(In the last part of the last article Dr. Kuyper began a discussion of the deformation of the churches. He defined what he meant by deformation, i.e., the deterioration of a church which had once held a correct form according to the Scriptures and was now in need of church reformation. This idea of the deformed church Kuyper continues to discuss in the following paragraphs.)
36. Concerning Imperfect Church Formation.
Churches which, without suffering deformation, nevertheless do not manifest the true form of the church, not even in an in-itself attainable form, exist in a state of imperfection. Completeness therefore requires that we treat also this imperfect church, at least in so far as it concerns many churches in our day.
Incomplete churches can be of four kinds, namely, .mission churches, occasional churches, churches under the cross, and protesting churches. We must treat each of these churches individually. Mission churches are not what men now call them, e.g., in Doetinchem and on the Vluchtheuvel. There men have, in opposition to all good principles of church polity, in places where a church already exists, imposed a second kind of ecclesiastical congregation into the area. At Doetinchem there is the Dutch Reformed Church (State Church) with its own consistory and ministers, preachers, elders and deacons. But alongside of this church, in the same Doetinchem, exists yet another church on a par with it, with its own government and its own institution, which calls itself a mission congregation.¹ No matter with what good intentions these rules might be brought into existence, yet they are to be very sternly condemned on the ground of the principles of our Reformed church polity. Nothing like this must happen. No, mission churches can only originate where there is yet no church, and, therefore, either in lands inhabited by Jews, heathen, or Mohammedans, or in areas of our own land where faith in Jesus Christ is destroyed; but only in those places.
Such mission churches can arise in two different ways, namely, either because an existing church sends delegates there from elsewhere to establish a church, or because particular believers are a means in God’s hand to make confessors of unbelievers and because these confessors unite into a church.
A mission church of the first kind begins in an extremely imperfect way and for the time being consists only of the family of the minister of the Word sent to that place. It is then a daughter church of the church which has sent him. It stands under its consistory, under that confession, and, as a plant not yet on its own but bound to the mother plant. If God grants to a few of the inhabitants of that place conversion, then these are baptized, not by virtue of the office of the minister, but by virtue of a power extended to the minister by the sending consistory. If that circle spreads out, then holy communion is also granted under similar conditions. And at first in a gradual way one would begin to place an individual elder and deacon alongside of the minister of the Word so that in this way the organization of this church is gradually brought to completion and the day brought about when it, as a severed cutting from the mother church, can begin its own independent existence. One has, in this mission church, an image of a yet imperfect church which is for a period of time without the right use of the sacraments and without the exercise of discipline. But the character of a church cannot be denied to this church while it is coming into existence.
Somewhat different is the process where a mission church originates by individual initiative. To take an extreme case, it is even conceivable that a few castaways, landed on an unknown island, bring the inhabitants of this island to conversion and to Christ, and yet, through lack of communication, are unable to come into contact with an existing church. In such a case these confessors ought not to live without a church connection but would be obligated to establish a church, to choose overseers and deacons, to permit to be installed by these office bearers a minister of the Word, and through him to introduce a ministry of the Word, the use of the sacraments, and the exercise of discipline. This situation would only very rarely occur but it does place the process of becoming a church in the clearest light. Mostly such a circle of believers can make contact with existing churches; and then the proper procedure is to ask help from an existing church so that a delegated minister of the Word may come to that place with an elder to proceed to choose overseers, to recommend a ministry of the Word from elsewhere, and to seal the confession of the converted by holy baptism. Occasional churches are those imperfect churches which originate temporarily, never receive definite and complete manifestation, and disappear again with the disappearance of the reason which brought them into existence. Thus, an occasional church forms itself in times of war in an army in the field. Or an occasional church forms itself on a fleet which is at sea for a long time. Or an occasional church forms itself in a resort where a few Christians stay together for awhile. Earlier many such churches were formed in embassies because Christian ambassadors with their Christian families and helpers moved among Mohammedans and heathen. Or also Reformed ambassadors were in Roman and Lutheran courts. With the exception of a few embassy churches these occasional churches never received a definite form. Often all ecclesiastical institutions, even all use of the sacraments were missing, and a minister of the Word, in case such an office bearer were even present, stood entirely by himself without a consistory and therefore without government. For the merchantmen this presented less difficulty where these men were considered to belong under the consistories of the port of clearance. But even this connection was lacking for the army in the field and for the navy at sea. Mostly the minister of the Word was not even chosen by the church but by the military administration. And so we have here examples of scarcely recognizable churches which lack nearly every mark and yet in their temporal and imperfect form are not entirely devoid of an ecclesiastical character. The justification for this very imperfect form of the church lies in the impossibility of doing anything else. And, therefore, as soon as the possibility was present, these men immediately abandoned such imperfect church formations. So efforts always were condemned to establish separate little churches in high schools, in royal palaces, in the courts of nobles, in places of pleasure, in religious institutions, and such like places. Indeed, separate preaching and separate sacraments administered in these places are permitted by way of forming parishes, because (and to this principle one must hold with tooth and nail) such parishes are under the consistory of that place and are subject to the exercise of discipline so that both the administration of the key of preaching and the administration of the holy sacraments take place not on the authority of the one who seeks help or of the minister but on the authority of the mandate of the consistory. What happened at Loo, when the king appointed court preachers who, outside of union with the consistory of Apeldoorn, preached and administered the sacraments, is opposed to the requirements of Reformed Church polity. Such ministers must either be commissioned by the consistory of s’Gravenhage or sanctioned by the consistory of Apeldoorn.
