Christian Social Action in the Netherlands


The Netherlands Workers’ Association “Patrimonium,” established as a nationwide organization on March 2, 1880, was by no means a trade-union movement according to the actual meaning of the word. Such labor unions did not exist in The Netherlands at that time.



The principles, sphere of activity and aims become clear by reading Articles 1 and 2 of the Constitution: Name, Basis, and Aims.

Article 1

A Netherlands Workers’ Association with the name “Patrimony”

(Heritage of the Fathers) does now exist in The Netherlands, which, being convinced that the Word of God and the traditions of our nation constitute the reliable basis of a Christian society, has the aim to spread the knowledge of the same everywhere, to revive love for them with a view to promote on this basis by lawful means the interests of society as a whole and those of the workers in particular.

Article 2—Means

The Association endeavors to reach this goal by:

(a) Spreading the principles of the Association by the spoken and written word.

(b) Organizing meetings, if possible in all parts of the country, in which lectures shall be given and discussions take place on religious, moral, economic and social subjects.

(c) Organizing conferences in places where local chapters exist, on the history of the world and our national history with young people, particularly with the children of our members.

(d) Promoting the establishment or public libraries for the spread of positively Christian, truly historical, sound knowledge.

(e) Promoting theoretical and practical professional training.

(f) Promoting the abolition of all Sunday labor, insofar it is not necessary.

(g) Expansion of the right to vote.

(h) Establishing a Netherlands Old Age Pension Association, and funds for support of widows and of old and invalid members.

(i) Promoting private Christian Schools.

(j) Promoting everything which can be applied in the interest of the Association and its chapters in submission to the Word of God.

In searching the history of “Patrimonium,” we find that its activity actually covered the spheres set by the Constitution. It sent addresses to the King, to the Government, to Parliament, to political parties, etc., with regard to the right to vote, the treatment the Boer-republics in South Africa suffered from Great Britain, the limitation of working hours, the promotion of Christian Schools.

Meetings with and without publIc debate were held against the social democrats, petitions were organized for Christian Schools, a deputation of the Boer-republics (President Kruger, General N.J. Smit, Rev. S.J. du Toit) was offered a glorious reception, and in later years large housing projects were set lip and houses were built, especially in the big cities of the country.

In numerous meetings and study courses the workers were educated regarding the political and social questions of the time and the bearing of Christian principles upon them.

In giving this summary we have by no means exhausted the list of activities of “Patrimonium.” It is a mere specimen. However, this brief summary shows the wide interest in national and international economic and social questions which was active in this workers’ association. Its field of activities is hardly matched by those of the large existing labor-unions of the world. Although it has done a marvelous job in educating Christian workers, it has done very little for the improvement of working conditions. It had not and could not have organization as an actual labor-union. It seldom approached the employers for the purpose of improving working conditions. It built homes for the workers, it proclaimed their rights, it promoted labor legislation, it petitioned for the abolition of Sunday labor, etc., but it did so as a general workers’ association, not as a trade union. Anyhow, its dues were far too low to act as such. Still, labor-unions were bound to spring from this Christian Workers’ Association.

Did it not do more than merely discuss the labor problems of those days?

Certainly it did. In the textile industry in Almelo a strike was proclaimed by the Socialists and eight members of “Patrimonium” were involved. That part of the country was very much interested in the strike, as the textile industry was well-known for its low wages and for the high standard of living of its owners.

The local chapter at Enschede of “Patrimonium” asked why “Patrimonium” did not support the members who were on strike. “Is it advisable to strike if the wages which the worker cannot do without are being withheld?”

The answer of the President, Klaas Kater, was that “Patrimonium” could not give financial support. The members could, however, support the cause personally.

The strike lasted from January 9 to April 12, 1888.

Apparently it was not easy to reach unanimity in the board of “Patrimonium” as regards support!

In the month of March the front page of the “Patrimonium” paper contained, printed in heavy type, an appeal from the Almelo chapter for support, signed by the president and secretary of the chapter and countersigned hy their honorary president Dr. J. Th. de Visser, Minister of the Reformed Church in Almelo (many years later Secretary of State for the Department of Education).

This appeal was recommended by the board and in the next copy of the paper was repeated by president Klaas Kater himself.

History does not reveal whether unanimity was reached in the board with regard to the strike problem.

However, it is clear that “Patrimonium,” not being a trade-union ill the modern sense of the word, was very much concerned about the position of the worker. In a number of local chapters separate professional groups were set up. The first of those groups is reported to have been the subdivision of the carpenters of “Patrimonium,” in Amsterdam, established January 17, 1891, eleven years after the establishment of “Patrimonium.”

