[In this paragraph Kuyper is discussing reformations in Scripture and in history. In the last installment he has spoken of reformations in the Old Testament. He now speaks of reformations in the New Testament and in history.)
After the fall of the kings until Jesus’ public ministry we read in Scripture of three more reformations.
The first came about when Zerubbabel led the exiled church back to Palestine and was with Joshua instrumental in the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls.
The second happened when Ezra and Nehemiah rose up with fiery courage to stifle at its inception the corruption which once again had crept in.
The third took place when, four centuries later, John the Baptist stood on the banks of the Jordan to admonish Israel to repentance and conversion.
The first was a reformation which changed entirely the circumstances of the church and split it for all time into two parts: the church which remained in Babylon and the church which assembled again in Jerusalem.
The second was a gradual church renewal which worked towards a warding off of corrupt elements.
While the third was a reformation by means of spiritual awakening no less than a revival by which the form of the church as such was not affected.
If we now proceed to the history of the church outside of Scripture, it is necessary to make distinction between reformations by the great councils, reformations by small groups, reformations which led to a splitting of the church, and reformations which extended to a preservation of once split churches in their purity.
The great councils which began in 325 with the Council of Nicea were all reformatory councils. If the churches in 1517, in like manner, had been able to bring about the reformation of the churches by a council, the miserable split and division of the church would never have torn us to pieces.
Indeed, again and again the sad fact preceded each of these great councils that serious error had crept into the churches of Jesus. Error had even found sympathy in wide measure in the circle of teachers. Error had threatened the whole existence of the church with schism and decline. Error made godliness suffer shipwreck in a grievous fashion. And again and again it was these ecumenical councils which came together in the unity of the church, and to check lawlessness.
Of an entirely different character were the reformations by the small groups, of which those by the Waldensians in Savoy, by the Hussites in Bohemia, and by the Wycliffites in England are the best known, even though they are by far not the only ones. These reformations did not proceed from the leaders but were rather against those leaders and extended only to a return to apostolic purity whether by means of or whether without a break with the church.
The great reformation which finally broke through in the sixteenth century was unique in this that it led to a final break with the Romish church, although it manifested a different character in different lands.
Attention must be paid especially to three differences.
The German reformation and those of Denmark, Norway, etc., which followed in its tracks, proceeded especially from the princes, came from higher-up, and established an indivisible state church.
The Swiss reformation on the other hand, and following it the reformation in Scotland and in our land, proceeded from the people, arose from below, freed the local church, and after that, brought the churches together in a new church federation.
Finally the Slavic and French reformations were in this respect of two kinds: in Germany and Switzerland they broke with the federation, but not with the churches. In Poland and Bohemia, just as in France and Italy, the existing church was not transformed, but new Protestant churches were erected alongside of and over against the existing Romish church.
This distinction however, does not for a moment change the communal character of the movement, namely, that they all came into existence by separation from the lawful line and by a break with the existing church.
We must finally point to successive reformations; but in discussing them we restrict ourselves to our own land and point to three reformations which are more obvious, without meaning to detract from the importance of a number of smaller reformations.
The first was the reformation which came about by the Dordt Synod. Also then corruptions in doctrines and life had set in and had even affected a part of the ministers and consistories. Also then people everywhere broke with the existing situation by the erection of aggrieved churches, thus without leaving the church. Also then opposition churches and opposition classes were started. Also then the church threatened to be split. But through gradual church renewal this evil was averted at the Dordt Synod in 1619.
The second was the reformation by spiritual awakening which in the last century led to a resurrection from the dead in Zeeland, in the lowlands of Holland and in Gelderland.
And finally the third is the reformation which was attempted around 1830/40 in different parts of our land by Budding, Ledeboer, De Cock, and Scholte, and which led in Zeeland to the rise of small groups. These small groups were, under Ledeboer and his followers, a kind of aggrieved church; and under De Cock, Scholte, van Velzen, and Brummelkamp this information led to the well-known separation.
Of these three, only the last has had any significant results because the rise of independent congregations and the attempt towards organization did actually result in the establishment of a new church.
The Ledeboerians wanted reformation by means of a break with the existing organization and if need be with the existing federation of churches, but they judged that the churches of this land might not yet be denounced as Baal churches.
The brethren who separated later, on the other hand, considered themselves justified in pointing out in the churches of this land the marks of the false church; and on that ground they broke with these corrupted synagogues of Satan by forming a new church federation.
In this connection one must distinguish carefully between those who were expelled and those who, without being expelled, left the churches of this land by their own actions.
There is so much to say in favor of the action of these first mentioned that we would not willingly withdraw from their fellowship.
The action of the last mentioned, on the other hand, can, in our opinion, not escape a certain mild protest.
Indeed one may not leave his church unless one is certain that it has become a synagogue of Satan. Calvin especially warned strongly against this. And now it must be seriously questioned whether the churches of this land from which people went out show in every different place, in each city and in each village, so clearly the marks of the false church that departure, though with a bleeding heart, is one’s duty.
As we shall see in the following paragraph, it appears to us that, alas, in not a few cases, the conclusion to step out was actually no longer to be evaded. But over against this stands the fact that many departed at that time from churches which were not completely deteriorated, and those who did this did it only because these churches had not broken their church connection with other more corrupt churches.
We do not think that either on the ground of Scripture or on the basis of history it can ever be maintained that a particular church may be rejected out of hand as a false church, i.e., as a synagogue of Satan only because of an unjust church connection in which it lives.
If one considers how dreadful the apostasy and degeneration of the church in Israel was, also how many decades and even centuries our fathers waited before the thought of the corruption in Rome’s church had become great enough to justify a break, then one involuntarily receives the impression that the brothers who have now departed have rather hastily given up the one who is sick. And they can only escape with difficulty the appearance of already having arranged the burial of many a church which by the Lord’s goodness once again revives and still lives.