Churches under the cross, the third kind of occasional churches, are either imperfect or curtailed churches. Their peculiar character is that they are brought into their stunted condition not by inner corruption but, on the contrary, because of a great demonstration on their part of the power of faith. A church under the cross is in fact always a persecuted church. If the magistrate of a land or city or village becomes hostile and misuses his power as magistrate to shut down the worship of the church, then the cross of persecution comes upon such a church. Such a cross can be very light, heavy, or moderate, and according as the cross is, the incompleteness of such a church is small or great. Put such a cross of persecution on the churches of God before they can completely organize themselves, the cross does not in that case cut off an existing organization but rather prevents the realization of it. Thus it was in the days of the Reformation when newly formed churches fell into the fire of persecution; and so it was, although in a different way, with the new church formation of 1834, which, when just risen, was more or less stunted in its free development. If such a cross of persecution is very heavy as it was under the persecution of the Roman Caesars and under the Romish pope, then such a church of the cross can become entirely incomplete, lose all organization, be robbed of its ministers and overseers, lose the ministry of the Word and sacraments, and finally exist only in the small circle of believers, and yet without the essence of the church falling away. With a less heavy cross, such a church of the cross can lose only its meeting place and the regular use of her minister so that it meets in secret, must gather in different places and must help itself with the edification of edifiers.² Such a church is often cut off from all contact with neighboring churches. With a very light cross, on the other hand, no other tribulations usually come over such a church of the cross than that she is punished with fines, that she is deprived of certain privileges and that she cannot maintain her just, public character. Appearing in many diverse gradations, these churches under the cross demonstrate, therefore, to us an entire series from the almost complete to the almost unrecognizable, always, however, distinguished by this from all other incomplete churches, that they not only want to be complete but also would be if the cross of persecution would only cease.
Aggrieved churches, the last kind of occasional churches, are a kind of imperfect church which also desires to be complete and would be, but it is hindered in this, not by the cross of persecution which the magistrate places upon it, but exclusively by the pressure which a church body forces upon it and falsely exercises over it. Also in this connection one must think of various grades and cases, agreeing however in this that the church itself is not yet to be considered false nor unformed. If this were the case then one would have to abandon it and go over to a new church formation. But the church, as much as it may yet be the good church of Christ, fails to show itself as church and fails to show its life because of the unfaithfulness or declared enmity of church rulers who have falsely crept in. Such church rulers who have penetrated the church are maintained in their positions by various powers. Sometimes that power can lie in the church itself if many hypocrites enter who outvote the believers and who with the majority of votes maintain an unbelieving and opposing church government. That power can also lie in correspondence, with other churches, i.e., in the denomination, if this denomination holds its hand over the head of unfaithful overseers and prevents their expulsion in a believing congregation where there are only a few hypocrites. Or, finally, that power can be found outside the church if the magistrate continues such unfaithful overseers in office through direct or indirect influences. Also two or even three of these causes can work together if there are churches which suffer under being out voted by hypocrites, are bound in an obstructing church connection, and, e.g., are hindered in the performance of what is right by the influence of state salaries. Yet under whatever form this vexation of the church of Christ appears, this vexation is never the cross of persecution, but rather the vexation of being oppressed under an intruding unfaithful church government which one would surely like to throw out but is unable for the time being. In all such cases such a church, as long as it does its duty, becomes an aggrieved church, i.e., a church which complains to God that her vexation may be taken away. She still has the consciousness that she shall renew herself no matter how deathly sick she is. And she, finally, is not misled by any dead theories, but reveals the rightness of her complaint exactly in this that she directs herself, be it but imperfectly, to the Word of God. A church which complains without raising herself is a complaining but not a grieving church. Indeed a church which would have a right to grieve before God and man is such a gathering of believers which separates herself from those who oppress the church, appoints faithful overseers according to the Word of God, and, giving over the consequences to God Almighty, she proceeds as soon as possible to a good institution of the ministry of the Word and sacraments. In the meantime, these attempts lead immediately to very imperfect results. It can be that men can find only very few overseers inclined to accept this office. It can be that men can have the ministry of the Word in no other way than very irregularly. Perhaps the ministry of the sacraments is only once per year. This does not harm the character of the grieving church. It remains church. It has the essence of the church. It seeks the wellbeing of the church.
For the sake of completeness one could count under the imperfect churches also the very small and, as a rule, vacant churches. But where this phenomenon is not abnormal, it is outside our discussion.
¹ I have omitted here a paragraph from the translation which has reference to local circumstances which are no longer known to us. The interested reader can consult the original.
² Edifiers are men chosen from the congregation to lead the congregation in worship even though they are not official ministers of the Word.