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Elders and Deacons in Kampen and Wemeldinge: Dutch Reformed Approaches to Consistory Elections

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 May 2020

Kyle J. Dieleman*
Assistant Professor of History at Trinity Christian College
*Corresponding author. Email:


The consistory was a crucial institution in early modern Reformed churches. This article examines the nominations and elections of elders and deacons in the Dutch Reformed consistories of Kampen and Wemeldinge, shedding light on who was being nominated and elected and how such processes functioned in these churches. In particular, research into the Kampen consistory records demonstrates the importance given to the office of elder despite little theological backing for such a hieararchy; this was true to a lesser extent in Wemeldinge. In addition, the Kampen civil authorities played a significant role in the life of the consistory, most notably through the service of burgomasters as elders. The presence of burgomasters on the consistory is not present in Wemeldinge, indicating a more separate relationship between the church and state. In both Kampen and Wemeldinge, the elections of elders and deacons were unique and responded to the challenges and priorities of the individual contexts and communities.

Copyright © American Society of Church History, 2020

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1 The interest in consistory records began with Robert Kingdon's pioneering studies on Geneva. For a helpful introduction and summary to Kingdon's work and findings, see Kingdon, Robert M., Reforming Geneva: Discipline, Faith and Anger in Calvin's Geneva (Geneva: Droz, 2012)Google Scholar. Since his initial inquiries, other scholars have done much work on consistories throughout Europe. Kingdon himself notes the excellent work Raymond A. Mentzer and Philippe Chareyre have done on French consistories and the work of Heinz Schilling on the Emden consistory. See Chareyre, Philippe and Mentzer, Raymond A., “Organizing the Churches and Reforming Society,” in A Companion to the Huguenots, ed. Mentzer, Raymond A. and Van Ruymbeke, Bertrand (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 1742Google Scholar; and Schilling, Heinz and Schreiber, Klaus-Dieter, Kirchenratsprotokolle der reformierten Gemeinde Emden, 1557–1620, 2 vols. (Cologne: Böhlau, 1989, 1992)Google Scholar. For a more complete introduction to consistories and the secondary literature, see Mentzer, Raymond A. and Moreil, Françoise, “Introduction,” in Dire l'interdit: The Vocabulary of Censure and Exclusion in the Early Modern Reformed Tradition, ed. Mentzer, Raymond A., Moreil, Françoise, and Chareyre, Philippe (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 19CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

2 One exception is Kingdon, Robert M., “Calvin and the Establishment of Consistory Discipline in Geneva: The Institution and the Men Who Directed It,” Dutch Review of Church History 70, no. 2 (January 1990): 158172Google Scholar.

3 The Kampen consistory records before 1618 were completely lost when the Remonstrants took the records with them after being dismissed from the Reformed Church. 1648 is a natural ending point for this study because the Dutch Republic's war with Spain officially concluded in 1648, and there is a break in the records from 1650–1654. The consistory records are found in twelve volumes; the years examined here are found in the first three volumes. In the Stadtsarchief Kampen, the consistory records are in the Archief Hervormde Gemeente Kampen (AHGK) collection, catalogued under the Gemeente Archief Kampen (GAK) as II.A.9–20 and labeled “Register van handelingen van de Algemene Kerkeraad van Kampen 1618–1900.” Hereafter the consistory records will be cited as follows: volume, date, AHGK.

4 The Wemeldinge consistory records are held in the Zeeuws Archief in Middelburg, Netherlands and have been digitalized so that they are now available online. Within the archive, the records are catalogued as: 4063, Hervormde Gemeente te Wemeldinge, 1606–1980, 1.1.1. 8 Delen, “Notulen van de vergaderingen van de kerkenraad.” Of the eight volumes, only the first is examined here. Hereafter, “Hervormde Gemeente te Wemeldinge” will be abbreviated “HGW” and the Wemeldinge consistory records will be cited as follows: date, HGW.

5 van der Pol, Frank, De Reformatie te Kampen in de Zestiende Eeuw (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1990)Google Scholar; and Dieleman, Kyle, The Battle for the Sabbath in the Dutch Reformation: Devotion or Desecration? (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2019), 197222CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 Kooi, Christine, Liberty and Religion: Church and State in Leiden's Reformation, 1572–1620 (Leiden: Brill, 2000)Google Scholar; Parker, Charles H., The Reformation of Community: Social Welfare and Calvinist Charity in Holland, 1572–1620 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)Google Scholar; Roodenburg, Herman, Onder censuur: De kerkelijke tucht in de gereformeerde gemeente van Amsterdam, 1578–1700 (Hilversum: Verloren, 1990)Google Scholar; and Spaans, Joke, Haarlem na de Reformatie: Stedelijke cultuur en kerkelijk leven, 1577–1620 (‘s-Gravenhage: Stichting Hollandse Historische Reeks, 1989)Google Scholar.

