HOLLANDERS OF IOWA
JACOB VAN DER ZEE
Submitted by Gayle Harper
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EARLY RELIGIOUS LIFE AMONG THE HOLLANDERS IN IOWA
THE dictum of William of Orange that "conscience is God's province" was entirely ignored in 1815 when Holland, as well as the rest of Europe, underwent almost complete reconstruction. Napoleon had preached the separation of church and state, and when he took possession of Holland he sent the Dutch Church about its business. Then Holland fell into the hands of William I who easily prevailed upon the declining Reformed Church to return to dependence upon the state exchequer at the price of a modified constitution. King William resolved to make all members of the established church conform to his ideas of the new church polity, but after some years of persecution he conferred upon conservative churchmen, who adhered to the orthodox doctrines of Calvinism, the privilege of maintaining their own congregations. These Seceders were so generally despised by the masses of the people of Holland and hundreds came to such a state of poverty that many were led by their pastors to forsake the fatherland and seek full liberty of conscience and freedom of worship in the solitudes of Michigan and Iowa.
The spirit exhibited by these people in twelve years of religious strife in Holland was transplanted to the prairie farms of Marion County, Iowa. Eight months after landing in America, Scholte, their pastor-leader, pictured the spiritual state of his fellow-countrymen at Pella as follows: (266)
The immigrants at once organized a congregation with five elders and three deacons, became incorporated under the laws of Iowa as an independent religious society by the name of "The Christian Church at Pella ", adopted a constitution on the 13th of November, 1848, and declared that their church was "founded upon the one, entire and indivisible Word of God as revealed in the Scripture of the Old and New Testaments." In conformity with the Bible they recognized the doctrines and confession of faith of the orthodox Protestant churches as the true standard of belief, and were prepared to join in Christian fellowship with every congregation which confessed the same faith in God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. They also provided that every person who confessed his belief in the Trinity and whose conduct was consistent with his belief would be received into the church. Accordingly, candidates for membership in the church were required to be rich in Christian knowledge: many were denied admission because they lacked the necessary experience in Christian life.(267)
To the superficial observer it seemed as if religious life flourished at Pella in the early months, but in writing of all that God had done for them, Scholte concluded: "If we are asked what we are doing for God, shame and humiliation surge within us; for though we ought to shine as lights in the world, if we were to go to meet God, some of us would surely have to say that our lamps are going out." Scholte was compelled to admit that as to the spiritual condition of his people he had no special boast to make: "To be frank in what I write, I must confess that religion does not flourish, because there is no evidence that God's Kingdom and righteousness assume a foremost place in daily life, but rather the things of this world." Some were so affected with self-interest and self-seeking and so altered by the incidents of the long journey from Holland and the strenuous life of the new country that Scholte believed their Christian ideals were shattered: surely not many glorified God.(268) "The sudden change", he wrote, "from a condition of oppression and anxiety in Holland to one of space and freedom has caused a dizziness, and therefore the American love of material things is more attractive than Heaven."
