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Waterlanders, a branch of the Dutch Mennonites, deriving their name from Waterland, a region in the province of North Holland.

After most of the Mennonite elders, e.g., Dirk Philips, Menno Simons, and particularly Leenaert Bouwens, in 1555-57 proceeded to a more strict practice concerning the ban and avoidance (see also Swaen Rutgers), some less strict Mennonites protested, and a conference of South German Anabaptists held at Strasbourg in 1557 condemned this rigorism and turned from Menno and his co-elders. Before this some groups of moderates at Emden, Franeker, in Waterland, and elsewhere, had separated from the main body. Fortunately this controversy, unlike the later schisms among the Dutch Mennonites, did not include the ban of the separated, but for two centuries or more the more liberal took their own course. By Leenaert Bouwens and his adherents they were called "Scheedemakers" (after Elder Jacob Jans Scheedemaker; the word "scheedemaker," however, also has the derogatory meaning of schismatic), or "De Drekwagen" (garbage wagon). At first they are found under different names like Franekers, or Franekeraars (after the town of Franeker, where they had many followers), Joriaen-Heynsvolk, or Naeldemansvolk, but soon they were generally known as Waterlanders.

Among the Dutch Mennonites until ca. 1665 they were the least strict and most progressive and liberal branch. From the very beginning they were not as averse to contacts with "the world" as the strict Mennonites. Intermarriage with non-Mennonites, though denounced in the conference meetings as "evil and impure," was practiced and tolerated. They soon permitted their members to hold some lower magisterial offices. Though the principle of nonresistance was emphatically taught, two Waterlander brethren (see Bogaert, P. W.) in 1568 visited the Prince of Orange in his army camp to offer him a considerable sum of money which they had collected in their congregations to enable him to fight the Spaniards then dominating the Netherlands, and from ca. 1630 church discipline slackened against members who served on armed ships. They did not use the name "Mennisten," thinking it inappropriate to be named for a man, preferring to be called "Doopsgezinden." They rejected the doctrine of the Incarnation as taught by Menno Simons and Dirk Philips and by ca. 1620 they are said not to have rebaptized members of the Reformed Church (who had been baptized in infancy) who joined a Waterlander congregation. They admitted to the Lord's table members of other Mennonite branches and even of other churches, and were on friendly terms with kindred spirits like Coornhert. Yet they were not the garbage wagon as Leenaert Bouwens had decried them: they decidedly refused to accept the Socinian teachings of the Polish Brethren Ostorodt and Voydovsky shortly after 1600, and their Prussian congregations firmly resisted Socinian infiltration (see Moscorovius). They were not so liberal as to enter into a union with some English nonconformists who taught believers' baptism and who wanted to merge with them; the fact that these English "Anabaptists" had no objections to swearing an oath prevented the union (see Coventry, and Tookey, Elias).

At first the local church among the Waterlanders had great authority and was entitled to choose its own ministers, "leeraers tot den vollen dienst" (elders) and "vermaners" (preachers) as well as "armendienaers" (deacons), but by 1581 it was usual for the elders and often the preachers to be appointed by the leaders, i.e., by Hans de Ries, who was a powerful leader of the Waterlanders from 1577 until his death in 1638. By his authority the Waterlanders, unlike all other Mennonite branches, held their communion services seated around a table. De Ries also introduced the singing of Psalms, and undoubtedly it was also due to him that after ca. 1580 silent prayer was gradually replaced by a prayer spoken by the minister, though silent prayer was still found in a few Waterlander churches as late as 1660.

It is hard to imagine that these individualistic, partly spiritualistic Waterlanders wanted a common confession; yet the Waterlanders were the first Dutch Mennonites to have a confession of faith. It was drawn up in 1577 by Scheedemaker and a few other ministers, including de Ries, and contains 25 articles (it was reprinted in Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 1904).

The Waterlanders were also the first to hold a kind of more or less regular conference meeting, the first of which was held at Emden, East Friesland, in September 1568 (the interesting minutes are published in Doopsgezinde Bijdragen 1877, 69-75). A following delegates' meeting was held 4-7 March 1581, at Amsterdam (minutes in DB 1877, 80-87). Twelve congregations were represented—Ghent and Antwerp in Belgium, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Purmerend, Zaandam, Jisp, Schermerhorn, Graft, De Rijp, Westzaan, and Wormer. As in 1568, a number of practical church matters were regulated, "not as new laws, but as good advice," as the final clause states.

Apart from de Ries outstanding leaders were the elder Scheedemaker, Lubbert Gerritsz at Amsterdam and Jan Gerritz van Emden at Danzig.

After the High German and (Mild) Frisian Mennonites had merged shortly after 1591 on the basis of the Concept of Cologne, a number of Waterlander congregations joined this union ca. 1600, henceforth called "Bevredigde Broederschap." But since the Waterlanders in this union proved to be more liberal in church matters than particularly the High Germans, a number of High Germans and some Frisians withdrew from the Bevredigde Broederschap in 1613 (see Afgedeelden). Some Bevredigden thereupon were absorbed by the Waterlanders.

