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The Evangelical Working Alliance within the Protestant Church in the Netherlands

The two main branches of the Dutch reformed church in the Netherlands, which in many places are already in partnership as the 'Samen op Weg' (SoW) churches, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands are in a process of uniting to become the United Protestant Church in the Netherlands (UPCN). Their desire is to allow room for differing experiences and theological viewpoints. Evangelical believers will also have a place in this church: the UPCN wants to be a church with many facets.

Within our churches there are no plans for an organised evangelical model, but more and more ministers and church members want evangelical thinking and experience to be the basis from which they work. And those who want to involve themselves in the church in this way, do it not only in order to express their own personal experience of the faith, but also from the conviction that the church desperately needs an evangelical renewal.

As members of one of the partner churches in the UPCN - members who not only have much to thank these churches for but also experience a bond with them - we want to make an appeal, in this manifesto, that the diversity within the church be given a concrete form. We desire that within the framework of the UPCN there should be room for a form of church growth within which evangelical believers can also live out their faith.

Room for evangelical church growth

We are concerned because we see that our church is going through a difficult period. Even if we try to see the positive sides of the process of secularisation we sadly need to acknowledge that we are part of a diminishing church in the middle of a society that is increasingly estranged from Christ. We realise that we share the guilt for this and that we need to humble ourselves in this regard.

Even so, we are convinced that in this time God longs to build His church. His desire is 'the building up of the body of Christ'.

As we talk with church leavers we often hear the complaint that they miss something in the church. We confess that it can also be said of us that we are often lukewarm. We must acknowledge that there is often no fervour or fire in our churches ' the spark is missing. As we look for causes for this we ask ourselves, 'Is it not that there is a lack of depth in our spiritual life, namely the experience of a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and a meeting with the living God?'

We come across this spirituality in, among other movements, evangelicalism. This movement is growing world-wide, as also in the Netherlands, where it is increasingly more clearly defined.

Precisely because of the vitality of the evangelical movement, its attractiveness to the youth and even to outsiders, we need to ask the question, 'What can we learn from this movement and how can we create the space for experiencing this sort of spiritual life within the framework of our church?'

Sadly, putting this into practice is not easy. Church members and ministers alike, who have been inspired by the evangelical movement, find themselves trapped within the existing framework of the church. Quite a few have therefore turned their backs on the traditional church through the years and have found each other in small, free groups; or they have joined evangelical churches, because real church growth based on evangelical thinking and experience either couldn't to get off the ground at all, or barely managed it, within the framework of their own church. People died spiritually within the structures. 'Room for plurality' (multiplicity of experience) turned out in practice to be more like 'the dictator of pluralism' ( multiplicity of truth).

From the conviction that it must be possible, within the UPCN, to express our faith and experience as evangelical believers and out of love for the traditional church, we believe that it is necessary that this movement, the Evangelical Working Bond within the UPCN, seek ways to make a contribution that will bless and build up the church of Jesus Christ in the Netherlands.

Within the framework of our church, structures need to be created that offer room for the sort of church growth that we advocate. This includes the following two lines of thought:

  • On the one hand we can imagine how, within existing (central) churches, a sort of evangelical tint can gradually grow, as a result of good co-operation and consultation between minister, church council and congregation. In several places a careful beginning has already been made.
  • On the other hand, it would be good if 'guinea-pig' fellowships could be established, where proper status can be given to an evangelical UPCN (local) church. Maybe in this way a totally new and pioneering direction could be taken.

Our starting points

The evangelical movement belongs within the Protestant tradition and has a right to exist within the UPCN, historically as well as in in its content.

It stands for the sola fide, sola gratia, solo christo and sola scriptura of the Reformation: only through faith, only through grace, only through Christ are we saved, only on the basis of the Holy Scripture as the authoritative Word of God to us.

Through its emphasis on the new birth, the personal relationship with Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit this movement follows in the footsteps of the 'new' Reformation and the Pietism of the 17th and 18th centuries.

With its attention to the Great Commission to all believers it follows the same line as the renewal movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, including 'Reveille' in the Netherlands.

Because it allows room for the functioning of the gifts of the Holy Spirit this movement is also allied to the Pentecostal revival at the beginning of the 20th century.

As an indication of where we stand, within the whole gamut of movements and theological discussions that have a role in our churches we would direct you to the Lausanne Covenant of 1974.

