With its 11.521.00 inhabitants in Belgium, the number of serious Biblestudents, like the Quakers, are dwindling; Year after year we see our numbers going down.
In the 70ies of the previous century, we still could find some very active Biblestudents, eager to spread the Gospel and to make house churches. They were convinced they should handle, like in the first century, going out in the world to let others know the Good News of the coming Kingdom of God. They had a great desire not only to receive the love of Christ, but hoping they could show others how important that love is for mankind. In many villages, we could find bible students who all wanted to share that love of Christ and help each other to grow closer to their master and the Great Master of the master. At that time we could find many people who were convinced they had a vocation, a task given by their master, Jesus Christ. They were also convinced it was better to read the bible not just on their own, but in a circle of other interested people.
In 1970, for example, 90 per cent of Belgians called themselves Christians and just over 6 per cent saw themselves as non-religious. In 2021, however, the number of Christians in Belgium has fallen to less than 60 per cent of the population. More than 40 percent now say they are non-religious. Those calling themselves Christian often are not so much interested in their faith and do not read or study the Bible.
With Corona having people being brought closer to illness and death, we noticed a lot more interest in matters around god and could receive a lot more questions about God, life and afterlife. Though in the Corona period we did not hold open church services and on the 14th Nisan or 27 March 2021, we for health and safety reasons did not gather in our Kingdom halls but like the global brotherhood gathered virtually to show our appreciation for Jehovah and His Son, Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a Lamb of God, as a ransom for our sins. For two years our brothers and sisters could not physically gather to commemorate Jesus’ death because of the pandemic. Yet everyone was determined to obey Jesus’ command to ‘do this to remember me’ (Luke 22:19).
Having such video meetings it was very nice to see how many turned up to feel connected with other like-minded people. Though we must confess, that in the last two years we too were confronted with ‘death’. We can not ignore how our community is under pressure by members who are getting ‘very old’ and face death. We had to say goodbye to several 80 and 90-year-old Bible students in the past two years. We should also note that there is also good mowing among the 60 and 70-year-olds, so our community is thinning out alarmingly.
We look forward to 2030 with great anticipation and ask ourselves whether we should not be organising a special year with several activities, as our community will be celebrating its 200th anniversary.
But at the same time, we are very much afraid that we will be so depleted that not many Bible students will belong to our community because no young people have joined us for years. Also because we have stopped handing out pamphlets door to door for some years now, due to the pitifully few positive responses to our ‘billings’, we have not seen a new influx of interested people for some years now. And for our printed magazines, we also saw the circulation decrease over the years due to deceased members and people who did not report a change of address or other reason, but made the magazines come back to us.
Whether it will become as bad as the Belgian Quakers, who before the 21st century began, had 40 members, in 2006 could count only 24 registered members in the whole of Belgium, but where their weekly meetings are still attended by many non-members. In the Netherlands they may count 120 members. Silence is the key for them, in order to search for the inner light within themselves. In 2015 the following Monthly Meetings were being held in the Netherlands: the Amsterdam Monthly Meeting, the Hague Monthly Meeting, the North Eastern Netherlands Monthly Meeting (in Groningen), the Central and Southern Netherlands Monthly Meeting (in Bennekom). In addition, there are two Quaker groups – not yet recognised as Monthly Meetings – one in Deventer and one in the Southern Netherlands.
In their small Society, certain responsibilities have been placed with the Annual Meeting that in other countries have been placed with Monthly Meetings. This is not strange if one considers that Monthly Meetings in larger countries often have more members than the entire Dutch Annual Meeting.
Meetings where one particular Society would have the overall leadership and control over the others, is something we do not have. Each congregation of Bible students acts completely autonomously. This sometimes makes it difficult to estimate how many members there are, who is baptised and who is excluded.
The Dutch Quaker Assembly does not exercise any direct influence on politics, but does so through the Council of Churches in the Netherlands and the following non-governmental organisations, namely the Quaker Council for European Affairs and the Quaker United Nations Office, founded in 1979 by Quakers who worked in the European institutions, it is based in Brussels, Belgium and is registered under Belgian law.
On the other hand, the Bible students are completely outside worldly affairs and keep themselves quasi aloof from politics. As a result, they remain true strangers to many politicians, and their small numbers also make it impossible for them to be recognised as a church community.
In our services there are more voices sounding than at a Quaker meeting, having a lot of the time given to the reading of the Word of God. And that last part is something which does not happen in many religious groups anymore.
Since around 1650 in Belgium and Luxemburg, the Quakers have testified to their belief that true religion is a personal inner experience, a direct union with God and a consequent transformation of daily life. At the same time, the Bible Students tried to convince people that there is only One God, the Elohim Hashem Jehovah, and that mankind should unite with that Divine Creator. With pamphlets, we could reach more people in the south of the country than in the North-West. In Wallonia, people were much more open to learning what really was written in the bible. In Flanders, people were more attached to the Catholic Church, which knew how to keep them under its spell.
During the 18th century, Quakers entered the Quietist period in the history of their church, becoming more spiritually inward-looking and less active in converting others. We are opposite to them, asking to come out of the box, showing the world what one really is, how one thinks, and how one wants to become united with others. In our community, we ask people to speak, to read aloud the Word of God and to say what they think about those verses they read.
For some time it was preferred not to marry somebody of another faith, but that was not realistic having not enough people of the same faith. Also, by the Quakers this proved to be a problem. Marrying outside the Society was forbidden in the 19th century. Their number declined, falling to 19,800 in England and Wales by 1800 (0.21 per cent of the population), and 13,859 by 1860 (0.07 per cent of the population). The formal name “Religious Society of Friends” dates from this period and is probably derived from the designations “Friends of Light” and “Friends of Truth”. They’re considering friends, we went a step further, considering ourselves as brothers and sisters, united in the light of Christ and in the love of Christ. considering the Truth, we ask people not only to be “Friends of Truth” but as reborn to be a Friend of Biblical Truth and to spread that Biblical Truth.
In Belgium, Quakerism is on the (unofficial) list of dangerous sects, like some other small religious groups, but also like the Baptists (which is not at all a small denomination). A file has been opened at the Information and Advice Centre on Harmful Sectarian Organisations (IACSSO), but it is not actively investigated as no questions or complaints are received. According to Quaker ‘chairman’ Phil Gaskell, suspicion is caused by the fact that the Quaker community in our country is a tiny minority. And that is a problem for many other small groups, often also because they are not very well known by the general public. The unprecedented nature of these smaller religious groups makes it even more difficult for them to attract people and have them visit their communities. What is worse is when wild stories circulate, which are not even based on facts.
The Quakers, like us, are a lot older than the Belgian state. And we, like them, have nothing to hide; our meetings are open to everyone. Though, unlike the Quakers or Society of Friends, it is more difficult to become a member of our community, because we demand a true belief in the Only One True God and in That God His send son, Jesus Christ who we consider the Messiah.
It is that ‘No-nonsense’ attitude or no multiple vision that makes our community a difficult faith group. If one looks at other Christian communities, there are multiple views in every church community and the majority adhere to worshipping the ‘Holy Trinity‘ and also believing or not believing in other gentlemen or ladies called saints.
For us, this is completely out of bounds, for there is only one God, Who is one and not two or three, and we must keep away from any pagan and/or non-biblical teachings.
The majority of people today do not like strict rules and adherence to biblical teaching, nor would they like to be rid of the many traditions of their community. In the majority of Christian churches, people are still celebrating originally pagan festivals. To distance oneself from these is too much for many, which is why we are not making many new members.
So, with the prospect of the next decade, we wonder very seriously about the direction our community is already taking. We hope, of course, that we will not die a quiet death. But we are aware that it will be very difficult for our community to grow by large numbers in the 8 years remaining.
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- Words to push and pull
- God’s Truth
- Believe in One God – Geloof in Één God
- El Shaddai – the Strong One
- Drawing close to God – Dicht bij God komen
- Trinity – Drie-eenheid
- Jesus son of God – Jezus zoon van God
- Doctrine of Christ – Leer van Christus
- Studying the Bible – de Bijbel bestuderend
- Abiding in God’s Love – In Gods liefde blijven
- From Bibles and other religious writings and those who witness for Jehovah
- About the Bible Students – Over de Bijbelstudenten of Bijbelonderzoekers
- What Bible Students believe – Wat Bijbelstudenten geloven
- Bible Societies – Bijbelverenigingen
- Thomasites, Russellites – Christadelphians and Biblestudents
- Belgian Biblestudents – Belgische Bijbelstudenten
- History – Geschiedenis
- Sayings about Christadelphians and Belgian Biblestudents debounced
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- Different approach in organisation of services #2
- Different approach in organisation of services #3
- A new decade, To open the eyes to get a right view
- 2010 – 2014 in review
- Belgian Biblestudents website 2016 in review
- Looking on what is going on and not being of it
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- Babylon, counterfeit Church – Babylon, vervalste Kerk
- Going away from Babylon – Weggaan uit Babylon
- Those who Jesus can call friends
- Gospel or Good News – Evangelie of Goede Nieuws
- Good News Breakers – Goede Nieuwsbrengers
- Preaching of the Kingdom – Prediking van het Koninkrijk
- Another year of 14 Nisan with restricted access
- Celebrating the evening of 15 April 2022 as a festival to Jehovah God
- Confrontation by people telling lies to force others to avoid the targetted groups
- Out of church Christians
- Attitude of a Christian – Houding van een Christen
- Brethren of Christ – Broeders van Christus
- Assembling of Ourselves – Samenkomen van onszelf
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- Quakers: Their History, Beliefs and Meticulous Records
- Discovering the Light
- The Nature of Light
- Is there a Sacred and Secular divide?
- A Loving Creation – E215
- I Can’t See Clearly
- Are we bright-eyed, open-spirited, and ready to learn? (or do we already have all the answers we need?)
- Sound Doctrine