(In the last paragraph Kuyper has discussed reformations which took place in the time of special revelation and are recorded for us in Scripture, and reformations which took place in the history of the church of the new dispensation. He has done this to show the different kinds of reformations which have taken place and to demonstrate how these reformations have significance for the tribulations in which Kuyper found himself in the State Church in the Netherlands.)
64. Concerning the Reformation Which Ought Now To Be Undertaken In the Reformed Churches Of These Lands.
Also the Reformed Churches of these lands await thoroughgoing reformation once again. They do this in order that, brought into a better church condition, they may offer to God His honor, to His elect the enjoyment of His salvation, and to our people and fatherland the support against decline into deeper moral apostasy.
That this reformation is necessary appears from these sad facts which, alas, are denied by no one. These are: that godliness among the Lord’s people has sunk below the common standards. That the key of knowledge, with the exception of very small areas, is lost. That world conformity has not only penetrated the members of the church, but has gained the upper hand among the masses. That the greatest immorality and the most audacious heresies, having progressed even to blasphemy, are tolerated openly and without punishment throughout the churches. That false doctrines have penetrated even into the preachers. That the sacraments are defiled in many churches. That love among the brethren gives way to strife and division. That schism exists among the churches because a number of smaller groups have organized separate churches. And finally that most of these churches stand in a church federation which manifests a continuously more unholy character and a greater inclination to the popish hierarchy.
We do not desire to exaggerate, and indeed one must be careful of the untrue statement that the state of our churches in this land is now already on a par with, e.g., the state of the church of Jerusalem under the later kings, or with the state of the churches of our fatherland in the last part of the fifteenth century.
He who says this does not know history.
It must rather be maintained that the Reformed Churches of this land must always be distinguished from both the above mentioned churches in these respects: 1) That the administration of the Word and sacraments still continues to exist in many of these churches in a purity which in those times was entirely unknown; 2) that the heresy and immorality which has crept in has not yet nearly taken on the idolatrous and satanic character of those times; 3) that he who desires something better can still move far more freely and is not nearly as ill-treated as in those times; 4) that immorality among the preachers, even though it already appears here and there, is not to be compared with that which was seen in Jerusalem and under Rome in the fifteenth century.
If one therefore asks whether we must not consider the Reformed Churches of this land as having become false churches or synagogues of Satan, then we wish to reply by making a distinction between three kinds of churches.
In the first group of churches we put those churches where yet there is a passably pure administration of the Word and a passably pure administration of the sacraments. Examples of such churches are the churches of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, etc. If we had to guess we suppose that there would be about five or six hundred of these churches.
Concerning these churches we may not doubt for a moment that they are yet actually true churches of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is true notwithstanding the fact that we readily admit that the following abuses exist in these churches: 1) that they in addition to the good administration of the means of grace permit a desecration of them; 2) that they fail to exercise discipline; 3) that they give also to unbelievers the right to vote; 4) that they stand in a false church connection.
These are faults which we surely do not consider trifling, but they by no means affect us so that we dare reject them as false churches.
One well remembers that also our fathers, even though false preaching continued to exist, nevertheless never for a moment thought of giving up their local church (though Romish) as a false church.
In the second group we place those churches where the good administration of the means of grace is absent, but where there are still men who pray and where the hope is still cherished that in the Lord’s time Baal service shall give way to the service of the Lord.
The examples are especially applicable to a number of churches where for twenty or thirty years none but lying teachers served, and which at the prayer of believers nevertheless are once again blessed and graced with the good administration of the means of grace. Oh, if only they give thanks to God for this!
The condition of these churches we now consider as extremely dangerous and concede that they have nearly lost their character as church or at least thelawful form of the church as Calvin describes it. But it we pay attention to that which happened in Israel and pay attention to the preservation of the church under the Romish hierarchy and consider the signs which our own eyes have seen in a number of other churches, we do not dare before God the Lord to declare these churches dead, nor to compare their consistories to a synagogue of Satan.
Alas, we must do this with the third category of churches, of which not a few are to be found in our provinces and of which it must be said: 1) that the administration of the means of grace has not only disappeared, but that one cannot even cherish a hope that this administration will return. 2) That the administration of unbelief and idolatry has openly taken over the holy place without even giving offense any longer to the conscience. 3) That the enmity against the truth and the absence of godliness has proceeded so far that a moral dissolution in all the relationships of society can be seen.
We believe that it must be said of such churches: They are dead. The candlestick is taken from her place. And even though God the Lord can build a new church in that place nothing can come anymore from that old, withered stem.
We do not consider it impossible that, e.g., through circuit preaching during a vacancy, the grace of God may be preached again, through which preaching a few souls are touched, and out of that circle of touched souls a new life for the church comes forth. But it is very doubtful whether one could call this a new reviving of the old church. Exactly in the same way the Word can also enter a false church through accidental circumstances without anyone being able to rehabilitate that small church by this rather minor happening.
Perhaps one asks: Why do we not add to these three categories of Reformed Churches a fourth which would include the churches of the Separation in their three or four different groups and which continue to exist under various names?
The reason for this is that we cannot and may not see in all these separate churches anything else than aggrieved churches which have temporarily organized themselves into churches which are perhaps too independent. If right now the churches of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, etc., were reestablished by reformation in a pure form, we are convinced that all these separated churches will come together. However, we would not blame them at all if they refused to do this as long as that reformation tarries and an illegal church connection is maintained.
Now we know well that these separated churches will not themselves admit that they are aggrieved churches. But this does not bother us. If they were not aggrieved churches, then they would have to maintain that our churches are all false churches or synagogues of Satan. And as far as we dare to judge, at least the godly among them do not do this any more. And if it must be accepted among, them as an overwhelming conviction that by no means all the churches alongside of which the separated church has appeared, have died as false churches, then it follows of itself from this that these separated churches would be schismatic, or (and that is our position) that they are to be honored as aggrieved churches with something of an independent organization.¹
Earlier there stood in the way of holding this opinion the fact that certain men from the Modernists and the Groningen Movement² had taken the incorrect position that in our land only one large church existed which possessed local and individual parts. Following that line of thought one must indeed reason: “All that which the church does in her individual parts, as e.g., in Ulrum, the whole church also does!” Following this line of thought one must reject the idea of the church in her individual parts. But if this false collegiate idea gives way to a more Reformed idea, then it must be granted to these separated churches that the distinction made in viewing the church fellowship as a secondary matter puts the essence of the church, not in the denomination, but in the local churches.
At the same time this would arouse a reaction in the separated churches which are recognized by the government under the name of “Christian Reformed” against the more or less collegialistic view according to which some make the denomination the important idea and the local churches as only a part of the denomination.
This is an unreformed idea and shall be gradually banished from these churches as the Reformed principle begins to dominate.
¹ Kuyper is referring here to the churches of the Afscheiding which split from the State Church under the leadership of Van Raalte, de Cock, etc.
² The so-called Groningen Movement was really an ethical movement which emphasized an ethical life and in fact became extremely legalistic.