Which Way for Dutch Churchgoers?
BY “AWAKE!” CORRESPONDENT IN THE NETHERLANDS
THESE are disturbing times for many churchgoers in the Netherlands. For several years now a growing number of them have become deeply troubled by what they see going on in their churches.
That they do not like what they see can be noted by the fact that church attendance is dropping. In the Roman Catholic Church, weekend attendance has decreased from 64 percent in 1966 to 45 percent in 1970.
Protestant churches are in much the same condition. The largest is the Dutch Reformed Church. In Amsterdam, that Church’s attendance dropped from 47,000 to 37,000 in the ten years ending 1970, a decrease of 21 percent.
The despair has also infected the ranks of the clergy. In all of the Catholic dioceses in the Netherlands, only four priests were ordained in a recent year! But 95 died and 95 others quit in that same year! Also, during 1970 a total of 243 priests of all orders and 156 friars left their offices.
Hostile Attitude Grows
Some churchgoers have built up great hostility toward their churches. One Roman Catholic man was so irritated that he told an interviewer: “Everything that goes on in the Catholic Church is blasphemous. How dare they still keep the church doors open?”
As a matter of fact, church doors are not kept open as much as before. They used to be kept open day and night, but for the past few years many of them have been kept open only during services. This is because thievery of church articles is rampant.
A priest in Roermond, Netherlands, has nailed down or screwed down the most valuable articles in his church. A sightseer who was visiting a church in the same city, while admiring valuable objects displayed in a showcase, was cautioned by a curate: “Do not come too close so as to touch those wires. They are highly charged with electricity.”
Chaplain A. van Can from the same city says: “More and more often it happens that there in the confessional someone just sits down to shed excrement.” He also noted that “some even urinate in the holy water font.”
How can such indecency in an area so predominately Roman Catholic be explained? The clergyman said: “Nobody knows. In these Catholic areas the church was something holy in earlier days. But now for large groups this is gone. Suddenly the church has no meaning for them anymore.”
Why is all this happening? What is causing so many churchgoers, even clergymen, to be so disgusted with their churches?
Some of the Reasons
One reason for the problems in the Catholic Church is that the Dutch Church is at odds with the Vatican. The Dutch Church has continued to press for change, for ‘renovation.’ But the Vatican has fought to stem the tide and has made counter-moves. One such was the appointment of a very conservative bishop to the influential Rotterdam diocese. This was contrary to what most of the churchgoers there expected or wished.
On the other hand, some people express bitterness at the changes others want. They see that the Dutch Church has dropped certain teachings or practices that only a few years ago were considered most holy. They wonder if they were fooled originally, and whether they are being fooled now.
Another matter that is causing much irritation is the attitude of many clergymen toward sexual morals. An example is their attitude toward homosexuality. There are an estimated 650,000 homosexuals in the Netherlands, about 5 percent of the entire population. Some of the clergy find it popular to be tolerant toward homosexuality.
Two clergymen who are themselves homosexuals recently wrote a book entitled “We Too Are Homosexuals” in which they tried to justify their immoral course. Their stated purpose was to write a book for “Christian homosexuals.”
In November 1971 a forum consisting of spokesmen for various religious groups discussed a proposal made to a high religious official. The proposal was to allow private religious celebrations of homosexual ‘marriages.’ In the discussion it was suggested that it would be appropriate “that the [homosexual] partners affirm the given pledge of faithfulness before the presence of God during the celebration and that the priest would implore God’s blessing.”
The forum included “Father” J. B. F. Gottschalk and “Reverend” A. Klamer, a well-known radio pastor. The “high religious official” was none other than Bernard Cardinal Alfrink, who reacted favorably to the suggestion. Many sincere churchgoers are extremely disturbed about this tolerance toward homosexuality. It has caused great confusion in their minds.
In addition, people do not feel that they are getting proper religious guidance. This is often due to the ‘modernism’ that has gained such force in the Catholic Church’s teachings and practices. Church services now include addresses by politicians, entertainers and homosexuals. Often there is music from a ‘beat’ or ‘rock’ band, which distresses many, especially older persons.
A churchgoer in Amsterdam expressed his indignation as follows: “These gals in hot pants on and about the altar on Sundays, by way of example, have been a source of annoyance to us for a long time; the use of sex and drugs in the parish café under the church as well. After a police raid there, it was announced from the pulpit that the officers had merely walked in to ask directions. Also, when one parent lodged a complaint that one’s child had not come home for three days, then you got to hear this from the priest: ‘Jesus too used to go on three-day sprees and he would always show up again.’”
The Basic Cause
Why is there such confusion in the Dutch churches? Why are clergymen arguing and contradicting one another? Why are they teaching things that seem so unreasonable to many people?
