As it has done in the past few years, in the weeks before Christmas the United Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN) is sponsoring a television ad that will be aired some twenty times. It is an attractive Christmas commercial that may be viewed on the public channels. There are two reasons why I applaud this initiative. Firstly, it is good to welcome as many people as possible to church in the Christmas services (and hopefully also later on). But, secondly, it is also a very good thing to make the church visible. In the midst of a flood of Christmas advertising for food, Christmas dinners, presents and short holidays, the church must tell the world it is still there.
There is another Dutch denomination that has decided to use the mass media in an effort to reach the larger public, namely the small Remonstrant Church. This faith community has about the same size as the Dutch Adventist church. The Remonstrant Church has also about 6.000 members in about 50 local congregations. In many places it closely cooperates with the Doopsgezinde Kerk (a Dutch branch of the Mennonites). In the Netherlands, both denominations belong to the liberal segment of Protestantism.
The Remonstrant Church has genuine Dutch roots. In the early sixteenth century Dutch Protestantism was engaged in a fierce battle. The core of the conflict was the issue of predestination versus human free will. Remonstrantism rejected Calvin’s doctrine of predestination and defended its conviction that each human being is free to decide whether to accept God’s grace or to reject it. During the famous Synod of Dordrecht (1618-19) Contra-Remonstrantism won the day. Ever since the ‘Rules against Remonstrantism’ are part of the official confessional documents of reformed Protestantism. Today the Remonstrant believers are still part of the Dutch religious landscape.
A few days ago I saw in Trouw—a Christian daily newspaper in the Netherlands—a full page advertisement with a slogan in large lettering: My God allows me to think for myself.
These words allude to the fact that members of the Remonstrant Church do not have to subscribe to a particular doctrinal statement. They may themselves determine what their confession of faith looks like. For many people this is an attractive thought. And, as I read this slogan, I could not suppress the idea that it might be good if some people in the Adventist Church would meditate a bit on those few words.
Recently the Remonstrant Church placed a few similar full page ads—all with the same layout and a short catchy slogan:
My God does not look down on me
My God is a super optimist
My God does not worry about doctrines
My God also conducts homo-weddings
My God does not force me in any way
I would not easily be convinced to become a member of the Remonstrant Church. For me the content of the average set of beliefs of the members of this church is too meagre . But I must confess that these advertisements have a certain appeal for me. It shows an openness and a tolerance which I often do not detect in my own spiritual home.
However, there is a fundamental problem with these various messages that are sponsored by the Remonstrant Church. At the bottom of these ads the reader finds a small paragraph . This begins with the words: Faith begins with you. That is where the sponsors of these ads make a crucial mistake: Fortunately, faith does not begin with us! Faith originates with God. It is his gift to us. Faith is not a movement from below towards the Above, but it comes from Above to us, humans, below. One can hardly think of a greater difference.
However, when all is said and done, I am somewhat jealous of the denominations that have discovered the large mass media in an effort to become visible. I can only hope that my church will also catch the vision (and can somehow find the necessary funds) to embark on this same path. The world must be made aware that Christians do not just barely survive in their well-nigh invisible little corner, but that they are still there and have an important message between all the secular messages of our time.