(Kuyper takes the position in this pamphlet that in order to understand reformation in the church one must understand deformation. And in order to understand the deformation of the church one must understand what the Scriptural idea of the church is. In the last paragraph Kuyper has spoken of the importance of the local church as the manifestation of the body of Christ. He concluded that section with the words: “For this reason, therefore, we maintain that Scripture history, and precision of terminology all agree with the idea that the local church is the essence of the church. And if this is true then it cannot be denied that the church unity from which we must proceed is not in a world church, nor in a national church, nor in classis, but exclusively in the local church.”)
16. If More Than One Church Can Be Formed In The Same Place.
If it be granted that believers cannot form the church arbitrarily but are bound to the unity of the body as far as their God appointed residence is concerned, then the question arises whether all believers in the same place must form only one church. This question in turn divides into two others. Must men form distinct churches in the separate parts of a large city? And may men, without dividing the cities, place two identical churches alongside of each other? Both questions must be answered negatively. The unity of a local city church determines quite naturally the area where an individual church is established. Where, as in London, the so-called city is only a combination of thirty or more boroughs, each with a separate civic life, separation of congregations is to be required rather than discouraged. But if there is one civil borough, then the church should be one congregation even though it includes a hundred thousand or more souls. * However, this idea emphatically includes the further idea that in this one church subdivisions or parishes can be formed because one consistory is at the head of all these subdivisions and that consistory represents the unity of the congregation.
It must also be maintained that the principle stated above requires that there may not be more than one congregation in a given area. A Lutheran church or a newly separated Reformed church alongside of an already existing Reformed church in the same city, her members mixing on the same streets, is not as it ought to be even though, because of the imperfection of this state of affairs, it must be endured for a time. Only churches which principally diverge in confession of the truth must be formed separately. That which is one in confession belongs together. This principle is strictly maintained only when those who differ in minor points of the confession do not rest until they agree. And only then can one deny the right to the name of church to all who are opposed to this confession of the truth.
Meanwhile in the Romish church evidently the believers are exposed to certain dangers if, while bringing this principle into practice, no consideration is given to the faultiness and imperfection of our circumstances. All this makes it necessary that a boundary in the conscience be respected which must never be overstepped. Yet where the formation of churches rests on the free joining of the believer, the unity of the church can and may extend further than the unity of conviction, and church formation alongside of our church must be tolerated provided that it is on the foundation of a deviating confession. Yes, even when two churches exist alongside of each other in the same city or village and are in complete agreement in confession, though separated because of external causes, each must on its part not deny the other the right to the honorable name of “church,” but must always be zealous in love to unite both churches.
17. How An Established Church Acquires Stability.
Believers who, in the name of the Lord, form a local church of Christ, do not intend by this the establishment of a church for their own profit. If that were true then the church would be considered superfluous when the members moved away or died; or the church would die out in default of members. This is the way it would be if men made the church. But on the contrary it is true that the church was there before believers appeared, and their forming the church only intended to bring to visible manifestation the already present spiritual church. Thus believers act as one who drills a well which was already there underneath the ground before the drilling began, but when once drilled, is also destined to give water continuously to each new generation. Or, if one wishes to be more Dutch, one can borrow a figure from our polders. The formation of such a church is not unlike the drying of an inner lake where the bottom is hidden. The ground first appears, however, only by making the lake dry. But it always remains a diked-in and pumped-dry polder which can be used as farmland by the present and future owner.
The stability of the church is dependent upon the seriousness with which it was formed; and thus it must be asked: how is this stability acquired?
In this connection two methods are possible, usually distinguished as the Reformed method and the Methodistic method.
The Methodistic method judges that the most profitable way to give stability to the church is in the conversion of the still unconverted who now, after being converted, enter the church. The place of those who die blessed is continuously filled by those who, though once lost, are made blessed. Baptism after confession is on this basis the only correct thing and concern for Christian education has no place in this way of thinking. All that needs to be done is that one continually recruits for King Jesus new members from among children of believers, Jews and heathen. Succeed in that recruiting, and the purpose is attained and the membership of the church expands. But once converted, no one really has any more a reason for living on earth. He can die and that he should die is for him far and away the best. That he now in his turn must convert others is the only motive which can reconcile him to the idea to continue to live his life on earth.
In the circle of those who think this way, the church is entirely secondary. It must serve as an instrument of conversion. But men effect conversion through a number of ways. And because those other ways, as e.g., the Salvation Army, prayer sessions, meetings, etc., better attain this goal, a church is of little usefulness, and in the estimation of both recedes far into the background. Men also then depopulate the church in order to crowd individual meetings. The church is maintained in name but in fact it falls away.
