(Kuyper has begun discussing what is actually involved when an individual breaks with his own church. He emphasizes strongly the spiritual frame of mind which a person must possess if he is to engage in church reformation. He has discussed this already in the last article which appeared, and he continues that discussion now.)
Also here one’s spiritual point of departure must be the personal trembling of the soul over one’s own sin, and dismay concerning the guilt of the people of the Lord.
This dismay shall of itself result in an inflowing of more grace and spiritual awakening because, “He gives grace to the humble.” And the reformation of the church shall in this way begin where it always must begin, with the reformation of one’s own heart and life.
A new conversion to the living God and a renewal of the covenant with the God of our comfort for ourselves and others are the proof that our thirst for church reformation does not proceed from the opinion that we are better than others, but, on the contrary, from the deep conviction that our guilt above all invokes the judgment of God.
From such personal reformation, reformation proceeds to one’s own household. “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
And just as a circle on the water spreads out in widening circles, so also that reforming movement spreads out of itself in the yet wider circle of the communal church.
As much as in him lies, he shall not rebuke that church from a lofty position, but rather with a penetrating earnestness, and admonish and pray as if God through him beseeched, “Be reconciled to God!” If the Lord gives him the ability, then he shall himself bring the matters to his consistory in which the love for the Lord’s name must be acknowledged. He himself, not out of pride, but out of a quiet subjection to God’s Word, must refuse to do what is not good before God, and do what must be done according to God’s Word, even if men attempt to prevent him. If this brings reviling, if this causes him suffering, he will willingly bear that reviling, “Joyful that he is considered worthy to suffer reviling for Christ’s sake.” And if it finally comes to the point that he cannot find in the public worship of his church the administration of the means of grace for himself and his family, he shall then weigh if perhaps the sickness of the church is only a temporary faltering, in which case, by himself, setting the hand to the plow, he must attempt to restore the church as a grieving church. And finally, where all these means are exhausted by every attempt for a milder reformation, and it becomes very evident that he only arouses- hate against God’s name and His Word, he shall have to decide the question, if God the Lord will give him the light to see clearly whether his church has indeed become the synagogue of Satan.
And then if he must answer that question, along the way not of argument and reasoning, but of penance and personal conversion, alas, with a terrible yes, then it speaks for itself that a letter of separation must be sent and the break has taken place.
This does not mean, however, that one’s departure has completed the task of reformation.
He who suffers shipwreck and saves himself without caring about his fellows who are shipwrecked shall be guilty of hard-heartedness. We must draw from the image of Him according to Whose image we are renewed, not hard-heartedness but tender love and inner mercy.
When one departs he carries the obligation to persuade also his brothers to depart. Going through the flames, the fireman sometimes saves from the flames a child or a woman strange to him. That, children of God, is the humiliating example in which your holy calling is indicated.
But even so, the work of reformation is not at an end.
Good, let it be, that the church in which you were born and baptized has now become, according to your firm conviction, the synagogue of Satan. But where is then the true church?
Surely you must not remain by yourself.
Unless it appears that no church of Christ can be manifested in your locality, you must seek that church. And if it is not there, you must attempt, if it be with God’s help, to bring it to manifestation.
Three possibilities follow from this.
You find in your locale another church which does not imitate the marks of the true church, but shows them in her life. Then your calling would be to entreat the brethren of that church that they would take you and your family into their fellowship after public confession of your faith.
You do not find such a church in your locale. Then you would be obligated, along with those who are as equally convinced as you are, to institute the church of God in your locale on the basis of your common confession.
Finally, if this seems impossible in the long run, then you must seek the occasion to move elsewhere to a place where the church of Christ exists.
And if each of these three is impossible so that you must stay where you are and are forced to live without a church, then it is your calling to manifest more strongly your own house-church so that the administration of the means of grace may be restored to you from God as a result of your humble prayer.
