A Pamphlet Concerning the Reformation of the Church

(In this entire section of the pamphlet Kuyper has been talking about the causes of deterioration in the church and has discussed how this deterioration develops in the church as the church undergoes a change from a condition of spiritual strength to one of grave weakness.)

40. Concerning Deformation in the Members. 

All deformation in the members of a certain church which deforms the church itself begins with the confession of the members and not, as is usually thought, with their walk of life. It is not as if life is of lesser importance, but rather that one’s walk has ecclesiastical value only as a confession. Everything is measured in the church of Christ by the standard of Christ. Only one thing has value for the church as church: your faith. Only your faith is an instrument of salvation, and only your faith binds you to the Lord. Virtues of those who do not possess the grace of God may have value for the civil community, and to this extent must tend to God’s honor if these virtues restrain the lawlessness of the malicious—yes, indeed, to prepare for the church a place for the sole of her feet. (1) But they do not have ecclesiastical value. A church without any sincere members, consisting only of members each of whom is adorned with civil virtues, but is far away from faith in the Lord Jesus, would not only not form a good church, but would form no church at all. Such a gathering of people could as well be heathen and idolatrous. The attempt to judge the members of the church by placing the walk of the church on the foreground must be resolutely rejected. It is still true as it has always been through the ages: confession and walk, not walk and confession. Confession must remain on the foreground because in it lies the mark of a Christian, and the walk can only first be judged by the glimmer of that light. 

This corruption in regard to confession appears in the members in more than one form. 

The most common form (alas!) is that of indifference, when many say they assent to the confessions but hardly know them and are not even troubled by this; they do not recognize opposition to the confession and cannot even become excited about it. It is the offensive sin of so many men and women, who at confession of faith, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper repeatedly declare their assent to the doctrine of the church, and who are the same ones who never lift a finger to try to find out what the doctrine of the church is. 

The seemingly opposite form of this is that of externalizing the confession, i.e., the sin which separates this confession from the heart. In that case they are very busy with the confession, are zealous for it with a burning zeal; they investigate and analyze it; but they consider it a dry abstraction which is to be imprinted on the memory, preserved through reasoning, and which requires repetition in its most literal form. Actually this sin takes the confession out of the confession. You thought you heard a lion roaring and found nothing but an anatomical skeleton of the king of beasts. 

The third form under which the confession of the members manifests its sickness is the violation of confessional balance. There are in the confession of the church, even as in every organism, distinct members or parts and pieces, each of which in the harmony of the whole has its own place and purpose. These parts are not alike, but each differs according to its own nature. One is the eye, the other an ear; a third part is the heart, a fourth the head. In brief, the whole confession is related harmoniously as a body. The demand of that confession is, therefore, that it sees with its eyes, walks on its feet, and lifts up its head. But now sin violates that proper balance; transposes the emphasis; takes away the importance of what ought to have stress; and lays stress on what cannot bear such emphasis. One wants the eye to hear, wants the ear to see, and wants to give the head the function which only the heart can perform. Much one-sidedness originates from this-those unnatural monstrosities which make the confession of the church sickly and which all find their mark in this that they are disturbances of its balance. 

The fourth form is that of superstition. The members of the church seek to mix into the confession what does not belong there. This sin originates when the church, having no eye for the actual mystery of the kingdom, finds her confession insufficiently mysterious and now has a strong desire to push into her confession all kinds of falsely mystical elements. 

The fifth or last form is that of unbelief. Rising when the confession is sufficiently out of joint to become openly disputed, the members of the church now have no scruple to set their denials over against the confession of the church and to do this at the top of their voices. 

Sin against the confession can go no farther than this. Having come to that point, the confession crumbles and fades away, and the confession of the sinful principles of the world replaces the confession of true and holy principles. 

Deformation in walk keeps step with these five forms of the deformation of the confession. 

Indifference, in its first form, results in this that all difference between the walk of the confessors of Jesus and the decent children of the world falls away. The two live alike. The church walks just as others walk. As the world rises and falls so the church rises and falls-in the spiritual sense of the word. But nothing of Christ can be found in their walk. They do nothing for Jesus nor forsake anything for His name’s sake. 

Externalization on the other hand, its second form, breeds Phariseeism. This is an eroding of the sinful heart under an appearance of detailed confession, but the sinful heart is compelled to hide itself and thereby carries with it the mold of corruption and the smell of death. 

Violation of balance, the third form, produces in one’s walk, just as in the confession, a series of one-sided phenomena; riddles of man’s heart, a strong passion for sin alongside of rigid self-denial; fiery but deadly; sober and moderate, but inwardly full of lies; completely merciful, but a slave to the sensual; two hearts in one breast; worshipping God and mammon at the same time. 

