It would appear that, once you reject the fruits of the Liberation and discard the way of ongoing reformation, you end up heading back towards Roman Catholicism. That is the message one can glean from developments in former Dutch sister-churches, the GKv, as some of its organisations—the influential daily newspaper Nederlands Dagblad (ND), the reformed schools’ association LVGS, and even its political association GPV—no longer distance themselves from Roman Catholic influences, as is shown in the following article by D J Bolt.
A fatter newspaper
It’s the same ritual every morning: getting up of course, having breakfast, reading the Bible and the newspaper, that is: Nederlands Dagblad. We’re reading it digitally, on both sides of the table. Being pensioners we have plenty of time for that – many think.
We exchange ‘just listen to this!’ or ‘did you notice that?’ and participate in a competition to see which of us first reaches the last page of the self-appointed ‘quality` newspaper of ‘christian Netherlands’.
And that is not easy. Because in terms of pages the morning paper has the size of a packed magazine. And you don’t want to waste the whole morning with it as there are more important things to do. But by now we’re able to read fairly ‘diagonally’ and ‘head-hunting’ – although Mr P. Jongeling, the founding father of the newspaper, would not approve of that; though nowadays he wouldn’t mind it so much anymore, we think, perhaps even recommend it.
Towards the end of last year the ND’s Saturday papers suddenly turned out to be pregnant, growing to a fat size: eighty pages …!
Looking at one of these fat headlines, editor-in-chief Kuijper himself wondered in feigned surprise: Why is this newspaper so thick? (26-09-20). He knew the answer, of course, and explained the birth of the added parts.
The newspaper had been expanded with no less than four sections. Why? Well, the foreman said, now you no longer have to go to the newsagency to buy an extra newspaper, which allows you to get through your weekend in contented reading.
And, as he boasted …
‘The weekend paper is a generous refreshment-bar, and not every reader will take something from every plate and eat every dish. It will take you a while to discover your favourites, while at the same time we try to serve everything so well that after the first reading on Saturday morning you will take a second, third and fourth course until late Sunday evening.’
Yes, that’s how we will get through the weekend without getting bored! With a Saturday edition as well as a Sunday newspaper! Forty to sixty relaxing pages after the morning church service, and following the afternoon service (do ND subscribers actually still have them?) what’s left, all the way to page eighty! A nice conclusion to ‘the day of the Lord’ and a fitting preparation for a new working week, is it not?
The question is, of course, what that ’generous refreshment-bar’ presents if we have to feed a large part of our hungry and thirsty souls with it on the Day of Rest. It makes quite a difference whether we can keep our mind busy with nutritious reading material, or there’s actually no more in it than the equivalent of unhealthy Big Macs and Burger King Whoppers.
Let’s adopt a more serious tone, and ask ourselves what exactly is the identity of the ND? What does the newspaper actually stand for? We find it quite difficult to work out, and over time also feel more and more uneasy about it.
On its front page the ND claims to be ’CHRISTIAN INVOLVED’. What exactly does that mean? What impact does that have on the information and articles it provides? How does it select, assess and value the news that sweeps over us every day as ‘a raging stream that no one can stop’? What are its starting points and what goals are being pursued? What requirements does it impose on contributors with regard to their faith and life, convictions and conduct?
Roman Catholic relations
A few observations.
Not long ago the ND entered into a form of cooperation with two Roman Catholic newspapers: the French La Croix and the Italian Avvenire. According to the ND the parties recognized each other’s identities as ‘being a godly newspaper at the heart of society’. Articles can be exchanged back and forth. And that is now happening. But not only with these more or less spiritually oriented newspapers, but an alliance has also been made with the ideologically left-wing Volkskrant. Judging by the tiny VK tag in their heading, articles are being taken over very regularly. What does that do to the identity of the magazine? We wonder.
Staffing with editors and other employees also gives rise to questions of identity. In the meantime, several articles from Roman Catholic editors and prominent figures, such as the RC editor-in-chief Anton de Wit of the Catholic Newspaper, appear almost daily. Bishop Gerard de Kortefrom Den Bosch diocese, is allowed to regularly explain and showcase the rich Roman Catholic way of life. Also, no edition is published without several articles by Roman Catholic Hendro Munsterman, ‘theologian of the year 2015’. Columnists of all kinds of positions and convictions – ranging from conservative Bart Jan Spruyt (Hersteld Hervormde Kerk) to the orthodox Jewish rabbi Lody van de Kamp – have a permanent place.
