(In the last installment of this translation Kuyper was talking about the exercise of authority in the church. He had mentioned a direct authority, i.e., an authority by which Christ rules directly over His church. He concluded the last paragraph with the statement: “But also with the use of means the King exercises authority through men, and only this mediate authority is relevant here.” Thus, he now turns to a discussion of mediate authority.)
This mediate authority this King exercises in two different ways, viz., either through the whole church, or through those in her midst who are clothed with the office. This takes place in such a way that the King grants His authority actually and really to the church as church. But at the same time He provides her with offices to which the church is bound in the operation and exercise of this authority. Just as the ear ceases to hear and the eye ceases to see when the person to whom belongs that eye and ear loses his consciousness, so also those offices can no longer perform any spiritual function when the church grows cold and lifeless. And, vice versa, just as an awake and living person can neither hear nor see if the eye or ear is disabled or taken away, so also the church cannot let her granted authority function properly unless the organs of the office are developed in her. The correct and right proportion is precisely maintained in this way. All authority is in Jesus, is given by Him to the whole church, but is bound to the offices for its proper functioning. The church does not create these offices but she receives them, just as also the body does not make the ear but is rather enriched and adorned by God with eye and ear, To proceed correctly it is necessary to distinguish between what part of authority the church exercises through the special office and what part of authority is bound to the office of believers. In addition to the particular function of the eye, the ear, the nose, the mouth, the brains, etc., there are also in the human body common functions such as generation of heat, perception, etc. And thus also in the church of Christ there’ are, alongside of each other, the common operations of the whole body of the church and the particular operations through her special offices. Both these common and particular exercises of authority extend over three areas, viz., over that of the means of grace, over the order of the church, and over discipline.
The church exercises authority in the area of the means of grace, in the first place, because she receives power to dispense the word and sacraments and to bind them on the conscience. This is the ministry of the keys in the preaching and through particular admonition, from which the sacrament as a seal of the Word must not be separated. But also, secondly, she does this through opposing that which these means of grace oppose, and by judging error and confessing the truth over against it. Without error there would be no confession. But now, because error always was, is now, and will ever be to the end, confession is inseparable from the essence of the church.
Likewise, the church exercises authority over the order which shall exist in her midst, and does that in two different ways, viz., first through the drawing up of a church order and composing further ordinances; and, secondly, through the execution of the articles of this church order and these additional ordinances.
And, finally, the church exercises authority over’ discipline. She does this, first, by rightly admonishing those who stray in doctrine or life, and, if need be, by punishment and excommunication. She does this, secondly, through reinstating the penitent in honor and through taking them into the circle where the full enjoyment of the means of grace is tasted.
Of this threefold power, the general authority which belongs to the whole church ought first to be considered; then the particular operation of this authority which is bound to the offices.
The following belong to the church as a whole. First, that which concerns the means of grace. Included in this is the obligation and the right to witness, to confess, to pray, and particularly to admonish, as also the freedom of prophecy. Concerning the order of the church. This includes the right of establishing a church, a right which belongs to believers if there is no church or if the church which was there fell away. Further, in an already existing church, believers also have the right to judge concerning receiving attestations and admission to the Lord’s Supper. They have the right to designate persons for office, to bring differences to classis and synod, to be present as listeners at ecclesiastical assemblies, to delegate deputies to other churches, to appoint guardians and keep an eye on the management of the churches’ property. Thirdly, concerning the administration of justice. This includes the right of believers to exercise the first steps of discipline in particular differences, to withdraw from unfit fellow members and office bearers, to judge concerning excommunication and readmission, to protest against ungodly ecclesiastical conditions and demand remedies, or to proceed, if necessary, to the organization of one’s own consistory whenever the church becomes aggrieved, and, finally, if the church appears to be entirely lost, to send to that sham or false church a letter of separation and to manifest the true church elsewhere.
On the other hand, the church is bound to the official offices for the particular authority in which ecclesiastical government comes to expression. Consequently, these rights belong to the office bearers: first, concerning the means of grace, they have the right to minister the Word with authority in the gathering of the congregation, to lift up supplications and prayers, to dispense the sacraments, and to decide concerning the confession of the church in ecclesiastical gatherings. Secondly, concerning the order of the church, they have the right to regulate the affairs of the church and establish .rules of order, to direct the affairs of the church according to those regulations and execute the decisions. The office bearers or those delegated by them have the right to serve as officers in the gatherings of the congregation, to represent the church in meetings with other churches or in the gatherings of classis and synod, to examine matters coming to lower or higher assemblies and make decisions with respect to these matters, to confer the office on newly chosen persons who have been appointed to it and ordain them in it. And finally, what concerns, in the third place, the administration of justice, they are to exercise discipline among themselves, to warn with authority and to censure, to punish in union with the congregation, to excommunicate and receive again into the church; and, in connection with the coming of wolves into the congregation, they are to protect the believers against them, and, if need be, to separate the believers as an aggrieved church; and, when this is of no avail, to assemble in a new place in a newly established church.