(Kuyper has been talking about the institute of the church and particularly about the special offices in the church. In connection with the latter, he has just finished in the previous paragraph a discussion of Christian discipline.)
31. Concerning Worship.
Public worship aims exclusively at, the holy activities which take place in the public gatherings of the churches. Neither that which happens in families nor that which happens. in particular gatherings may be included under this title. Public worship is that which the church as church does in the hour of spiritual fellowship and communal worship under the, exercise of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. From this follows, first, that the leadership of the public worship must be placed in the hands of the minister of the Word and that the direction of it belongs to the jurisdiction of the consistory. If many churches are gathered together, then the control for those churches must be established by the Classis. Or if yet more churches are gathered, the control is by the Synod. But also classical and synodical decisions are ruled by the decision of the consistory. Secondly, it follows that the minister of the Word does not function in the gathering of the congregation to express his personal spiritual life, but, in the name of the Lord, to declare the sin of the congregation and God’s unending mercy; and, likewise, in the name of the gathered multitude, to go to God the Lord with prayers, doxologies, and thanksgiving. A certain fixed procedure is indispensable for this. If all the ministers change, or also, in larger churches, more than one minister. work alongside each other, it must always remain the one church which in all its many services finds again her unity and continuity. For that reason, formularies for the administration of the sacraments, for installations, for public exercise of discipline, etc., are explicitly commanded. A general order of worship ought to be established for the public worship in large churches; That which must be sung ought to be determined. And even a certain form prayer ought not readily to be condemned. Also, it must be understood in this connection, that no form worship or formalism must be introduced. The free utterance of the Spirit in the congregation ought not to be bound by human regulations. Finally, in the same city or large village more than one church building may be used for worship. Likewise, certain definite preachers and certain definite city districts in the form of parishes may be limited to individual church buildings. But all these worship services ought always to belong under one consistory so that in each of these worship services, no matter in what church building they are held, the same confession is made and the same liturgy is followed.¹
Looked at from this viewpoint, the so-called hymn question is an ecclesiastical question of serious concern. As long as, e.g., the church of Amsterdam is connected with other churches with which it was one since 1775, the regulation and direction of the public worship of what may be sung is exclusively the determination of the national synod. All earlier synods decided that only the Psalms should be sung and so-this decision can only rightly be revoked by the national synod. The synodical deputies, however, who in 1806 introduced the hymns had not received a mandate to do this from any single national synod. But, according to Reformed church polity, a deputy neither can nor may do anything but what a synod charges him and specifically orders. And because a provincial synod never can nor may undo what a national synod has decided, so the provincial synod of 1805 possessed absolutely no authority to nullify the decisions of the national synod of 1619; It thus could not transfer a power to her deputies which she herself did not possess. The introduction of hymns was thus illegal in the fullest sense. And the synod of 1816 could not justify this illegal deed because it, following her mandate, was only a ruling body, and all introduction of changes in the spiritual matters of the church were intentionally excluded from her jurisdiction Thus we will not discuss the question whether it is good or bad to sing hymns along with the Psalms in the public worship of the congregation, something which is now commonly the practice. We express only as our opinion that the introduction of the so-called evangelical hymns was church politically illegal in every respect and thus far has never been made legal.
The opposite idea, that people must still only sing the Psalms of Dathenus, will not do. This is a question of practice which says nothing about the great principle whether men are bound to God’s Word in their singing in Gods house. That great principle is: “In God’s house nothing else but God’s Word, also in our song!” That principle our legal and spiritual synods have emphatically confessed after the example of Dathenus and Mar-nix. This was done also over against the Remonstrants who first demanded hymns. And such a principle can, yes, most certainly must be changed by a later national synod if it appears to be wrong according to the Word of God. This is true because then that change takes place in the legal way and not, as in our case, in an illegal manner.
32. How A Church Enters Union With Other Churches.
A church must not stand alone, because it is not the church of Christ but only a manifestation of the church of Christ in one single place. Gatherings in other places which, in the same manner, are manifestations of the same body of Christ belong with her and she with them. From this emerges the explicit obligation to maintain correspondence with other churches within the realm of the possible. That obligation originates only then, when, in other places, the church of Christ comes to such a manifestation that it is recognizable as the, church of Christ. If this is not the case, then a church cannot begin correspondence with it. If the other churches lose that character, then they must cut off correspondence with them. Unity of confession is the indispensable foundation upon which all ecclesiastical correspondence, and thus also all church union, must stand.