Just how broad would you like to have it! Oh yes, there’s still no Muslim in the team, which to us seems to be just a matter of time.
But how does all this colour the newspaper?
Popular opinions about the liberated-reformed world from which the newspaper originates assert that it was a tower of strength, a community with hermetically closed windows to ‘the world’. But that is now a thing of the past. Windows now stand so wide open that they no longer fit in their frames. Because the ND wants to stand central in the world.
A typical example: Reformed people have always been wary of Hollywood with its cinema outlets. It was considered a rotten world that violated almost every biblical norm, to be avoided at all cost. But the ND wallows uncritically in that culture almost every week. Totally normless movies are positively commented on and recommended.
The ND (18-12-20) reviews Promising Young Woman. Offensive scenes are commonplace: excess of (sexual) violence, stone drunkenness, getting (someone) into bed, rape, revenge. And what is the ‘CHRISTIAN INVOLVED’ assessment? …
‘…. although God is completely absent from the film, it does make one wonder that the sketched universe is so morally charged. Maybe you do not need God to think about themes such as right and wrong, perpetrator and victim, revenge and forgiveness, but for those who want to – from whatever background – this film provides a cutting exploration of the field.’
There it is, complete with tightly composed pictures stimulating the mind, everyone from age twelve can enjoy themselves for almost two hours.
From 12 years old! It makes one wonder what they’re up to! By the way, could this have something to do with the ND’s leading article (22-01-21) that started this article?
At this stage we’ll defer our judgment on the newspaper’s dealings with TV and radio programs. Similar observations can also be made there.
A shameless mission
How does all this harmonise with the suggested (christian) identity of the medium? Is it by definition not impossible to realise a distinct ‘Christian involvement’ and ‘mission’ in this manner? A mission which the magazine braggingly presents as its desire to inform the world …
‘from a recognizable christian identity and at a high journalistic level about society, on what faith has to say in this matter and about christianity worldwide. This is how the newspaper helps and stimulates its readers to stand confidently in the midst of that society.’
The paper regards this as its self-defined mandate to provide ‘reflection and insight’. Because there is …
‘a need for trust and wisdom, for hope and neighbourly love. In short, for exactly those elements that faith provides’.
This is, as the newspaper formulates it, what it will deliver without shame. And, note well, in doing so it does not want to be tied down by anything: ‘not by any specific church, direction or institution. Thus autonomous!
‘We don’t have to give account to any pastor, politician or leader. We know what faith can provide to the world and we see that this is needed more than ever before. And if it comes to accountability we know where we to have to go.’
It’s all very brave. But at this stage the question does arise as to what the basis and content of that ’faith’ are? What is the foundation of each of these precious elements, ranging from ‘trust’ to ‘love for the neighbour’?
It is remarkable that throughout this ND mission / commission story no reference can be found to God, Christ Jesus and the Scriptures, let alone to the confessions. Is, after all, the newspaper with ‘quality first’ in its banner, not floating around on nice feelings which you can share even with a ‘left-wing’ Volkskrant?
No one can fail to notice that these days there is a strong movement towards ecclesiastical unity. Ecumenism is in. And this seems to be possible as well, partly encouraged by the erosion of churches. As an example, the unification of GKv and NGK is in full swing, and should be fully completed within a few years.
But we are receiving signals that many consider this to be just an intermediate step. The relationships between these churches in the large Protestant Church of the Netherlands (PKN) are growing in strength and intensity.[i] Earlier on we noted that the PKN is welcoming the reformed ‘little ones’ with outstretched arms. Joint church services are held in various places as it suits.
But we think that the current ecumenical pursuit goes much further, which takes us back to the ND and its passion. For we have the strong impression that for this magazine unity with the PKN is not an end goal but just a (possible) intermediate station. The shining perspective is Mother Church Rome! We already mentioned that alliances had been forged between the ND and foreign Roman Catholic magazines. And that in the ND itself countless articles are published by authors from the Roman Catholic world. Roman Catholic doctrine and practice are extensively explained and put in a positive light. Criticism on the basis of the reformed doctrine and confession is hardly or not at all noticeable.
The question is unavoidable: is unification with the world church of Rome the dot on the horizon that forms the main (major) element in the mission of the ND?
