Lessons From A Second Generation Disintegration image

Lessons From A Second Generation Disintegration

I don’t know what the summer is like for you. As a pastor I hope that August is going to be a really quiet month. Leading a Church can be pretty demanding at times so I hope that the summer will be a time to re-charge my spiritual batteries, to read some books, to play some golf with Andrew Wilson and to go on holiday with my wife and now grown-up children. I don’t preach in August and I also, if I am honest, hope and pray things are pretty quiet pastorally in the Church over the next few weeks. All this sounds like I am planning on going to seed! Actually, I see the next few weeks as a time to do some really serious thinking about some questions that I have been battling with over the past few months.

In particular, I wanted to try and address some questions about sixteenth and early seventeenth century Calvinism. This is partly because I am wanting to reflect on the THINK Conference back in May where, as I hinted in an earlier blog, I was left wondering why some people feel the need to out-Calvin Calvin. Stepping back from the immediate, however, I confess to a long held interest in the Reformation in the Netherlands and, therefore, in the Calvinist-Arminian controversy.
Why is it that a movement that is so apparently united should disintegrate within a generation? A simple question, but I see a number of different reasons for the deep divisions within Dutch Calvinism that emerged by the second decade of the seventeenth century. This debate is interesting in itself but also serves to cast some light into the situation Newfrontiers finds itself in right now.
There are five observations I would make about the tensions which existed within late sixteen and early seventeenth century Calvinism in the Netherlands:
• The movement was never as homogenous as it appeared and so, in some senses, it is not surprising that theological tensions began to arise.
• It was a movement which was, like the rest of Reformed Protestantism in this period, becoming increasingly confessionalized.
• The Remonstrant versus Counter-Remonstrant controversy (Arminian versus Calvinist) was a debate which began within Calvinism. It was a battle for the heart and soul of the Dutch Reformation.
• The controversy between the Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants may have landed in the 1610s as a battle that focused soteriology but to begin with, in the 1570s and 80s, it was essentially a controversy about ecclesiology.
• Sadly, a movement that had faced huge opposition, with its adherents literally laying down their lives for the sake of the Gospel, increasingly found itself turning in on itself. A movement that fought for truth began to fight itself over definitions of truth.
Over the next few weeks I am planning to unpack these observations in a series of blogs. Hopefully, it will shed some interesting light on an important historical controversy within the Church and it might just help us learn a few lessons along the way!

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