. (In the last paragraph Kuyper has explained that the deformation of the church is due to three causes: the destructive work of Satan, the sins of individual members, and the sins of the fellowship of the church as a whole. He continues this discussion in the following paragraph.)
38. How Such Deformation Commonly Breaks Out In the Church Of God.
All deformation in the church of God is likely to begin with this, that faith loses its animation. The church depends on Christ. Branches, half cut off from the vine, begin to languish and wither. In its inception, as the fruit of fearful struggle and oppression, Christ clearly lives in the church, the throb of His life is felt, the warmth of His divine love shines through her, there is enjoyment of His salvation and manifestation of His power. The Holy Spirit works thus through the children of God to make them receptive, to adorn them with spiritual adornment, and to make the purchased of the Lord live near to and tenderly with their God. But then an unnoticed laxity comes (one scarcely knows by what cause) a leaving of the first love. The church becomes less receptive, less intimate, less spiritual, and presently others see that the inner fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and by this the inner life of love with the Bridegroom, begins to fade from the heart of the bride. Then really the deformation of the church has already happened, even though it is not yet manifest. But this condition does not last long. Indeed, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door.” And so it is also here that the work of the Holy Spirit is scarcely stopped and the door scarcely opened, and sin creeps in, and the ungodly heart, released from its holy connection to Christ, begins to howl in its own devilish lust. It begins with the smallest and most insignificant—trifles which could indeed be tolerated. So sin breaks out more strongly. And finally one finds in the church of God different cliques for whom the mask of piety becomes burdensome, and they openly commit adultery with the world. In this stage by no means all the church is poisoned. On the contrary, in her greater majority, she is still zealous against evil. But zeal already lacks the necessary energy and is too weak to banish the evil. People still judge sin, but no longer dare to condemn it openly. The moral working of the faculty of faith for punishment with discipline is absent. This then makes sin and the service of the world yet bolder. The roles are quickly turned around. Instead of being able to rise with moral might against the slaves of this world, the children of God themselves come under the pressure of the world. They are almost ashamed themselves to keep up the old way of life. They begin to excuse themselves instead of condemning the world. No longer does discipline proceed from godly people to the sinner, but sinners proceed to exercise discipline over the godly by intimidation and mockery. Thus the standard of spiritual life gradually fades and finally disappears. And the end is that the Lord, in His righteous judgment, punishing such faithlessness, gives His church over into the power of her adulterers so that she shall again learn to recognize guilt and shall again find the way of prayer.
In this development of sin the turning of the tide comes sooner or later. It is like a balance. The scale of holiness first rests firm and solid on the foundation of the Word, and high in the air hangs the almost empty scale of ecclesiastical unrighteousness. But that is now changed. Everything is taken from the scale of glorious things and everything put on the scale of unrighteousnesses. Thus the one side rises and the other falls. Finally, the original balance is turned about and the power of unrighteousness robs the balance of all that is holy and firm. Then the church is disturbed and evil proceeds to take on greater proportions, even finding its way into the shepherds. In the church of Christ one is always able to recognize the turning point. If the church in her official capacity knows, in spite of the evil which creeps in, to hold high her holy character, there are always shepherds who are examples to the flock and who, with priestly concern, supplicate for the rescue of the flock and admonish conversion with the trumpet sound of penitence. But if that sound ceases and the circle of the shepherds itself becomes sick, and worldliness also creeps in among the shepherds, who, as witnesses of God ought to fight for the sheep, then also the hour of spiritual decay has struck irrevocably for the church, and corruption begins to affect her organization and begins to change her public manifestation as church into something unholy.
Then lies creep out of the ailing congregation into the shepherds; and now, as a third stage, these lies creep out of the ailing shepherds into the doctrine and worship of the church so that the church abandons her confession and brings into the Lord’s house a self-determined worship. Heresy rises and in all kinds of ways begins to bring about a new devastation. Doubt comes in the place of faith. Things once firm are loosened. And everything pressures and prompts the church to combine her confession with the confession of the world.
Thus the worship services, no longer satisfied with their simple, spiritual character, seek their refuge in sensuous means which appeal to the eye and the ear, thus grieving the Holy Spirit. Thus tension and opposition arise; the limitations of church government, now too narrow, are no longer to be borne. And so, finally, the corruption which has crept in destroys church government, and this corruption does not rest until regulations are so deformed that everything which rejects Christ is accepted and everything which attaches to Christ is ensnared in a maze of regulations.