Superstition, in the fourth place, falsifies life by exaggeration. It is a self-willed worship which denies the pleasures of the flesh; and, turned about by inward compulsion, what was once begun in the spirit, ends in the lust of the flesh. 

Unbelief, finally, its last form, is manifested in a determined hatred; it opposes the Christian way of living; it is eager to indulge in the service of the world in all its glitter, but to do this under the shadow of the cross. 

If now such evil, in the absence of discipline, works through unchecked and unpunished, then it finally deforms the church as church so that it affects the majority of the members. “The members of the church may be known by the marks of Christians, namely, by faith; and when they have received Jesus Christ the only Savior, they avoid sin, follow after righteousness, love the true God and their neighbor, neither turn aside to the right or left, and crucify the flesh with the works thereof” (Belgic Confession, Art. 29). There is indeed much weakness in them, “but they fight against them through the Spirit, all the days of their life, continually taking their refuge in the blood, death, passion and obedience of our Lord Jesus Christ” (idem). On the other hand, if these marks gradually fall away so that not only is weakness present, but also an unwillingness to fight, and not only unwillingness to fight, but also opposition to Christ; if the waters of unrighteousness spread, then the church as church is endangered, even though her preaching is still ever so pure, because impious people are able to be in the church of Christ, provided they are subjected to the saints. But turn this relationship around so that the impious gain control and suppress that which is holy, then one has a gathering of ungodly instead of a gathering of the devout, and the result is a deadly danger for the life of the church. 

41. Concerning Deformation of Office Bearers. 

Usually the corruption of the members pulls the corruption of the ministers after it. There is a connection between the two. A godly church is usually adorned with pious ministers. On the other hand, a church which has deteriorated sees its own disgrace on the pulpit. Yet this rule is not always applicable. This is true for two reasons. First, it pleases God the Lord, out of pure mercy, often to bestow on a declining church preachers of righteousness to raise His church up again. But it is also true, on the other hand, that God sometimes forsakes a good church and deprives it of ministers if that church endangers itself by giving to those ministers an honor which belongs to Him alone, or if the church must be tried and tested by being abandoned. 

This is the reason why the deformation of a church can properly proceed from the ministers. That is to say, the church can be affected by an appearance of evil which does not find its origin in the common life of the members, but, in a unique way, finds its origin in the official life of the office bearers. Especially the ministers of the Word occupy a very influential place in the church of Christ, and are, because of this, susceptible to temptation peculiar to the office. This temptation has a fourfold character. The first form of this process of illness is the minister moves in the sphere of holy things in a lifeless way. He prays with ardor, but with a cold heart. He sprinkles water and breaks bread, but with an apathetic soul. And so, all depending on his nature, he is wound up in a false excitement or is withered in a mechanical routine. If, through this sin, the lie has once crept into his ministry, then the process of sickness goes over into its second form and becomes a misuse of authority. The minister must speak in the name of the Lord. He does not only advise, but he handles the key of the kingdom. He may and can do this as long as he allows the authority of his King and Lord to be absolutely dominant over him. If, on the other hand, a perfunctory routine creeps into his ministry, then he himself slips away from under the authority of the Lord and proceeds to put his own authority in place of the Lord’s Word. There is no preaching any more of the Word of the King, but only preaching of his own idea. The third form is taking what does not belong to him, the so-called minister-idolatry. He is called to arouse love for Jesus only, and, behold, he himself becomes the center of the sphere of his work. This flatters and stimulates him. He enjoys this. And he does not know that the arrow of Satan has already pierced his heart. “I will give my honor to no other,” the Lord says, and, behold, such a minister still takes it for himself. And thus, finally, sickness comes to its end, and that spiritual disease is born which is called clericalism. This disease has as its sinful rule, not that the shepherd should be for the sheep, but the sheep for the shepherd. Then it is no longer a giving of his life for the sheep, but a standing up for his own rights. He occupies a position not for the power of the Lord, but for his own honor and consideration. His office is no longer a mutual binding by an oath for the salvation of the church, but a mutual plotting as bearers of one and the same office. Then tyranny rises. Then the most intolerable egoism rages. And with “Ichabod” on her lips, the church complains that her glory is departed. 

And because this egoism stimulates the members to mutiny, and as the authority of the Word is undermined from two sides at the same time, this clericalism becomes very really a cause for the church’s being filled with turmoil and entering a state of deformation.

1. There is here some evidence of Kuyper’s common grace.