August 2014 and a little history


I had intended to spend most of the month of August in Sweden. For the last ten year or so this has been a regular pattern, as our son lives there. But, unfortunately, we had to modify our plans. That fact that my wife fractured her shoulder and arm has made us less mobile for the time being. This also means that I presently belong to the guild of care-givers and must attend to numerous household chores.

Many are the well-intended messages from people wishing me courage in my household activities. But cooking, in particular, remains an unpleasant job, and, even after some six weeks, I am baffled by the fact that some men actually enjoy preparing a meal. Due to the many—solicited and unsolicited—pieces of advice from my wife, so far no dishes have been burned or otherwise ended in calamities. And, to my joy, we are invited from time to time by friends to share a meal with them around their table. Moreover, the local restaurants offer relief when there are moments when I do not have the energy or desire to spend time in the kitchen.

However, besides these household cares, my days are quite full. I am in the middle of a major editorial job, and have several writing assignments on my to-do list. I refresh my to-do list regularly—and I did so this morning. It includes, among other appointments, the preparations for a study weekend with German Adventists at Marienhöhe late next month, but also the sermon for the rally for senior church members in the Netherlands Union and a workshop during a Belgian ‘spiritual congress’ in October, and a four-day seminar for pastors in the South of France in January. I hope that my wife will be able to join me for these trips that do not require long travel. I have had to cancel a few things that would have required more extensive travel.

In the meantime, the stack of books-to-read, besides the couch, is growing. Not too long ago I bought a book that had been heavily discounted: a beautifully illustrated edition of prof. A. Th. Van Deursen’s book Bavianen en Slijkgeuzen. These strange Dutch words were abusive terms used by the Arminians and the strict predestinarian Calvinists for each other around the beginning of the seventeenth century. The book presents a marvelous picture of spiritual life and the state of the church in the Netherlands, in the last decade of the sixteenth and the earliest decades of the seventeenth centuries.

Although I believed that I was reasonably well informed about the establishment of the ‘reformed’ (read: Calvinist) religion in our country, this book provides a lot of new information about minute details. In his incomparable way van Deursen knows how to make a topic come alive by zooming in on the small things of a given period. He makes it abundantly clear that during this phase of our national history, Calvinism had certainly not yet conquered the hearts of the majority of the Dutch people and that the reformed church was in many ways still far from firmly established.

The chapters about my early seventeenth century colleagues in ministry are, in particular,   amusing and enjoyable. The pastoral corps contained many dubious elements and quite a few of them often failed to behave with the dignity that would have befitted their office. Often their theological training was rather inadequate and their ability to deliver a good sermon left much to be desired. Many pastors were guilty of serious moonlighting activities in order to add to their regular (and not always satisfactory) income. Visiting the sick was part of their job description, but they could hire stand-ins to give pastoral care to those who suffered from serious contagious diseases, to avoid too great personal risks. Their most important assignment was to prepare and deliver a number of weekly sermons: for the Sunday morning, the Sunday afternoon, and often the Wednesday evening.

While reading these chapters it appeared to me that nowadays the ministerial calling may perhaps have a little less social status, but it offers decidedly more variation. With that thought in mind I will finish later this morning my preparations for the sermon of tomorrow in Emmen (in the astern part of the counry). If I had been living around 1600, I would have climbed on Sunday morning a much higher pulpit in my home church, with a new sermon. But as a retired minister in the Dutch Adventist church I am free to re-cycle my sermons—as long as I keep a clear record of where I have already preached my sermons. Those who will come to listen to me tomorrow may, however, be assured: I have not preached this sermon either in Emmen or in any of the churches nearby. And, anyway, a sermon always is work-in-progress and remains subject to constant change!