Ministry (Netherlands)

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In the early period of Anabaptism in the Netherlands there were found a number of names and functions of ministers: bishop, elder (oudste), baptizer (doper), preacher, deacon, purse bearer (buydeldrager; in charge of financial matters), servant (dienaer), and servant of the poor (armendienaer). In those times of persecution and insecurity, when the congregations had not yet been fully organized, there was no sharp distinction between the various offices. Not yet strictly observed was the difference between elders, whose task it was to baptize, to administer the communion, to perform marriages, to ordain elders, preachers, and deacons, and to ban, and on the other hand preachers, who were only to preach or to read the Scriptures in the meetings, and there were a number of instances where a deacon preached and even performed baptism. Though we are informed only about a few cases, we may assume that as a rule elders, preachers and deacons were ordained by laying on of hands. This did not imply a doctrine of apostolic succession. The word "Bishop" was rarely found; it was apparently too suggestive of Catholicism. About 1545 the differences between the offices became clearer, and elders, preachers, and deacons were usually well distinguished. Preachers then used to be chosen from the deacons, while the elders were chosen from the preachers. In the times of Menno Simons there were only a few elders, traveling about, who formed a kind of council of elders, meeting from time to time (Goch 1547, Lübeck 1552, Wismar 1554) to discuss and to decide upon the matters of the church, also to discuss and resolve the question whether new elders should be ordained. But by the close of the 16th century most local congregations had obtained their own elder. He was chosen by the preachers and deacons (dienaerschap) of the local congregation and ordained by an elder from abroad. Thus it was found in the confessions. In the Concept of Cologne 1591 the "bishop or leeraer" was to be chosen by the congregation and after being examined was to be ordained by elders with the laying on of hands. Ordination of deacons was not mentioned here. In the Flemish Olijftacxken confession of 1626, preachers, elders, and deacons were named, together being the shepherds of the church, who after fasting and prayer were to be examined concerning their faith and their moral conduct and thereupon to be ordained by laying on of hands. The Jan Cents confession of 1630 (High German-Frisian), Article X, mentioned the following officers in the church: prophets, shepherds, preachers (this meant elders; the word "Oudste" was not found in this confession), "hulpers" (i.e., assistants, who were the preachers), and governors. They were to be appointed by the congregation after fasting and prayer. Laying on of hands was not mentioned, but obviously assumed. The Dordrecht confession of 1632 (Flemish), Article IX, dealt with the ministry only in general terms. The distinction between bishops, or elders, and preachers (leeraers) was not quite clear. Laying on of hands was emphatically demanded. Both the "Diaken-Dienaren," who were to care for the poor, and the deaconesses, who were to look after the poor, the sick, and the afflicted, were mentioned among the ministry. It was expressly stated that the congregation which appointed the minister shall choose as deacons men who, if necessary, could also preach. The practice, no doubt, generally agreed with these resolutions. Laying on of hands for ordaining deacons in all these groups had disappeared by 1650, in some branches even long before.

After the Dutch Mennonites had been divided into numerous branches by their deplorable schisms, practices in the various groups differed.

Waterlander practices are revealed by the resolutions of the Emden meeting in 1568 and the Amsterdam meeting of 1581. In the Emden resolutions a difference was made between a "leeraer" (i.e., elder) and a "vermaner" (admonisher), who was chosen to "the service of admonishing," i.e., preaching. The deacons, if they were able to do so, were also authorized to preach. In the resolution of Amsterdam in 1581 the "leeraer in den vollen dienst" (minister in full service) was spoken of and during this meeting Jacob Jansz (Schedemaker), who until then had been a "vermaner" (preacher), was "asked, admonished, and ordered" to accept the full office of the eldership (leerampt). Upon his assent he was ordained with the laying on of hands. The expression "leeraer in den vollen dienst" was the common title of the elder among the Waterlanders; the word "Oudste," though it is found in Articles XXVI and XXVII of the Waterlander confession by Hans de Ries and Lubbert Gerritsz (1610), was unusual among the Waterlanders. About 1610 the distinction between the offices of elder and preacher was no longer strictly observed in this group, and soon after the preachers usually also performed baptism and administered communion, which in other Mennonite branches was reserved to elders as their special assignment and prerogative. As a typical remnant of the old difference between the functions of elder and preacher we note the retention of the phrase "asked, admonished, and ordered" to accept "the full service of the leerampt," but practically the difference between "leeraer in den vollen dienst" (elder) and "leeraer" soon disappeared. Another remnant of the old distinction was seen in the practice, commonly found among the Waterlanders until the 18th century, of inviting a minister from another congregation for the purpose of performing baptism and administering the communion, though the "leeraer" of the congregation was fully qualified to do this himself.

The extreme conservative groups in the Netherlands, e.g., the Janjacobs-gezinden, Groningen and Danzig Old Flemish, and Old Frisians, until the end of the 18th century maintained the distinction in function and responsibility between elders and preachers. These groups maintained the traditions from the times of Menno Simons, e.g., that of traveling elders. Among the Old Frisians of North Holland these men were called "landsdienaren." The Groningen Old Flemish called them "oudsten," or "opzieners," but in the last decades of the 18th century even the name "commissaris" is found. There is much information on the manner of choosing elders in this group: when they wanted to appoint an elder, a number of preachers who were candidates for the eldership visited all the congregations; the one who gathered most votes was then chosen. This system lasted until the end of the 18th century. From about 1750 among this group only the elders, not the preachers, were ordained by laying on of hands.