7 This has been the case for studies of the province of Holland mentioned above, but it is also the case in the majority of the studies based outside of the Holland province. See the following excellent studies done on major Dutch cities: Kaplan, Benjamin J., Calvinists and Libertines: Confession and Community in Utrecht, 1578–1620 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Marnef, Guido, Antwerp in the Age of Reformation: Underground Protestantism in a Commercial Metropolis, 1550–1577 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996)Google Scholar; and Wouters, A. PH. F. and Abels, P. H. A. M., Nieuw en ongezien: kerk en samenleving in de classis Delft en Delfland 1572–1621, 2 vols. (Delft: Eburen, 1994)Google Scholar.

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10 Israel, Dutch Republic, 119.

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12 Tracy, James D., The Founding of the Dutch Republic: War, Finance, and Politics in Holland, 1572–1588 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 158160CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 Van der Pol, De Reformatie te Kampen, 231–232.

14 Van der Pol, De Reformatie te Kampen, 17–87. Van der Pol provides a thorough and excellent, if lengthy, review of Kampen's religious situation prior to the Reformation in his chapter entitled “De Kerk in de Laat-Middeleeuwse Ijsselstad Kampen.”

15 Van der Pol, De Reformatie te Kampen, 91–92.

16 For the Lutheran presence, see Van der Pol, De Reformatie te Kampen, 89–113. For the Anabaptist presence, see Van der Pol, De Reformatie te Kampen, 114–126.

17 van der Pol, Frank, “Religious Diversity and Everyday Ethics in the Seventeenth-Century Dutch City Kampen,” Church History 71, no. 1 (March 2002): 27CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 Reitsma, Centrifugal and Centripetal Forces, 14–15. Reitsma calculates Kampen's population in 1599 to be 8,104.

19 Van der Pol, “Religious Diversity and Everyday Ethics,” 28.

20 Van der Pol, “Religious Diversity and Everyday Ethics,” 27–28. As discussed above, Van der Pol notes that in the first two decades of the seventeenth century, church membership grew at a rate of fifty to sixty members per year. Over twenty years, figuring generously, church membership would have been up a total of 1,200 members. Added with the earlier number of 1,265, by 1620 church membership was somewhere around 2,465.

21 For an introduction to Wemeldinge, see Lepoeter, G. J. and de Groene, J. C., Wemeldinge: Historie van een dorp tussen Kerk en Kanaal (Kapelle: Lepoeter, 2005)Google Scholar; and Philipse, C., Wemeldinge: Een oud dorp (Kapelle: Gemeentebestuur, 1984)Google Scholar.

22 Benedict, Philip, Christ's Churches Purely Reformed: A Social History of Calvinism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002), 96109Google Scholar.

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24 For a couple of examples, see Kaplan, Calvinists and Libertines; and Kooi, Liberty and Religion.

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27 Schilling, Heinz, Religion, Political Culture, and the Emergence of Early Modern Society: Essays in German and Dutch History (Leiden: Brill, 1992), 370Google Scholar.

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30 Kingdon, Robert M., “Social Welfare in Calvin's Geneva,” American Historical Review 76, no. 1 (February 1971): 5069CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed.

31 Kingdon, Church and Society, 87.

32 Mentzer, Raymond A. Jr., “Organizational Endeavour and Charitable Impulse in Sixteenth-Century France: The Case of Protestant Nîmes,” French History 5, no. 1 (March 1991): 129CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

33 Chareyre, Philippe and Mentzer, Raymond A., “Organizing the Churches and Reforming Society,” in A Companion to the Huguenots, ed. Mentzer, Raymond A. and Van Ruymbeke, Bertrand (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 1742Google Scholar. For the particulars regarding the Discipline ecclésiastique, see especially 20–21.

34 Sunshine, Glenn S., Reforming French Protestantism: The Development of Huguenot Ecclesiastical Institutions, 1557–1572 (Kirksville, Mo.: Truman State University Press, 2003), 141Google Scholar. For the role of the diaconate in the French Reformed churches, see Sunshine, Glenn S., “Geneva Meets Rome: The Development of the French Reformed Diaconate,” Sixteenth Century Journal 26, no. 2 (Summer 1995): 329346CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

35 Philippe Chareyre, “‘La fleur de tous les anciens’ ou le ministère des diacres à Nîmes XVIe–XVIIe,” in Agir pour l'Eglise: Ministères et charges ecclésiastiques dans les Eglises réformées (XVIe–XVIIe), ed. Didier Poton and Raymond A. Mentzer (Paris: Les Indes Savantes, 2014), 95–115.

36 Chareyre and Mentzer, “Organizing the Churches and Reforming Society,” 27–30.

37 Mentzer, “Organizational Endeavor and Charitable Impulse,” 1–29.

38 Graham, Michael F., The Uses of Reform: “Godly Discipline” and Popular Behavior in Scotland and Beyond, 1560–1610 (Leiden: Brill, 1996)Google Scholar.

39 Margo Todd, “‘None to Haunt, Frequent, nor Intercommon with Them’: The Problem of Excommunication in the Scottish Kirk,” in Mentzer, Moreil, and Chareyre, eds., Dire l'interdit, 219–238.

40 Graham, Uses of Reform, 133.

41 Murdock, Beyond Calvin, 82–83.

42 Murdock, Beyond Calvin, 83–85.

43 van Deursen, A. Th., Bavianen en slijkgeuzen: Kerk en kerkvolk ten tijde van Maurits en Oldenbarnevelt (Franeker: Van Wijnen, 1991)Google Scholar.

