Common Grace, 3.17

Common Grace, 3.17 October 25, 2022

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

Returning to Common Grace after an excursus through Tolkien, way back in the day we saw that the church and state are separate institutions and ought to be kept separate. And yet, we must refute the idea that there is no contact between the two. Their contact begins in their shared origin “because of sin.” The state was formed when the race was split because of sin at Babel (Kuyper suggests that the organic/patriarchal connection would have continued without the language divide). (139-140)

Both church and state begin at “the same starting point for their lifeline, which is the Son of God.” (140) Their “formal” life begins in the Son–albeit “from the Father through the Son”, as with all things. (140) In the Son, we must distinguish between two functions/offices: “Son of God/Word” as “Moderator of Creation;” and “Christ/Word incarnate” as “Mediator of redemption.” (140) He is the Son of God for all, but Christ only for saved believers. “Christ… expresses a capacity and office, while ‘Son of God’ refers to his eternal, immutable mode of existence.” (140-141)

In our point, “particular grace presupposes common grace. The church presupposes an ordered state. How else could it maintain its social existence?” (141) All existence relates to the Son of God; Christians alone relate to Jesus as Christ. And yet, Christ has received all things from the Father through his humility and suffering. The tension between his fully receiving all things as Christ and having them as Creator will be resolved in the end. That means for our purposes that ultimately both church and state begin metaphysically in the Son, both are grace, and both for now exist in tension.

This tells us that ultimate separation of church and state is untenable. We must remember that despite their differences, there is also an undeniable unity.

Practically, there are two kinds of states:

  1. Those with no institutional church (yet)
  2. Those with an institutional church

This does not determine a state’s legitimacy. Making such a claim is sheer ignorance of history and removes one from the conversation:

“Anyone who would claim that only the ‘Christian state’ is a genuine state, and only the ‘Christian government’ is a genuine government, fails to see any history of states beginning before the third or fourth century of our era. That person is ignorant of history and, quite frankly, lacks any right to join the conversation.” (143)

Because the state isn’t from particular grace, “the church is therefore something in addition to the state.” (143) What’s more, the church is external and from above the state. It is a sort-of heavenly/supernatural growth in the midst of a natural state. So the church and the state are not one community with two functions or institutions. Christianity in the state is “accidental”, not “necessary.” (144) We see this in the nature of each. States have boundaries and are involuntary–churches don’t and aren’t.

Yet this is not an oil/water situation. We are “citizens of the state” and affect the state with our “civic virtue.” Kuyper says this is required. (145) From family to property, our lives affect both church and state. We as believers have dual lives. The church and state are intertwined–and we’ve not even gotten to points of direct contact between the two!

More on this in the next chapter.

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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