The basic cause is that the churches and their clergymen are more and more pushing aside the only source of sound Christian doctrine. That sound doctrine is found in the inspired Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. As 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 says: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”
Christianity is based on those Holy Scriptures. However, when the Bible is watered down, contradicted or abandoned, then there has to be trouble in the ranks of those professing to be Christians. You cannot undermine the very foundation of Christianity without causing upheavals, because the Holy Scriptures are the basis for keeping Christian unity.
One way the clergy abandon and contradict the Bible is in their condoning or excusing homosexuality. For instance, in the previously mentioned forum, priest Gottschalk stated that the wrongdoing of the inhabitants of ancient Sodom was not their homosexual acts. Instead, he claimed that their wrongdoing had to do with “the fact that the law of hospitality was sinned against.” He also said in an interview with Elseviers magazine: “Homosexuality as a constitutional disposition lies completely outside the perspective of the Bible.”
But that is not the truth. It is a direct contradiction of God’s own written Word on the matter. For example, Jude 7, written by a disciple of Jesus Christ, says, according to the Catholic Douay version of the Bible: “Sodom and Gomorrha, and the neighbouring cities, in like manner, having given themselves to fornication and going after other flesh, were made an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire.”
What “other flesh” did they go after? Genesis chapter 19, verses 4 and 5 states: “Before they could lie down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, surrounded the house, from boy to old man, all the people in one mob. And they kept calling out to Lot and saying to him: ‘Where are the men who came in to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have intercourse with them.’” Without question, then, these were men who wanted to commit homosexual acts. God annihilated the city because of these homosexuals.
Likewise the apostle Paul said of such sexual perversion: “The males left the natural use of the female and became violently inflamed in their lust toward one another, males with males, working what is obscene.” God’s Word says that those who do such vile things are “deserving of death.” It also notes that persons who “consent with those practicing” homosexuality are persons who have “exchanged the truth of God for the lie.”—Rom. 1:24-32. See also 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Leviticus 18:22, 29.
In spite of the Bible’s very clear statements on this matter, the New Catechism, published in 1966 at the urging of the bishops of the Netherlands, states: “That the Holy Scriptures express themselves very severely as to genital homosexual contact must not be erroneously understood. They do not do this to denounce the fact that some people experience this aberration within themselves not due to some fault of their own.”
This weak, indulgent and Scripturally wrong attitude toward homosexuality is due directly to the critical attitude so many clergymen have toward the Bible. They have an exaggerated opinion of their own ideas, ideas which often clash, head on, with God.
Another example of this is the claim by many clergymen that the Bible contains myths. A parish priest in the Catholic province of Noord Brabant told a dentist’s widow and also one of Jehovah’s witnesses that as far as he was concerned Jesus was not the Son of God and that he had not been born of a virgin. The priest also said that if he (the clergyman) had been born in Thailand he very likely would have become a Buddhist priest instead of a Roman Catholic priest because that religion was also something good. He stated that, while Jesus Christ was tied in with Western culture, in other cultures there were other roads leading to salvation. He said he did not agree with Jesus’ statement in John 14:6: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Clergymen in the Dutch Reformed Church have been guilty of the same watering down of God’s Word. This is recognized even by some clergymen of that religion. Recently several of its theologians sent an open letter to members of the church calling attention to the crisis in the church. They noted that “in many cases the preaching gives preference to doubts above certainty, to discussion above doctrine, to human opinion above the testimony of the Holy Scriptures.”
With such belittling, watering down and contradicting of God’s Word by church leaders, is it any wonder that many Dutch churchgoers are confused and bitter? As one of them said of the clergy: “If the shepherds are such, what are we sheep to do?” He answered his question by declaring: “Well, we will just go our own way!”
Going Their Own Way
The number of dissatisfied ones going their own way keeps increasing. Some choose to conduct their own church services in buildings closed down by the official Church.
In other places some have formed the so-called “interparishes” or the “Church-within-the-official-Church.” These people do not agree with the many changes in the Dutch Catholic Church and want to keep things the way they used to be, so they want churches and priests and a bishop of their own.
Others who live near the border of Germany attend churches there because they approve their services more. Then there is a segment of ‘progressive’ priests who call themselves the “Septuagint Group.” They want to set out on their own course and break with the official Roman Catholic Church. Then, too, there are the growing multitudes who simply abandon all religion.
However, an increasing number of persons have come in contact with Jehovah’s witnesses. Either by the home visits Jehovah’s witnesses make, or because these persons have friends or relatives who are Witnesses, they learn of the free home Bible study arrangement offered by Jehovah’s witnesses and take advantage of it. In this way they search their own Bibles for answers to the reasons for the present crisis in religion, and what God’s solution is. They get to see that many controversial matters within the church systems are easily cleared up by adhering to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures.
At present, there are in the Netherlands about 10,000 individuals and families who are having such home Bible discussions. These sincere former churchgoers are finding out what the Bible really says about religion that pleases God. And they are also learning about God’s grand promises to bring an end to wickedness soon and to replace this corrupt system of things with a new order. In that new order, they learn, righteously disposed persons will have the opportunity of living forever.—2 Pet. 3:13.