Dutch churches come closer in mutual recognition of baptisms

Dutch churches come closer in mutual recognition of baptisms

A top Dutch ecumenist has urged European churches to respond to secularisation by “coming closer together” after local churches signed an agreement recognising each other’s baptisms.

“We’re living in secularised societies, where the presence of non-Christian faiths is growing but many people have little understanding of religion,” said Klaas van der Kamp, secretary-general of the Council of Churches in the Netherlands.

“This should naturally bring us closer, as we focus on our essential relationship with God, who brings us together through baptism. A generation ago, when all countries had a Christian majority, such impulses were not so strong,” he added.

The 48-year-old Protestant pastor was speaking as work continued to implement the May 29 accord, signed by the predominant Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, as well as seven Orthodox, Evangelical, Reformed and Old Catholic denominations.

In an ENInews interview on July 4, he said the document, endorsed by all main Christian traditions, represented a “significant advance,” and had also “opened a window” to talks on other theological issues.

“We all recognise now that what’s really important aren’t the details, but how to communicate to a secular society the relationship of baptism to Christ Himself,” van der Kamp told ENInews. “If we focus on other areas, such as the Eucharist, it’s harder to reach agreement. But the mutual recognition of baptisms is a good, realisable step.”

The agreement, recognising baptisms conducted with water in the name of the Holy Trinity, was prepared over three years by a working group of the Amersfoort-based Council, founded in 1968, which groups 14 member-churches and four associate members, representing 6.5 million Dutch Christians.

A separate declaration of “closeness of positions” was signed by the Baptist and Mennonite churches.

Van der Kamp said Dutch churches had drawn on a similar April 2007 accord on baptisms by 11 churches in neighbouring Germany, and would offer advice to ecumenical councils preparing agreements in Belgium, Finland and Switzerland.

He added that churches throughout Western Europe felt “pushed together” by growing public ignorance and intolerance of religion, which had been illustrated by a June court judgment in Germany banning religious circumcision and a Dutch poll in which nine per cent of citizens said they would “not wish to have Christians as neighbours.”

“The Netherlands is still one of Europe’s most tolerant countries, but the situation is changing all over the continent as a gulf widens between religion and politics,” van der Kamp said.

“If they’re not to disappear from the public stage completely, churches must reorganise themselves, come closer and present a positive picture of themselves. But while we can use the examples of other countries, we have to do this in our own way, through our own hearts, minds and souls.”

A Council statement on June 25 said it was hoped more Dutch churches would sign the agreement at Pentecost 2013, adding that a “baptism card” would now be made available and local ecumenical groups encouraged to discuss “further rapprochement” and share material.

The Dutch Protestant and Roman Catholic churches accepted each other’s baptisms in the 1960s, after controversies involving Princess Irena, a sister of Queen Beatrix, who was made to renounce her royal claim and undergo “re-baptism” when she married a Roman Catholic prince from Spain.

By Jonathan Luxmoore, Ecumenical News International

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