Van Eijk and his remnant

 

Our traditionally christian Kingdom of the Netherlands is quickly becoming non-christian. A recent survey, carried out by the Dutch Protestant University in Amsterdam, found that, for the first time in history, more Dutchmen say they do not believe in God than there are those who are convinced that God indeed exists. Yes, there is a large segment in the middle of those who simply don’t know and of those who may believe in a vague ‘something,’ but it becomes ever clearer that faith in God is no longer self-evident for the majority of the Dutch people. And thus the churches are becoming more and more empty and the support for the institutional church is gradually drying up.

The annual national fundraising campaign for a number of denominations once again shows a further erosion of the importance many people attach to their church. The amount that the churches have raised is, once again, a few percent lower than the year before. This year the members of the participating churches gave a total of around 230 million euros. And, once more, the results show that on the average Protestants give substantially more than Catholics. A Dutch Catholic family gives on average gives 80 euro’s per year, while a Dutch Protestant family gives an annual donation of around 200 euros.

Protestant denominations, as for instance the United Protestant Church of the Netherlands, fear its membership and church attendance will further diminish. But we hear even more pessimistic sounds from the Catholic Church. The archbishop of Utrecht (the highest Catholic leader in the Netherlands), monsignor van Eijk, recently stated that he believes that by 2020 only some twenty of the current three hundred parishes will still exist. This dramatic development, in his estimation, results from a sharp decrease in vocations, a change in giving patterns and a rampant spiritual superficiality. The archbishop was heavily criticized. He is accused by many of himself being a major part of the problem. It appears that he does not mind so much that the church is getting smaller. He prefers to have a small church of faithful (and, in particular, very orthodox and obedient) believers over a larger church with people who want to think for themselves and want, in a number of areas, to follow their own interpretations of the rules for faith and conduct that originate in Rome. One might say that the archbishop has a view of the church that is based on the idea of a ‘remnant,’ that is left when the chaff has been separated from the wheat. Many, however, feel this is a totally wrong approach. They believe the church must be a place that offers a spiritual home for as many people as possible, where the gospel of our Lord is handed on in such ways that it will be understood by contemporary people—old and, especially, young. It seems that the archbishop is either unable or unwilling to grasp this

Unfortunately, the archbishop is not the only church leader who is stuck in this kind of thinking. There are parallels between him and leaders I could point to in my own (Adventist) church. Also ‘with us’ the question is pressing: Do we want to intentionally contribute to a situation in which only a small group of ‘true’ believers remains, or will we do all we can to translate the gospel in such ways that it will not just provide direction, but will also offer space and freedom. For me the choice is clear. I will go for the latter option.

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About Belgium, and Rome, etc.

[Morning January 19, 2015] I am back behind my desk in Zeewolde. I always try to write my weekly blog on Thursday or Friday, but I did not get to it at the end of last week. My wife and I went to Belgium for the weekend. We stayed with friends with whom we always have more than enough topics for long talks. On Saturday morning I had the pleasure of preaching in the Adventist church in the Lange Lozannastraat in Antwerp. On Sunday I participated in Brussels in a day of study and discussion about the role of women in the church. The Belgian church leaders had invited two speakers: Dr. Jan Barna (a professor from Newbold College in England) and myself. I was given the morning program. My assignment was to speak about the historical background of the issue of women’s ordination, while Barna would focus in the afternoon on the biblical-theological aspects.

With a power point presentation I tried to chart the historical background of the topic of the ordination of women in the Adventist Church. I addressed questions such as: How could this issue develop into such a huge problem? What are the most recent developments, and where do we go from here?

Our day in Brussels was a clear demonstration of what we see in many different places worldwide in the Adventist Church. There are different camps and each has dug itself in in their trenches. From time to time someone briefly raises his head from his dugout and fires a shot at the enemy (I use this word intentionally, as there is indeed a war going on), and then each group withdraws to its position. The two camps hardly listen to each other and do not seem to really weigh the arguments of those with whom they disagree.

In his presentation Jan Barna emphasized, in particular, that those who defend and those who oppose the ordination of female pastors each have their own ways of dealing with the Bible. For those who oppose it the Bible is abundantly clear: a woman does not have the same authority as a man. The other party is convinced that one must translate the principles of the biblical message in such a way that they be can applied to our present situation. And if one does this, it is abundantly clear: just as slavery and polygamy are things of the past, so is the inequality between male and female.

In Belgium the situation may be a little more sensitive than it is (in general, though, not everywhere) in the Netherlands. The ethnic and cultural composition of the Adventist Church in Belgium is much more complicated than in the Netherlands and the fact that Belgium has been saturated with Catholic culture no doubt also has to do with it. Nonetheless, it was a good day yesterday and some people even told me, at the end of the day, that they may have to rethink a few of their convictions.

