Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nadere Reformatie Contra Christmas

While the Dutch Reformed Church expressed opposition early on to the keeping of extra-Biblical religious holidays, gradually the practice became acceptable and commended. However, the Dutch Further Reformation (Nadere Reformatie) is noted for returning to the earlier Reformers' position on the lawfulness of celebrating religious holidays without warrant from Scripture.

David D. Demarest traces this history from the 1574 Synod of Dordt to the 1618-1619 Synod of Dordt, History and Characteristics of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church (1856), pp. 173-175:

The churches in the Netherlands, and also for a long time in this country, observed the feasts of Christmas, Easter and Whitsunday, commemorative of the birth and resurrection of the Saviour, and of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. In addition to these, the circumcision and ascension of Christ were commemorated in many churches, and it was. customary to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper on Christmas day and Easter Sunday. But the action of the various synods clearly shows that these days were not regarded as of Divine institution, but that since they were commonly observed by the people, it was thought best to turn them to edification, and make them promotive of good instead of evil. Thus the first Synod held at Dordrecht, in 1574, decreed (article 53), "concerning the feast-days on which, beside the Sunday, it has been customary to abstain from labor, and assemble in the church, it is resolved that we must be satisfied with the Sunday alone. However, the usual subjects on the birth of Christ may be handled in the churches on the Sunday before Christmas, and the people be admonished of the abolition of the feast-days. The same subjects may also be handled on Christmas, when it fells on a preaching-day. It is also left to the discretion of the ministers to preach on the subjects of the Resurrection of Christ, and the Sending of the Spirit on Easter and Whitsunday."

The Synod held at Middleburg, 1581, decreed (article 50), "The congregations shall petition their magistrates, that the feast-days, excepting Sunday, Christmas, and Ascension, may be abolished. But in places where by order of the magistracy, more feast days shall continue to be observed, the ministers shall endeavor by preaching, to change unprofitable and hurtful idleness into holy and edifying exercise."

The Synod held at the Hague, 1586, decreed (article 60), " The congregations shall, beside the Sunday, observe Christmas, Easter, and Whitsunday, and in places where most of the feastdays, in commemoration of the benefits of Christ (as the Circumcision and Ascension), are by order of the magistrates observed, the ministers shall endeavor by preaching to change the idleness of the people into holy and edifying exercise."

The Synod of Dort (1618), decreed (article 67), "The congregations shall besides Sunday observe Christmas, Easter, Whitsunday, and the day following; and since in most of the towns and provinces of the Netherlands, the feasts of Circumcision and Ascension are also observed, the ministers in all places, where this is not customary, shall labor with the magistrates for the establishment of conformity with the others."

We have quoted these successive decrees in order to show the history of ecclesiastical action on this subject. At first it was clearly the intention to abolish these days entirely. Then it was deemed better (as the people continued to take them for holidays), to turn them to a good account by the holding of religious services, and finally their observance was enjoined, doubtless on the ground of edification. Probably the magistrates, who are continually referred to as having authority in the matter, did not, for reasons springing out of the circumstances of the times, and the genius and habits of the people, deem it expedient to abolish, them. While they continued by authority, the Church, rightly aimed to make them promotive of piety. She brought them to this country as parts of her institutions, and the memory of many, now in middle life, can easily go back to the days in which they were wont on Christmas to accompany their parents to the house of God, and when on Easter and Whitsunday the subjects appropriate to those days were always handled by the preacher.

The conclusion that the toleration and promotion of the man-made ecclesiastical calendar (including even Saint Nicholas Day) is good for piety was not shared, however, by the Nadere Reformatie, which sought to limit the observation of such holidays to that alone which had warrant from Scripture -- the Lord's Day, and occasional extraordinary days of fasting and thanksgiving -- as will be seen by these quotes from leading representatives of the movement.

Willem Teelinck, The Path of True Godliness, p. 101:

[Rules that help distinguish between truth and lies, walking in divine truth promotes godliness] For example when debating whether to maintain Lenten Eve (Fat Tuesday), Epiphany (when the wiseman saw Christ), and other Roman Catholic holidays or to radically abolish them, some people may say yes and others no. However, the godly immediately know the right way, for they understand that Roman Catholic holidays have no basis in Holy Scripture and that regular observance of them offers occasion for much sin. The celebrations cause great disorder in the places or homes where they are observed and become a stumbling block to real holiness as they strengthen the old man. The godly swiftly conclude that Reformed Christians who would gladly abolish or ignore the feast days have the truth on their side.

Jacobus Koelman (who, it is reported, coined the term 'Nadere Reformatie'), The Duties of Parents, p. 73:

100. Do not allow your children to celebrate the days on which unbelief and superstition are being catered to. They are admittedly inclined to want this because they see that the children of Roman Catholic parents observe those days. Do not let them attend carnivals, observe Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), see Santa Claus, or observe Twelfth Night, because they are all remnants of an idolatrous papacy. You must not keep your children out of school or from work on those days nor let them play outside or join in the amusement. The Lord has said, "After the doings of the land of Egypt, where you lived, shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan, where I bring you, you shall not do: neither shall you walk in their ordinances" (Lev. 18:3). The Lord will punish the Reformed on account of the days of Baal (Hosea 2:12-13), and he also observes what the children do on the occasion of such idolatry (Jer. 17:18). Therefore, do not let your children receive presents on Santa Claus day, nor let them draw tickets in a raffle and such things. Pick other days on which to give them the things that amuse them, and because the days of Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost have the same character, Reformed people must keep their children away from these so-called holy days and feast days.

Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian's Reasonable Service, Vol. I, pp. 38-39:

Objection #4:

The Jewish church also instituted various practices passing them on to subsequent generations which nevertheless were not commanded, such as fasting in the fourth, fifth, seventh, and tenth month (Zec. 7:5 and 8:19); the days of Purim (Est. 9:21-26); the feast of the dedication (John 10:22). In similar fashion the Reformed Church also has her traditions, which implies that also now we may and must uphold tradition.


The practice of fasting was commanded by God; the determination of necessity, time, and circumstances was left to the church (Joel 2). Special days of thanksgiving are also commanded, the occurrence and frequency of which are to be determined by the church. There is no basis in the Word, however, upon which the church may legislate the observation of such days for subsequent generations. Such practices should be denounced and the church should not observe them. This is true also for our so-called feast days which ought to be eliminated. Regarding feast days consult Res Judicata by [Jacobus] Koelman, as well as his other scholarly and devotional writings. Other external religious ordinances and circumstances are principally commanded in the Word of God, the stipulations of which are left to each individual church, and consequently are alterable according to time and place. In doing so, however, all superstition must be avoided and such practices must not have an adverse effect upon doctrine and practice. Thus, the perfection of the rule of Scripture will not be violated, nor will the use of unwritten traditions be advocated.

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