Kuyper versus Hoedemaker

This is the text of a talk I gave back in early 1992 to various interested groups. The issue it raises is one that has only gotten more urgent; in fact, today it is a question of spiritual life and death. When will the church wake up to the dangers she faces in the current climate of “neutrality”? God only knows. But the basic issue is laid bare. Are all institutions, in particular the church, simply constructs of the human will? Is there nothing more than the contractual? Or is there a deeper level of reality, a level of reality independent of and superior to the human will? Radical voluntarism and contractualism are annihilating the social fabric upon which our civilization is based. Which is quite interesting, considering that the people pushing what is at bottom radical individualism are posing as communitarians, who thus love community and hate capitalism because it supposedly undermines community! It is there own agenda that is annihilating community, right before our eyes.

Kuyper vs. Hoedemaker

Ruben Alvarado

© 1991 Ruben Alvarado

This edition published 2014 at commonlawreview.com

The conflict among Christians concerning theocracy as opposed to political pluralism is perhaps as old as the church itself, but in modern times it has been surprisingly muted. Pluralism has pretty much held the field for the past two hundred years at least. Today many among us question the validity of an approach to politics which demands that one leave his confession of the lordship of Jesus Christ behind as he enters the public arena. If Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and if all power has been given to Him in heaven and on earth, one might very well ask if that has anything to do with politics. The very phrasing of the multitude of biblical passages which relate to the lordship of Jesus Christ sound suspiciously like they do apply also in the area of politics. But the modern church has not believed that. It is my purpose here tonight to tell the story of a man who did believe that, and who fought to have his voice heard on the issue when no one really wanted to listen to him. His name was Philippus Jacobus Hoedemaker; he lived from the years 1839-1910. He lived during some momentous times and participated in some momentous events in the history of Dutch Calvinism. But before we get to his story, we have to recount a little about the fortunes of Dutch Calvinism in the years leading up to his appearance on the stage.

The Calvinist church in the Netherlands had fallen on hard times in the early nineteenth century. Faith and practice both seemed to be watered down to the null point, through the influence of a moralistic and philanthropist do-gooder kind of religion which had nothing to say concerning the doctrinal and creedal basis of the Christian faith. But there was a change of direction spawned by the so-called “Réveil,” a spiritual revival influenced by the growing international evangelical movement. This revival movement, at least in the Dutch church, caused a revival of doctrinal orthodoxy.

And from the church there came a reawakening of a truly Calvinist politics. The revival of political Calvinism was the work of one man more than any other, Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer. Groen was a lawyer by training. A few years after graduating from Leiden University he went to work for the newly-established Dutch monarchy. The House of Orange and its prince, William of Orange, were placed on the throne upon the liberation of the Netherlands from French rule. Groen stepped in as secretary to the court in 1826, a position which located him strategically at the heart of the correspondence and the archives of the House of Orange. From here he could gain a unique view of the constitutional history of the nation; history was his secret passion, and as a historian he would make his mark.

Through the influence of his wife Betsy, Groen came under the influence of the Réveil movement in the church, and came to a personal faith in the Lord which would decisively influence the course of his future career.

With the access he had to the royal archives he made request to King William to publish the correspondence of the princes of Orange and Nassau from the times of the Dutch Revolt. The first edition published in 1835 established Groen’s international reputation as a historian; he did an outstanding job of furnishing the volumes with excellent introductions and annotations. In preparing these volumes for publication he also gained unparalleled insight into the course of the constitutional and religious history of the nation. The House of Orange had been the leading family in the Dutch nation ever since Prince William the First had led the nation in successful revolt against Spain. In this correspondence the nature of the revolt and the heart of the new nation were laid bare for all to see. From this perspective Groen gained indispensable insight into the meaning of the history of his beloved fatherland.

For him this meaning was one in which the gospel and the Lordship of Jesus Christ were the cornerstone. The Dutch Republic was born in a struggle first and foremost for the rights of the gospel and the freedom of the true religion. The Dutch nation was in covenant with God, and God had looked kindly upon her in time of need, for the sake of that covenant. By the same token the Republic needed to keep that covenant to be assured of God’s blessing.

It was precisely here that the Dutch Republic failed, not to mention European Christendom in general. In the period following the wars of religion, with the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, the rise of new forms of religiosity spurning confessional distinctives, and the growth among cultural elites of a natural religion opposed to the confessions of the Church, there came a new period of “Enlightenment,” or, from another perspective, apostasy. And so the Christian nations of Europe failed to conserve and maintain the gospel and the true, Christian, religion.