But now place over against this way of the godly the steep path of superficial members, and see what a chasm yawns between them. You hear them in shrill words shriek concerning errors in the abuse of the church, but without any recognition of God’s judgment in this and without appreciating God’s chastising hand. This zeal has no dejection of the soul and eliminates all consciousness of one’s own guilt. It takes on much more the character of a proud censure of others and is far from penance and conversion. There is then no spiritual discernment, but a spiritual judging. Not out of the pressure of the soul nor with a bleeding heart, but with excitement, in recklessness and over-eagerness, one breaks the bond with his own church by means of a coldly-worded letter. He goes about this entirely without prayer and sincerity and with unbelievable lightheartedness. The coat had become too soiled; see, he lays it off and slips a new coat on the members.
This is not said to pass judgment on anyone’s transfer to another church. Only the One Who knows the hearts judges. Even the best man has to reproach himself all too strongly for lightheartedness in reformational work and is not in a position to judge others. He who puts his hand in his own bosom has enough with his own leprosy. But what must be emphasized is the twofold emphasis which can bring to separation, and of which the one is equally as praiseworthy and costly as the other merits censure and blame.
It still belongs to this paragraph to describe the particular instances which can lead to a breaking of the connection between a church and one’s self.
Four instances must be mentioned here.
1) Not a common member but a minister of the Word feels compelled to reject his church as the false church.
A twofold particular obligation follows from such a conviction. First of all, a minister has the obligation to warn the faithful from the pulpit and to take them along with him. Secondly, he has the obligation to seek the ministry of the Word elsewhere in a true church or in his own locale to bring to manifestation a new church structure. The minister must not bury his talent, and his ordination remains unharmed—even when the church which has ordained him has changed into a false synagogue of Satan.
2) Not a brother but a sister considers that she must leave her church which has become a synagogue of Satan.
It follows from her peculiar position as a woman that she may not take leadership in the matter, and must restrict herself to warning in private, and must depart the church by herself.
3) One is excommunicated from one’s own ecclesiastical fellowship.
It can happen, e.g., that the Synod of the State Church now or in the future, by a final sentence, cuts me off and denies me my church membership. In the meantime it is by no means settled that the church of Amsterdam in which I live and to which I belong has become a synagogue of Satan.
Just because an ecclesiastical body of the church federation casts me out, my church in which I live need not cease to be the true church.
It is of the utmost importance to consider this point.
Nothing provokes us more quickly to an unjust judgment concerning the state of our own churches than to be ejected from the denomination. In such a moment one can hardly imagine anything else than that the church which ejected me is a synagogue of Satan. And yet it becomes a synagogue of Satan not because it ejects us, but because it ejects Christ. And it is true that the ejection of a minister of the Lord and also the ejection of an elect can be an ejection of Christ, but certainly this is not absolutely so. At least the consistory of our church can remain outside the controversy and only the church federation can be guilty.
Therefore it appears to us that one who is thus ejected by a higher gathering, 1) has to wait to see whether his own consistory lends itself to the execution of the sentence. If it does not and it permits me to remain in the joy of the administration of the means of grace without taking my name from its book or giving publicity to the matter, I can still continue to live as if there was no mention of ejection. 2) If his own consistory executes the sentence on him then he ought to rally the like-minded with him and set up an aggrieved church with them. 3) And only when he is prevented from fulfilling his office may he proceed to reject his church and establish a new church.
With this we conclude our discussion of a consistory directly cutting off a member.
Fourthly, a minister of the Word may be set outside his office and outside his membership by the ecclesiastical power, not for bad conduct, but because of his maintenance of God’s Word.
Also in that case it is not immediately settled that the church to which this minister of the Word belongs has become a synagogue of Satan. It may be that a hostile higher church government passed this sentence without one’s own church consenting to it. And it could also be that one’s own church, ensnared by wrong but legal ideas, or also out of fear, leaves him in the lurch. But it does not by any means follow that his own church would have cast him out. It can be turned into a synagogue of Satan, but this does not follow of itself from his deposition. Therefore we are of the opinion that such an ejected minister must still continue with the preaching of the Word in the church if possible. But if this is not possible, then he must continue outside the church. Then he, in case his consistory withdraws from this ministry, has to establish an aggrieved church. And if this also is prevented, he has to seek a ministry of the Word elsewhere or lead out the faithful and form a new church.