized or even opposed. New demands will be placed upon Christians, resulting in challenges our parents did not have to face.
A few weeks ago a private member’s bill was introduced in the Dutch parliament, stating that civil servants when called upon to marry couples, would be obligated to facilitate same gender marriages. There are many faithful civil servants who in duty bound to their consciences and God’s Word cannot officiate at such weddings. They will have to bear the consequence of losing their job.
This bill has been approved for all new employees, but the discussion is still ongoing about existing civil servants. They too, will probably be forced to comply or forfeit their employment. Needless to say, this presents a great dilemma for many faithful civil servants and is a display of the tyranny of the majority. Instead of allowing people to act in agreement with their conscience, the opinion of the majority is forced upon the individual. This violates not only common rules of decency but is also contrary to the principles of democracy, which gives citizens the unmitigated right to free speech and to live according to personal convictions.
Another recent newspaper article reported that the Dutch law against blasphemy has been revoked. Although not officially enforced, this law had been in place for many years. It forbade to take the Name of the Lord in vain. Now, with the weakening of the Christian political parties in the Netherlands, the current secular parliament saw a ‘golden’ opportunity to do away with this vestige of a Christian era.
Recently, new statistics have been published in the national newspapers showing that currently less than one-third of the Dutch population is a member of any given church. Compared to for instance Germany, where two thirds of the population still belongs to a church, the situation in the Netherlands is dismal.
No longer is Holland a Christian nation. In 1970, 60% of the population belonged to a church. In 2010 this figure had dropped to 30%. However, this statistic is still too rosy because 3.4 million church members never visit a church service. Twenty Dutch researchers published an article in the magazine Religie & Samenleving (Religion and Society) showing that currently only 9% of the population frequents a church service on a regular basis. Annually, the Roman Catholic Church loses 100,000 members, while the Protestant Church of the Netherlands loses 50,000 members. This means that daily 137 members leave the major Protestant Church of the Netherlands. On average, every week 2,000 people hand in their church membership papers and every week two church buildings are closed.
Researchers note that the main cause of this decline is an increasing disinterest among young people. The older generation is still actively involved in church life. Their children are still nominal members, while the third generation feels no ties to the church at all and forfeits church membership. Therefore, as the older generation passes on, this trend of declining church membership will only accelerate.
In contrast, the number of Islamic mosques is growing. At present there are 475 mosques in the Netherlands. It can be observed that the process of secularization has not yet entered Muslim circles. The older generation built the mosques but the younger generation of Muslims appears to be more faithful in attending the mosque than their parents.
New Taxation Model
The newspapers report yet another important development. On June 18 of this year a committee ordered by parliament to examine possible simplifications of the Dutch fiscal system presented their final report. They suggest a new model of taxation. One of their recommendations is to annul tax deductions for donations to charities or churches. If this recommendation will actually become law, this will be a major setback to churches and Christian charities. Inevitably, their income will decline and their influence upon society will also be further weakened.
Understanding the Times
When one ponders these developments in society, one is reminded of 1 Chronicles 12:32. The children of Issachar were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do. We also need to be men and women, young people, and even children, who understand the times we are living in. We need to be personally instructed by the Lord. Then we will recognize the ongoing secularization of our society.
We know that similar developments are taking place in Canada. One glaring example is the case which the Loyola Christian School has brought to the Supreme Court of Canada after the verdict of the Quebec Court of Appeal. It ruled that ‘It is reasonable for a government to require a Christian school to set aside its Christian worldview for an hour a day in order to teach about other religions.’ The idea is not to teach other religions from a Christian perspective but to have Christian schools advocate non- Christian beliefs and ethical conduct for one hour per day. The outcome of this hearing will have a huge impact upon the freedom of Christian education in Canada.
Understanding the times also leads us to see the need for a personal Holy Spirit worked faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to be immersed in the Word of God and God’s Word must be our guide in all of life. It is of pivotal importance to learn to love the Word of God. That will only be the case when we have personally learned to love the Lord.
Have we been uncovered to our sins and depravity? Have we found peace in the blood of Jesus? Have we learned to deny ourselves, to walk in humble surrender to the Lord? We live in a time when it may become necessary to sacrifice more to support a Christian witness in the world. Are we prepared to give our all, even our lives, for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ and his kingdom?
Churches Benefit Society
At the same time there are also rich opportunities in our society for the church of Christ. Surprisingly, even the Dutch government recognizes the positive influence of churches upon the social fabric of society. Churches participate in food banks, provide social and psychological help and offer counselling services that have a clear benefit on society as a whole.
This is noted in a newspaper article of June 19. It pertains to a growing church in a suburb of Amsterdam, the Bijlmermeer, where many foreigners and third world immigrants live. Some years ago this ‘concrete jungle’ of high rise buildings was doomed to become a hotbed of prostitution, drugs and crime. Among these immigrants, where many hail from Africa, one hundred and fifty churches have sprung up, bringing the total church attendees to more than 10,000, just in that one suburb.
These churches reach out to the neighbourhood and work especially among drug addicts and those who have social, marital or economic needs. The Chief Constable of the Amsterdam police force calls these churches ‘little pearls of society’: When there are drug problems, fights among neighbours or domestic violence, the police inform local pastors who come and minister to these people in need. The Dutch government has calculated that the net monetary value of the social and spiritual relief work of these churches amounts to about three billion Euros per year. This is money the authorities would otherwise have to spend to provide adequate assistance and safety. The Amsterdam police force states that without the participation and presence of the churches in the Bijlmermeer, an explosion of violence would erupt in this neighbourhood.
The Early Christian Church
This reminds us of the position of the early Christian church. In those days Christians also lived in a hostile environment and were well known for their social compassion and love towards one another. In 147 A.D. the Athenian philosopher Aristides testified of the Christians in an official report to the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (86-161):
They love each other, a widow is not forsaken and an orphan they do not reject. Those who have, support those who have not, and they do this without any grudges. When they see a Christian stranger, they bring him inside their home and rejoice over him as a brother. When one of them sees another of them die who is very poor, then this brother shall see to it that the dead brother receives a proper funeral. When they hear that one of them is taken prisoner, they visit that brother and seek to secure his release. If one of them is poor and does not have enough to eat, then they fast 2 or 3 days in order be able to supply in the needs of the poor.
They are prepared to give their lives for Christ, for they keep his commandments meticulously and they live justly and piously, as the Lord God commanded them. They thank and praise the Lord every morning and at every hour of the day, also when they receive food and drink and other good things . . . Thus, Caesar, are the laws of the Christians and such are their customs.
The Church’s Witness Today
Increasingly, our society is starting to resemble the pagan society that dominated the first centuries of the Christian church. As in that time, Christian churches today should be known for their love to one another and their compassion and care for those in great need. This would be a profound witness in our society.
In our days of prosperity and affluence the words of Christ are still current: ‘For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul’ (Matt. 16:26). Let us discern the signs of the times and be men and women, young people and children who read the newspaper side by side with the Bible. Let us realize that days are coming when God’s people will be hated by all nations (Matt. 24:9). With the Lord there is strength to stand firm and to be faithful and dedicated to him as a people who by his grace are a light in the darkness of this world.
Rev. Gerald Procee served the Hamilton Free Reformed Church in Canada from 1989 to 2011, and currently serves the congregation of Middelharnis, the Netherlands.
This article was published in The Messenger, November 2013, and is reprinted with permission.
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