Consequently the upheavals of the revolutionary period had come upon them. The Revolution embodied a new principle: atheism. It had as its chief aim the elimination of the Christian religion from every aspect of society in Europe. It was this which explained every other element of the revolution: the radical democracy which enthroned the people as God, the penchant for violence which raged against created reality and the God who created that reality, the zeal to eliminate the past and every vestige of the culture which had its roots in Christianity. Here Groen felt he had discovered the root of the calamities which Europe had undergone and under which it was yet suffering. The key to contemporary history, in Groen’s view, was the connection between Unbelief and Revolution.

Groen is considered by many to have been a prophet. But among contemporaries his analysis of the ills of European society was either lambasted or ignored. In the orientation of many, the Enlightenment faith had triumphed; in the opinion of many, faith and politics were fundamentally different if not antagonistic subjects. Even though Groen was elected to the Second Chamber, the Dutch equivalent to the English House of Commons, he exercised very little influence upon policy: so few others adhered to his views. It was a lonely struggle which he maintained for a long time.

But his voice did not go entirely unheeded. A new generation of Calvinists arose who embraced his thesis concerning the connection between faith and politics, and indeed these new successors to Groen’s work extended his idea to include every area of life. Calvinism became for them an all-inclusive, all-embracing world-view; and indeed, it could not help but be that, since every view of culture, of politics, or whatever endeavor one could think of, was but the extension of a particular religion and world-view.

The man who led this second-generation resurgence of full-orbed Calvinism was Abraham Kuyper. Groen was Kuyper’s mentor; when Groen left the public stage, it was Kuyper to whom he turned over the leadership of the Calvinist movement. Abraham Kuyper, by training a theologian and preacher, was a man of many talents. He was a gifted orator, a profound thinker, a scientist of the first rank, a voluminous writer, an energetic leader, and a capable administrator. He edited, published, and wrote for various journals, and did the same with a daily newspaper which he himself started.

Under his leadership a new university was established which would pursue the goal of bringing every thought captive to the obedience of Christ: science would be grounded in faith, and the implications of the Calvinist world-view would be followed through on, in every area of human cultural endeavor. This was the Free University, established in Amsterdam in 1880.

There was another accomplished theologian and preacher who joined Abraham Kuyper in this pursuit of truth brought in captivity to Christ. Philippus Jacobus Hoedemaker in fact preached the inaugural sermon at the New Church in Amsterdam which marked the opening of the university. As a professor Hoedemaker taught various subjects, such as natural theology, ethics, comparative religions, and homiletics. He was also a prolific writer and contributed articles to various Calvinist journals about many different topics of current concern. He also edited various journals. In this he was comparable to his great contemporary Kuyper.

Hoedemaker even started a bimonthly journal of his own in 1885, entitled Upon the Foundation of the Apostles and Prophets: Contributions for Church and Theology. It was significant that he began the journal at this time: it revealed that Hoedemaker had problems with the direction in which Kuyper and the whole anti-revolutionary movement was heading. In fact, Hoedemaker had been led to start his own journal because he felt himself completely isolated among the faculty at the Free University; and not only isolated, but also shut out of the discussions and debates in which policy was being formed.

What developments did Hoedemaker find so distressing in the anti-revolutionary movement? They revolved around the conception of the church, and from there the whole subject of church-state relations.

Now many people had problems with the Dutch Reformed church as then existing. After independence from Napoleon was achieved the church had been reestablished upon new principles, upon a different kind of church order. It was a church order no longer constructed along presbyterian lines. There were no more church sessions, presbyteries, and synods of the kind that allowed member participation in the decision-making process in the church. A much more top-down, hierarchical kind of church order had been imposed, while also making the church into a creature of private law, a denomination.

The situation continued through the 19th century. Both Kuyper and Hoedemaker objected to this state of affairs. The difference lay in the solution they proposed. Kuyper and his followers agitated for a separation of believers from the church, to form a new denomination along Congregationalist and Independency lines. They argued for a total separation of church and state – for the disestablishment of the Dutch Reformed church as it then existed, and for the removal of the church as an institution from any direct role in public life at all. Hoedemaker, on the other hand, argued for a return to the original Presbyterian church order, and for a revision of the constitution so that the church could take its proper place in the public life of the nation: not as an arm of the state, as in its present form it really was; but even less that the church should be totally separated from public life. The church should occupy a position reflecting her status as the body of Christ, within a nation that publicly confessed Christ’s Lordship.

This different conception of the church inevitably led to conflict concerning Christian politics and church-state relations. This is where Hoedemaker made his strongest criticisms of Kuyper and Kuyperian Calvinism. One writer has summed up the difference between Kuyper and Hoedemaker as follows: “A Christian state, or a neutral state run by Christians.” Hoedemaker prophetically revealed how it could be that the acceptance in Christian politics of the principle of neutrality would drastically undermine Christian politics altogether.

