Two Baptist denominations in the Netherlands are making steady progress on the road to unity. After years of intense talks since 2011, their leaders recently signed a 'declaration of intention', agreeing to form one organisation in the near future.
The signatories included scores of pastors from both groups. The members' meetings of both denominations had already approved the progress on the way to unity late in 2018.
One partner in the merger is the Baptist Union of the Netherlands, which was founded in 1881 a few decades after the first Baptists in the country formed congregations in 1845. The Union is a member body of the Baptist World Alliance and the European Baptist Federation, and hosts the International Baptist Theological Study Centre (IBTSC) in Amsterdam.
The other partner is the so-called ABC Churches, a group which was only formed in 2006 when two denominations merged - the Independent Baptists and the Dutch CAMA churches.
Many of the Independent Baptist churches began as break-away congregations from Baptist Union churches. CAMA, which stands for the Christian and Missionary Alliance, was formed in 1897 by the Canadian Albert B. Simpson, and these churches have formed an international denomination since 1974.
Neither the three Reformed Baptist Churches in the Netherlands nor the country's Seventh Day Baptists are involved in the talks and the merger.
The idea of cooperation and even merger originated in 2009, when both groups took part in the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the world Baptist movement.
At the same time, an increasing number of ministers for the ABC Churches is being trained at the Union's Baptist Seminary in Amsterdam. Basic agreement has been reached regarding the confessional foundation and the identity of the new church.
For the former, the Declaration of Principle of the Dutch Evangelical Alliance was used, extended with clauses on the importance of the local congregation and the baptism of believers. The disputed issue of open or closed membership - whether an individual can join without having been properly baptised - is still being discussed. The churches are internally divided over the issue of women in ministry, and this division will continue.
Both groups are struggling with slowly dwindling numbers, and both are actively pioneering new forms of being church. For the full merger to take place, issues of finance, governance and staffing will need be resolved. It is expected that the new denomination will be part of the European and worldwide Baptist movements.
The Baptist Union currently has some 10,000 members in 70 churches, the ABC group has the same number spread over 63 churches. The main common activities will be the seminary, overseas mission and regional work.
Rev Dr Pieter J. Lalleman teaches the Bible at Spurgeon's College; for his recent books see https://wipfandstock.com/catalogsearch/result/index/?contributors=63003&q=Lalleman