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(In the last installment Kuyper has spoken of the authority which belongs to the office of believers in the church and the authority which belongs to the special offices in the church. He has discussed this question in a very general way and reserved particular discussion of it for future paragraphs. He now turns his attention briefly to the relationship between the authority of the church and the authority of the magistrates.)

21. How This Authority of the Churches Is Related to the Authority Of the Magistrate.

The authority of the church and the authority of the magistrate are entirely distinct in origin, essence, nature, and, purpose. They are distinct in origin because the authority of the magistrate flows directly from the authority of the Triune God, while ecclesiastical authority proceeds from the Mediator as Head of His church.¹ They are distinct in essence because the authority of the magistrate concerns the external life of a man with respect to his body, his personal right, and his possessions; while ecclesiastical authority is related to the inward man and has regard to his spiritual existence. They are distinct in nature because the authority of the magistrate is an authority of rule and constrains by force, while the authority of the church is never anything but an official or ministering authority. The relation has to do with Christ and the believer. And, finally, they are distinct in purpose because the authority of the magistrate aims at the preservation of righteousness and the honor of God in this life, while ecclesiastical authority has as its goal the bringing of the elect to their heavenly blessedness. 

Two conclusions follow directly from this. 1) All members of the church are subject to the authority which rules over them as citizens of the state without respect to the question of whether the magistrate is a believer or an antagonist of the truth. 2) The magistrate as magistrate can never exercise any ecclesiastical authority in the church. The obligation which rests upon the magistrate to maintain the honor of God in the state is not an ecclesiastical but a political obligation which continues to exist even if the church should fall away, and which, in the abstract, applies for a William of Orange as well as for a Philip, for a Nero as well for a Constantine. He, under whatever title he may hold, who rules by the grace of God,² is bound to seek the honor of God in his entire rule. Also the limitation placed upon this obligation, viz., never to overstep its purpose nor oppress the conscience, requires that one never make a compromise between church and state. One must recognize these limitations as placed by God Himself in His bestowal of sovereignty. This is true because these rights are granted to the magistrate to rule not over the internal, but, in an absolute sense, over the external man only. 

Thus, no more than the church may ever exercise a civil authority, may the civil magistrate ever assume to itself an ecclesiastical authority. Both spheres are completely distinct. There is indeed an area in which both powers overlap and meet each other because the member of the church is at the same time a citizen of the state. This can give rise to conflict because the church assumes to itself what is Caesar’s, or because Caesar demands for himself and takes what belongs to the church. Meanwhile, it by no means follows from this that both spheres should not be sharply distinguished, but only that they are not always mutually successful in seeing sharply this distinction. In such cases, alas, there is not one arbiter, and the struggle which then breaks out cannot be resolved except through reconciliation and compromise. 

Nevertheless, one ought not to understand this as if there should not be implied in the obligation of the magistrate also the obligation to protect the true church. Just as each sovereign is called by the grace of God to maintain all that is true and godly, so also the magistrate must support the true church. This obligation rests on her also when she chooses for a false church, yes, also when she rises as persecutor of the true church of God. The question as to how she best acquits herself of this task is a question of application which in earlier times was solved only through the way of much trouble, but now is solved in the way of complete separation of church and state. This solution is because of the sad consequences to which these troubles led. The true church of God never thrives more luxuriantly than in that place where she receives opportunity freely to build herself up out of her own spiritual power. Moreover, the discharge of this obligation shall naturally take on different characteristics according as in a certain land nearly all, or the most, or but a part of the inhabitants, or only a few, belong to the true church. And, no less, the discharge of this obligation shall take a different form according as the magistrate himself is inclined to the truth and confesses it publicly, or if, indifferently, he lets the truth alone or publicly rejects it. But this does not essentially alter the obligation of the magistrate to protect the true church. It does, however, introduce a noteworthy difference in the execution of this obligation. The difference is broadened when a believing magistrate is a church member. As such he naturally holds a more influential position. In this case the majesty of God with which he is clothed is to be the more respected. Yet the church must, even though the magistrate is not a believer, maintain the magistrate’s authority in such a way that his position of public right is recognized. The church must not rest content with being classified with other gatherings as if the authority in her midst is merely a matter of partnership. The church is set in the state by almighty God in order to make ready the eternal kingdom of God. It is there jure divino, i.e., by God’s institution. And each magistrate who does not give honor to this church as possessing a civil right, a right which is the right of the church which she has received from King Jesus, falls short in its devotion to duty and commits sin. 

