One of the striking things about Dutch culture in comparison to American culture is the depth of the aversion to the church felt here. If you want to get someone really angry really quick, start talking about the church.
That’s understandable. In this small society of people the church has played a significant role through the years, and the splits have broken through family lines and cause pain even today.
An example: The Dutch Reformed Church (Liberated) was formed in 1944 as the result of a split caused by a somewhat obscure theological question which erupted into an argument over one word in the Church Order (Article 33, to be precise).
Notice the date: 1944. Think back to what was happening then. That’s right – World War II. Nazi occupation. Allied invasion. Hunger winter in Amsterdam in which people ate tulip bulbs to survive (I have people in my congregation who remember that).
And in the eastern, rural part of the country, where people had food - a church split.
The Liberated Church considered itself to be the only true church, with roots back to the Apostle Peter. In fact, when the story of God’s redeeming acts in history is taught in the schools of the church, the split of ’44 is found in the same list as Noah, the Exodus, and the return from exile of Israel. (I think there are plenty of people today who still believe that, although very few will now say it out loud.)
When we first came to Amsterdam, we were told that there was only one address for the true church in Amsterdam – and you’ve probably already guessed which one that was!
An American cannot believe the impact of church history for the society here. I will not say that there are no benefits to be found, but the overwhelming legacy is one of disillusionment, pain and anger. You would be hard pressed to find a society more plagued by depression and low self esteem than this one.
Can you understand why the language of “battle for truth” is not helpful here?
Can you understand why the proclamation that we have or know the absolute truth can be misunderstood?
Can you understand why it is hard for us to claim the high road when it comes to questions of morality and how to love one’s neighbour?
Somehow we need to learn to teach and demonstrate that the “truth” of the gospel is so much more than a proposition (to fight for or vigorously defend) - it is a person.
I didn’t get those tools in my training.