A Pamphlet Concerning the Reformation of the Church

Introductory Remarks 

Before we actually begin the translation of this work of Dr. Abraham Kuyper, a few brief remarks are in order. 

It was not a very long time after the Synod of Dordrecht that the State Church in the Netherlands entered a period of doctrinal and spiritual decline. As the years passed, this decline increased in seriousness until, in 1834, Henry De Cock was instrumental in leading a number of churches out of the State Church in what became known as the Afscheiding. This Afscheiding movement was a genuine reformation of an apostate State Church. However, not all those who were faithful to the truth departed from the State Church in the years following the Afscheiding. The result was another movement of secession from the ex-State Church which took place in 1886. This movement, known as the Doleantie, was led by Dr. Abraham Kuyper. A few years after this latter secession Dr. Kuyper was instrumental in bringing together the churches of the Doleantie and of the Afscheiding into one denomination known then and now as the Gereformeerde Kerken. This pamphlet, written in 1883, was prepared just three years before the Doleantie with a view to explaining the need for this reformatory movement. It was written, therefore, to explain the need for reformation and to explain how, in Dr. Kuyper’s mind, this reformation was to take place. 

It is the historical background of this pamphlet which makes the work important enough to be translated and presented to our readers. Many people today find themselves in a position similar to that in which Dr. Kuyper found himself in the latter part of the 19th Century. Today, too, many historically Calvinistic and Reformed churches have gone the road of doctrinal and spiritual apostasy, and faithful people of God who are troubled by this apostasy find themselves confronted with the question of church reformation. What Dr. Kuyper had to say to the people of his day is therefore of relevancy in many respects to the times in which we live. 

This is not to say that this is the only value of this pamphlet. Dr. Kuyper, in his own way, included in his work a great deal of information, especially concerning church political matters, which are of interest and importance to all who love the Reformed faith and who are interested in sound Scriptural Reformed church polity. The pamphlet is therefore worth the effort of translating and it is our hope that it will be of interest and benefit to our readers. 

The fact that we make this pamphlet available in the English does not and is not intended to imply that we agree with everything which Dr. Kuyper has written. The presentation of this material in our Standard Bearer must not be construed as complete approval of every idea which Dr. Kuyper presents. The material must therefore be read with discretion comparing the ideas presented with the teachings of Scripture. In some instances where there is disagreement we have made some brief comments by way of a footnote. Dr. Kuyper himself had an occasional footnote in this pamphlet and the two will be distinguished from each other. Our footnotes will be indicated by means of Arabic numerals while Dr. Kuyper’s footnotes will be indicated by means of an asterisk. 

With these remarks we present to our readers a translation of this pamphlet. 


Commemorative days are always by all people, in every age, and in all areas of human life reverently respected. 

They also often bring with them a blessing. 

Above all, mighty acts of faith, results of which have ceased, are brought to our consciousness in an edifying manner by such commemorative days. As men and people re-live such an event of faith by way of recollection they often experience a sense of shame as they are reproached by their own spiritual, degeneration. They seize new courage in the contemplation of what the resiliency of faith is able to do. And, with warmer enthusiasm than they have been able to give for a long time, they give praise and commendation and honor to Him Who willed to work this power of faith in men, and still remains the same faithful God to work also in us. 

Rightly, therefore, the German-Protestant people prepared themselves this autumn to celebrate on the 10th of November in all the lands of Christendom Luther’s fourth centenary. 

On October 31, 1917 will be a yet more solemn day of commemoration for the one who lives to see it. But also Luther’s birth is more than worthy of such a day of commemoration. 

Indeed the act of reformation entered the outside world first at Wittenberg’s castle chapel. But he who confesses with us that the Lord our God prepares already in His mother’s womb the instruments for His church knows that already with Luther’s birth in the quiet town of Eisleben the man was given through whose courage of faith the light would again be put on the candlestick, and who would again open the way to peace with God for all those who are without comfort and driven about by storms. 

Also we, Reformed, Reformed also in this land, join with our German brothers in their shouts of jubilation.

Luther is not only the hero of faith in the Lutheran churches, but is equally the man of our sympathies, the confidant also of our hearts, for whose word and work all the churches of the Reformation, and thus also the Reformed Churches of Western Europe, have to give a great deal of thanks. But especially they have to thank him for the inspiring principle of their reformation. 

Although in Lutheran lands men might be able to think of the complete Reformation without Calvin, the thought has never risen among Reformed to think of Calvin without the broad shoulders of Luther upon which Calvin’s slender figure rested. 

Calvin worked out the idea of the Church of Christ for us in a more detailed way, more exquisitely, more purely than the hero of Wittenberg; but Luther was the one who took the granite out of the rock and with broad strokes brought the figure forward into an image. 

Also in this land the first impulse towards reformation proceeded not from Calvin�that first blossomed only later, but proceeded instead from Luther. And it also quickly became evident that the German-Lutheran Reformation could not grow here without a firm root. On the other hand, though the Genevan-Calvinistic Reformation immediately created order out of chaos, it must never be forgotten by our true-born Reformed people that Luther’s appearance put the match to the tinderbox and that Calvin, only secondarily and coming after Luther, perfected what Luther began. 

