During prayer the men stand and the women remain seated. During the singing the whole congregation remains seated.
The Church takes the religious education of its youth very seriously.
Although she realises that faith is the first of God she nevertheless also realises the truth of St Paul's words" "So then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God." She therefore teaches the Word of God to her youth starting at Sunday School and then continuing in the Boy's Clubs and Young Men's Clubs and Young Women's Clubs.
The main business of these clubs is the study of the Bible, although other subjects like Missionary Literature and so on are also being discussed. All clubs have good libraries.
Then there are the classes held by the Minister, usually divided in about five different groups leading up to the last class from where pupils may apply to be allowed to join the church. Every class meets as a rule for one hour a week.
Although faith in Christ as our Saviour is regarded as sufficient evidence whereupon one may be accepted as a member of the Church, it is usually required from the candidates that a certain knowledge of the Bible and the creeds should have been obtained in accordance with the various intellectual standards of the new members.
Few Churches have a choir, but many churches practice community hymn singing one evening a week.
The Minister is being assisted in the services on a Sunday by one of his deacons who reads the hymns, reads the lesson and makes the announcements. There is in many churches a short prayer meeting immediately preceding the service held in the vestry and only attended by the deacons and the Minister. Immediately following this prayer service the Minister is accompanied to the pulpit by one of his deacons and with a handshake the deacon commits him to the help pf God. At the end of the service the congregation stands in silent prayer while the Minister and his deacons return to the vestry to end the service with a private prayer meeting.
The collections are taken in small bags and not on collection plates. The idea as far as I have always been able to ascertain is to have as much secrecy as possible and not to let the left hand know what the right hand is doing, nor let the right eye see what the left hand of our neighbour is doing.
The collections in Holland are certainly a black spot in the religious life. I have always been surprised at the statement of the amounts of the collections in our Church here, and most certainly any Dutch church would be jealous of such collections. In every service there is a separate collection for the poor and in the big cities a distribution of money is very often made to the poor by the diaconate at the end of each morning service.
Holy Communion is not celebrated as regularly as in our churches here. The reason no doubt being that the deacons regard it as their duty to see everyone who wants to take part in the communion personally, in order to point out the grave danger of partaking in this Holy Sacrament without searching themselves first whether the right relationship exists between God and ourselves. They read the warning of St Paul that we can under certain circumstances eat and drink damnation to ourselves as grave enough to charge themselves with that duty.
I think they sometimes hinder people to take part in the service, but may we judge? It certainly is very inspiring to hear an open invitation like we may hear it in church here and although a searching of our heart will no doubt make us feel guilty of many shortcomings and grave mistakes, is not God's love in Christ always bigger than out shortcomings?
Needless of course to say that there is none of the Roman Catholic doctrines left in the Dutch Reformed Church that the bread is being transformed during the communion service into the body of Christ, or the wine into His blood.
The Church in Holland baptises young children in a baptismal service very much alike to a baptismal service in our Congregational Church. I would say however that although her conception of the baptism is not of an ultra Calvinistic nature, the Church does regard the baptism as "the washing of regeneration" according to St Paul's Epistle to Titus, chapter 3:5.
The Church also regards it as a first sign of God's grace to the baby that it was born into a family, the parents of which care to ask that the baby might be brought into God's covenant and receive the sign and seal thereof.
It has always been a point of much strife and unbrotherly argument in the Church in how far this theory and the whole theory of predestination could be argued out yet or ever will because it is so much a subjectivity and not and objectivity. Our outlook in this all depends upon our relationship to God.
As already said, the churches are governed by the deacons locally, and the deacons are elected for two years only, after which period they can be re-elected again after two years of absence from the diaconate. Unfortunately, the members of the churches were not always willing to undertake their duties towards the church and this has prompted a later much regretted action, namely the action to institute election bodies who did all the election work for the members. They were instituted for a period of ten years and only the death of a member caused a vacancy.
This practice is now however being discontinued as much as possible.
Over and above the local diaconate is the regional Classis which meets once a month. This Classis also sends a church visitor regularly to all churches, who sits for an investiture in the vestry one hour a month to hear complaints from any member who thinks anything has happened in the church which is not in accordance with the Bible or the doctrines.
The regional Classis appoints deputies to the provincial synods held every quarter and they also appoint deputies for the national synod held once a year.
Just a few closing words now about the various lines or directions of thought in the Church.
There are confessionalists, i.e. those members who want to live out of and in accordance with the confession of the Church very strictly.
There are the ethicists, who do not care so much about the confession but who pay much attention to the ethics of their religion and try to show forth their will to live as Christ has set us an example - as they say.
They form what we call in Holland the right hand of the left wing of the Church. To the extreme left stands the modernist, who denies that Christ was God and who does not believe in miracles or in the inspiration of the Bible.
More to the extreme right are the re-formed group of believers who although they accept the Gospel as divine truth never seem to be able to accept it for themselves. They have done much harm to the Church in as much as they have so often been the cause of demonstrations of faith, which have to be given by the Church as a whole, being abandoned.
In my opinion it is a great pity that Dutch Theologians have lent themselves to be wholly and solely devoted to one of these various ways of thinking, instead of trying to bring all groups and thought more closely together.
With the exclusion of the ultra modernists, I think all the other groups can claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit who will, however, lead us in all the truth and not just in one truth.
There is a great desire in the Dutch Church nowadays to bring the various directions of thinking close together and member are recommended to try to speak more to members who think differently to themselves, and try to bring down the barriers which divide brothers. It is called "church members' conversation" and is recommended on a private basis, not in meetings of many members at the same time.
Is there anything the Church in Holland could learn from the Church in England?
I would say "Yes". It seems to me, e.g. that the Church in England is putting more effort in the attempt to influence the world through a more demonstrating personal charm of the individual members towards everybody. In other words one gets the impression that church people in England are a very kind and charming people. I think this charmingness could be taken over by our Dutch church members on no small scale. We are often unapproachable and harsh to the outside and no doubt the circumstances have made us like that to some extent. Mr Ward said in one of his sermons not long ago that the circumstances are influencing the religions of the people and no doubt this is noticeable in Holland. Remember our 80 years of struggle for the freedom of faith and our unending struggle against the water (Holland is for a large part from 10-20 feet below sea-level) and we must constantly be on guard against the water.
The Church in England also can learn something from the churches in Holland. Some time ago I saw on a poster outside a church in Maidstone these words:
"A living conviction is better than a dead certainty."
In my opinion the Church in England wants a little more of the "dead certainty" and she will find that it is not dead but alive, and the ground on which a living conviction will flourish and bear fruit. During January, the same church had as its slogan:
"I will resolves to go to church at least once on a Sunday in 1950,"
but I think that if members knew more of the dead certainty they would be more alive and a resolution to go to church would not be necessary.
In Holland we see a "confessing church," we would like to see added: "a church with living convictions."
England likes to demonstrate a church with living convictions; it should make sure that the only ground on which convictions can live, namely, on sound doctrines, is not neglected.
I feel I have been hopelessly incomplete in this story but I have tried to raise points of interest to you. I want to finish with the prayer that God will pour out more and more of His Sprit into the hearts of our Minister, our Deacons, and us ordinary church members alike so as to lead us all into a better understanding of how we ought to behave ourselves and live in the House of God which is: "The Assembly of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon