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"Anyone Who Can Read May Be a Preacher"1: Sixteenth-Century Roots of the Collegiants

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image of Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis / Dutch Review of Church History
For more content, see Church History and Religious Culture.

Collegiantism arose in Dutch Remonstrant circles after the Synod of Dordt outlawed the Remonstrants (1619) and their leaders had been sent into exile. It offered a "church" for all, "run" by laymen without a clergy and hailed the freedom to "prophesy." Collegiantism was intended, paradoxically, to give concrete form to a "non-church," an "invisible church" of all "unpartisan" believers, one that brought believers together without binding them or passing judgment. The structural roots of Collegiantism lead to Sebastian Franck's anti-sacerdotalism and his definition of the true church as a "free, non-sectarian, party-less Christianity"; to Sebastian Castellio's rationalism, his deconstruction of the notion of heresy, and his dogmatic minimalism; to Jacob Acontius's advocacy of free prophecy in church for congregants and his insistence that possession of a monopoly of truth renders a church spiritually lazy; and to Dirck Coornhert. The latter's championship of free investigation, ideas on fairness and struggle against the ruling orthodoxy, and especially his draft for a non-partisan church, all came to fruition in the early Collegiants, who thus crafted a "confessional identity" that was not dogmatically defined but that would fill itself, due to its very nature, with radical content.

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