Concerning this, a distinction must be considered between the influence of representative bodies which are not the magistracy. In Geneva and elsewhere, e.g., the citizens were represented in civil councils. Because the same citizens were also members of the church, men permitted these civil councils, for the sake of expediency, to serve a double purpose. On the one hand, they looked after the civil interests of the people in the political sphere. And, on the other hand, they looked after the spiritual concerns of the people in the ecclesiastical realm. This was a merging, so to speak, of the electoral college and the congregational council. This is still possible in villages where nearly all the inhabitants hold to the same confession of the truth. And it is not rare for them to choose the same set of people to represent first the church under the name of deputies and afterwards to represent the citizenry as council members.³ 

If this can take place without injuring the conscience and if it actually furthers the well-being of the church, it certainly is the responsibility of the magistracy, as nurturing lords, to support the church of God with monetary means. If, on the other hand, after this is put to the test, it becomes apparent that the magistrate, through that monetary support, strengthens and maintains the false elements in the church of God and neglects the consciences of the citizens, then it is better to abandon this monetary support. This must be done in such a way that the magistracy always assumes her financial obligations in a just way. 

The magistracy must never have a seat in synodical, classical, or presbyterian gatherings as an ecclesiastical power. Where the magistrate does appear at an ecclesiastical gathering, he never belongs to the body of the gathering but stands outside it. The gathering must not let the magistrate’s interference extend any further than to see that no political questions are treated or to see that anyone’s rights are curtailed. The magistrate must honor the church’s right of existence by its presence. 

And, finally, concerning the approbation of ecclesiastical appointment, the magistracy can never have a part in appointing or granting ordination. The appointment of an ecclesiastical person is entirely ecclesiastical by nature, and no ounce of ecclesiastical authority can ever be granted by the magistrate to an ecclesiastical office bearer. But there can be a certain approbation. This approbation, however, can extend to the determination of the amount of the salaries of the ministers when these salaries are paid by the magistrate. Further, it is the business of the national magistrate to decide concerning aliens; and it is the business of the local magistrate to decide concerning persons who move from one city or village to their city or village. They must decide whether they will recognize these people as office bearers in the church.4 

The seignorial rights of calling or assigning to an office, on the other hand, which, under the name of rights of patronage, or right of taxation, leave behind such sad memories that they are to be condemned out of hand as in conflict with the pure ecclesiastical principle.5 Even though one pretends that the church is then regarded as having lost or having given to someone else her right to call an office bearer, it must still be maintained that this transfer of power is illegal because the ecclesiastical authority of calling a minister is by its very nature inalienable. 

Finally, concerning the magistrate’s calling “to root out all idolatry and false worship in order to destroy the kingdom of anti-Christ and to promote the kingdom of Christ.” Here also the principle must be very firmly held, but the principle must be very sharply and strongly distinguished from the application. Undoubtedly the obligation to promote the honor of God rests upon the magistrate; and, most of all, the magistrate is obligated to abolish idolatry. But in no sense does it follow from this that every means is to be considered lawful and effective to accomplish this end. If history had taught that violent extermination of idolatry and heresy actually bore fruit and held high the honor of God, this extermination would then certainly be a matter of obligation. Now, on the contrary, the nature of man is such that violence against moral evil is of no avail. The nature of idolatry and heresy is of such a kind that it is rather stimulated, by opposition, to new manifestations of strength. And, above all, the magistrate, as appears from the testimony of history, has almost always made a mistake in considering truth for heresy so as to condemn what is truth as idolatry. Thus it is convincingly proved that heresy is itself immune from the violent extermination of it because of the evil of human nature and because the magistrate is, at the same time, powerless and incapable of accomplishing this. This is the reason why the practice of the church in ancient times in this respect must be condemned and the magistrates warned to avert heresy in no other way than to grant the true church freedom. It thus equips the true church for the further unfolding of her spiritual powers.


¹ We do not agree with this conception of Kuyper because it is our conviction that Christ, in His exaltation, has been appointed by God to be Lord over all. For this reason, the authority of the magistrate is also from Christ. 

² That the magistrate rules by the grace of God is an idea of Kuyper which arose out of his theory of common grace. However, even before the idea of common grace was introduced into the thinking of the church, the idea of the magistrate as ruling by grace was a common idea held in the church. 

³ This actually took place in our own country in smaller Dutch communities where practically all the members of the community were members of the Reformed church. 

4 This sounds strange to our ears, since we are accustomed to the separation of church and state. But it must be remembered that Kuyper is writing in the context of the Netherlands and an established church, and it must also be remembered that Kuyper is making this statement in connection with the custom of the payment of ministerial salaries by the magistracy. 

5 The Dutch is somewhat obscure here but the idea is that Kuyper is referring to practices both in the Netherlands and in other lands in Europe where wealthy land owners who had many families working for them took to themselves the right to appoint ministers for their workers. These wealthy land owners established churches within their own communities and themselves appointed the ministers who would serve in these congregations.