Dutch Reformed Wiki

The Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (NHK, or Dutch Reformed Church in English) is the oldest of the Dutch Reformed denominations.


John Calvin, 1509-1564

The Reformation[]

Martin Luther[]

Although he didn't intend it, the division of the holy catholic church into one denomination after another began when Martin Luther, a German monk, came to the realization that salvation was by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, which he discovered by studying and meditating on the Bible. His other core belief was that the people should have access to the Bible in their own languages instead of only Latin. He also considered the Bible to be the only authoritative source of religious knowledge in opposition to the Roman Catholic view that church tradition was on equal footiing with Holy Writ.

Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany on October 31, 1517, primarily in reaction to the church selling indulgences, offering forgiveness of sins in exchange for money to help pay for rebuilding St. Peter's Basilica in Rome rather than through the practice of penance. Three months later the 95 Theses were translated into German, printed, and widely disseminated throughout Germany (within two weeks) and all of Europe (within two months), demonstrating the power of the printing press.

Luther refused to back down on his beliefs and was excommunicated in 1521 at the Diet of Worms. Frederick III has his men intercept Luther after the Diet and hide him at Wartburg Castle, where he translated the Bible into German. The Lutheran church was born of this controversy, which also marks the launching point of the Protestant Reformation.

John Calvin[]

In France, John Calvin (Jean Cauvin in French) grew up in a world filled with religious controversy as the Reformation grew. Calvin received his law degree in 1532, fled France with his friend, the reformer Nicolas Cop, and published the first edition of his Instititutes of the Christian Religion (in Latin) from Basel, Switzerland in 1536. The volume was intended as a defense of the doctrinal positions of the reformers in part on behalf of French Huguenots (Protestants). The Instititutes were tranlated into French in 1541.

The Calvinist branch of the Reformation was especially strong in Switzerland (Calvin spent much of his live in Geneva) and Strasbourg, Germany. It was during his first stay in Stasbourg that Calvin expanded the Institutes from six chapters to 17. As with Luther, the printing press made it easy for Calvin's writings to spread throughout Europe, including the Netherlands.

The Dutch Reformation[]

Lutheranism reached the Netherlands, which borders Germany on the west, in short order, but by 1560 Calvin's teaching were spreading into the Dutch provinces, where they were quickly embraced by the people, who had to meet secretly at first. By 1563, these congregations held their first organizational meeting, called a synod. In stark contrast to the way Lutherans were protected by their rulers, Dutch Reformed believers were prosecuted for their faith.

Synod of Emden[]

These reformed congregation became officially organized as the Gereformeerde Kerken (Reformed Churches) on October 4, 1571 at the Synod of Emden in Germany. It was here that the first church order was approved, giving the new denomination a presbyterian form of government rather than a top-down one. Congregations were divided into regional "classes", and the Belgic Confession was approved as a statement of faith.

The Heidelberg Catechism was chosen for teaching in the Dutch-speaking churches; the Genevan Catechism for French-speaking congregations.

Winning Freedom[]

Under the Spanish monarch Philip II, the Spanish Inquisition came to the Netherlands - and this was too much for the Calvinists to tolerate. They rebelled against their Spanish overlords, calling William the Silent to lead their revolution. This was to be a protracted war, known as the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648), which resulted in the formal independence of the United Republic in 1581.

The Union of Utrecht allowed each province to choose a religion, and every person was to be allowed the right to choose their own religion, and this new freedom made the Netherlands a haven for religious refugees from all parts of Europe. The Reformed Church had a privileged position in the Netherlands, but it was never officially adopted as the state religion, although public office holders were required to be communicant members.


Calvinism became the dominant Protestant faith in the Netherlands, but it was not without its detractors. Jacob Arminius (1560-1609). In 1590, Arminius began to develop views of grace, predestination, and free will that were at odds with the teachings of Calvin and his followers. These issues were immediately debated, summariezed in the Five Articles of Remonstrance in 1610, and finally addressed by the 1618-1619 Synod of Dort .

The Five Points of Arminianism[]

  1. Election (predestination) is conditional upon faith in Christ.
  2. Unlimited atonement: Christ died for all.
  3. Total depravity: We can do nothing truly good apart from the working of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Resistable grace: Free will allows us to resist the work of the Holy Spirit.
  5. Believers are capable of falling away from the faith.

The Calvinists had their own five points, summarized with the acronym TULIP:

The Five Points of Calvinism[]

  1. Total depravity: We can do nothing truly good apart from the working of the Holy Spirit.
  2. Unconditional election: God has not chosen us based on foreseen faith.
  3. Limited atonement: Christ's death is only efficacious for the elect.
  4. Irresistible grace: The elect cannot resist the Holy Spirit's call to faith.
  5. Perseverance of the saints: The elect cannot and will not fall away from the faith.

The Calvinists won the debate, and the Remonstrants withdrew from the Reformed Church and continue as a separate denomination to this day.

The Canons of Dort, which explained the five points of Calvinism, became the third confession of the Reformed Church, joining the Heidelberg Catechism and Belgic Confession to form the Three Forms of Unity.

The Reformed Church did not hold another synod

Becoming the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk[]

In 1816, William I reorganized the independent Gereformeerde Kerken as the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (NHK, Netherlands Reformed [or Reorganized] Church). The Church Order adopted at the Synod of Dordt in 1619 was set aside and replaced with a government created hierarchical structure.

Secessions and Movements[]

Nadere Reformatie[]

From approximately 1600 to 1750, there was a second Dutch Reformation (Nadere Reformatie is difficult to translate, as there is no equivalent word in English). In many ways, the Nadere Reformatie parallels English Puritanism  (which began circa 1560), German Pietism (which began circa 1665), and to some extent the First Great Awakening as well.


The NHK essentially became a state church under the state's authority, and pastors began to teach doctrines that didn't fit with the Calvinism defined by the Three Forms of Unity. A secession (afscheiding in Dutch) began in 1834 when the Rev. Hendrik de Cock of Ulrum was forbidden from preaching, ordered not to criticize the teachings of others, and explicitly disallowed from baptizing children from other congregations where unsound doctrine was being propagated.

Several churches and groups seceded from the NHK, but they could only agree with each other that it was necessary to leave what they considered an apostate church. The seceders who sought government permission to organize chose the name Christian Seceded Church (Christelijke Afgesheiden Kerk, CAK). Seceders who refused to do so were known as the Reformed Church under the Cross (Gereformeerde Kerk onder het Kruis, GKK, informally Kruis Kerken). The CAK and many GKK congregations merged as the Christian Reformed Church (Christelijkje Gereformeerde Kerk, CGKN) in 1869.


Rev. Lambertus Gerardus Cornelis Ledeboer was deposed from the NHK for his refusal to use the new hymnbook in his church, which continued to sing only psalms in worship. I have been able to find very little information on the Ledeboerians in English.

The Ledeborians and remnant of the GKK also united in 1869.


Abraham Kuyper  led a secession from the NHK in 1886. The Doleantie (Grieving) soon looked toward union with the CGKN. In 1892, the dolendere united with most of the CGKN, forming the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (GKN, Reformed Churches in the Netherlands). 


In the Netherlands, the NHK, GKN, and Evangelical Lutheran Church negotiated a merger, creating the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (Protestantse Kerk in Nederland, or PKN) on May 1, 2004.

The day before the union was completed, opponents of the union in the NHK met to form the Restored Reformed Church (Hersteld Hervormde Kerk, or HHK), which began with 65 congregations and remnants of 70 more. It has 117 member churches as of January 2013. 

Also, about seven GKN congregations chose to continue their denomination rather than join the PKN.