In the ND of January 22, 2021, Roman Catholic bishop De Korte cheers the ecumenical work of the late cardinal Willebrands. His church is ‘past the mistrust of other christians’, he claims, and goes on: they are ‘not heretics but brothers and sisters’. Together with René de Reuver, secretary of the PKN, De Korte wrote the booklet Houvast (Hold on!) as an encouragement in corona times. It is a ‘fruit of the ecumenical movement’. De Korte wants to ‘keep the fire burning, not only by praying and celebrating together, but also by learning and serving together’! It fits seamlessly with the ‘mission’, ‘the story and activity’ of the ND.
Tendencies similar to those in the ND can also be observed in magazine Onderweg, the magazine of GKv and NGK.
Here is an example. Onderweg of January 9, 2021 is dedicated to the theme: Living a life of holiness. Here, pastor Louis Runhaar of the Old-Catholic parish in Amersfoort is provided with an extended and uncontested platform. Originally Reformed-liberated and graduated in Kampen (!), he is allowed to carefully soil his Reformed nest and promote his new Roman Catholic life. ‘Protestants have only few rituals,’ he says, and that’s why he went looking for them with ‘the Catholics’. He missed the Roman Catholic ritual ‘treasure’ in the GKv …
In the same Onderweg issue, Cors Visser (CGK) promotes life in a ‘city monastery’. The aim is to establish a monastery with fifty christians and non-christians. ‘In a community of that nature God’s grace becomes visible’ he surmises.
The romanisation of reformed life became shockingly visible in yet another way. Right from their origin Reformed school associations were united in an education-alliance: Landelijk Verband van Gereformeerde School-verenigingen (National Association of Reformed School Associations – LVGS). But at the beginning of October last year, the Alliance was absorbed by Verus, the union of catholic and christian education! Verus incidentally also take over the LVGS-established digital job vacancies platform Teaching Talents.
Yes, because ‘we left the days of pillarisation (denominational segregation) behind us, also in christian education’, says Berend Kamphuis, chairman of Verus. And the chairman of LVGS, Marnix Niemeijer, motivates …
‘The schools associated with LVGS define in their statutes the reformed tradition to which they are indebted. At the same time, an increasingly broader group of parents and children consciously choose these schools, which over the years has made them more mixed. What has remained the same is the importance that the schools place in the identity: the calling and the desire to provide christian education, and to continue to develop this.’
As a reward, Niemeijer is allowed to become an adviser to the Executive Board of Verus.
We are dismayed. The LVGS, absorbed in a roman catholic / christian alliance with four thousand schools in primary and secondary, vocational and higher education! Swallowed up, disappeared into general christianity.
We hope to elaborate on this later, as more can be said about this revolution and its roots. For now, it drastically underlines the observation that there is a ‘roman catholic revolution’ in the reformed world.
Finally, in this context we can also mention the steady increase in romanist influence in the former reformed political movement as embodied in the Gereformeerd Politiek Verbond (Reformed Political Alliance). After the merger of the GPV with the Reformational Political Federation in 2001 to form the ChristenUnie, the reformed and reformatorial character slowly but surely disappeared. The party is open to RC people and has RC candidates on its electoral lists. It should not surprise anyone if prominent party members of that same direction start taking the lead. The necessary pressure is already being exerted.
Here, too, the conclusion seems inevitable that there is a strong tendency to the ‘romanisation’ of what used to be called reformed.
In the outlined developments, the ND plays a central informing and stimulating role. It supplies a powerful confession-neutral, ecumenistic push to modern ‘romanisation’ by way of information alliances and staffing.
The daily influence of the newspaper medium cannot be underestimated. The medium calls itself a ’quality newspaper’. Apart from its own praise, the newspaper does indeed have a high journalistic quality. The variety of topics is great, informative, often surprising and fascinating. Just as with a triple Whopper, you can enjoy it. All the same, this food is often unhealthy as it conflicts with the reformed outlook on life.
It is evident that the ND wants to reach and conquer many hearts with its mission. The strategy is clear: keep captivating people’s attention with a wealth of information at a ‘high journalistic level’. That’s why there is an oversized newspaper in the mail-box every Saturday which cannot be put in the trash until late Sunday evening. That’s how you can persistently influence the minds and keep them interested in your lessons.