Our Theological starting points are, in short:

  1. We believe in the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as these are testified to in the Holy Scripture and are confessed in the Apostles Creed and the Nicean Creed.
  2. We believe in Jesus Christ, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. He is truly God and became truly man. He died for the sins of all people, to save us from being lost and to reconcile us to God.
  3. He rose bodily from the dead. He ascended to heaven and shall come again. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life for all people.
  4. We believe in the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes to see the wonderful things of God and shows us Jesus Christ. He convicts people of sin, righteousness and judgement. He causes us to be born again and sanctifies our lives. He works out His fruit in the believer, fills us with power and gives us spiritual gifts, for the building up of the church. He still performs signs and wonders.
  5. We accept the Holy Scripture unconditionally as the trustworthy Word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit, within which God reveals himself and makes His will known to us. The Bible is the authority for the doctrine and life of the church.
  6. We hold fast to the Great Commission as a central task of the whole church. This commission includes: seeking the lost and proclaiming Jesus Christ, in word, deed and our way of living, as the only Way to life. It is our task to call all men to repentance and faith and to make them disciples of Jesus. This should begin in our own neighbourhood/area and from there should reach 'to the ends of the earth'.
  7. We believe that the church of Jesus Christ is primarily a fellowship of people who accept God as Lord and Saviour of their lives. The church is the family of God within which we grow in faith, discover our spiritual gifts and learn to use them. The church is also the basis and the means by which the Great Commission is carried out.
  8. We believe that the Kingdom of God, the dominion of the Trinity, has been established by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; that this is already visible and tangible through the work of the Holy Spirit via the church, but that it will only fully come with and through the return of Jesus Christ. In the divine plan of God a special place has been made for the people, Israel. The church is rooted in Israel. God keeps His promises to this people and remains faithful.

The area of the playing field

Which elements and accents from the evangelical movement could now find form in churches which desire an evangelical 'tint' or in 'guinea-pig' churches where church growth seeks to follow this model? Here are a few aspects, though we are conscious of the fact that some of these will be in tension with church order and others with the established practices of the church.

The aspects that are listed here form together the 'playing field' on which we would like to give form to evangelical church growth. We are not saying that all the points named should be put into practice at once and in the same way in every place. We refer back to the idea of the two streams already mentioned: on the one hand there are growth situations in existing local churches. Here people can take certain elements from those mentioned here, and implement them; on the other hand there are the 'guinea-pigs' where people will work from a totally new situation. The contents of the playing field shall very much depend on the local situation and the people involved. We are offering here a rough guide; within this we may give form and content to whatever the Spirit lays on our hearts, in a relaxed manner and in keeping with local circumstances,

1. The Worship service

The church is the family of God and comes together to meet Him and each other, to praise and worship Him, to hear and respond to His Word. The worship service should be inviting and inspiring. There needs to be room for all church members to contribute, for liturgical freedom, for the use of various instruments and songbooks, for the possibility of testimonies and open prayer.

1. The Sermon.

The preaching should give comfort as well as making an appeal; with the accent on the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the believers, the personal acceptance of Jesus Christ and the personal application of Gods words in every area of life (discipleship).

1. The Sacraments

The sacraments of baptism and communion must be kept holy. Next to infant baptism and confirmation, as we know them historically, there needs to be room for adult baptism following repentance (by immersion) where this is desired. This means that there should also be room for the dedication of babies and a later confirming baptism.

1. Church Structure

The accent should be on the 'priesthood of all believers'. This means that it is important to discover and use the gifts, as referred to in the New Testament. The building up of the church shall, in most cases, be characterised by a network of small groups (house groups or 'growth groups'), set up and energised by the leadership of the church, where people can grow in faith and discipleship.

The goal of being a fellowship is that the members learn to live as disciples of Jesus, helping each other to accept the consequences of this and correcting each other in accordance with God's Word, in all areas of life.

1. The Church's Missionary Task

This is seen as being the central task of the church. It begins in the local neighbourhood and stretches out from there 'to the ends of the earth'. It is important that church members are equipped for this and, in accordance with their spiritual gifts, are set to work in evangelism in a whole range of ways and forms. The church should also be encouraged to 'send out' church members to do missionary work elsewhere. The local church can take on the spiritual and financial responsibility for this. It has the freedom to be involved in projects run by church organisations as well as so-called 'faith missions' and evangelical organisations.

1. The Church's Pastoral Task

Compassion was foundational to the life of Jesus and ought to be so in the life of the church. Out of compassion for the world we should give help where it is needed and be prepared to fight against injustice and oppression both at home and further afield. Sister churches in the areas concerned should be the first channels for offering assistance. We also need to look within our own churches for ways in which we can be of service to others and so give form to our faith in Jesus Christ and our compassion for people.

The local church is free to take part in pastoral activities and projects, either financially or by supplying personnel, whether these are within church organisations or evangelical (aid) organisations.

1. Healing and Deliverance

The church is called to be a healing fellowship. We cannot make a distinction between the 'spiritual' and the 'physical' aspect of being human. There needs therefore to be room for prayer counselling, for services of intercession, laying on of hands, blessing, anointing the sick, and special pastoral help in cases of demonic oppression/possession.

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