A Pamphlet Concerning the Reformation of the Church

(In the last couple of paragraphs Kuyper, while speaking of the way in which the church is deformed, describes how that deformation takes place in the confession and walk of the members and in the deterioration of the ministers of the Word in their calling.)

42. Concerning Deformation In the Confessions. 

Members and ministers confess, but what they confess is the confession of the church. Thus a church also becomes deformed, in the third place, if she, though maintaining a reasonable walk among her members and a very pious attitude among her ministers, nevertheless permits the sinew of her public confession to be cut. This process of sickness passes through more than one stage and has more than one form. That sinew of confession is, first of all, cut if a church becomes confessional in a wrong sense—that is to say, if she draws her principle from her confession instead of from the Word of God. Only God’s Word has authority over the conscience. Therefore, if a church binds the conscience directly to the Confession as if they had value in themselves; if she attempts on her Synodical gatherings to prove things from those Confessions instead of from the Word of God; if she permits no gravamina to be submitted on the ground of God’s Word; if she loses from sight the obligation which rests upon her always to let the rightful authority of the Word control her organization and her Confessions; then an unhealthy confessionalism arises against which the Holy Spirit in the church protests. An entirely different form of sickness is that which arises where the Confession is indeed honored as a proverb, but is not recognized according to its true worth. This is the sin of ecclesiastical dualism; it is a disruption of the connection which, if everything else were well, ought to operate the body and soul of the church in harmony. One considers then that the Confessions serve a good purpose as identification marks over against those who are outside, but the church excludes the Confessions from the judicial process. This also falsifies. Indeed, with respect to the outsiders, it gives the impression that people confess outwardly that which they acknowledge not to confess in the inner chamber. At least they do not confess it in such a way that these confessions are allowed to control, also on the highest levels of the church, all that which stands under the sovereignty of justice. This leads of itself to the confessional sickness in its most acute form known under the name of a lack of maintenance of freedom of teaching. This evil works in two ways, namely, both in the internal organization of the church and in her relationship to other churches. Internally this evil shows itself in the church as soon as the church permits people to be members who come from elsewhere without satisfactory evidence that they agree with the confession of the church; or else, in their own fellowship, they give full right to persons who are either careless about or react against the confession. A worse form of this evil appears in the organization when the church tolerates deacons, elders, and finally also ministers of the Word who have deviated widely or in small measure from the Confession. On the other hand, this sickness reveals itself in the connection with other churches when a church continues in correspondence or church union with churches who either do not have the same confession or do not maintain it. 

This confessional sickness usually has a twofold evil consequence, namely, first, that in the absence of right, each person sets himself as judge in the church so that the judging and condemning of one another never comes to an end. And, secondly, a sort of new conventional standard comes into force as a standard of orthodoxy which is outside the working principle of the true Confession. The church imagines then that it is not necessary to retain in a Reformed Church a correct reformed principle as long as the church remains orthodox and honors with the beautiful name of orthodox a certain arbitrarily outlined confession, or a confession which no one can understand because it lacks every clear statement of doctrine. The church begins with distorting the right and ends by pushing into its place a pure arbitrariness. Nothing is more arbitrary in a church than to call something orthodox which does not agree with the Confessions of that church. In the church of Rome only that which is Romish is orthodox. In the synagogue only that which is Jewish and which rejects Christ is orthodox. And so also in the Reformed Church, only that is orthodox which praises the glory of the visible raising of Reformed landmarks. 

43. Concerning Deformation In the Administration Of the Means Of Grace. 

The church lives out of grace and this grace comes to her through the means God ordained for that end: the preaching of the Word and the administration of the holy sacraments. Hence the church languishes from anemia if these means of grace are kept from her, or, worse yet, are poison so that in the place of these means of grace the wrong food is administered. This deformation originates because the listeners and the preacher wish the person of the minister to be heard in the churches instead of God Almighty. The Word is a means of grace if the minister and the congregation actually bow deeply under and come together in order to be instructed in that Word. Every kind of theme preaching is therefore to be strongly condemned as a profanation of the Word. Also to be condemned is preaching on an idea and seeking a text to place alongside the idea. And to be condemned is preaching on a text where something other than an exposition of the Word of God is brought. The deformation of this means of grace begins thus with orthodox preachers, especially with those who put experience in the place of the Word. But once having begun in this way, this evil proceeds further among half-believing and unbelieving ministers by destroying all Scriptural preaching. And it ends when a church building is a place where only captivating or boring orations are heard. 

It is the same with the holy sacraments. If once the fearful thought slips into the preacher that the sacrament is dead and that now life only comes through his moving addresses, through his solemnity and impressiveness, then the sacrament is gone in principle. The sacrament is only when Christ works through His Holy Spirit. Thus pathos just does not fit. It is advisable, rather, to restrain the feeling. And he who, as a liturgist, seeks the power of the sacrament in pathos, clearly expresses that he does not believe in the power of Jesus. This is noticed most clearly in the treatment of the ecclesiastical liturgical forms. He who is sound speaks in connection with the sacraments in the best and purest way when he speaks through the word of the church (in its liturgical forms) and reads those forms in a calm voice without mutilation or omission, entirely and clearly, in order to be very brief in what he himself adds. But he who on the other hand departs with his heart from the holy power of the sacraments, either rejects the form entirely or mutilates and bumbles it, and thereupon once again solemnly comes with the real thing, so he imagines, when he makes his own address and word, and thoughtlessly presents what he himself has invented. 

44. Concerning Deformation In Discipline. Allowing discipline to disappear from the church of Christ is not only a failure to maintain the confessions and a failure to keep the sacraments pure, but it is, in its deepest sense, an abandoning of authority. Just as people outside the church can advise someone concerning something and bind it on the heart, so also people judge that a church possesses no higher power than torecommend to her members her confession and toadmonish them to godliness. Letting go of discipline is therefore a mislaying of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, a nullifying of the power which Christ has put in His church, and, by this, a cutting off of the authority of King Jesus: they hear Jesus as prophet; they thank Him as the High Priest; but they renounce His authority as King. This sickness makes a deadly attack on the essence of the church. It originates mainly in the elders. They, as those office bearers who with the ministers are most particularly called to the rule of the church, begin to reduce their office to an appendix of the office of minister instead of confessing that they have been put in office by King Jesus in an equally royal way with the minister. Presently they no longer see an office in their position as elder and grant the higher title only to ministers. A consequence of this is that the spiritual and moral consciousness of duty and calling languishes. They no longer have any idea of the glorious power which King Jesus has given them to exercise. And finally, they, having become powerless and spiritless, and permitting no discipline to be exercised among themselves, lose also the courage to exercise discipline over others. The deformation of the church which proceeds from the degeneration of the eldership is at least as serious as the deformation which finds its origin in the degeneration of the office of minister. It is the sickness of anarchy in the office of elders which begins with a giving up of right and authority and order in the consistory and which proceeds to the abandoning of all right also in the synodical gatherings. It is principally revolution when the shepherds allow the flock to pass judgment on them while the flock refuses to bow its will to the judgment of the shepherds. The lawlessness of the congregation proceeds from this sickness as well as from the spiritual prostitution of the ministers, the falsifying of the means of grace, and whatever more. But this is all really a consequence, not the actual essence of this sickness. Its unique mark is an abandonment of authority.