(In discussing the question of authority in the church, Kuyper is still talking about the. different forms of church, government. He has already discussed the Romish form of church government, the Lutheran system of church government, and the Reformed system of church government. He now turns his attention to the Independentistic or Congregational form of church government.)
The Independentists or Congregationalists, originally called Brownists in. our land, generally speaking, moved not in a Romish or Lutheran direction, but very decidedly in a Reformed direction. They are, therefore, also pure in most points of doctrine. The cor ecclesiais also for them the truth of election. The norma ecclesia is the Word of God in almost the same sense in which we speak of it. In the matter of church government, however, they deviate from the Reformed line in the following points. In the first place, the point of departure for their system is not in the local church; but in each group of believers who organize themselves ecclesiastically. Such a group is called a congregation.* From this comes the name, Congregationalism. E.g., in London at this moment, there are hundreds of congregations, and each of these claims to have for itself the power and the authority of a church of Christ. Over against this, the Reformed always took the position that, although in larger cities a number of parishes could be formed, in each city or town only one church and therefore only one council of the church could exist in which the teaching and ruling elders from all the parishes had the right of authority.
In the second place, the Independentists judge that not only ecclesiastical authority in the general sense, but also administrative authority rests with the believers so that the congregation has the right to judge in every matter. And stronger still, the congregation has the right to decide. Over against this, the Reformed hold that the administrative authority over the church rests not with the members, but properly with the presbyters. This distinction is often made clear by the use of a figure. Although the power of life is distributed through the whole of our body, yet our body cannot see except through the eye and cannot be controlled except through the head.
In the third place, the Independentists in fact abolished the distinction between teaching and ruling elders and want every elder to be a teacher. Thus elders are elders all their life. Over against this theory the Reformed allege that the office of the Word is a separate office which demands its own preparation and its own unique gifts. And on the other hand, the introduction of the eldership for life alienates too much the congregation from the church.
In the fourth place, they teach that a number of churches ought indeed to hold conferences, but that the deputies of a number of churches can never exercise classical or synodicalauthority over the individual churches, even when they are united in a church union. Over against this, the Reformed maintain the principle that the authority of Christ is over the whole of his church; and thus also the discipline of more than one church is necessary to hold the individual churches in the paths of the Word.
The Independentists, finally, deny to the church $1 right to defend the truth of Scripture against heretical conceptions by means of a confession, catechism, or liturgical formulation. The Scriptures, they say, must be the only symbol. It is an idealistic and untrue statement which our Reformed people opposed with the just observation that the Holy Spirit explains the Word in the church of all ages, and that this historical interpretation ought to have power and authority over against the often arbitrary interpretation of the individual preacher. Actually, Independentism is thus an attempt to reduce the visible form of the church to a shadow, to withdraw itself almost entirely from her spiritual character as the gathering of the elect, and, as a result, to permit church polity in the church of Christ to retreat behind a mere gathering of believers.
Such a system, it is obvious, can continue for a long time, as long as the spiritual life of the believers is maintained to a high degree under the cross of persecution. But it must necessarily result in a loss of its ecclesiastical character as soon as this spiritual life declines and weakens. ,And just as a part of the Quakers in England and in America deteriorated and are now about to expire into obvious modernism so also the system of Independentists degenerated, already in the course of the 18th Century, in an almost unnoticed way, into the so-called Collegial system—a system which is not of English but of German origin.
This Collegial system is nothing else than the application of the ideas of the French Revolution, to the church of Christ. The doctrine of people’s sovereignty as the fountain of all authority in the church of Christ—that is the chief mark of the Collegial system. The name means “society” and is adopted from the law of organization which arose in pagan Rome, and by virtue of which law the churches were recognized for a long time as collegia licita, i.e., “permitted organization.” The sovereign authority of Christ is thus lost. There is no longer mention of believers. The Word ceases to have authority. That which alone has authority and can delegate authority is simply the individual member with the other members according to the system, in the final analysis, of one-half plus one. If the one-half plus one is for Jesus, then the church keeps her Christian character. But if it should turn out differently, then that same church by morning is perhaps Jewish or Mohammedan. Thus while with the Independentists the members are at least still believers, here even the believers are transformed into simple members without distinct character; and by this, the specific Christian character of the believe; is entirely abandoned. This Collegial system, according to which model also the state church in the Netherlands has now to a large extent been organized, is purely revolutionary. It permits, just as the French Revolution, every form of regimentation. With the Collegial system as a basis, I can form a Romish church by means of the fiction that the members have transferred their authority to the Pope. But I can also plead along with this the Caesaro-Papal system of the Lutherans and of our own state church, because, why cannot the members be consideredrebus ipsis et factis, as having transferred their right to the king? If kneeling before the king again becomes a common practice arid if the clergy desires to introduce clericalism; well, then, who can prevent this within the Collegial system? As if the members could not be fooled into transferring their original right to oligarchical consistories in which the preachers are the one and all! This Collegial system is a real chameleon-like system. You can justify any system with it. But the foundation is rickety and pulls away the Godly foundation from under each of these other systems in order to put revolution in their place. Because this is its sin, it allows the authority of God in His Christ to rest on nothing else than on the authority of the free will of man.
20. In to Which Parts The Authority Which Is Exercised in the Church of Christ is Divided.
Whoever speaks of authority in the church understands by this that the church not only advises, admonishes, and attempts to convince, but also possesses power to bind. This power is commonly designated by the symbol of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. “And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This solemn word of the Lord must not be weakened. There follows from this the idea that a church loses her nobility when it no longer dares to join salvation to her confession; and that, vice versa, a child of God is deprived of his church which he needs if he no longer firmly relies on and trusts in the word of his church as interpreting the will of the Lord. And thus the state of the church is only good in which the rulers of the church, knowing that they are interpreters of the Word of God, mightily lay the truth upon the conscience and speak rightly. On the other hand, the state of the church is-good when the church members, for the Lord’s sake, bow before the authority of the rulers of the church as before authority placed over them by King Jesus. And they must do this, not by external compromise for the sake of peace, but as bound in the soul, on peril of their very salvation.
Taking the authority of the church in this high and serious sense, one must also remember that such authority is not born out of agreement through which the church members partly renounce their freedom, but that this authority is imposed by Christ and has its origin in the sovereignty of God. The obligation to be respectful to authority does not originate in our joining the church, but we join the church because we feel that we must be subject to this authority. And likewise, those who establish a church do not create that authority by establishing a church, but only give to that authority its offices so that the authority may operate. Just as a mother, by giving birth to a baby, does not create breath or light, but only gives birth to a being provided with organs to breathe in air and to receive light, so also no new authority originates with the establishment of a new church, but only a new organism enters life which is provided with officers arranged to allow the existing authorities to work through them.
This authority then, which must be maintained in the strong sense of authority, is exercised through Jesus Christ Who is the King of the whole of the church and is thus also King of each local church. He is King also, e.g., of the church of Amsterdam. This King exercises this authority partly directly and partly by means. He exercises this directly, first of all, because He provides His church with the means of grace: the Word and sacraments. Secondly, He exercises this authority directly because He works in the members of those churches with His Holy Spirit. And thirdly, He exercises this authority because through providential government, He arranges all the circumstances of those churches and of her members. But also by the use of means the King exercises authority through them, and only this mediate authority is relevant here.
*We use the terms “local congregation” and “congregation” synonymously. Kuyper uses here the word congregatie which is different from gemeente and has the connot5tion of a mere gathering with a minimum of organization.