According to Ecumenical News International, the Protestant Church in the Netherlands has officially committed suicide. Another way to put it is that the church has put its stamp of approval–or at least non-disapproval–on the atheist minister Klaas Hendrikse (about whom I wrote here, here, here, here, and here). Here’s what happened:

A self-proclaimed atheist can continue to serve as a local pastor of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, and no longer faces disciplinary action because of his controversial position on how to describe God.

A special assembly of Zierikzee, a regional church body tasked with investigating the theological statements of Pastor Klaas Hendrikse, has said its work is, “completed”.

The 3 February decision to allow Hendrikse to continue working as a pastor followed the advice of a regional supervisory panel that the statements by Hendrikse, “are not of sufficient weight to damage the foundations of the church”.

“The ideas of Hendrikse are theologically not new, and are in keeping with the liberal tradition that is an integral part of our church,” the special panel concluded.

I love that–Hendrikse’s atheism is “theologically not new.” I guess if he’d proclaimed his devotion to Isis they could have saved his job with the same excuse. Of course, he’s a well-known author, the Dutch Spong, as it were:

In 2007, Hendrikse hit the headlines with the publication, in Dutch, of his book titled “Believing in a God that does not exist: the manifesto of an atheist pastor” (Geloven in een God die niet bestaat – manifest van een atheïstische dominee).

In the book, Hendrikse distinguishes between believing in God, which he affirms, and believing in the existence of God, which he rejects. Instead, he refers to God as, “happening”.

As in, “waz happ’nin’, dude!” Keanu Reeves would be proud of him. The church leadership apparently thought they had to justify their decision somehow, so they said this:

In a 4 February statement, the board of the synod said, “It is aware that the statements by Pastor Hendrikse have caused alarm and distress in a part of the church but [the board] is at the same time grateful that the ecclesiastical investigation is now completed, and there is clarity for all concerned.”

The statement continued, “The general synod has, separate from its reactions to the statements of Hendrikse, emphasised in recent years that the discussion about matters of faith needs to be held in the church, in particular between the various traditions within the Protestant Church. In this context, the general synod in November 2010 will consider [the issue of] ‘talking about God’. The board looks forward to this discussion.”

And it’s at this point that we can fairly talk about ecclesiastical seppeku. The “Protestant Church in the Netherlands” is no longer, in fact, a church; rather, it is a debating society along the lines of the Oxford Union. Or maybe its more like these guys:

It has no good news to proclaim to the world; instead, it holds open “discussion” in which every opinion is as valid as any other.

As for the board, they’re just glad that it’s over, and now they can go back to sleep.