Now, on Monday morning I will need to concentrate on a few other things. Tomorrow is the deadline for an article that I have promised to write. That must, therefore, be the first item on my program. Then I will have to spend time on the preparations of a trip to Rome for a group of seniors that is scheduled for April 30 to May 7. My colleague Hans Ponte was to be the tour leader, but his departure to a new job in Curacao has made that impossible for him. With some initial hesitation I have agreed to assume this assignment. I must admit that I am beginning to look forward to it. And most of the preparatory work has been done, and it is therefore not very complicated and demanding. (By the way: there are still a few places available. For more info, mail to  admseniorenreis@yahoo.com).

Later in the week we will attend a concert in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. We have been given tickets by the guest conductor who this week conducts a number of concerts in Amsterdam. It is the Swedish maestro Herbert Blomstedt who all his life has been (and is) an active member of the Adventist Church.

And then there are enough other things that will make the coming week into a rather ‘full’ week. We will have no reason to complain that life is boring.

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Je suis Charlie

 

I remember a conversation I had years ago with dr. B.B. Beach. We were both active in promoting and defending religious liberty. Bert Beach was the director of this department for the global Adventist Church, while I was his counterpart in a part of Europe and some other areas of the world. We talked about Scientology. At the time I was rather amazed that Beach was getting involved in defending the rights of this movement in a particular country (I forgot where it was.) I suggested that it might not give positive PR for an Adventist organization to openly defend the rights of  the scientologists. I will never forget his reply.He reminded me: ‘It is not difficult to support people whom you agree with to a major extent and whom you sympathize with. But if you are a genuine champion of freedom of conscience and religion you must also fight for the religious rights of people you do not like and people you totally disagree with.

His words came back to me  last Wednesday when the media were full with the coverage of the murder of the staff of the French weekly Charlie Hebdo and of some policemen. Of course, I fully agree with all people who believe that a free press is an essential element in a democracy, and that there can never be a valid reason to kill people who disagree with your faith or culture.

On the other hand, such a horrific event as the attack in Paris may not be a reason to put all Muslims in a negative light and to organize anti-Muslim actions. I must admit I see quite a few elements in Islam that I do not like. But I remember the words of my mentor and friend Beach: ‘You can only claim to be a true supporter of religious liberty if you also defend the freedom of those people who have a viewpoint that differs drastically from  your own.’

The staff of a magazine as Charlie Hebdo must be able to publish what they want without having to fear for their lives. However, I do not appreciate the fact that journalists ridicule the faith of other people. As a Christian I am annoyed when people ridicule my faith and the Founder of my faith. Therefore, I do not like many of the anti-Muslim cartoons in Charlie Hebdo. I do not find them funny. Likewise, I definitely dislike it when Christian people ridicule other Christian groups, whether Protestant or Roman Catholic. Criticism is all right—and others may also criticize  my religious choices. But there must always be respect for the other person, and this may also be demanded from non-Muslims who do not appreciate Islam or Mohammed.

Unfortunately, an event like the attack of last Wednesday further escalates the tensions between the various population segments—in a country like France with a large Islamic community, but also in the Netherlands. The perpetrators of this heinous crime must be punished. But the only long term solution is mutual respect, also when standpoints about religious beliefs and practices diverge widely. For one thing is certain: A lack of respect inevitably leads to increased violence.

 

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Intentions and plans

[January 2, 2015] For many years I have started the new year with very similar good intentions. But, unfortunately, they tend to be soon forgotten. These intentions do not differ much from those of millions of other Dutch people and are not very spectacular. I am not planning to trek through China or to take up fishing as a new hobby.

I realize that it would be good to do more physical exercise and lose a few pounds in  weight. I also am aware of that fact that I should invest more time in my social life and should place more emphasis on my spiritual ‘formation’.  (I still do not understand what is wrong with that word.) I might also make improvements with a few  less important matters. I could, for instance, decide to keep my desk in better order, so that I would waste less time in searching through piles of paper to recover some precious remarks that I had jotted down ‘somewhere’.  I could also determine that I would (or: let others) clean my car more often, or to make it a habit to first read the instruction booklet when I buy a new piece of equipment. It might also be a good idea to force myself to study the book that I bought in which all the features of my i-phone are explained. However, I fear that in less than a week from now I will be stuck again in the routines of a new year and that everything will soon return to ‘normal’.

In fact, I actually hope that the new years will not differ much from recent years. As you grow older, you know that all things will not always simply continue in the same way and with the same speed. Yet, I hope that this will be the case for some considerable time to come. As I hear about the challenging situation our country faces in providing quality care for all its senior citizens, I can only fervently hope that my wife and I will not yet have to knock on the doors of our local community in search for adequate care.