As strongly therefore as the Reformed maintained the purity of their doctrine and the uniqueness of their ecclesiastical regulations, they have not forgotten the bonds which bound them to Luther and his successors. Luther is still read by the Reformed even though Calvin is forgotten in Lutheran lands. People have reviled Calvin in Lutheran lands, but Luther is never mentioned in Calvinistic lands in any other way than with praise. On the German-Lutheran side men have often refused us the hand of brotherhood, but from the Reformed side the hand of brotherhood is still warmly desired with the Lutheran churches in Germany. And even though those on the Lutheran side glory in their liberality and broadmindedness of ideas and claim to take offense at our Calvinistic narrow-mindedness, it still remains an incontrovertible testimony of history that in their mutual relation the entertaining of a sense of brotherhood proceeds always more from the Calvinists, and exclusion for the most part comes from the theological Lutheran school.

Indeed our Reformed people never go so far from home as nowadays many “ecumenical theologians” go to greet Luther with enthusiasm as a friend of their heart, while these ecumenical theologians, with dignified greetings, pass by the cold marble image of Calvin as they call it. Calvinists cannot do this because he who drinks better cannot return to a lesser draught, and each good Reformed man does not hesitate to testify that Calvin brought the reformation of the church further than Luther. 

But even though Calvin has and holds our most grateful homage, yet we continue to honor Martin Luther as the man of God’s appointment to break the bands under which His church lay bound; to celebrate as the theologian who in the first freshness of his youth was as resolute a Calvinist as ever Calvin was; and to remember him thankfully as the one who established a number of Protestant sister churches who, although less purely Reformed, yet as genuine churches of Christ, carry out the Word of God, and with a sincere sense of brotherhood, are recognized by each in our circles as “members of the mystical body of our Lord.”

Therefore let one Reformed man of our day be permitted to give a public token of this thankful inclination towards Luther’s person and work on the commemoration of his four-hundredth anniversary. 

If to me be granted the privilege to revive somewhat by a limited effort the historic Calvinistic tradition in this land in our people, our theologians, and our citizens, it is also true that frequently this sharply defined influence arouses in others the notion that narrow-minded jealousy of non-Calvinistic brothers keeps step with this love for the Reformed principle. 

Not seldom it has been whispered to me that no one other than Calvin appears worthy of homage to me and to my colleagues. 

Well then, because it must be evident how unjust this idea is and how men now again unjustly ascribe to the Reformed of these days a narrow-minded smallness of spirit, it seemed desirable to me that Luther’s 400th anniversary must not go by without a public acknowledgment of unfeigned homage being presented from the side of the Reformed to the memory of a great reformer! 

And when the commemoration of great men seems among every people in all circles to be most worthwhile, when men revive the memory of that which has been most important in their life, so that men honored artists for the skill of their paint brush, poets for their songs, ruling princes for the skill of governing, why would it be taken amiss of me if I attempt to honor the memory of a great reformer by writing a pamphlet of the reformation of that same church which finds the origin of its reformational life in Luther’s brave stand. 

Luther has always been the national hero of our German neighbors. He is also the fighter for freedom of thought and conscience. He is also the theologian with a subjective tendency in his theology. But above all Luther is reputed in history to be the Reformer of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Although I do not deny to the German nation the right to honor Luther as one of her greater sons, and although I do not dispute the right of free thinkers to thank Luther for keeping them from chains, yes although I grant to our “ecumenical theologians” without any evil intent the pleasure of leaning on Luther’s subjective side for their theological preference, yet I assert that Luther’s full memory is repudiated by the one who only retains his reformational influences as part of his image and who forgets his breaking with the existing church institute. 

A German can rejoice in Luther’s memory even if he is a Jew or Roman Catholic. A free thinker can honor Luther even though he denies all the holy truth for which Luther strove and wrestled. And also a legitimate opponent of every schism in the church institute can rejoice in Luther as theologian. But the true Luther, Luther from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, i.e., the Luther who appeared as reformer—these men do not honor him. 

On the other hand I wish to maintain that he who presently pleads Germany’s rebirth without Christ or also freedom of conscience without being bound to the word, pleads for the recovery of the church without breaking away from human- ordinances, is unfaithful to Luther’s spirit, and denies his courageous appearance rather than honoring him for his holy principle. 

Luther’s name must go forth on his 400th anniversary as a testimony of God in our midst. 

It is a testimony of God for all those who are anxious of soul to seek their perfect peace in no other way than in the Christ of God as their Security and Mediator. 

It is a testimony for the doubtful mind to oppose as error all ideas which in any way rob God’s Holy Word of its complete infallibility in a moral or in a historical sense. It is a testimony to oppose this error with the words: “that word you shall allow to stand.” 

It is a witness for him who loves his fatherland never to separate his politics from his faith but always to seek the revival of the fatherland and people out of Christ. 

But then also it is a witness for those who cherish the Church of God with the love of their hearts, not to shrink back from any break with the church federation as the cancer eats more deeply, and not to rest until Zion revives.

1 Although a sentiment such as this arises out of the peculiar situation in the Netherlands where the State Church was an accepted ecclesiastical principle, we have an indication here of Kuyper’s deep commitment to the calling of believers to enter politics. It is this aspect of Kuyper which has appealed particularly to such organizations as the A.A.C.S.