The Waterlanders were very active in collecting accounts of martyrs; shortly after 1600 they even sent a brother to Germany, Austria, and Moravia, to make inquiries; de Ries in 1615 published a new martyr book, entitled Historie der Martelaren . . . with a Preface which is typically Waterlander.

Though exact figures of the number of their congregations and membership are not available, the Waterlanders in the early 17th century had a considerable following. In Friesland the number of their brethren in 1666 was 882, somewhat more than one sixth of all the Mennonites. In North Holland, where they had their own conference (see Rijper Sociëteit), the Waterlanders ca. 1650 outnumbered all other branches; in Amsterdam the baptized membership in 1615 numbered more than 1,000. At a conference held in September 1647 at Amsterdam 58 delegates were present, representing 41 churches, 22 of them from towns in the present province of North Holland, 6 from South Holland, 10 from Friesland, 2 from Groningen, and Emden in East Friesland. At this meeting it was resolved "to offer peace" to (i.e., to propose a merger with) the united Flemish, High German, and Frisian group.

It is noteworthy that the Waterlanders, who, unlike the strict groups, did not consider their own church as the (only) true Mennonite church, which, as is pointed out by de Ries in the preface to the martyr book, fervently hoped for and ardently acted in behalf of a general union of all Mennonites, were not involved in several endeavors "to make peace"; the aforementioned request of 1647 to the Flemish was dropped. Obviously the other branches did not appreciate the liberal views of the Waterlanders. A meeting of Flemish delegates at Leiden in 1660 (see Leidsche Synode) emphatically disapproved their lax church discipline, their marriage with non-Mennonites, their acceptance of Reformed and even unbaptized persons in their communion services, and their neglect of proper ordination for the ministers, not clearly distinguishing between the offices of elder and preacher. Moreover they were censured for their friendly interest in the Collegiants.

It was not until the Lammerenkrijgh had in 1664 regrouped the Dutch Mennonites into two new branches—the progressive Lamists and the conservative Zonists—that in many towns the Waterlanders merged with the Lamists—at Amsterdam in 1668, at Haarlem in 1672, at Rotterdam in 1700, and at Leiden in 1701. But on the other hand a number of rural Waterlander churches in North Holland joined the Zonist conference (Sociëteit) in 1674. This was due to the influence of some of their elders like E. A. van Dooregeest, P. J. Stapper, D. S. Moeriaen(s), and Jan Maertensz Mol, who strongly emphasized maintaining the confession of faith drawn up in 1610 by de Ries and Lubbert Gerritsz, and who rejected the "unlimited toleration" of the Collegiants. As a consequence of this influence some Waterlander churches like De Rijp, Oostzaandam, Westzaan, and others resolved to maintain the confession, to admit to communion services only those who were baptized upon the confession of faith, and to refuse the pulpit to those ministers who worshiped with the Collegiants at Rijnsburg. This meant the dissolving of the Waterlander branch, their churches partly merging with the Lamists, partly with the Zonists. The (Waterlander) Rijper Conference however continued its activities, and many of the congregations retained the name of Waterlander until the 19th century.


Cate, Steven Blaupot ten. Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Friesland. Leeuwarden: W. Eekhoff, 1839: 163 et passim.

Doopsgezinde Bijdragen (1872): 55, 57-59, 67 f.; (1876): 21-25; (1877): 66-93; (1892): 99-101; (1894): 34; (1897): 91 f., 97-105, 109 f., 113, 119; (1898): 55; (1903): 57-77, 80-85; (1904): 138-59.

Hoop Scheffer, Jacob Gijsbert de. Inventaris der Archiefstukken berustende bij de Vereenigde Doopsgezinde Gemeente to Amsterdam, 2 vols. Amsterdam: Uitgegeven en ten geschenke aangeboden door den Kerkeraad dier Gemeente, 1883-1884: v. I, Nos. 465, 471-76, 478-91, 507, 510-14, 517, 524, 526-33, 537 f., 540-43, 546-54, 556, 575, 579, 774, 776 f., 890-96, 899-911; v. II, No. 2626.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Doopsgezinden in de Zestiende Eeuw. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink, 1932: passim.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden in Nederland II. 1600-1735 Eerste Helft. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon n.v., 1940: passim.

Kühler, Wilhelmus Johannes. Geschiedenis van de Doopsgezinden in Nederland: Gemeentelijk Leven 1650-1735. Haarlem: H.D. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon, 1950: 9, 17-20, 44.

Author(s) Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1959

Cite This Article

MLA style

Zijpp, Nanne van der. "Waterlanders." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 1 Dec 2023. https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Waterlanders&oldid=134967.

APA style

Zijpp, Nanne van der. (1959). Waterlanders. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 1 December 2023, from https://gameo.org/index.php?title=Waterlanders&oldid=134967.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 895-896. All rights reserved.

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