The Reformed, on the other hand, have an entirely different conception. According to their conviction, the only one who can powerfully convert those souls is the Lord our God. Not only in a way of speaking, but very actually, God does this so that not a single soul is ever genuinely and powerfully converted until God the Holy Spirit implants the faculty of faith and makes that faculty active. Reformed people never deceive themselves into thinking that they must convert others, but rather confess that they least of all can do this. They only have to see to it that none of the means remain unused which in God’s hand can serve to the conversion of their neighbor. The judgment concerning these means they do not arrogate to themselves, but consider that God alone has the right to determine the means; and they err badly if they do anything else but activate those God ordained means in quiet obedience and each in the way of his own calling. And because the means of grace have been placed by God in His church, the saints preferably expect the gathering of God’s elect from the inner expression of the life of the church and not from without.
Their concern for the stability of the church expresses itself also in an entirely different way. Arising out of the spiritual church and attempting to manifest the church, they know that they do not form that church as separate individuals, but as men and women, as fathers and mothers with all that is theirs. They thus are entered into that church with their children, or, if one prefers, with the seed in their loins; and all those born to them are thus born in that church. The rivers which flow along your land do not keep flowing, in the conviction of Reformed people, because we now and then pour into it a pail of water, but only because the brooks which flow down from God’s mountains enter the stream. And thus also the living stream of the church is not maintained by each convert which is mixed in, but rather through that new life in the children who are born, which life proceeds from God. They acknowledge therefore that their children, already at their birth, are conceived in sin and subject to condemnation. But at the same time they are sanctified in Christ and thus considered as members of the church even though they are yet undeveloped members. Hence the insistence upon infant baptism. Hence their determination to give children a sound upbringing. Hence their emphasis on Christian education. Hence, their peace and quiet rests on the still obedient use of means even if no conversion is yet evident. They know that they must be obedient and that the number of the elect is never increased, although it is certainly complete.
As external then as their church formation is, it is never for one moment loose from the spiritual background of the invisible church. Life is under the soil, and out of that living soil it shoots up again and again. The church is a living organism of which the leaves may wither, but only in order that it may rejuvenate its foliage again and again. And this is true so that the full expression of the adult members must never be merely formal but must always have a spiritual character. Naturally each new member must through his own public confession help continue that first church formation. Whether anyone helps establish a new church or whether one comes into an already existing church as a newly-born member, this makes absolutely no difference. A member of the church must express once in his life: “I am a believer, and as a believer I seek the fellowship of the saints with other believers.” And where does this manifest itself? In a membership book? O, indeed. The Lord our God is not so spiritual as not to bind us to a written role of members. But yet, that book is only the catalogue of life, and the life of which that book testifies is the confession of one’s own condemnation and sanctification in Christ sealed in the fellowship of saints at the Holy Supper.
The Reformed leave to the judgment of God the fact that many hypocrites creep in among these mature members who also come to the Lord’s Supper. But they must take care that they are not remiss in the way of obedience and thus do not refrain from cutting off these hypocrites through the continuous exercise of Christian discipline. If it could be otherwise they would rather judge the heart; but they know that this is God’s inviolable privilege, so that not even the fieriest Methodist, anymore than they,. can fathom the internal man. And disappointment awaits everyone who lowers a sounding device into those spiritual waters. They therefore consider it sufficient what the Lord God has ordained for them, and they firmly set forth this rule: that they shall judge others according to their confession, but themselves, in God’s light, according to the heart.
The gathering of believers has a responsibility in the admission of mature members to the church, or rather to the Lord’s Supper, which is as great as the responsibility of the persons themselves who come to the Lord’s Supper. The church remains the gathering which has, in her deepest roots, a bond in Christ. But in her visible manifestation, she has no other bond than one of mutual agreement. He who longs for the Lord’s Supper, let him come. But also to the church, i.e., to the gathering of believers, remains the uncurtailed right to receive into her circle or to exclude from that circle.
This is even more the case with the coming of persons from elsewhere who in the place of their former residence were members of a church. Never must a church in common be obliged or compelled to receive anyone as a member only because he already was a member of a church elsewhere. Each church has to decide for itself to whom it will grant a mutual voice within its circle. And however much an issued attestation makes this transfer from church to church easy, this convenience must never abridge the right of the church, nor can it ever excuse the believer of the obligation for a renewed confession. Every good Reformed church must know well whether it can accept the contents of an attestation, and it is obligated, especially when a doubt arises, to engage in a new, independent investigation of the person who, applies. However, with this the church has not yet come to the end of her task in her concern for stability; In addition to the children born in her bosom and those who entered from elsewhere, she must also investigate if in the place where she exists there are not others living who perhaps are to be won for the church. She must consider the possibility that there are also elect of God hiding among them. And even apart from this, she must be zealous for the honor of God’s name also in relation to her fellow inhabitants. The commandment under which the saints live is: “preach the gospel to all creatures!” — a command from which they are least of all excused when they let missionaries work in their name thousands of miles away. But this commandment is only obeyed when they go out into the hedges and byways, not only among church members, but also among those outsiders. This must be done not only by means of church services, but also by missions.
* This idea of Kuyper is in keeping with an idea that was prevalent in the Netherlands where all the believers in one city belonged to one congregation and were under one consistory even though it might be cared for by a number of pastors and even though it might meet in several different church buildings.