A Pamphlet Concerning the Reformation of the Church

(As Kuyper is discussing the deterioration of the church, he discusses how this deterioration or deformation takes place in various aspects of the church’s life. He has spoken of this deterioration in the confession of the church, in the walk of the church, in the administration of the means of grace, and in the work of the office bearers. He continues to discuss this deterioration in the following paragraphs.) 

45. Concerning Deformation In the Works Of Love And Mercy. In the church of Christ, love for the miserable among the brethren and mercy toward the miserable among outsiders wells up of itself and irresistibly as water bubbles up from grooves and fissures which a fountain finds in the rock. There is thus in that church an interfering cause present which suppresses the natural expression of her life if covetousness, the root of all evil, dries up this fountain of love and mercy, and the miserable who cry to God are sent away empty by the church of Christ. This is an enormous guilt before the Lord, before Him Who in the judgment of the great day shall measure the love of His bride for Him, the Bridegroom, according to the warmness or coldness with which they feed the hungry and clothe the naked. He must turn in anger against the church which even pushes Him out of the sanctuary to set up again the idol of mammon, and no “light of His friendly countenance” can shine in His church if coldly calculated selfishness and covetousness take the place of mercy in His holy house. We do great wrong to be silent concerning the deformation of the church with respect to this horrible abuse. Indeed, it must be conceded that this deformation does not touch the essence of the church, but rather the expression of her life. Just as a drying up and shriveling up of the blossom and fruit is not yet proof that the tree has died in its root, yet blossom and fruit seldom are missing if the life and the root are not ill. Therefore we do well to pay closer attention to this, and that in a threefold way. In the first place, as far as the diaconal office of all believers is concerned, believers must see to it that the impulse to offer their gold and silver works with sufficient ,zeal in the members of the church of Christ. A believer must always be a willing giver. His gift must not be an extorted gift but a willing offering. Yes, more deeply, the inclination of the heart must be watched to see that there is not only a presentation of the alms, but a priestly sharing of pity; to see that there is not pride which condescends to misery, but deep mercy which knows that he is one with the poorest and most needy as a fellow brother and sister in the Lord; also that there is not a Phariseeistic show of liberality, but a giving of alms in secret because the Father Who sees in secret shall reward such people openly. In the second place, it must be investigated whether the church, not only in her members, through the office of all believers, but also in her central office of love, namely, through the office of deacons, maintains her calling; and indeed especially if the deacons feel their calling to develop the art of giving in the church of God; or if they realize, according to the high significance of their office, that they must walk in the footsteps of Christ in the feeding of the hungry and in the healing of the sick; and finally whether they, far from being satisfied to distribute the money which comes in with coldness and lack of mercy, on the contrary, set their hearts on it and do not rest until they have helped all whom God has made needy and done this through the love of God which the Holy Spirit has shed abroad in the church. And in the third place, finally, they must carefully see to it that the church of God, in connection with this work of love and compassion, does not operate on the basis of feeling but always seeks her stability in God’s Word; does not limit her task to extending alms to the beggars, but also seeks the miserable whose need cries out to God in secret; and above all, to see whether, according as the waters of need increase, they know how to reveal the measure of their love also as church by bearing the need of those who are sick and infirm, forsaken and maimed. And thus in the name of the Lord Jesus they must show mercy to those who are deaf or blind, idiots or insane, crippled or leprous, or those who are visited with any other suffering. And if one notices now, alas, that this powerful work of love and mercy languishes; that the art of giving is no more understood; that the church prefers to leave her task of honor to others; and that the miserable and needy turn away their face from the church of Christ knowing that there is no ear there for their complaint; then the consequence must and will follow from this withering of the truth of love that such a church becomes diseased also in her root. “In as much as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to Me,” is her threatening judgment. 

