This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
When we’re thinking about authority, we have to begin by distinguishing the person from the office. It’s rare that the two are fully combined–even the Russian Czar doesn’t hit that level. Absolute rulers make distinctions between their actions. This is why converted statesmen are important–the person is transformed, but the office is not.
The gifts that are required to perform political offices well are common grace gifts and not a part of conversion. Yes, the converted official should esteem/join a local church–though once there are multiple denominations in a nation this becomes a complex question. Still, the person/office distinction is a critical one.
The second distinction we have to make has to do with both the form of government and the spiritual disposition of the people. Autocratic forms of government act one way when the ruler is converted, or remain hostile to the faith. Usually either persecution or favoritism is the result. Less autocratic forms have fewer extremes in their dispositions to Christianity.
A third distinction is between the early status of the church and its later “established” status. Early on its status is tied to the “personal convictions of those in power.” (258) An established church is not tied to those personal convictions.
A fourth distinction is that we must see the difference between officials within government, as well as the different layers of government. Which officials are converted matters, depending on the overall structure and legal landscape.
A fifth distinction is whether the government is concerned with the church for spiritual reasons, or just self-interested (especially in the cases where an established church with political clout exists). This is also important during revolutionary times, when the church preaches order. Even unbelievers can see this function of the church.
A sixth distinction is whether the church and state are interrelated or independent. Interrelation has tended to end badly, with the state demanding honors and obedience from the church…
Finally, how does government contact the church? Both spiritually and formally this is an important point to keep in mind. Spiritually, this has often meant the state recognizing the church’s role with respect to marriage, education, etc. It has also meant using the state power to defend the “true” church. Formally, the state provides the means for the church to function. Everything from the building to protection against vandalism is a legitimate job of the state–one which at times it has abused, and one which at times the church has compromised with.
More on this topic 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