These subdivisions acted as trade-unions. In later years, however, they were incorporated in the National Christian Labour organizations, when these were established, although it was not always easy to detach these subdivisions from the mother-organization.

Christian National Workmen’s Organization

Although we have not the intention to give a complete survey of the development of the Christian social movement in The Netherlands, we should surely not omit to mention the establishment of the Christian National Workmen’s Organization (Christelijk-Nationale Werkmansbond).

“Patrimonium” had been founded as a Christian organization, as becomes clear when reading Article 1 of the Constitution which we cited above. It had no connection with a special church. Their members were members of different churches, among which particularly the Reformed Church (Hervormde Kerk) and the Christian Reformed Church (established in 1834: de Afscheiding) should be mentioned.

Klaas Kater maintained that “Patrimonium” had never chosen for a certain church and challenged his opponents to prove the opposite. However, there came no answer. A number of locals of “Patrimonium” left the national organization, and when in Rotterdam in 1890 a large meeting was organized, 600 men joined the new organization.

A nation-wide organization of the Christian National Workmens’ Association was established in 1894. Its principal aim was to organize workers, who are members of the Reformed Church (Nederlands Hervormde Kerk) in order to support one another in case of sickness and old age and to support widows, thus counteracting the .growing influence of Socialism and Rome. Although this development caused the men of “Patrimonium” much grief and m~de them lose members at the outset, the Christian social movement ultimately gained by it.

Both organizations grew steadily in the next 30 years and each counted over 20,000 members at the outbreak of World War II. Not all the Reformed ministers left “Patrimonium.” One of those who continued to stay in and work for “Patrimonium” was Rev. A.S. Talma, who became President when Klaas Kater retired and was the unchallenged leader of the Christian social movement up till his death in 1916. In a later stage of our writings we may return to this remarkable and able Christian leader, a friend of the worker, a beloved preacher, a Minister of the Crown, who shaped the laws to help the workers in days of sickness, old age, invalidity, who also urged the first steps in social legislation to place the organization of society on the basis of Christian principles and who having consumed his life’s strength in the service of the common man, died at the age of only 52 years at Benebroek, a small place where he had retired after his high office of State to preach the Gospel.

In spite of the difficulties in the beginning a good relationship developed between the two organizations. In 1914 a Christian social conference of one week’s duration was held, organized by a committee out of both organizations and of The Netherlands Lutheran Workers’ Association and the Christian National Federation of Trade-Unions. This committee became permanent, and organized in the following years up to World War II such conferences every other year. These conferences became more and more the instrument for the Christian labor movement to discuss the problems which presented themselves and to make headway in the social field. The reports of these conferences have been printed.

Many Questions Arise

We now return to “Patrimonium.”

Ten years had elapsed since it had been established.

It had started its work without a program. The only program had been the Word of God and with this guide it had taken a position in the world of labor and in all the questions of different kinds which affected the workers. With the Word of God it had to take a stand, but it had not always succeeded in finding an answer that did satisfy all the board members and all the members.

Moreover “Patrimonium” was repeatedly attacked from different parts. Not only on the part of enemies, but—which grieved most—on the part of brothers in Jesus Christ.

But “Patrimonium” stood its ground under the leadership of the President KIaas Kater.

The latter wrote in its paper against those who tried to transplant the ecclesiastical struggle into “Patrimonium.” He argued that: “Whoever is willing to join has to believe that the Word of God and the traditions of our nation constitute the only reliable basis of a Christian society. He has to bow without reserve for the Word of God and to oppose the principle of the French Revolution in word and deed.”

He proceeded: “Here one tries to prevent ‘Patrimonium’ to establish Sunday Schools; elsewhere it is not allowed to use the name ‘Patrimonium’ in an Association for the building of homes, which is started by a local chapter; or editors of Christian weekly periodicals try to scatter ‘Patrimonium’; ministers praying: “Thy Kingdom come” endeavor to destroy a Christian Workers’ Association. Let them go, brethren! Whatever they have in mind, they will not succeed, but our God who built “Patrimonium” is mighty to keep it and to maintain it to the honor of Jesus’ name. Among ministers and Christian statesmen we have various enemies, who for different reasons are wrathful towards ‘Patrimonium.’ Do they really think that, should ‘Patrimonium’ be dispersed, the enemies of God would mourn?”

We feel the deep grief of this man who had undertaken to defend the Christian cause in the field of social action. History has repeated itself in manifold instances in this respect up to this time. In fact, no Christian soldier will ever be without such disappointments and griefs.