Among the Flemish and the Frisians, and after 1665 among the Lamists and Zonists, the distinctions between elder and preacher also gradually fell into discard (Galenus Abrahamsz was never ordained as elder), though there are during the 18th century many examples of appointing and ordaining preachers to special eldership, both among the Lamists and Zonists. During the 18th century in a few congregations (Leiden, Rotterdam, Amsterdam bij 't Lam, Bovenknijpe) there were "ouderlingen." They were chosen from the deacons and had to supervise the finances of the congregation.

Deacons were chosen from the male membership. Until about 1685 deacons were usually chosen by the meeting of the brethren (Broedervertoeving), but from this time on in a number of congregations, especially those of larger cities like Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leiden, Rotterdam, gradually the practice was introduced of having the church board (preachers and deacons) appoint the new members of the board, who in the 18th century were often chosen for life. The rural churches rarely accepted this practice of co-optation, which lasted in Rotterdam, for example, until 1924.

As long as the congregation had lay preachers (leekepreekers) who did not receive a salary, or at most a small remuneration for the loss of their earnings from private business (liefdepredikers), each congregation had two or more, up to as many as seven preachers. When a preacher had been chosen he was subjected to a thorough examination. In the stricter groups like the Old Flemish this was an examination on the confession. He then became a minister on probation (proefdienaar). This they formerly called "in de proeve staan." The preachers from about 1550 until about 1700 like the deacons were usually chosen out of the congregation by the male members of the congregation, but from the 18th century on in a number of congregations preachers were appointed by the church boards. About 1700 and occasionally even some three decades before, as the desire and ability of the local candidates diminished, and the congregations, particularly those of the larger cities, grew more and more demanding, preachers were often called in from abroad, who were then given a salary. At the same time, in 1680, Galenus Abrahamsz at Amsterdam started to train young men for the ministry, which training was continued in 1735 by the Amsterdam (Lamist) Theological Seminary, founded in this year, whereas the Amsterdam Zonist congregation began a ministers' training course some years later. Besides this, a number of ministers, like Pieter van Dokkumburg at Koog aan de Zaan and Pieter Beets at Zaandam, took up the training of ministers, who after their training were examined by a church board or by the trustees of the Conference in Friesland (Friesche Doopsgezinde Sociëteit) and appointed ministerial candidate (proponent). During the entire 17th century and even before, the congregations liked to have a physician as their preacher, the university training giving some warranty for scholarly education (see Medicine among the Dutch Mennonites). Thus a number of congregations in the 18th century obtained well-trained ministers; but in the country churches the untrained and unsalaried ministers far outnumbered the others until about 1825.

From the 19th century on, the Dutch Mennonite congregations have been governed by a church board (Kerkeraad, Kerkbestuur), consisting of a number of male members (after 1900 also in many congregations female members), which with a few exceptions were now chosen by all the members of the congregation. The pastor usually was a member of the church board, often its secretary. In most congregations the trustees were called deacons. In some congregations there are still special deacons (deaconesses) for the care of the poor. The members of the church board (deacons) had no particular spiritual office, since preaching, baptizing, performing marriages, giving catechetical instruction, etc., was left to the pastor(s). Occasionally a deacon preached. The congregations were wholly autonomous, both material and spiritual matters being discussed and resolved by the local church board. Most congregations now had only one pastor; a number of small congregations united to be served by the same pastor. Only a few large congregations were served by two or more (two each in Leeuwarden, Groningen, Utrecht, Texel, Zaandam, Rotterdam; The Hague three, Haarlem four, Amsterdam six). The pastor was usually called "dominee"; the old "leeraar" has gradually become rare. Since 1911 there have also been women in the ministry (in 1957, 25 out of a total of 109 pastors). The great majority of pastors now have been trained at a university and the Amsterdam Seminary, but in 1957 there were still ten pastors who have had no university or seminary training.

Since the distinction between elders and preachers was now unknown in the Netherlands, the pastor was both elder and preacher. Pastors mostly took up their office simply by being introduced by an older pastor (usually a relative or a friend) and by delivering an installation sermon. Laying on of hands, which had been rarely practiced for more than a century and a half, now sometimes took place. Pastorship was generally a full-time job; only a few pastors had some side employment. This made high demands upon the Dutch brotherhood. Most salaries were provided by the local congregations; but many congregations which are unable to pay an adequate salary receive a subsidy from the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit (in 1956 some 75,000 guilders paid to 64 congregations). For the insurance of the pastors in cases of illness or old age there were a number of pension funds.

Nearly all the pastors have joined the A.N.D.P.V. (General Dutch Mennonite Pastors' Association), founded in 1927; a number of them were members of the (interconfessional) union of Dutch pastors, an association for the material interests of ministers.


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Author(s) Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1957

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Zijpp, Nanne van der. "Ministry (Netherlands)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 24 Jul 2024.

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Zijpp, Nanne van der. (1957). Ministry (Netherlands). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 24 July 2024, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 699-701. All rights reserved.

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