Before I located in Zeewolde, I lived for a number of years in Hoevelaken—a name best known to most Dutch people because of the daily traffic jams, nearby, where the A28 crosses the A1. For shopping beyond the everyday necessities, people in the village of Hoevelaken go to Amersfoort, or Nijkerk—a small cozy town which—according to a sign at the entrance of the town, is home to the most beautiful church tower of the Netherlands. This explains why we sometimes still visit Nijkerk
The trip from Zeewolde to Nijkerk does not take very long. It is a twenty minute drive—and to stay within that time frame one can stick to the speed limits. A few days ago my wife wanted to go to Nijkerk for some shopping. She wanted to profit from the annual sales and expected to find a few good buys in a shop for lady’s fashion. I decided to accompany her. That is to say: while she was shopping, I settled with my laptop in a café on the main square.
However, before I found a nice spot in Café Old Niekerk, I could not resist paying a quick visit to the nearby local bookshop. This bookshop ‘Roodbeen’ can not be compared with some of the major book stores in larger cities, but Roodbeen is part of the Libris-chain and makes a good effort to be an attractive store. The book that got my attention (and that I decided to purchase) is certainly not part of the national top-ten but is mainly of local and regional interest. Is has two different titles and the reader may start at two different points. I was attracted to the side of the cover with the title ‘Heavenly Hoevaken’, but when I turned the book around, I saw that the book is also about ‘Holy Nijkerk’. The book is written by two different authors—one deals with the religious history of Hoevelaken and the other with the religious past of Nijkerk.
The area of the country where Hoevelaken and Nijkerk are located (the Veluwe) has a rich religious history that has been the subject of many interesting books. One of the well known episodes are the mid-eigthteenth century revivals that took place in and around Nijkerk.
A study of the religious life and of religious movements and denominations—and of the people that played a significant role in these—is of great value. It helps us discover what men and women in different eras expected from their faith and from their church. In most cases, over time, this was subject to considerable change. It has a relativizing influence when one is able to place one’s faith and one’s current situation in a broader historical context. It is useful to find out more about people who, with the passing of time, acquired an ever brighter aura of sanctity (or the opposite). Knowing more about these people usually makes us realize that they were very much ‘like us’—normal people with their virtues and their faults, who do not always deserve the high pedestal on which posterity has placed them.
Yesterday I tried to find out a historical person in the denomination to which I belong. I wanted to know more about the way in which Uriah Smith collected the information on which he based some of his prophetic interpretations. (I have started working on a presentation during an academic symposium in Germany, later this year.)
Uriah Smith was a ‘pioneer’ of Adventism, whose commentary on Daniel and the Revelation dominated Adventist views on those two Bible books for quite some time. Even today some church members treat his books with awe, as if they were more or less inspired. In a biography of Smith (Eugene F. Durand, Yours in the Blessed Hope, 1980) I read a description of a two-month journey of Smith to Europe. He traveled by steamer to England and took, a few days after his arrival in England, the night ferry from England to the Netherlands. As the ferry was not very full, Smith decided to take his chances and stealthily occupied a first class cabin, even though his ticket was for the second class (so he writes in a letter to his wife). From Hook of Holland he boarded a train to Scandinavia. There his vegetarian convictions soon proved not strong enough to resist a nice salmon and he discovered how others who were, in Scandinavia, traveling with him and who were officially classified as vegetarians, did not object to some good fish in Denmark, and, in particular, Norway.
I was not looking for that kind of information. I wanted to know how Smith arrived at his conclusions about the meaning of the fifth and sixth trumpet in John’s Revelation. But, en passant, I got a better view of the real Smith!
In recent years several Dutch Adventist churches celebrated their 100 years’ existence and several will do so this year and in the next few years. These churches do well not just to look nostalgically at pictures of their past, but also to reflect on their future. Yet, a thorough study of their past may be good for their spiritual health. Some things may have been much better in the past, but many things probably are much better today. It is good (and relativizing) to place the present in a broader historical perspective!