Thus corruption runs its course. It begins with the forsaking of the first love. It proceeds to world conformity. This world conformity creeps out of the flock into the shepherds. Through those shepherds it finds its way into the doctrine; from doctrine into the worship services, in order finally, to seize the whole system of the church’s government, and to alter the church so that she becomes an instrument of Satan which attacks the people of God, and, in the people, attacks God Himself.
39. Three Deviations Which Ought To Be Noticed In Connection With This Rule.
The general rule described above does not always apply. This rule is that the corruption of the church begins with the cooling of love; then in the form of world conformity appears in the members; and creeps from the members into the shepherds, and thus through the office in turn it affects the confession, the worship service, and the ordinances of the church. But there are three kinds of exceptions which ought here to be considered.
The first exception is that in many cases in the spiritually happy times of ecclesiastical life, but out of a wrongly-conceived spirituality, insufficient attention is paid to the great importance of a pure church government. This happened, to mention only two examples, in Germany after Luther’s work of reformation, and in England after the breakthrough of the Reformed religion under Edward VI. In those days men respected spiritual essentials but judged that externals could do little evil even though they remained in the church in a corrupted form. The result was that the purity of the worship services was not carried out, that the shepherds did not stay closely connected to the sheep, and that the confession moved into the background. In all such conditions tension and strife arose between those impure forms of the church and the pure Word. In that strife most shepherds chose the part of the corrupted form of the church against the people of God who rose up in defense of the Word. And t the deformation of the church which originated in this way, having causes in other reasons, worked as a sickness which, rising not from the lower body (laity), but in the brains (the leaders), soon stupified the consciousness and created a hopeless situation in the church. The second exception to which we referred exists in the impure formation of the church as it concerns her members. Not by any means rarely have our churches originated from gradual gatherings of believers. Far and away the most were first under the Romish hierarchy and had come out from under it at the time of the Reformation. The result was that people in a number of places took along large crowds into a purified church, but crowds in whose confession and walk there was much that was defective. Then, when later these churches received civil privileges, this condition deteriorated further because many came into these churches with their eye on offices and positions of honor. And this evil became greater when the idea of a people’s church began to muddle the spirits, and men, making national concern a line of action for ecclesiastical conduct, opened wide the floodgate for all the waters which wanted to stream in. As a matter of fact, therefore, the condition in these churches has never been pure and men have maintained alongside of the actual confessing part of the church a non-confessing part, an irresponsible and worldly segment in the church, which from the beginning has reacted against the health of the life power of the church.
An exception of which again distinction can be made, is the third or last exception which we must mention and which arises where corruption exists not in the church itself but slips in from outside. This happens in all kinds of ways. In one instance the evil crept in from a neighboring or related church, as happened in the German reformed church, and, in another occasion, in the Lutheran church. At another time this corruption came from the schools, as was the case in this country with the Leiden seminary in the days of Arminius, and in the churches of the Huguenots by means of a harmful influence of the school of Saumur. Then again this corruption sprouts from general literature as in the days of the English Diests. Then again this corruption has its origin in the magistrates outside the church, who intentionally seek to break the unique spirit of the church. Or finally, this seed of corruption is sown with lavish hands in the acre of the church by revolutionary and mystical fanatics who wrest loose the fixed ordinances in the conscience and, by doing this, undermine the character of the church.
Already these three exceptions warn us never to measure, in connection with the deformation of the church, all the circumstances according to a definite standard as if the matter is decided already by mentioning some of the marks of the church. But it must induce us always to judge every church by itself, reckoning with her historical past and the different influences which work upon her.
We emphasize this truth very strongly because most of the sicknesses of our churches are not susceptible to such a simple diagnosis, but they present what medicine calls a very complicated ailment, that is to say, a kind of process of sickness in which two, three, or more causes work through and on each other. The result is that it is always difficult to measure separately in how far these harmful influences are the causes of the ailment.
He who is led by the Spirit finally ceases, in his moments of deepest concern, from all analysis, and confesses that the only cause of the misery of his church is the unfaithfulness of the children of the Lord, which unfaithfulness is connected to and reflected in the ungodliness of his own heart. But when one is called to judge these things by means of analysis let him guard against all superficiality; let him beware of all generalities; and let him say nothing at all until all the varied symptoms of the sickness are clearly understood by him.