Zwijndrechtse Nieuwlichters

A Dutch Protestant sect of the early 19th century, known for its communal living, pacifism, and rejection of civil government.

The Zwijndrechtse Nieuwlichters, also known as the “Zwijndrecht New Lighters,” was a Dutch Protestant sect that emerged in the early 19th century. The group was co-founded by Stoffel Muller and Maria Leer, two notable figures in the sect’s history.

Origins and Early Development

Stoffel Muller, born on February 16, 1771, in Puttershoek, Netherlands, came from a family of barge skippers. He inherited his father’s profession but was deeply religious, acquiring extensive biblical knowledge from attending religious gatherings. Muller’s progressive religious views often caused friction with his community and family, leading to his separation from his wife and sons. He moved to Waddinxveen, where he found support among local laborers and aimed to rekindle a sense of brotherhood and communal living among Christians, as described in the Acts of the Apostles.

Maria Leer, born in 1788 in Edam, Netherlands, lost her parents at a young age and was raised in an orphanage. She worked as a maid and later as a seamstress in Amsterdam. Leer’s path crossed with Muller’s in Amsterdam in 1816, and they shared similar religious beliefs.

Establishment of the Community

Muller and Leer, along with Dirk Valk, a bailiff from Waddinxveen, founded the Zwijndrechtse Nieuwlichters in 1816. The group initially faced scorn and hardship. Most members were day laborers, often shunned for their beliefs. However, Valk’s support, including offering his house and table to the group, played a crucial role in their sustenance.

The community’s practices were inspired by the early Christian commune as described in the Acts of the Apostles. They held property communally and strived to live a life of mutual love and brotherhood. Muller and Leer were in a “spiritual marriage,” and the group was known for making and selling matchsticks, hence the nickname “sulfur sticks faith”.

Religious Beliefs and Practices

The Zwijndrechtse Nieuwlichters’ doctrine was influenced by the Epistle to the Romans, particularly chapter 11 verse 36, which they interpreted to mean that sin derived from God. This interpretation excluded the belief in predestination. The sect emphasized communal living, pacifism, and the shared ownership of property. They rejected the authority of civil government, leading to frequent clashes with local authorities.

Their commitment to pacifism was particularly tested during the Belgian Revolution in the 1830s when their refusal to perform military service resulted in mistreatment and the death of one member in detention barracks. Intervention by J. W. Tydeman, a professor and friend of King William II of the Netherlands, led to the sect members being assigned non-combat duties in the military.

Decline and Disbandment

After Muller’s death in 1835, the Zwijndrechtse Nieuwlichters struggled to maintain their ideals and unity. Harassment by local governments led to the imprisonment of their leaders, contributing to the group’s eventual disbandment in 1846. A faction of about thirty members emigrated to the United States in 1863, attracted by the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, although they remained distinct from the LDS Church and established a colony in Utah.

Dirk Valk later moved to Mijdrecht, where he continued to attract followers. However, by 1848, the declining number of younger members led to the dissolution of this community as well.

Personal Lives and Legacy

Maria Leer spent her later years in Leiden, where she met Louise Sophie Blussé, who chronicled her memoirs. These memoirs, published posthumously in 1892, provide much of the information known about Leer and Muller. Maria Leer died in 1866 at the age of 78 from cholera.