Common Grace, 3.5

Common Grace, 3.5 May 31, 2022

This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace

We saw in the last post that government exists because of sin. In this chapter, Kuyper gets even more provocative when he argues that “the institutional church exists because of sin.” (That’s even the title of the chapter, just to drive the point home…)

Some theologians have argued that other theologians claim (because that’s how theology works, I guess) that the government only exists because of sin for the purpose of elevating the church at the expense of the state. The problem is that the church also “came into existence only because of sin.” (36)

When thinking about church/state relationships, we mean only the institutional church. The spiritual organism is “inaccessible to the state.” (37) Government can, of course, also interact with individual Christians–but the church as a body past, present, and future is beyond the sphere of the government. More recently, the state has seen itself as related to denominations or religious associations (so as to include the Jews). But that’s still just a point of contact with the institutional church, not the church as organism. When thinking through all of this, we must also be careful not to confuse the institution and the organism–as the Roman Catholics do.

When we look at the (Heidelberg) Catechism, we see the confession that the church will endure for ever.  If that’s what we mean then of course the church/state = not sin/because of sin distinciton holds. But when we focus on the church as an institution, we see an entity that was created after and because of sin, and which will disappear when sin disappears. The church didn’t even exist until Pentecost and the establishment of offices, Word, and Sacrament. The organism, by contrast, is immutable and fixed in the mystical body of Christ.

In the past, religion was tied to the household under Abraham, then to the family under Jacob, then to the nation as a whole in the people of Israel. Ultimately, however, it had to have its own institution “in order to bless all peoples.” (40) Without sin, religion may very well have remained in the household. [Though this is speculation on Kuyper’s part.]

So both church and state–institutionally–are formed because of “the sinful character of the life of individual persons and of groups of persons that made the emergence of separate institutions necessary, in both the ecclesiastical and the political form.” (40) When there’s no more sin, these will vanish. Stating it this way is not intended to denigrate politics or to “elevate the church at the expense of the state.” (41) In both, we confess and “honor gifts of God’s grace.” Specifically the church is a gift of particular grace, while the state is a gift of common grace. So we see that government is ” a revelation of God’s love toward the human race,” not something to be feared or fled from. (41)

But why? Even without sin we might need “order and religion,” so what was broken? What would things look like without sin? We must know the healthy condition to understand the sickness. We can see this healthy condition in 1) pre-Fall humanity and 2) what will come with restored humanity. Specifically we see these things in community of people. More on this in the next post.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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