Where such a unity of principle appears, and this church union be sought through correspondence, this church union ought to have the purpose: 1) of the drawing up of a common confession of the churches and the treatment of any gravamena against these confessions; 2) the regulation of public worship and the public ministry; 3) the maintenance of mutual oversight over each other; 4) the common defense of the rights of the church over against third parties; 5) the removal of differences between the churches mutually; 6) the care of the ministry of the Word through the establishment, if necessary, of seminaries, the examination of candidates, the approbation of called ministers, the dismissal of those who depart, etc.; 7) the regulation of the transfer of members from one church to another, whether for the administration of baptism or the Lord’s Supper, through so-called attestations; 8) the maintenance of fellowship by delegating deputies to each other’s gatherings.
The maintenance of the confession in the ministry and worship service stands on the foreground because the spiritual character of the church is symbolized by this. To establish Formulae of Unity and to see to it that these are maintained is the first obligation of all churches which enter church union. Not, and this stands sharply on the foreground, in order to hold these writings as oft equal value with the Word of God, but because anyone who stands outside or inside the church must be able to know what the church confesses concerning the Word of God. These Formulae never bind the conscience. Only Holy Scripture binds the conscience and these formulations always remain subject to examination by Scripture. On the other hand, no one is free to teach against these Formulae in the church. Properly, each one who has a gravamen ought to bring this to the church so that it may be examined. And each one is obligated to submit to the expression of the church in this matter or to separate from the church which according to his conviction chooses against the Word of God. It is at this point that all the difference exists: between a Remonstrant and a Reformed church union.
This church union or this correspondence with other churches is under the government of a synod. But, because not all the churches which stand together in correspondence can come together on synod, people have, from old times and rightly so, organized the neighboring churches along the lines of districts in smaller groups under the name of a Classis. In this Classis, then, all the churches from the district come together as freely confederated and united. Yet, since the whole congregation and even its consistory cannot appear in full number, only the ministers with the elders come together. These ought to vote not by roll call but ecclesiastically² and under the direction of officers who are chosen before every gathering and whose office disappears when the gathering ends. If there is no classis then there is nothing but individual churches existing alongside each other. And. every idea of perpetual officers or moderamen must be zealously averted in the church of God as an intrusion of papal tyranny. Indeed, the classes may commission deputies but never in any other way than with a definite mandate. Thus, never must a committee be appointed which would deliberate and decide as a sort of college, but rather separate committees must be appointed which carry out the mandate of classis.
From this classis and by this classis the delegates of synod are chosen. The connecting link of a provincial consistory is in every respect in conflict with the principles of Reformed church polity, and now, all the more, when men have allowed provincial synods to lapse. The church ought to delegate directly from the classis to the synod whether to the provincial synod which, in its turn, appoints to a general synod, or whether directly to a national synod. But whether the climb is made to the general synod by one or two steps, the same regulations apply to the provincial and general synod as applied to the classis. They come and they go without leaving behind a synodical committee or synodical officers and are called together again and again by a church or classis which has received a mandate for this. Upon meeting, the body then names its officers and discharges them when it adjourns. Committees are charged with the carrying out of the decisions, but always for a definite matter and with a definite mandate. These committees report only when the synod comes together again. On the general synod effort is put forth, and rightly, to hold correspondence with foreign churches insofar as they have the same confession, This correspondence can be expressed in a mere greeting or, as at Dordt, it can have a double purpose: to help churches which find themselves in difficulties and to express the unity of the Reformed church world over against those who think differently.
The churches do not maintain correspondence with churches of another confessions although the closer relationship to the Lutheran churches has always led to a brotherly inclination towards those churches who have this name. And it remains the calling of the church always to strive towards reunion of that which belongs together and yet cannot live together until it becomes one in its confession.
¹ Kuyper is referring here to the practice in the Netherlands where all the people in one city belonged to the same congregation even though they met in various church buildings throughout the city.
² Kuyper means here, to vote by consistory; i.e., that each consistory receives one vote.