The principle of neutrality, Hoedemaker affirmed, must lead to the misconception of the character of the nation and thereby to its unity. Hoedemaker’s motto was “the whole church for the whole nation.” Kuyper’s motto was “equal rights for all.” “The whole nation” is a motto which recognizes the nation as an organic unity with a unique character. It also recognizes that national character is a precious thing; if it becomes corrupt, the future of the nation is in great danger. Through the preservation of its unique character a nation remains strong and unified. Hoedemaker’s call to “the whole nation” calls the nation as such back to her true character, and away from a drift towards self-destruction.

“Equal rights for all,” on the other hand, reduces the nation to a sum of individuals who happen to find themselves within the borders of a political unit and then make the attempt, each according to his own ideas, to work out some sort of civic social order agreeable to each individual. The majority takes the place of unity, and through the exercise of power the majority imposes its will upon the nation.

“Equal rights for all” knows no national character. It is the expression of the principle of neutrality in law and politics. In fact it denies that a nation has any character or specific nature at all. All it knows is arithmetic calculations.

The principle of neutrality and the doctrine of equal rights lay at the heart of Kuyper’s politics. According to this principle the idea of antithesis was reinterpreted to mean something totally foreign to its original Augustinian and Calvinistic conception. Antithesis originally meant no neutrality – no neutrality in anything, and especially not in politics. Kuyper and his so-called Anti-Revolutionary Party made the idea of antithesis, however, into something entirely different. Kuyper meant by antithesis that a nation was irretrievably divided into Christian and non-Christian portions. This meant that Christians would have to band together and work according to Christian principles, as one player among many. The instruments for carrying out this version of antithesis were the Christian school – Christian education – and the Christian political party – Christian party politics. The state according to this view could never make a choice between parties. It could only act as a mediator, a neutral arbiter, between them; and Christians and non-Christians needed to accept each other as legitimate members of the neutral, pluralist body politic.

Now Hoedemaker had no objections to the idea of a specifically Christian schooling or a specifically Christian politics. He always agreed with the basic principle upon which the Free University had been founded: to unite faith and practice, to join the teachings of religion to the teachings of science, to bring every area of life to the obedience of Christ. But he considered the Kuyperian outworking to be a corrupted outworking and a denial of that basic principle. Kuyper used the idea of antithesis to divide the nation into Christians and non-Christians, with the idea that the Christians would exercise majority rule. For Hoedemaker this was an unacceptably individualistic interpretation of society. It established permanently a condition of warfare and animosity in political life.

Acceptance of the principle of neutrality leads to the tyranny of majority rule, to the lordship of numerical superiority. Kuyper believed that the nation was constituted of a majority of Christians, but that the government did not properly express the will of that majority. What therefore was needed was a Christian activism which called the government to heed the will of the Christian majority. But Hoedemaker saw nothing but danger in this approach. Because what was sovereign here was not God or His Word, but the majority, which perhaps at this point in time was Christian, but tomorrow might not be. There were no higher principles or constitutional safeguards to define the limits of or give bounds to this majoritarianism. Thus, one asks no longer: what is right? what is true? what is God’s will? What does the Bible say? The question is rather the same as it is throughout the entire world: If you are in the minority, you are lost. If, in the church, in the schools, in diverse other areas of particular Christian concern, through the neutral state according to the doctrine of equal rights you wish to remain viable, then you must do your best to create a majority through coalition-forming, through ever-shifting party alliances, with the help of a good party policy which knows how to boost the interests of friends by appealing to their self-interest, and to exploit the craftiness of enemies in the same way.

There are advantages to proceeding in this manner; for one thing, it gets you immediate results. Many harbor the hope that through such a policy the interests of the Kingdom of God will be preserved. But – and this is the only thing that really matters – if one really started with the Scriptures first, one would never arrive at such an approach. If one proceeds first from the Scriptures one encounters ideas about the origin of authority, the extent of the role of government, the character of its occupation, the rule of its actions. The principle of majoritarianism, which is the embodiment of the idea of neutrality, excludes from the start the affirmation that all rule is from God. Force is transformed from the servant of legitimate authority to its master. The sword is exchanged for the ballot box. As long as a Christian majority rules, the corruption remains under the surface, hidden from the view of the good citizens who live during the day and do not see what goes on after dark. Everyone is happy as long as individual rulers confess the sovereignty of God. But the neutrality principle does not allow one to go to the heart of the problem, the maintenance of a national faith. If a national faith is not recognized, or if it is a faith in the neutral state, a rude surprise is in the offing. Once the majority switches from a Christian to a non-Christian majority, no constitutional limitations will ever be able to check its course.

