Christian Heritage of the Netherlands

Brief History of The Netherlands

Zebulon, "The elevated"Zebulon, "The elevated" Historical accounts of the Netherlands date from the 1st century BC, when Roman forces conquered Germanic and Celtic tribes inhabiting the area. Around 300 A.D., Germanic tribes invaded from the east. By 800 A.D. the territory was ruled by Charlemagne, the greatest of the Frankish kings. During the 9th and 10th centuries, Scandinavian Vikings frequently raided the coastal areas and sailed far up the rivers, which led to the emergence of fortified towns. In the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries, the area became an important trading centre. The Netherlands and the surrounding area, known as the Low Countries, passed from the control of the dukes of Bourgogne during the early 16th century into the hands of the Habsburg emperor Charles V, who held territories throughout Europe. In 1555 Charles granted control of Spain and the Netherlands to his son, Philip II, whose oppressive Catholic rule led to a war of independence waged by the Protestant Dutch from 1568 to 1648, under the leadership of William of Orange. In 1648 Spain finally recognized the sovereignty of the new Dutch Republic, reigned by the sovereigns of the Royal House of Orange to this present day.

Holland became a world power at that time (The Dutch Golden Age) and through the Dutch East India Company and Dutch West India Company they spread abroad. New York City was once known as New Amsterdam and there are now over 8 million Americans of Dutch extraction in the USA. Follow this link for more details on the Dutch Empire.

Holland – Identified as Biblical Zebulon

Unlike any other country, the Netherlands has from the beginning been built and maintained by holding back and reclaiming land from the North Sea. The first tribe to come and settle in the Netherlands, more than 2,000 years ago, were the Frisians. They were farmers and traders of livestock who began to build artificial hills on which they established their farms to elevate them and protect them from flooding.

Interestingly, Zebulon, the son of Israel/Jacob in the Bible who is proven to be the forefather of the ancient people who founded the Netherlands after migrating across Europe, also means “the elevated”, the one who has been lifted up. But there are more “wondrous parallels” to be found.

WindmillThe Windmills and the Name Zebulon

Holland is famous for its windmills, which grace the whole landscape. They actually tell the world who Holland is. When we look into the meaning of the name Zebulon and break it down we find that it means “to inclose, to reside, to dwell”. It is composed of three Hebrew letters:

Zain meaning fish-hook, hook
Beith meaning house, home, dwelling
Lamed meaning movement, streaming, impulse to action.

So the name “Zebulon” actually describes the function of a windmill. It is a dwelling which ‘hooks’ up water, using the movement of the wind for it to operate.

A Ship – Zebulon’s and Holland’s Symbol

Symbol for ZebulonIn the days of Israel, each tribe had standards. In the case of Zebulon, ancient Hebrew traditions show that the symbol for Zebulon was a “ship”. A ship is also the ancient emblem of Holland and symbolizes Dutch national culture.

“Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea, and he shall be for an haven of ships …” (GENESIS 49:13).

Zebulon would live at the seashore, and much of Holland’s land is quite literally “sheltered from the sea” via its dike system. So the prophetic description of a “haven of the sea” is quite apt. The phrase “haven of ships” indicates that the land of Zebulon must also include a major harbour facility. Speaking about haven in the modern sense, the relatively small country of Holland has the world’s largest port in its borders, namely “Rotterdam Europoort”. Not only is Rotterdam the busiest ocean-going seaport, it is now a gateway to all of Europe.

For more interesting facts on Holland’s Zebulon identity we would highly recommend the booklet “Strange Parallel” by Helene Koppejan.

The Way to Religious Freedom and Pentecostal Revival

Beginning of Reformation

Like almost all other European nations, the Netherlands was also under Roman Catholic rule for centuries, before the Reformation began to dawn on the country in the late Middle Ages. Some pre-reformational activities in the Netherlands include the formation of "The Brethren of the Common Life" by Gerard Goote (circa A.D. 1370), a non-traditional monastic group which emphasized the schooling of youth and the study of the Scriptures. Thomas à Kempis, best known for his book “The Imitation of Christ” (early 1400's), is a well-loved example of Dutch piety from the late Middle Ages.