46. Concerning Deformation Of the Worship Service. “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth,” the Lord our King said. If this is to happen, then, as a result, the sacred form used in our worship must appear in visible form only as far as is necessary to make worship in the Spirit perceptible to the congregation of saints. It is for this reason that our fathers made strict demands to be sober in the style and ornamentation of our church building; preferably to avoid completely organ playing, but, if it is permitted, never to use it for more than accompaniment; to abandon all artificial singing in order to permit the singing of the congregation to be the quiet expression of the soul before God; quietly sitting, only relieved by the men standing during prayer; to prevent all movement in bowing and turning; and, accordingly, also in the prayers, the sacraments, burials, and whatever more there may be, to strive for sober, meaningful symbolism which is an expression of the holy peace of God. In these external matters an extreme exaltation of sobriety is no more to be permitted than an extreme appeal to the senses. There is also a difference of environment and nationality. What is sober for an Italian would be colorful and excessive among us. Firm rules do not exist in this area and therefore deformation is more difficult to recognize. Yet no one ought to think that therefore no deformation can creep into the worship service. The sad example of the rituals in our English sister church proves, alas, the opposite. A large part of that church is ruined exactly by the unpruned and wild outgrowth of her worship. And although the evil does not arise to such a height in this country as in Great Britain, yet the church in our own land inclines to deformation in worship when the lack of spiritual sound in the singing leaves the church to draw from the organ pipes through ,artificial playing that which no longer wells up from the soul of the believer. People seek to make up for the lack of spirituality of prayer by bodily bowing, and further, by incessant standing up and then sitting down again, by all kinds of antiphonies or choir singing or choral singing, or also by solemn attire and putting up of crowns and whatever more, the attempt to display in external ways what is lacking in the heart of the matter. It is noteworthy that in our own churches the worship service remained pure and sober as long as the “My Lord and my God!” came from the heart; but it became embellished and decorated with all kinds of innovations when the Groningersl denied the divinity of the Lord and the congregation was addressed by the formalities and lifelessness of the practical Arian.(2) 

47. Concerning Deformation in Church Government . Deformation in church government can originate from this that the church rulers are unspiritual, bureaucratic, formal members, lacking in all the gifts of the. Spirit for the government of Jesus’ church. Then they leave right unavenged even though heresy or lawlessness pervert it, and finally are inclined themselves to misuse their power as judges by calling just what is unjust and by harming the innocent. In the meantime this is not yet deformation of church government as such. This deformation is first present when the exercise of church government itself deviates from what it ought to be according to the Word of God. There can be a church with an excellent exercise of government, but which, when controlled by bad personnel, works badly. But, vice versa, there can also be a very bad exercise of government which even though controlled by excellent persons, can never work well. This is like the engine room in a steamship. The nicest ship may have the most excellent engine, but it will still run aground if the engineer is either ignorant or inattentive or drunk. But, on the other hand, a bad ship with useless engines, even though a most excellent engineer is put in her, cannot possibly be sailed. It is like this with the government of the church. You do not save your church by good government if the Spirit of God has left it. But if your church government is bad, you cannot keep your church from ruin even though you put in all positions of church government people who are strictly upright. Also this deformation ought to be very sharply noted because he who harms justice paralyzes the best power, wrenches loose the braces and the cross beams of the house, and plays games with the, future of the church. This is not surprising because every deformation in church government directly concerns the question whether in the church of Christ all power shall remain in King Jesus and His Word; and further, whether in the church of Christ in which all are brothers a certain mastery of brother over brother shall be set up. Revolution through insurrection against the King, or clericalism through wielding of lordship over the brethren is the double form of illness which affects the life of the church through the deformation of its government. “One is your master, and ye all are brothers!” is the living Word which alone brings healing to this sickness. It concerns the ancient struggle between the holy ordinances of God and the false ordinances of man.

1.This is the reference to a certain movement in The State Church which orginated in the province of Groningen which among other things, denied the divinty of the Lord.

2.The word Arian is a heresy which derives from the name Arius, a heretic in the first part of the fourth century of the Christian church. Arius also denies the divinity of Christ and his heresy was condemned by the Synod of Nicea in 325 which synod drew up the well-known confession of Nicea.