(In the last article Kuyper began a discussion of the reformation of the church by way of separation from the denomination. He talked briefly about the fact that such reformation always begins in the local congregation. But as that reformation begins in the local congregation, it can be either opposed or supported by the local consistory. If the local consistory supports such reformation then it comes into conflict with the federation of churches. But if the local consistory opposes such reformation which begins in the congregation it becomes the means whereby the federation also opposes the reformation which has begun. Both of these Kuyper now intends to discuss.)
An individual who comes into conflict with the church federation can be either a common member of the church or a person who is in a certain office or in a certain ministry connected to the church.
Common members can come into conflict with the church federation in two ways: because they act contrary to a certain rule laid down for the churches by the church federation, or because they are wronged by the church federation in an appeal to a broader gathering.
If you take the first instance and if such a member is branded as an opposer of ecclesiastical ordinances, then the church federation can either look through its fingers and let the irregularity take its course, or it can demand that the opponent cease from his unlawful action. If the opponent gives in, then the matter is ended. But if he, out of obedience to the Word of God, considers it impossible to give in and carries on his case, then the church federation will discipline him and will try to make him submit. The means which the church federation will use to do this are: 1) denial of eligibility of ecclesiastical offices and positions; 2) denial of the use of the sacraments; 3) suspension from membership; 4) and finally, excommunication.
The one who “resists,” convinced that he cannot concede anything, continues to press his case even though discipline after discipline comes upon him. Even when the sacraments are denied him, e.g., he continues to go to the sacraments.¹
This places the consistory before the question whether it will help to punish the one who resists, or, shrinking back from this, will refuse to execute the punishment laid upon him. If the last happens, then the conflict passes from the individual person to the consistory, and thus will be discussed later. But if it does the first and lends itself to that in order to punish the resister of ecclesiastical regulations by withholding the means of grace, then the conflict comes to its climax against the one who is unrighteously condemned and the ecclesiastical federation which desires to force him.
In such a case it would be irresponsible for such a person to submit. This would be a departure from his former faithfulness. And nothing would remain for him but to come to the sacraments, and if these are denied him by force, to institute, with likeminded people, their own administration of the means of grace; or, if there are no likeminded people, to seek in another church what his own church withholds from him.
If this leads to his excommunication, then he need not consider himself as excommunicated from the church. But there does rest on him the obligation to proceed with a new organization in his church, and, without show or desire for scandal, in the fear of God, to labor for reformation because he longs for the pure administration of the means of grace for himself, his own, and those who stand with him.
The second imaginary case is that he comes into conflict with the church federation by the decision of a broader gathering: either that he himself appeals against a decision of his consistory, or that his consistory agrees with him but then another appeals against this decision of the consistory.
Actually, however, it comes down to the same thing, and the progress of the conflict shall be the same as the progress of reformation of which we spoke above. Either such a one shall then submit himself to the sentence of the ecclesiastical gathering, and then there is no more conflict, or, if he cannot submit, then the church federation might drop the case; or if it comes at last to excommunication, then from that excommunication the same obligation as above leads to independent action. Actually, conflict between common members and the church federation brings up the question of a break with the church as such, a reason why we postpone further discussion of this sort of conflict to the next paragraph.
In the meantime, before we come to the question of the conflict of the consistory and the church federation, we must discuss the unusual conflict which arises, not from the common members, but from persons in ecclesiastical offices.
This kind of conflict is of a more serious kind. Discipline of a common member is less damaging, and common members are subject to less discipline. Excommunication of common members almost never occurs. A certain shame, joined with an awareness of helplessness, usually prevents churchmen in power from persecuting with spiritual punishments anyone to whom nothing else is to be charged than that he is zealous for the honor of God. But it is a different matter if the opponent is an officebearer or an ecclesiastical person. Then there is much more of his influence to fear and the church federation has in its power much more powerful means to punish him. He who is in office can be suspended from that office or set out of that office. The same holds for non-official positions in the church. A supervisor who does not desire to be in league with ungodliness can cause much trouble to the church federation, but the church federation can also take away from that supervisor his membership. A janitor, a precentor, an organist, who will not slavishly go along, can be punished with respect to his daily bread. This can also be done to religious’ teachers who are considered troublemakers. And with respect to offices, what is easier than to remove on high authority a deacon or an elder who dares to test the ecclesiastical ordinances with God’s Word? But what ought to stand on the foreground is the seriousness of a conflict between a church federation and the minister. All other conflicts reach their apex in this. This is true on the one hand, because of the powerful influence which a minister exercises and because of the public nature of his actions; but also, on the other hand, because the church federation can attack him directly and set him outside his office and work, yes, out of his house and goods and money.
Almost all thoroughgoing reformations are born out of this kind of conflict, and the reason is clear why right here the highest moral power becomes manifested.
A common member of the congregation can allow himself to be cut off almost without having wrestled with his God, in a somewhat insolent way perhaps. Also, having been cut off, he remains what he always was. Especially today the suffering which accompanies being cut off amounts to almost nothing.
For a supervisor or janitor, for an elder or deacon, to be deposed is most disagreeable. But in the end he is not ruined. A supervisor loses a certain monetary influence. A janitor loses a very small part of his earnings. An elder or deacon returns to ordinary life without having lost what the world considers desirable.
But this is entirely different for the preacher. For a minister of the Word, excommunication is nothing less than being cut off from his life’s position, a taking away of his sphere of work, a deprivation of the whole of his existence. Behind all this is the goad either to be unfaithfully silent, or to continue to teach and then continue the conflict in a new kind of suffering. Think of Kohlbrugge, what that way of suffering cost him.
For this reason we say that a much higher grace is demanded of the minister of the Word to remain faithful in such a conflict than is demanded of a common member or elder. The moral triumph over flesh and sin must be so much stronger in the minister, his readiness to serve his Lord so much more invincible, his desire for obedience so much stronger, his willingness to make sacrifices must shine so much more brightly.
Common members and also elders who are so ready to complain about the unfaithfulness of our ministers must ask themselves once if they would be found as faithful if their whole life’s position, yes, the bread of their wives and children was at stake.
But, on the other hand, one must then also be zealous in prayers that God will be pleased to pour out His overflowing grace in the heart of many ministers of the Word, to break in them the temptation of false reasoning with which they justify themselves; and thus to give to the churches of Christ those natural leaders for the work of reformation without whose leadership and cooperation the reformation of a church rarely succeeds. And if the prayer is heard, then also the extraordinary measure of moral courage and power of faith which develops in the ministers shall give to their words such a fervor and to their appearance such power that the opposition in the church federation succumbs of itself.
Only through the spiritual awakening of the ministers of the Word can a church be saved; but also only by the passivity of ministers a hostile church federation remains strong.
The consequence of a conflict between ministers and a church federation is always very serious.
It is serious in a tragic sense when the minister of the Word, after a moment of zeal, again lays his head in his bosom, gives in, so that the work of God which he undertook is abandoned. It is serious in its direct consequences. This is true because a minister who is suspended must in such a case continue to preach in the church; or, if this cannot be, then outside the church. And if he is excommunicated, then he gathers forthwith the faithful to himself and preaches the Word if necessary in a stable or a barn, from a shipdeck or in an open field.
Having come to this point, this conflict can also very easily lead to a break with the church itself even as the consequence of the conflict between common members in the church federation spoken of in the following paragraph.
¹ It is highly doubtful whether this is proper for a child of God. It would seem that both Scripture and our Church Order rather require of such a one that he submit to the decision of his consistory, but under protest, and that he carry his protest through to the broader ecclesiastical assemblies. It seems as if Kuyper here is advocating rebelling within the local congregation.