This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
With chapter 13, we move into a stretch of Kuyper’s reflections on church and state that will span nearly half the volume. But this will not be, we are told, political theory or a developed view of the state. Instead, Kuyper is going to ask the question of how the state should relate to the institutional church.
In light of the Belgic Confession, it would seem that church and state are to be united. Kuyper disagrees, albeit not in the way the French Revolutionaries disagreed. To clarify here, Kuyper thinks that the Belgic Confession is speaking to how the church is to view the state, not about a union of the two. [I’m not linking to the BC, because the original version is kind-of hard to find–it has since been modified to adopt a separation of church and state position.] Kuyper gives three reasons for his view of the Confession:
- The whole section is about the church;
- The errors rejected in the Confession at this point have to do with heresy and true belief, as well as legitimate state power–which can be used against idolatry and heresy.
- This is how earlier writers saw and thought about it.
This view of church and state is not a “Reformed” doctrine, it is one held by Roman Catholics and most Protestants. In practice, the Dutch have moved towards religious freedom–as have the Swiss and English (i.e. the nations with the most Reformed influence). So what believers in Kuyper’s day were doing is really at odds with the Confession. This doesn’t mean that they give a “spurious interpretation” to get around it.
“The meaning of a formal document from the sixteenth century cannot be interpreted according to modern presuppositions that reflect an entirely different mindset. Rather, they must be interpreted in the same way the fathers interpreted them in their own day and in their own writings. Any other interpretation is dishonest, disingenuous, and violates history.” (107)
Were we to adopt this method elsewhere, it would deny the faith utterly. So we reject the “evolutionary process” of interpretation [‘living constitutionalism’, in modern American political terms]. Again, such an approach would cost us the foundational beliefs of the faith–as we have already seen in theological liberalism. It also destroys all meaning outside of our own whim, and is at the very least deceptive. No doubt there are some who adopt this method from Godly motivations–we must admit that as well, and be charitable when possible. We should do this especially when we can see honest concerns at work.
Kuyper closes by outlining four contemporary views on the interpretation of the Confession, which we’ll pass over here.