This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
The “essential point” in our discussion over church and state is that “civil society” and “‘the congregation of believers’ are two very distinct circles.” (273) Leadership in one sphere does not grant authority in the other. All who believe the Confession hold this–and they hold the responsibility of the government to protect the free proclamation of the Gospel and the flourishing of the church. This gets complicated of course when there are many churches.
Some hold that Article 36 of the Belgic Confession means that the government must support only the “true church” or be derelict in its duty. [The fact that the American version of this Article has been changed suggests there is some truth to the claim.]
By contrast, Kuyper argues that
- Church division is necessary and allows subjective diversity in faith;
- government has no right to make theological determinations;
- government must not adjudicate church disputes aside from intervention “if there is a violation of the common law from whatever side” (274)
Roman Catholicism takes an absolutist position, and personal freedom exist sonly where the church has not spoken authoritatively. Governments, in this view, that do not comply are sinning. This is not papal thirst for power, it is simply logical consistency on the part of Roman Catholicism.
The Protestant/Reformed view has been the dominance of the Word and only the indirect (and fallible) guidance of the church as directed by the Spirit. Originally the Reformers thought this approach would maintain unity,
“They did not realize in the least that their transferring the point of gravity from ‘ecclesiastical officeholders’ to ‘believers’ necessitated the birth of an entirely new development that would give the subjective element in the confession a significance it had never had before.” (277)
This is connected to historical developments in the 16th Century, and the general development of cultures from the communal to the individual. The Reformers despaired over this and fought for unity, finally only finding it loosely in political and anti-Roman Catholic activities. These splits resulted in beautify harmony, refined and created by persecution and suffering. Kuyper has an extensive passage extolling how the various denominations are like rays of light refracted through a prism, better showing us the glory of God.
Whatever virtues denominations have (and I have argued on this blog that they are important), we remain in the position of having to deal with a fragmented church. It is this fragmented church that Kuyper will pick up with 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