There was another problem: What about supporting strikes? Although “Patrimonium” had never organized a strike, it was sometimes called upon to support those who were involved in a strike. In a small village in the northern part of the country a strike was organized by the Socialists. “Patrimonium” in that place opposed the strike and even succeeded in depriving the Socialists of the leadership in it. The secretary of that local section wrote: “Through the merciful help of God, ‘Patrimonium’ succeeded in bringing th is strike to a good end.” However, much difference of opinion in regard to the strike problem existed.

Further, there was the question of a program for “Patrimonium.” A speech of Rev. J. van Andel in Leeuwarden touched this question with the result that it was discussed in a series of main articles in the paper.

As we already mentioned above “Patrimonium” also took much interest in political questions especially insofar as the workers were involved in it.

In spite of the fact that there was a Christian political party (Anti-Revolutionary Party) no man of “Patrimonium” had thus far been elected as a member of Parliament. The men of “Patrimonium” had the feeling that they were being neglected.

In his opening address to the General Meeting of 1890 the president ex pressed very frankly and clearly the displeasure of “Patrimonium” with regard to this question. He stated that “the list of candidates of the Anti-Revolutionary Party has a decided preference for those who are high in the world which is fully in contradiction with the historical origin of our nation, which points to Father Williams’ plain people (kleine luyden), out of whom the freedom of our nation was born.”

Call for a Social Congress

This speech had been prepared before and delivered at the official meeting. However, the day before Dr. A. Kuyper—having been invited to speak—had addressed the meeting, and as a result the following proposition was adopted:

“Patrimonium” will apply to, the Central Committee of the Anti-Revolutionary Party asking to call together a Christian Social Congress in agreement with “Patrimonium” in order to discuss the means which should be applied in the actual state of the social question for the good of our nation and especially of our workers.

An agreement on this basis was reached and the Social Congress was held from Nov. 9 to Nov. 12, 1891, in Amsterdam.

Despite the struggle in the Re· formed Church (Hervormde Kerk) which had caused the formation of the Gereformeerde Kerken a few years before, there was complete cooperation and an amicable relation in this Congress between those who had fought one another so bitterly. It may be stated that the whole of Protestant Netherlands took part in this unique event.

More than 60 years have elapsed since this Congress was held. The social development and the struggle in the field of labor and industry has more than delivered proof that there is no hope for the masses of workers and no hope for a declining world than in the “good news” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sixty years ago the Socialist movement developed more and more strength. Marxistic principles were spread and sown in the hearts of the workers in all the countries in which industry has developed. Today these same principles are in operation in about one fifth of the world.

Sixty years ago it was indeed expedient for the Christians of different denominations to meet together and to try to find an answer to the question what the Bible has to say with regard to the different problems which claimed attention at the time. Today…what would the world look like if the principles defended in that Social Congress and if the conclusions adopted in its meetings would have been spread, advocated, applied in the world? What part of the world would, according to human calculation, now stand under the easy yoke of the Master, Jesus Christ?

First Christian Social Congress

The Social Congress of 1891, the need of which was apparent, was a result of the awakening Christian social spirit among the workers. The existence of “Patrimonium” and its 12 years of activity had revealed the necessity of such a Congress. The name: “Social Congress” assumed at first, was pretty soon transformed to “Christian Social Congress.” When a second similar Congress was held in 1919 the name “First Christian Social Congress” became popular.

It is difficult to resist the temptation to give a regular report on the dealings of this Congress, to mention the names of those who took a leading part in it and to relate the subjects which were discussed and the conclusions which were adopted.

A visitor at the Congress wrote in 1951:

“Bold words were spoken, unknown in those days.

“They searched for the nature or the calling of the Christian. Many were far ahead of their time and they saw for those who were assembled on the basis of the Congress a large, gladly accepted task…

“Nevertheless, this Congress was a very important event· for the Protestant group because a unity was seen, which would later be yearned for and which was very difficult to reach again.” (2) (In 1952 this miracle was accomplished again—see an earlier contribution in Torch and Trumpet, F.)

However, we have to restrict ourselves to a few of the most important events during this Congress and to the principles which were proclaimed in it.

First of all a few words regarding the opening address of Dr. A. Kuyper who presided over the Congress.

The Social Problem and the Christian Religion

In this erudite study the speaker gave a survey of the connection between the social problem in its widest sense and the Christian religion, thereby clearly demonstrating the underlying principles of the problem. We should like to quote two small passages of the lecture, which were basic to the problems under discussion in this Congress.

The first is the answer to the question: What must be understood by the Social Problem?

The second is: How can, according to biblical principles, the Social Problem be solved, or at least, how can recovery be reached?

What Is the Social Problem?

