DUTCH REFORMED CHURCH IN 16TH AND 17TH CENTURIES. STRUCTURE - ORGANIZATION - PROBLEMS
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The Dutch Reformed Church is quite correctly viewed as a unique ecclesiastical entity in the history of Europe. It was organized spontaneously after the Dutch Revolt in 1572 and since the very beginning it fought on a number of fronts. First of all, the Dutch Republic refused to establish the church by law, depriving the Calvinists availability of state pressure to assure conformity of belief and worship, like the other Protestant churches in Sweden, England or Denmark enjoyed. Although the Reformed Church was privileged enough to be the only publicly allowed group with the freedom of worship, it nevertheless had to accommodate to the fact, that freedom of conscience was guaranteed by Dutch law. Secondly, the church was highly decentralized, and only few national synods were called before the end of the 16th century. Thus, its organization and relationship with the authorities differed not only from province to province but also from town to town. Where the regents were sympathetic to its cause, the Protestantization of the society proceeded smoothly. However, when regents were indifferent or hostile to Calvinism it lingered on making little headway. Finally, the young Reformed Church from the very beginning had to deal with a major theological controversy within its ranks. What began like a fight between 'libertine' and 'orthodox' clergy in the 16th century, later went on to an all-out war between the Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants. This conflict was only resolved when the secular authorities moved in, and even then this was done primarily because the theological controversy had spilled over to the world of politics. The fury with which the Counter-Remonstrants annihilated their enemies, was not lost on the Republic's authorities and they never again called another national synod. However, despite all these setbacks, after 1618 the Dutch Reformed Church had more or less established a structure and theology that coupled with its position as the public church of the Republic allowed it to proceed with the 'further Reformation' of the Dutch society. By the end of the 18th century it could claim the allegiance (though never the membership) of the majority of the country's population.
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