However, we say it without hesitation: we think the newspaper is a danger to a healthy reformed life, both because of its content as well as the attention it demands.
It is not responsible to spend so much time, even including the day of rest, on this medium. Let’s just confront ourselves with the concern that Prof. Dr. H J Selderhuis voiced in Nader Bekeken (January 2021). When asked what are today’s big questions and challenges for Reformed churches and / or christians, he replies:
‘My concern is the decline in knowledge. This concerns the decline in knowledge of the Bible and of the confession, but also of the history of the church and what the church is and how it must function. At this moment we have many opportunities to do something about that, like the preaching of the catechism, the catechism classes, the clubs and associations, christian Reformed and Reformatory schools, and of course the families. And then there is a multitude of literature which often is also digitally accessible.
But my fear is that we will pass up those resources too much. If there is no proper catechism instruction the sermons quickly become too difficult. And if there is no steady catechism preaching, God’s people are in danger of being lost for lack of knowledge.’
Is this not the core problem of our days? Do we have, or do we invest sufficient time in the necessary increase in knowledge of the ‘Scriptures, confession and church history’? Isn’t the abolition of the ‘afternoon church service’ in many liberated congregations a symptom of a lack of interest in what is essential to our lives? Where is still the rest that’s needed to build up reformed faith and life when life has become so busy and so many things demand our attention, while on top of that we still have to plough our way through that fat newspaper
Disregarding the spiritual quality of its content, we think it is not a good idea to read, every weekend, an eighty-page Saturday / Sunday newspaper. It also does not rank against one or two half hours of preaching, just to make a comparison. Let the Day of the Lord be dedicated to Him through the use of good material that can increase knowledge, strengthen true faith, and make it resilient in the secularizing world around us. And to find the rest that belongs to this day.
That’s essential. For young and old!
Every time when we have to log in again to gain access to the digital ND newspaper, we hear from Rev. Mirjam Kollenstaart-Muis (!) that the newspaper is there for
‘… people who are religious, but never stop thinking; who believe, but do not just accept everything. So that’s true for me. Hopefully for you too …’
Yes, we do like to think and reflect, and believe as well. And no, we do not swallow everything, also not what Nederlands Dagblad offers, as should by now have been made clear. That’s why we shall now have a look at another newspaper, the Reformatorisch Dagblad. Could that perhaps be a good alternative?
The publisher desires to be addressed on this identity …
ErDee [RD] Media Groep is a group of companies with a reformational identity. This means that when doing business she recognizes and uses the Bible, God’s Word, as guide. The word ‘reformational’ points to a decisive period in Dutch history: The Reformation. During that time, the work of reformers such as Luther and Calvin gave rise to Protestant churches that opposed the Roman Catholic Church.
The essence of our identity lies in the belief in the triune God, who has revealed Himself in the Bible as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The content of this revelation is summed up in the Three Creeds of the Early Church and the Three Forms of Unity. Based on this age-old, but still current, identity, ErDee Media Groep develops media that suit the 21st century and meet the wishes of readers.
This resonates with our deepest beliefs. Would a paper with this identity – assuming that it lives up to it! – not fit much better with reformed families, especially if these also include growing children?
The RD is conducting a promotional campaign with the slogan Try it out! and offers two options; four weeks in the letterbox for €10, or its Saturday edition for four weeks at just €5. Plus RDMagazine, 6 days access to its digital version and unlimited access to RD.nl as an introduction.
What’s holding you back?
Translated by J Eikelboom 20 March 2021, from ééninwaarheid 23 January 2021
ND Nederlands Dagblad
RC Roman Catholic
GKv Gereformeerde Kerken vrijgemaakt (1944)
NGK Nederlands Gereformeerde Kerk (1967)
CGK Christelijk Gereformeerde Kerk (1834)
PKN Protestantse Kerk Nederland (2004) It was founded on 1 May 2004 as the merger of the vast majority of Dutch Reformed Church, the vast majority of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (WIKIPEDIA)
[i] For example, in Onderweg (9 January 2021) we read: In Bergentheim, the PKN and GKv churches together distributed house-to-house gift parcels containing a candle, a key ring adorned with a text declaring faith, hope and love, and the ‘cards on the table’ game in three categories: Bergentheim, Christmas and Inside. With the parcel came an invitation to join a combined online Christmas midnight church service prompted by this game.