“Talking about a Social Problem means in a general sense that serious doubt has arisen with regard to the proper condition of the social structure in which we live; and that, consequently, a struggle is going on in public opinion, regarding more solid foundations on which a more appropriate social structure, better to live in, is to be built. By so putting the Social Problem, however, does not necessarily mean that it has to be solved in a socialistic sense. The solution may he quite another one. However, whether a Social Problem does exist for you, wholly depends upon the question whether you recognize the actual situation as unendurable and that you do not explain the unendurability out of incidental causes but out of a fault in the very foundation of our society. For those who do not recognize that and deem it possible to overcome the evil by cultivating pious minds, by applying more friendly treatment or bestowing more charitable gifts, there may rest a religious and a philanthropic problem, but a Social Problem for them does not exist.

“The latter exists for you only if you exercise architectonic criticism upon the human society itself and consequently, are of the opinion that another construction of the social pattern is desirable and possible.”

And what about the solution?

Dr. Kuyper said:

The recovery—I don’t shrink back from the word—lies undoubtedly in the socialistic way, provided you don’t understand by ‘socialistic’ the program of the Social-Democratic Parties, but by pronouncing this in itself beautiful word, express that our national society is -as was declared by Da Costa—not a heap of souls on a piece of soil, but a fellowship willed by God, a lively human organism. Not a mechanism assembled of parts; not a mosaic put together; but a body with members under the law of life, that we are one another’s members and that therefore, the eye cannot do without the feet, neither the feet can do without the eye. It is that human, that scientific, that Christian truth, which was deeply ignored, boldly denied, slapped in the face most grievously, and it is essentially against the individualism of the French Revolution, born out of that denial, that the whole of the actual social movement is opposed.

This address was most warmly applauded and the vice-president of the Congress, who presided over the opening meeting, Rev. H. Pierson, declared:

We thank you, we thank you most heartily for this address. You have, so to speak, placed us on a tower from which to see the roads which have been opened for us. In the three sections of this Congress those roads have been pointed to us; they run from the middle to the different parts of our environment. From this very moment we have clearly before us the direction, which we have to take.

The three sections in which the Congress was split up, dealt with the following:

  1. The Social Problem from its Christian, religious aspect.
  2. The Social Problem from its social aspect.
  3. The Social Problem from its political aspect.

It is hard to say what section was the most important or achieved the best results.

However, it is beyond any doubt that the principles which were proclaimed in this Congress as Scriptural have guided the Christian Social Movement of the Netherlands throughout its history and up to the present day. As far as we know these principles have never been challenged as such, al though their application has varied according to the needs of the time.(3)

A positive stand was taken by the Congress with regard to the attitude of the Christian worker towards strikes. Unanimity was reached by the Congress in this respect. However, many times afterwards even up to this day this question has been in discussion among Christians and the opinions have always differed.

We hope to revert to this problem as well as to the basic principles laid down in resolutions of the Congress in our next installments.

Further Developments

A direct result of the Congress was the establishment of the Christian Employers’ Organization “Boaz.” In later years the Christian Industrial Employers, the Christian Banners and the Christian Retailers, Dealers, etc., set up separate organizations.

Other results were the establishment of Christian trade-unions. The question of separate trade-unions was not on the agenda of the Congress, and it seems that there was a common opinion in this respect, probably as a result of the work of “Patrimonium” performed for about 12 years.

As already stated before both “Patrimonium” and the “Christian National Workmens’ Association” (Reformed Church) had established a few local trade-unions as sections of their local organizations. These trade-unions, however, never have had much influence. After the Congress, national labor unions were established:

in 1891 the Christian Office-clerks,

in 1896 the Christian Textile-workers,

in 1899 the Christian Cigar workers,

in 1901 the Christian Metal workers.

In 1900 an effort: was made to centralize these labour organizations in a Federation which, however, did not have the expected result. It was not until 1909 that the Christian National Federation of Tracie Unions was founded which up to today is playing a leading role in the Cbristian social movement, together with the Christian Organizations of Employers, already mentioned.

In 1931 these National organizations workers, employers, farmers, small industry, etc. set up a Permanent Committee for combined action, whenever such was deemed desirable.

(1) The history of “Patrimonium” has been written in two volumes by R. Hagoort from which we borrowed many facts.

(2) H. Diemer, Vermenigvuldigde Gedachten; issued 1951. He attended the Congress as a young man.

(3) There is an unmistakable relationship of these principles with those set forth by a thorough and pious German theologian, Prof. N. M. Nathusius, Professor of the University of Greifwald, Germany, who published a book on the task of the church round about the time this Congress was held.