44 Parker, Reformation of Community, 98–190.

45 Gootjes, Nicolaas, The Belgic Confession: Its History and Sources (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2007), 100102Google Scholar.

46 Guido de Brès, Belgic Confession, Articles 30–31, in Our Faith: Ecumenical Creeds, Reformed Confessions, and Other Resources (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2013), 56–57.

47 Zacharias Ursinus, Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. G. W. Williard, ed. Eric D. Bristley, electronic ed. (s.l.: Synod of the Reformed Church in the United States, 2004),

48 Ursinus, Commentary, 1010–1011.

49 Ursinus, Commentary, 1022.

50 Ursinus, Commentary, 1022.

51 Rutgers, Frederik Lodewijk, Acta Van De Nederlandsche Synoden Der Zestiende Eeuw (Dordrecht: Van den Tol, 1980), 5758Google Scholar.

52 van den Broeke, C., Een geschiedenis van de classis: Classicale typen tussen idee en werkelijkheid (1571–2004) (Kampen: Kok, 2005), 7983Google Scholar, 534–536.

53 From 1618–1648, four years have no record of the nomination and election of elders and deacons. The records which would contain the nominating and electing of elders and deacons from the years of 1624, 1625, and 1646 are lost. In addition, the records of 1634 mention the need to elect elders and deacons, but the lists of names are not included. A space was left on the page for names to be included later, but unfortunately, the list was never entered into the records.

54 Kooi, Liberty and Religion, 45–47.

55 Vol. 11, 9 November 1644, AHGK: “Is goet gevonden dat de kerckenraet op morgen tegens de avont sal vergaderen om nade gewoonlijcke wijset met brieffjes uijt dese genomineerde persoonen, ouderlingen de diaconen te verkiesen.”

56 Vol. 10, 27 November 1640, AHGK.

57 Vol. 10, 26 November 1630, AHGK.

58 At least two things potentially cause the number of people nominated for both the positions of elder and deacon to be lower than it is in actuality. First, my study of the records begins in 1618 and ends in 1648. Naturally, several men nominated for the last time in the early years of the study may have been previously nominated, and those nominated for the first time in the years prior to 1648 might have been nominated in the years after 1648. Second, though likely less problematic, is the possibility that nominees moved away or, more tragically, died before they could be nominated a second time.

59 The data for this paragraph begins in 1626. Prior to 1626, the records only indicate the final men chosen; there is no indication of who was nominated and not elected. Thus, the previous years are not applicable for this analysis.

60 This percentage could very well have been higher in reality. It is probable that men nominated in the early years of this study had been nominated as deacons prior to 1618. If that is true, then the percentage of elders having previously served as deacons would be higher.

61 Again, this percentage was also certainly higher in reality since deacons in the last years of this study were likely nominated in later years as elders. From 1642 to 1648, sixteen men were nominated as a deacon for the first time; none of these men were nominated as elders in the years up to 1648. It is quite likely at least a few of them were nominated as elders after 1648, the final year of my study. If that was indeed the case, the percentage of deacons later nominated as elders would be higher.

62 Calvin, John, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, trans. Pringle, William (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1856), 66Google Scholar,

63 Van der Pol, “Religious Diversity and Everyday Ethics,” 16–62, 30–33.

64 Benedict, Christ's Churches Purely Reformed, 305–312. For a recent study of the Synod of Dort, see Aza Goudriaan and Fred A. van Lieburg, eds., Revisiting the Synod of Dordt (1618–1619) (Leiden: Brill, 2011).

65 Van der Pol, “Religious Diversity and Everyday Ethics,” 28.

66 Brès, Belgic Confession, Article 36, in Our Faith, 64–66.

67 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Louisville, Ky: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 4.10.3.

68 Van Deursen, Bavianen en slijkgeuzen, 83–101.

69 Kooi, Liberty and Religion, 215.

70 Kaplan, Calvinists and Libertines, 2–3.

71 Vol. 10, 20 November 1637, AHGK: “uijt de achtbaer magistraet.”

72 Vol. 10, 20 November 1637, AHGK: “uijt de gemeente.”

73 Van der Pol has used the lists of those partaking of the Lord's Supper to catalogue the occupations of members of the Reformed congregation in Kampen. His list contains seventy occupations ranging widely from things like fisher to organist to merchant to doctor. See Van der Pol, De Reformatie te Kampen, 433.

74 2 September 1612, HGW.

75 8 May 1644, HGW.

76 For example, in 1647, men were nominated at the May 12, 1646 consistory meeting, and the results of the election were recorded at the following meeting on May 21, 1646.

77 12 May 1646, HGW; 6 June 1647, HGW; and 9 June 1647, HGW.

78 5 June 1645, HGW.

79 5 June 1645, HGW; 24 May 1648, HGW; and 20 May 1649, HGW.

80 12 May 1646, HGW; 6 June 1647, HGW; 20 May 1649, HGW; and 24 May 1649, HGW.