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"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Kuyper's On the Church - a review

On the Church
Collected Works in Public Theology
Abraham Kuyper
Edited by John Halsey Wood Jr. and Andrew M. McGinnis
General Editors Jordan J. Ballor and Melvin Flikkema
Translators Harry Van Dyke, Nelson D. Kloosterman, Todd M. Rester, Arjen Vreugdenhil
Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016
Hbk; xxxix+ 495pp; £40
ISBN 978-1577996750

This volume, published by the Abraham Kuyper Translation Project, is a fresh translation into English of seven of Kuyper’s essays on the nature of the Church:

Commentatio (1860)
Rooted and Grounded (1870.25)
A Tract on the Reformation of the Churches (1883.06)
Twofold Fatherland(1887.23)
Lord’s Day 21 (1905.17)
State and Church (1916.06)
Address on Missions (1890.05)

As John Halsey Wood Jr. notes in his introduction, Kuyper’s ‘concern for the church predated and permeated all … other concerns’. Kuyper was a church historian and a church pastor - among other roles and callings - and this is evidenced by the first of the essays translated in this volume. Commentatio is Kuyper’s prize-winning essay, that formed his doctoral thesis, comparing John a Lasco’s and Calvin’s conception of the church. The sections reprinted here are mainly from the third section. In it, in seed thought, are much of Kuyper’s ideas on the nature of the church. It is clear that Kuyper preferred a Lasco’s view over Calvin’s, chiefly because the former’s view was closer to the Dutch spirit. This, of course, was before his conversion to Calvinism. 
Kuyper’s later major contribution to ecclesiology was the distinction between the church as institution and the church as organism. For Kuyper, the church has to do not only with Sunday services or missions but the reforming of all facets of life and culture. Kuyper uses several metaphors to illustrate the church as organism—institute distinction. In essence, the institution is the church organisation, its sacraments, its ministers; the organism is the church in the world, Christians at work in society, the body of Christ, strengthened and served by the church as institute. The church as institute does not run schools, universities, or trade unions; that is the role of the church as organism.
This distinction is to the fore in the second selection in this volume. Rooted and Grounded has previously been published in 2013 in booklet form - see the review in Bishop (2014). In this sermon, Kuyper places an emphasis on the priesthood of all believers. For the church to be truly an institution and organic the role of the institutional leaders is to equip the church as organism to be able to do the works of service in the market square, in the classroom, in the business place, in the political area, in the laboratory and so forth. 
The church as institution is the main focus of the next piece, A Tract on the Reformation of the Churches. This was written three years before the Doleantie secession from the Dutch Reformed Church led by Kuyper. It has been previously translated by Herman Hanko and serialised in The Standard Bearer (1977-1986)Kuyper writes here as a church pastor with a heart for the right functioning of the church. His concern is for a pure church. Kuyper argues for a severing of the church and the State. This text is a basis for a manual for Reformed church government. 
In Twofold Fatherland, an address delivered at the seventh annual meeting of the Free University, Amsterdam just after the Doleantie secession, we have Kuyper as an almost Lutheran:

‘we have a twofold fatherland and live as a twofold people under a twofold King’ (226) 

A cursory read of this piece seems to suggest that Kuyper is promoting a two-realm approach. But digging deeper this is far from the truth. He does suggest that there is a fatherland above and below, but both are given by God’s grace - one by common grace, the other particular grace. Both are to give God the glory. The tension of hyper-spirituality (287), suggests Kuyper, is to devalue the earthly fatherland. He also posits that the earthly fatherland has been disrupted by sin and that there is a distinction between the (sinful) world and the earthly field of common grace. 
The Lord’s Day  21 is taken from Kuyper’s E Voto Dordraceno - his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. This selection looks at three questions from the Catechism:

Question 54: What do you believe concerning the ‘Holy Catholic Church’? 
Question 55: What do you understand by the ‘communion of saints’? 
Question 56: What do you believe concerning the ‘forgiveness of sins’? 

The essay State and Church is extracted from a two-volume work written for members of the Anti-Revolutionary Party in 1916, was written by Kuyper for party leaders who had had no formal academic training and was designed to provide clarification to Ons Program.
The final selection, the address on missions, provides a fascinating insight into Kuyper’s attitude to mission. These are verbatim notes taken from an address by Kuyper to a missions conference in January 1890. What we have here are Kuyper’s main theses and then a verbatim report. What is particularly interesting here is Kuyper’s stress that missions should be the work of the church and not of voluntary organisations as was primarily the case at the time.

The book closes with a detailed table of contents a brief section of biographical details on Kuyper and the contributors but not of the translators. There is also an extensive subject/ author index and a scripture index. The essays by Wood and de Bruijne serve as excellent introductions to the context and to the relevance of Kuyper’s essays.

Within these pages, we can see the distinctiveness of Kuyper’s ecclesiology, although not always fully spelled out. Here we can see the distinction between organism and institution, the key role of common grace, sphere sovereignty especially in that the church should be free from state involvement and the state free from church meddling, and the key roles of the church in looking beyond itself in mission, evangelism and philanthropy.

This book is a welcome addition to the ever-expanding publications of the Abraham Kuyper Translation Project. It deserves to be read widely as Kuyper’s conception of the church is not merely of historical interest only; his distinction between organism and institute provides an excellent framework for ecclesiology today.

Bishop, S., 2014, ‘Kuyperania in recent years’, Koers – Bulletin for Chritian Scholarship 79(1), Art. #2138, 6 pages. 
http:// v79i1.2138

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