Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Window Into the Past: "The Matter Geelkerken"

This series will showcase historical research I have done in order to write the biographies of the Wesselo siblings. This research spans the time from 1865 (when the first sibling was born) until 1989 (when the last of the siblings and spouses died). The focus of this series is sometimes broad – dealing with nation-wide events – and at other times very local. It’s always related to something a specific ancestor encountered, but without using sources that name that ancestor.

In a short, autobiographical sketch of his own life, written in 1947, Lodewijk Wesselo writes a bit about the different churches he belonged to. First he belonged to the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, but then in 1926 he switched to the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated), before making another switch around 1930 to the Dutch Reformed Church. It was this second switch that drew my attention, because as the reason for it he mentioned “the matter elkerken???”.

It didn’t take much digging for me to figure out what he mean (misspelling and all). All it took was entering the name of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) into Wikipedia. It brought me to an interesting bit of church history in the Netherland.

It all started with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, which formed in 1892 from two groups that had separated from the Dutch Reformed Church – one in 1834 and the other one in 1886. This church is a protestant denomination with a mainstream reformed orientation (Calvinism). In 1926 a conflict within the church emerged, centering around the interpretation of the Bible – in particular Genesis. This Bible book states that the serpent spoke to Eve and thus enticed her into eating the apple. The orthodox majority of the church concluded from this story that the serpent had the ability to speak – a literal interpretation of the Bible. The more liberal members of the church, led by Dr. J.G. Geelkerken, a minister for the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, looked at this as more of an allegory – a symbolic interpretation of the Bible.

Dr. Johannes Gerardus Geelkerken (1879 - 1960)

This conflict became such an issue that the Synod of Assen in 1926 was called to decide about this matter. The synod concluded that the only right interpretation of the Bible was the literal one. Every other interpretation of the Bible was unacceptable. A number of ministers, including Geelkerken, refused to accept the verdict and were subsequently dismissed. Others chose to voluntarily leave the church and join Geelkerken and his fellow ministers as they formed the new Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated).

Around 1930 Lodewijk decided to join the Dutch Reformed Church, because the community of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) “didn’t satisfy” him. He was ahead of his time. In 1946 the entire Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Liberated) joined the Dutch Reformed Church and as such ceased to exist.

I was lucky to find a firsthand account of not only which churches Lodewijk Wesselo belonged to, but also the reasons for the changes. So often we are able to find church records for our ancestors and can even follow them through time as they switch faith (if we’re lucky). But it is rare that we get to truly know why one of our ancestors switched between faiths or churches. So I can only say that I’m very glad Lodewijk decided his reasons for changing churches was important enough to write down.

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