Stinstra, Johannes (1708-1790)

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Johannes Stinstra, born 10 August 1708, at Harlingen, died there 8 January 1790, a son of Symon Johannes Stinstra and Trijntje Gooitjens Braam, was a Dutch Men­nonite pastor and theologian, studied theology, philosophy, and oriental languages at the University of Franeker 1726-ca.1733. After his study he returned to Harlingen; in the fall of 1733 he was invited by the board of his home church to preach four sermons a year. In 1735 he was appointed full-time pastor of this congregation, serving it until 1785. He rejected two calls by the Amsterdam Lamist con­gregation and one by the Haarlem Peuzelaarsteeg church. In 1739-40 Stinstra, then the moderator of the Mennonite Conference of Friesland (FDS), presided at the meetings which considered the suspension of two Mennonite preachers, Wytse Jeens (Brouwer) and Pieke Tjommes, by the Frisian States on the charge of some Reformed pastors that they had taught Socinian doc­trines. They had refused to sign a formulary drawn up by the States of Friesland, because as a matter of principle they were not willing to sign formularies or confessions, the Scriptures for them as Mennonites being the only source of faith. In behalf of the two preachers and the maintenance of religious freedom Stinstra drew up a defense in the name of the conference, which was published (three editions, all at Leeuwarden, 1741) and presented to the govern­ment of Friesland. Its title was Request met bygevoegde Deductie voor het Regt van Vryheid van Geloove, Godsdienst en Conscientie op den naam van de Doopsgezinde Gemeenten in Friesland ingeleverd aan de E. M. Heeren Staaten der gemelde Provincie (Request with Following Deduction in Behalf of the Right of Freedom of Religion, Wor­ship and Conscience, in the Name of the Mennonite Congregations of Friesland, Presented to Their Highness, the States of the foresaid Province). This request was opposed and attacked by D. Gerdes, G. Kulenkamp, A. Driessen, and some anonymous Reformed authors, whose publications urged the States of Friesland to take measures against the Mennonites of Friesland, since they were infected with the heresies of Socinus.

In the meantime Stinstra, wishing to supplement the Request by developing his ideas from the Scriptures, had published five sermons, entitled De natuure en Gesteldheid van Christus Koninkrijk... (Harlingen, 1741, and reprinted) and a separate booklet Byvoegzel van Aanteekeningen over de vyf Predicatien (no place of publication and no date of publication indicated-1741). Now the attacks of the Reformed turned directly against Stinstra. A number of Reformed authors, including Gerdes and J. van den Honert, tried to prove that the author of the "Vijf Predicatien" was a Socinian whose teachings should not be tolerated. Stinstra's book was also discussed in the Reformed synods and in the summer of 1742 an official Reformed charge was made against Stinstra. The government of Friesland ordered that the book by Stinstra be examined by the theological faculties of several Dutch universities. The judgment of all universities was that Stinstra's book did contain Socinian ideas; only Venema of the Franeker University, whose lectures Stinstra had attended while studying at Franeker, declared that the Christian views of his pupil were sound. Thereupon the government of Friesland on 13 January 1742, forbade Stinstra to preach, and notwithstanding several petitions by his church board, by the conference of Friesland, and by Stinstra himself, the suspension was not rescinded until 1757. During his enforced rest Stinstra regular­ly wrote and circulated sermons, which were published in two volumes under the title Vier en Twintig Leerredenen (Harlingen, 1746). He also devoted much time to study, his special field being the philosophy of ethics. Stinstra was a man of moderate views and was particularly drawn toward the contemporary liberal theology of English authors like J. Tillotson, James Foster, and particularly Samuel Clarke, whose sermons Stinstra translated into Dutch: Predikatien over verscheidene Stoffen, 11 vols, 1739-49. Stinstra also translated into the Dutch three moralistic novels by the English novelist Samuel Richardson, with whom he kept up a correspondence.

Besides these translations and the Vier en Twintig Leerredenen, he also published a few sermons on special occasions, three volumes of sermons, Oude Voorspelingen aangaande den Messias . . . toegepast op den Heere Jesus . . . (Harlingen, 1779-86), ref­utations of the books by J. van den Honert and other opponents, and together with his co-preachers the Harlinger Vraagenboek, a catechism published at Harlingen in 1751. Being opposed to the Moravian Brethren (in the Netherlands usually called Hernhutters, and their doctrines, he published Waarschuwinge tegen de Geestdrijverij, vervat in een brief aan de Doopsgezinden in Friesland (Harlingen, 1750). Of this book a French translation appeared: Lettre Pastorale contre le Fanatisme (Leiden, 1752), which also contains an important survey of the origin of the Moravian movement (by an unknown author); a German edition Warnung vor dem Fanaticismus, also con­taining the introduction from the French edition, was published in Berlin, 1752; an English edition, without this introduction, A Pastoral Letter against Fanaticism Addressed to the Mennonites of Friesland, appeared in London in 1753.

Stinstra was repeatedly charged with Socinianism, not only by the Reformed theologians, but also by some Mennonites, particularly by the preacher Jacobus Rijsdijk, a strict Zonist. Rijsdijk attacked Stinstra in Godtgeleerde Aanmerkingen ..., 2 volumes (Groningen, 1742-44). In general the charge of Socinianism was unfair; Stinstra was not an adherent of Socinus. Neverthe­less there was in some points a striking similarity between Socinian concepts and Stinstra's views, particularly his concept of Christianity as a reason­able religious system, the value and truth of which can be recognized and proved by the ratio (reason) of man; and the emphasis put on morality, even to the neglect of sentiment and piety, easily makes it understandable that he was taken for a Socinian by many. His sermons, much admired during his lifetime, are for our taste much too prolix, too spec­ulative, too rationalistic, and too moralistic; they are more like treatises or essays than like testimonies. His method of clear rationalistic thinking made him averse to pietism, because of its subjectivism and its overemotionalism. Stinstra, who had great au­thority among his church members, prevented Johannes Deknatel, the well-known pietistic preacher of the Amsterdam Lamist Mennonite con­gregation, from preaching in the Harlingen Mennonite Church. By this partiality he estranged a number of his members who had religious needs that Stinstra could not supply and who began to organize separate meetings, including communion services, in a home. Stinstra was an influential pre­cursor of 19th-century liberalism.


Cate, Steven Blaupot ten. Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Friesland. Leeuwarden: W. Eekhoff, 1839: 209-15, 236, 327-50.

Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1867): 116-41; (1868): 51-84; (1869): 61-63; (1885): 76.

Sepp, Chr. Johannes Stinstra en zijn tijd. Am­sterdam, 1865 and 1866.

Author(s) Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1959

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MLA style

Zijpp, Nanne van der. "Stinstra, Johannes (1708-1790)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 13 Apr 2024.,_Johannes_(1708-1790)&oldid=121310.

APA style

Zijpp, Nanne van der. (1959). Stinstra, Johannes (1708-1790). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 13 April 2024, from,_Johannes_(1708-1790)&oldid=121310.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 634-635.. All rights reserved.

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