The activities of the Englishman John Wycliff, who was hated and persecuted by the Catholic Church for his emphasis on the authority of the Bible and his work of translating the Holy Book and placing it in the hands of the people, and in Eastern Europe, John Huss, who preached justification by grace through faith, became well known among the Dutch.

The events in Germany of 1517 (Luther’s publishing of his 95 theses), were known throughout the whole of Europe, and were certainly not lost on the Netherlanders. Printing presses (to which the Dutch lay claim as the inventors, though most of the world credits Gutenberg) produced copies of Luther's pamphlets, and in 1522 the New Testament was published in the Dutch language. In 1527 the whole Bible was printed in Dutch and in the 1530's Calvin's writings began to appear. The Dutch gladly received the Reformation, and many were converted to the evangelical faith.

During the 16th Century, Luther's influence in the Netherlands gradually waned and Calvin's ascended, perhaps because the Netherlands was crossed more and more frequently by those traveling between Switzerland and England, many of whom were Reformed refugees fleeing from France into the Netherlands, bringing their Calvinism with them. Since persecution was so severe in France, the Netherlands became the transit point of choice for Protestants travelling between England and the continent.

The Anabaptists

Led by Jan Matthijs, the first Dutch assemblies of the Anabaptists or “Wederdopers” were set up in the county (not country) of Holland in around 1531. The Anabaptists disagreed with the practice of infant baptism, and advocated a personal conversion to Christ with a conscientious baptism (ACTS 2:38). Wanting to reform the Catholic Church as well as society with their revolutionary Protestant faith, they became persecuted by both Protestants and Catholics, which resulted in much bloodshed. The city of Münster became their centre and haven of refuge, though several of their leaders were martyred there. After these roaring years, the Anabaptists adopted a more peaceful approach, and in 1540 they became a well-organized, biblically well-educated administration, under the leadership of David Joris and Menno Simons. Nevertheless the persecution continued and they fled to Germany. Although they returned to the northern parts of Holland to preach on a regular basis, the name “Mennonites” is not often used there. Nowadays they are referred to as ‘doopsgezinden’ (see also the German and the Swiss Christian history reports).

Struggle for IndependencePrince William of Orange Prince William of Orange

In an attempt to crush the reformed faith already embraced by many of the Netherlands' citizens, Charles V, Spanish Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and nominal ruler of the Netherlands, ordered a severe repression, sending the infamous Duke of Alva to enforce the awful Inquisition. Prince William of Orange1, a young nobleman of German Lutheran parents, was governing three provinces of the Netherlands at the time and led the Protestant revolt against the Catholic oppressors resulting in the Eighty Years War (1567-1647). In 1584, William was assassinated, but his son Maurice continued the warfare until his death in 1625. In 1648 the war ended and the Protestant Netherlands was granted independence.

With the independence of the Netherlands and establishment of the Republic, the Reformed faith was proclaimed the official faith of the state. The Netherlands continued to embrace religious refugees - the Puritans who were fleeing England, the Huguenots fleeing France, and also many Jews from throughout Europe. Some of these converted to Christianity and were later to become influential leaders of the secession-minded churches.

During the late 17th century humanism came to dominate the schools in the Netherlands at all levels and "reason" was promoted above Scripture. Spinoza, Descartes and Savonarola came to be more widely read and respected than Calvin. By the end of the 18th century, nearly every doctrinal aberration was being tolerated, while Reformed orthodoxy came under increasing attack, especially in the academic world.

