Luther's Reformation found support in the Low Countries (Belgium and the Netherlands) as early as the 1520s, but Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor (and king of Spain), moved quickly to suppress it. Following the Diet of Worms, he imposed a death penalty on Lutheran supporters in his domains; the first executions occurred in 1523. Persecution did not, however, stop the appearance of the New Testament in Dutch in 1522. While Lutheranism was successfully repressed, Anabaptism grew, and beginning in the 1540s, the Reformed Church began to win support. The Belgic Confession of 1561, produced by Geneva-trained minister Guy de Brès, was accepted by a Dutch Reformed synod in 1566.
   The emergence of strong support for the Reformed cause was one factor in the decision of Phillip ii of Spain to send an army under the duke of Alva to enforce the anti-Reformation laws in 1567. Some 7,000 people were tried and executed. The disruption of normal life left the country in economic ruin. At this point, William of Nassau, prince of Orange (1533 - 84), emerged as leader of the anti-Spanish forces, and the Protestant cause in the Netherlands became identified with the drive to throw off Spanish rule. in 1581, the seven northern provinces declared their independence and the modern state of the Netherlands came into being. The Netherlands Reformed Church emerged as a unifying force in the new country.
   Anabaptism had persisted in the Netherlands as well, despite a brief backlash following the disastrous communal experiment in Münster, which had been led by two Dutchmen, Jan Matthsy of Haarlem and Jan Beuckelsz. Menno Simons (1596 - 61) rescued the cause with his reformulation of Anabaptist principles, first publicized in the Book of Fundamentals in 1539 and refined in the next decade. His movement evolved into the Mennonite Church. The persistence of the Men-nonites as a nonestablished church helped make the Netherlands the most tolerant country in Europe over the next centuries.
   A significant minority in the new state remained loyal to Catholicism. Over the next generation, efforts were made with a great deal of success to bring them into the Reformed camp. At the same time, a rift appeared in the Netherlands Reformed Church. Jacob Arminius (1660-1709) developed a form of Calvinism that downplayed predestination in favor of an emphasis on the free response of the individual to God's grace. His successor, Johan Wtenbogaerdt (1577-1644), was responsible for the Remonstrance (1610), the document that defined Arminianism.
   in response, the Reformed Church, with support from Reformed leaders in other countries, held the Synod of Dort in 1618-19. The synod denounced the Remonstrants, promulgated the Heidelburg Catechism as the standard of faith, and reaffirmed the doctrine of predestination. The Remonstrants were able to return after a short period of exile, as Frederick Henry of Orange (r. 1625-47) opposed enforced uniformity The new level of tolerance allowed the Remonstrants the opportunity to establish a seminary at Amsterdam and to open churches.
   The Reformed Church, with state backing, remained the dominant religious force until 1795, when a French revolutionary army conquered the country and declared a separation of church and state. The Reformed Church never regained its privileged position. Though still the largest ecclesiastical body, when local rule returned with the fall of Napoleon, the Reformed Church faced a series of schisms in the 19th and 20th centuries that led to a multitude of dissenting denominations, some protesting the liberalization of the church and others declaring that it had not gone far enough. They included the Christian Reformed Church in the Netherlands (1869), the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (1892), and almost a dozen smaller groups.
   The Reformed Church in the Netherlands was taken by Dutch immigrants to such places as the United States, South Africa, and the various Dutch colonies. indonesian converts to the Reformed faith migrated to the Netherlands in the 20th century and formed several Moluccan Reformed churches.
   The Reformed Church became active in the Ecumenical movement in the early 20th century and was a charter member of the World Council of Churches (WCC); it was also active in the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. The first general secretary of the WCC, W. A. Vissert Hooft, was of Dutch Reformed heritage.
   The small Lutheran contingent in the Netherlands was granted toleration in 1600. In 1633, they were able to purchase a building in Amsterdam. An association of congregations formed in 1605 evolved into the present Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
   The country's relative religious tolerance made it a refuge for various foreign dissenting groups such as the British pilgrims, who later settled at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620, and the Moravian Church, which settled permanently in the mid- 1700s. in the 20th century, as support for the Netherlands Reformed Church waned, a host of other Protestant groups emerged, among the more important being the Salvation Army and the exclusive Plymouth Brethren.
   The Netherlands Reformed Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Netherlands, and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands are in discussions to form a united Protestant Church, to include some 2.7 million adherents. The churches are members of the Leuenberg Church Fellowship, designed to foster Lutheran/Reformed unity. In the meantime, the Roman Catholic Church, with almost 5.5 million members, has emerged as the largest church in the country, accounting for half the Christian community.
   Further reading:
   ■ Jean-Jacques Bauswein and Lukas Vischer, eds., The Reformed Family Worldwide: A Survey of Reformed Churches, Theological Schools, and International Organizations (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1999)
   ■ Maurice G. Hansen, The Reformed Church in the Netherlands (New York: Board of Publication of the Reformed Church in America, 1884)
   ■ George Harinck and Hans Krabben-dam, eds., Breaches and Bridges: Reformed Subcultures in the Netherlands, Germany, and the United States (Amsterdam: Vu University Press, 2000)
   ■ E. G. Hoekstra and M. H. Ipenburg, Wegwijs in religieus en levensbeschouwelijk Nederland. Handboek religies, kerken, stromingen en organisaties (Kampen: Uitgev-erij Kok, 2000).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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