Scholte longed heartily for a revival such as Americans were accustomed to, though his own people had never heard of evangelistic methods in Holland. Many times he had been pained by the irreligious conduct of the rising generation. Not many months later, in November of 1848, lie rejoiced to report a tremendous reformation. Suddenly inspired by the Christ-like example of a poor and ignorant servant girl, scores of young people as well as adults were turned from the path of evil. This experience resulted in a spiritual awakening in the hearts of all members of the congregation, and Scholte asserted: "Now Pella has become doubly dear to me, because the Lord has shown that he wishes to dwell in our midst, and I must not conceal from my former fellow-countrymen the great things that God has done and is doing for us." (269)
During the early years Scholte preached on Sunday afternoons, while Rev. A. J. Betten or the elders took charge of morning services. Children of the congregation were not allowed to miss instruction in the Heidelberg catechism: they were faithfully taught by Isaac Overkamp for many years. A fresh infusion of religious life came when Pella welcomed the immigrants of 1849, of whom such men as H. van Houten, John Hospers, A. E. D. Bousquet, Jacob Maasdam., and A. C. Kuyper became leaders in the church. The first regular Sunday-school at Pella, established and superintended by A. E. D. Bousquet, was held for many years in an old log house on Garden Square.(270)
In 1851 the Christian Church split into two congregations, which, however, reunited later. About the same time occurred the fatal breach between the pastor and a large part of his flock. When Scholte laid out the town of Pella in 1848 he made a map which showed that he intended Garden Square to be used as a public garden around which he expected citizens to purchase lots for homes, and that he reserved one-fourth of a block west of Garden Square for future church and school purposes. Scholte's intentions as thus indicated caused places of business to become scattered about town until Americans began to arrive in Pella. With true Yankee foresight they bought lots facing Garden Square and set up their shops. Scholte, "who was easily won over to the side of what was genuinely American, quickly noticed that what he had set aside to be a place for quiet and rest was becoming the center of business and industry, and therefore not a desirable neighborhood for God's house." When in the summer of 1854 he received a tempting offer for a part of Church Square, he did not hesitate to accept it.(271)
Scholte's church council or consistory resented his independence, declared that he had no right to act so arbitrarily without consulting them, and contended that by designating a parcel of land as Church Square he had granted and dedicated it to the Christian Church. Scholte replied that these lots had not become church property because he had never made a deed of gift, that in his judgment the lots facing Garden Square had become more suitable for stores than for a church, and accordingly he proposed to donate to the church another site in a quiet part of town. Upon his refusal to restore the land, Scholte was suspended and forbidden to preach until he surrendered. Indeed, the Christian Church at Pella brought the matter into court and even appealed to the State Supreme Court, but Scholte's view prevailed.(272)
Despite this friction, members of the congregation were not unanimous in their opposition to Scholte. Many followed him out of the church and for a time heard him preach in a barn and later in a painter's shop. Then Scholte built for himself and his people a meeting-house with low, sharp-pointed steeple, and above its entrance inscribed these words in large black letters: "MDCCCLV. In Deo Spes Nostra et Refugium." The Second Christian Church congregation flourished independently until about one year after the death of Scholte in 1868. He usually preached on Sunday afternoons, while capable men took charge in the morning. For some years there were no elders and deacons, but the men of the church transacted church business at weekly meetings. Men were specially appointed to teach the children the catechism. But the fact that Scholte's influence at Pella was severely shaken by the fatal breach is apparent from the following: (273)
Being the only one among the colonists who was familiar with the language, laws and customs, he had to enter into all the material concerns of the colony. Thus he was gentleman farmer, owner of saw-mills, brick-kilns and lime-kilns, land-agent, notary, printer, broker, banker, dealer in farm implements, attorney, editor, owner and publisher of a weekly, and so on. This combination of manifold duties led to his loss of spiritual power. No less hurtful was his active share in politics which brought him into clashes with a numerous class of men who make politics their business.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
(266) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, p. 35.
(267) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, p. 35; Nollen's De Afscheiding, p. 59; and van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, pp. 111-114, 123.
(268) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, pp. 1.3, 14, 34-36.
(269) Scholte's Eene Stem uit Pella, p. 37; Scholte's Tweede Stem uit Pella, pp. 13-15; and van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, p. 121.
(270) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, p.p. 116, 122, 124; and Nollen's De Afscheiding, p. 59.
(271) Van Stigt's Geschiedenis. Part II, pp. 124, 125; and Nollen's De Afscheiding, p. 62.
(272) Nollen's De Afscheiding, pp. 61-63; van Stigt's Geschiedenis, Part II, pp. 125, 126; and Clarke's Iowa Reports, Vol. II, p. 27. Pella's Garden Square came to the attention of the Supreme Court in 1869, as is shown in Iowa Reports, Vol. XXX, in the case of Fisher et al. v. Scholte.
The Pella Gazette, January 8, 1857; and Pella 's Weekblad,
December 7, and 13, 1869.
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