Revival of the Real Faith

At the beginning of the 19th century the winds of revival began to sweep through Europe, and a refreshing breeze also came to the Netherlands. The revival was at first a movement among the intellectual elite, and somewhat reactionary, but soon spread to all levels and eventually gained more momentum among the poor and uneducated, many of whom were like the proverbial "sheep without a shepherd", having been alienated by their unconverted leaders.

Within the Netherlands, this "Reveil" had the concrete effect of strengthening the formation of conventicles, groups of evangelically-minded believers who usually met together inside or alongside their churches to pursue Bible study and spiritual exercises. These conventicles, sometimes tolerated and sometimes persecuted, were very pietistic in their focus, with the greatest emphasis being placed on the themes of human worthlessness, total dependence on Christ's redemption, the experience of rebirth and progress in sanctification as seen in rejecting the "things of the world" and in increasing subjection to the law of God (especially, but not only, matters such as Sabbath observance).

Pentecost in Holland

In the Netherlands Pentecostalism started in 1907, quite soon after the revival led by William Seymour at Asuza Street in Los Angeles in 1906. The founding father was Gerrit Polman, an ex-Salvation Army soldier, who opened the Algemene Christelijke Apostolische Kerk (General Christian Apostolic Church). Many churches were established in other parts of the Netherlands, mostly autonomous and isolated. In the Netherlands this first type of Pentecostalism is called Old Pentecost. During the Second World War some of the fresh new churches formed the Broederschap of Pinkstergemeenten - Fellowship of Pentecostal Congregations.

During the fifties, the Pentecostal movement grew significantly and the great manifestations and rallies attracted many. This was called the New Pentecost. Movements like Stromen van Kracht of Karel Hoekendijk, Wereldzending of Johan Maasbach, and Opwekking of Ben Hoekendijk came to real and vivid life with their dynamic, creative characteristics, use of modern mass media, and preaching of salvation, healing and miracles.

In closing

Since the 1960’s, the Dutch religious landscape has changed dramatically. The dramatic decline in the number of Christians in this generation and the openly permissive society that is replacing the old norms with few restrictions on drugs, deviant lifestyles, prostitution, homosexuality, abortion and euthanasia has led to a deterioration of religion.

It is remarkable to see how modern society tries to ignore our Christian heritage. Who still remembers people like Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), Prime Minister from 1901-1905 and co-founder of the Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam, or Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876), Dutch politician, historian and a confessing Christian? Acting from 1829 to 1833 as secretary to William I of the Netherlands, he wrote in his book “Handboek der Geschiedenis van het Vaderland” (Handbook of History of the fatherland) about the Dutch people’s roots being traceable all the way back to Jacob/Israel.

Or which modern history books mention that people like Huygens (1629-1695), Dutch mathematician, physicist and discoverer of Saturn’s moon Titan, or Anton van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), best known for his contributions to the improvement of the microscope and towards the establishment of cell biology, were Bible-believing Christians? Last but not least, what of Queen Wilhelmina, who would probably never have found the courage and endurance to tirelessly encourage the Dutch people and the resistance during WWII, if it had not been for her firm belief in God and the Bible.

How fitting are these words of Abraham Kuyper when we look at our devastated and corrupted society today:

Abraham Kuyper“One desire has been the ruling passion of my life. One high motive has acted like a spur upon my mind and soul. And sooner than that I should seek escape from the sacred necessity that is laid upon me, let the breath of life fail me. It is this: That in spite of all worldly opposition, God's holy ordinances shall be established again in the home, in the school and in the State for the good of the people; to carve as it were into the conscience of the nation the ordinances of the Lord, to which Bible and Creation bear witness, until the nation pays homage again to God."

We as a nation need to turn back to the God of Israel and stand boldly for our beliefs like our forefathers did! More than ever we should pray and call out for a revival, like in the early 20th century. 

“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” (2 CHRONICLES 7:14).

  • 1. Painting by C Garschagen of William of Orange, made in 1873. Copy of a painting by Antonio Moro, dating from 1555.