Historical meeting in Hilversum

The rapprochement of apostolic denominations is continuing: after declarations of reconciliation in Germany and Switzerland, as well as an initial meeting in South Africa, there has now also been a meeting in the Netherlands—and this one was in a much larger context.

Johannes Hendrik van Oosbree (1862-1946) was a New Apostolic Apostle and is, at the same time, considered the founding father of the “Apostolische Genootschap” in the Netherlands. Now, 70 years later, a meeting of the two denominations recently took place in Hilversum. Apostle Peter Klene of the New Apostolic Church describes the gathering on 17 September 2016 as historic.

In his welcome address, he explained that church history in the Netherlands had been marked by the founding of many new denominations. “The separation of the two apostolic currents was a big issue for us at the time—and yet only one of many such events that have characterized the churches of the Netherlands.” The church leader from the Netherlands went on to say, “There were times that these divisions cut through entire families and marriages like a sharp knife.” This has been the cause of a great deal of pain and suffering, he noted.

Nevertheless, he came to the conclusion that “we should be lenient when we look back on the past, in the awareness that many at the time made their choices to the best of their knowledge and conviction.” He went on to add that we today cannot really put ourselves into the thinking of the generation of that time.

Separation and the founding of a new denomination

Johannes Hendrik van Oosbree became acquainted with the Apostolic Mission Church—as the New Apostolic Church in the Netherlands was known at the time—as a 16-year-old. Apostle Friedrich Wilhelm Schwartz sealed him in the year 1878. Very soon he became a minister of the Church, and in 1910, he became District Apostle of the Hersteld Apostolische Zendingsgemeente.

Under the leadership of Chief Apostle Johann Gottfried Bischoff, collaboration became increasingly difficult. Step by step, these developments led to a separation, and soon two completely different churches emerged side by side. The “Hersteld Apostolische Zendingsgemeente in de Eenheid der Apostelen” remained New Apostolic, and the new church that came into being called itself the “Apostolische Genootschap”, or “Apostolic Society”.

A meeting after 70 years

Some 350 members from both denominations gathered in Hilversum in mid-September for a day of retrospect. Various lectures and presentations were scheduled under the caption of “Renewal and Tradition in the Apostolic Society and the New Apostolic Church 1946-2016”. And, according to the hosting Apostle Klene, it turned into a day characterized by a pleasant atmosphere, in which many meetings took place.

Naturally, the separation of the two denominations is still assessed in very different ways. In his concluding words, Apostle Albert Wiegman of the Apostolische Genootschap made the interesting comparison that, under a microscope, two heart muscles that move differently from one another can be brought close to one another in such a manner that they begin to move at the same rhythm. Thereby he emphasized that there were still many things that bind the two denominations and that it was worthwhile for them to come closer together. “There are still many good contacts between families from both churches,” he said.

The day ended with a choir hymn sung together by both groups.

Discussions with other denominations

Thus another two apostolic denominations have taken a step closer to one another. In February of this year, representatives from the United Apostolic Church of South Africa and the New Apostolic Church Cape likewise met up for their first discussions together. Beyond that, the “Reformiert-apostolische Gemeindebund” and the New Apostolic Church in Eastern Germany are currently working on a declaration of reconciliation.

A similarly historical document was already signed in November of 2014 with the United Apostolic Church in Germany. “It is our desire to continue along the path of reconciliation we have begun with other apostolic denominations,” wrote Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider as he commented on this step at the time. Other apostolic denominations also exist in the USA as well as in Switzerland, where a declaration of reconciliation was also signed with the United Apostolic Church as far back as 2005.

Key term: Apostolische Genootschap

The Apostolische Genootschap is the largest apostolic denomination in the Netherlands. It officially came into being in 1951 as an offshoot of the New Apostolic denomination of the time, which was then known as the “Hersteld Apostolische Zendingkerk in de Eenheid der Apostelen” (HAZEA). After Apostle van Oosbree died, Apostle Lambertus Slok assumed leadership of the young denomination. The separation went right through the congregations: some 26,000 members followed Apostle Slok, while 5,000 remained with the Chief Apostle. Today, the Apostolische Genootschap does not describe itself as an ecclesiastical denomination, but rather sees itself as a humanist community in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

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Peter Johanning
Apostle, Denominations, International