This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
The Confession and Article 36 comes from a pre-Protestant era of schism, and as a result the political part of it has become stuck in its time, in part because the distinction between visible and invisible church has been made, but not between churches.
Now diversity and tolerance are assumed, and condemnations are issued against governments that do not respect these principles. The circle of “Christian” against paganism and Islam is broad in our time. All of these points need to be accounted for in our church/state thinking. We must account for reality and not use the government to oppress others.
If the Article 36 purists want government want government to persecute, they must explain how the government will decide which is the “one true church.” (285) Likewise they must outline the legal measures and constitutional amendments to be made. This has been done in the past at the expense of Roman Catholicism and the Lutherans and the Anabaptists. This is especially challenging today, given how far the state church has drifted from its confession. Most of those in the state church don’t agree with Article 36 anyway!
Roman Catholicism likewise takes this position, pointing to the authority of Rome.
Ultimately, it would have to be the government’s choice as to which is the true church, and we all agree that’s not right. To say that the government should make this call undermines the church’s right of self-determination.
Lest any of us be tempted to assume that Kuyper’s discussion here is just a quaint and archaic reflection by a conservative writing at the end of an era, and that no one would bother making these kinds of claims today isn’t paying enough attention to the claims made by the extremes of each political wing in the US in the past decade, and increasingly being made in the middle by each side in the past couple of years. We all need the reminder that these debates are not to be political debates and instead should be kept within the church.
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