I also hope I can remain active in 2015 in a number of different areas, such as, preaching regularly and teaching seminars here and there. This year, in any case, begins with some preaching appointments, a presentation in Brussels about the history of Adventism and Women’s Ordination  and a seminar for pastors in the South of France.

In addition, I hope I will have cotinued inspiration for articles and books. On my most recent to-do list I notice an upcoming deadline for an article in Contact. In the meantime, work on my new devotional book progresses nicely. On New Year’s Eve I wrote four devotional messages, so that the total number of days for which I have now written a short meditation stands at 278. That means that in the coming months I must still produce a little less that one hundred pages. When that is done, the premilimary version of the book must be reviewed and refined until the final product is ready for publication.

Translating books also provides me with a lot of satisfaction. In the past twenty years I have been involved with eight translation projects—theological and historical books—for the Eerdmans Publishing Company in the US. Just days ago they requested me to take on another project. Since it concerns a rather substantial project we have agreed on a deadline in 2016.

However, most of my activities that are on the drawing board for 2015 (and that might yet be added as the year progresses) will concern the church that has always been at the core of my existence. As 2015 begins, I look at ‘my’ church with a mixture of hope and fear. I am hopeful because of the many good initiatives I see, especially in the Adventist Church in the Netherlands, but I am depressed because of the increasing polarization and move towards conservatism I see in much of ‘my’ (?) church worldwide. I can only hope that a major portion of the top leadership of the Adventist Church will be replaced during the world congress in July in San Antonio (US), and that the church will elect new leaders who will prioritize unity in diversity and tolerance.

At the beginning of a new year, it is important not to forget that all intentions and plans are conditional. It is all subject to the Lord’s will. Therefore it is important to go forward with small steps, as we give meaning to each new day and enjoy each day that is given to us. Nonetheless, in the background we cherish the hope that a great many days will yet follow.

A few days ago I happened to see a few minutes of a program on Dutch television. In one of the endless talk shows I saw an interview of a senior couple. The husband and his wife were, respectively, 101 and 100 years of age. They radiated a surprising vitality. I could not resist thinking: I hope they will want to interview my wife and myself some thirty years from now, when we will both have become centenarians.  (After all, maybe in 2015 I should  make a better use of my home trainer which has not been subject to much tear and wear in 2014.)

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Fifty

 

[Posted Sunday morning] The past week was very special. Not just because we celebrated Christmas. But, it was especially special because of the fact that my wife Aafje and I had our fiftieth wedding anniversary.

Passing the milestone of fifty years of marriage brings lots of congratulations. Mentioning it on your Facebook page will see to that! That is very enjoyable. But to be together for fifty years is most of all a reason for gratitude. Although golden wedding anniversaries are not rare, there are lots of couples that do not reach this half century mark. One must marry rather young to increase the changes of reaching this goal. And, nowadays, many people cohabit for many years before getting officially married. So, if you start counting from the moment you received your official license, you reduce your changes of a golden wedding anniversary. And, of course, there may be many reasons why a marriage does not last for half a century.

Must you be perfect to be sure that your marriage will endure? That was, in any case, not our secret. My wife is possibly a bit more perfect that I am—but being perfect, or always having made perfect choices, it something we cannot pretend. Our life together has not been perfect, and neither has our life as a family, but we did have a happy and certainly very satisfying fifty years with a lot of variation—and we hope that we have many such years in good health ahead of us.

Of course, I ask myself: why did we succeed in remaining together, while so many do not succeed? The main requirement is, of course, that there is love and loyalty. But I have also concluded that a couple must not only do and experience a lot of things together, but must also give each other enough individual space. There must be common interests and ideals, but each partner must also be able to pursue his/her own interests and be able to have his/her own opinions. As to this latter aspect, we have no reason to complain.

This very special week is past. A few more days and 2014 is behind us. It has, in fact, also been a special year. Two things have marked this year in particular. First, our three months in California, where I served during a quarter as a visiting professor at Loma Linda University. And, secondly, the unfortunate fall of Aafje, which left her rather handicapped during a number of months and forced me to spend much more time than usual performing household duties. In addition, the work of editing the Festschrift for dr. Bertil Wiklander was a major undertaking. And many other projects made 2014 quite a full year.

Now there are a few quiet days left to bring 2014 to a close.  Yesterday (Friday) we drove North to Assen where we spent a few enjoyable hours at the exhibition of the Russian painter Malevich in the newly renovated Museum of Drenthe. Today (Saturday) I had to face the first snow of this year when driving to Rotterdam, where I preached. During the coming days I hope to spend some good hours with the final 250 pages of Bart van Loo’s fascinating new biography of Napoleon and with the amusing book of Herman Finkers, that I found under the Christmas tree. Its title already provides a foretaste of the kind of humor that characterizes this comedian from the Achterhoek  (a region in the East of the country): The Seminar ‘How to Deal with Disappointment’ is cancelled once again!

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