Hoedemaker believed that the principle of majoritarianism would lead straight to the de-Christianization of the nation. One of Groen van Prinsterer’s fellow travelers and well-known figure in Réveil circles, J. A. Wormser, once said, “teach our people to understand their baptism and our nation as a Christian nation will be recovered.” But the principle of majoritarianism does not understand the meaning of baptizing a nation. It only understands a bare head count of baptized citizens. One speaks then not of a Christian nation but of a Christian majority, a Christian party among the people alongside non-Christian parties. The nation is divided in antithetical portions: Christian and non-Christian. Christianity becomes a party concern, the concern of one group among many.

It is the same as with Kuyper’s teaching concerning the church. In a zeal for separating true believers from false ones, he accepted the separatist concept of the church as a private voluntary association, juridically speaking no different from any other voluntary association. But the church is an organic unity, not a club. It contains both good and bad, for God alone knows the heart. Purification should not lead to the denial of the catholic principle.

As with such a church doctrine you arrive at a denominationalism which recognizes no higher unity in Christ – each church thinks that it is the only true one – in politics you have a situation in which antagonistic parties are in continuous battle to impose upon each other their own particular interests. The unity and the unique character of the nation is destroyed in this struggle, this war of all against all.

Such a situation creates Pharisees of ordinary Christians. Instead of seeking the good of society as a whole, instead of being Good Samaritans caring for those in need without worrying about where the needy may stand on the issues of the day, Christians are driven to seek their own particular interests and to be satisfied when these particular interests are met. They no longer look out for those who do not belong to their particular group. They become isolated, ghettoized, strangers to the non-Christian half of society.

But the church cannot be reduced to a voluntary association or a particular group with particular interests. The church is unique. A church which practices infant baptism could never be considered simply a voluntary association anyway. As Hoedemaker put it, “the Christian church in our land has, by the power of her origin and her character, an exclusive right (the public-legal character of the church), lays claim to an independent existence, and demands from the State that it respect this exclusive terrain. For the State not to do this is tyranny.”

The state must recognize the church; and the state which does not recognize the church will slip into a tyranny not only over the church but over society as a whole. The state becomes God on earth. It lords it over a society which lives only for material and not spiritual things, which demands bread and circuses while all things Christian are mocked, despised, and eliminated. For, as Hoedemaker wrote in The Church and Modern Constitutional Law (p. 207 above), the state “takes sides with unbelief, and under the mendacious slogan “neutrality” refuses to submit to the truth, to walk in its light, and to allow the truth to prescribe to it in its field of operation.” Without truth to guide it, there is only a contest of power.

The ironic thing about the Kuyperian approach in church and state is that, while on the one hand it professes to make war against the revolutionary and atheistic movement which began with the French Revolution – even to the point of calling itself anti-revolutionary, and indeed Kuyper’s political party was itself called the Anti-Revolutionary Party –it accepted the fundamental principle embodied in the Revolution, the principle of neutrality. Therefore Hoedemaker described Kuyper’s view of the church as too narrow, his view of politics, too broad. The church was reduced to a shadow, in order to make room for a politics in which all parties, all faiths, all confessions, could join.

But what was the alternative? For Hoedemaker, it was to stay faithful to the received tradition of Western Christendom, proceeding from Augustine to the medieval church and then to the Calvinistic Reformers who established and built the Dutch Reformed church. This meant in the first place that the nation must be Christian as such, or that the church strive to bring such to pass. A nation is not Christian when a certain amount of people are baptized; a nation is Christian when in its constitution and public institutions it recognizes the authority of Christ as king over the kings of the earth. Following upon this, the nation is Christian when the state recognizes the church as the body of Christ and His ambassador and representative on earth, and that she, the church, holds the keys to the kingdom of God. This is the meaning of theocracy.

This does not mean that the church then takes over control of the country. The state rules according to the Bible, not according to the commands of the church. But the state ought to pay heed to the interpretations that the church gives to the Bible, because it is the ministry of the church as an institution to preach the Word. The state, like everyone else, needs the church to understand the Word. However, the state carries out its duties in independence of the church.

By the same token, the state does not violate the freedom of conscience and freedom of religious exercise of those who do not adhere to the recognized church. There is a strict delimitation of public and private spheres; over the private exercise of religious faith the state has no jurisdiction. The state must, however, guard over the public exercise of religion. It must punish blasphemy. It must guard and protect the church from those who would undermine her legitimate authority. It must ensure that the Christian religion be maintained as the center of and source of life for the nation.

As the situation turned out in the Netherlands, it was Abraham Kuyper’s, not Philippus Hoedemaker’s, version of Christian politics that was followed. Hoedemaker in fact was virtually ignored by most of his contemporaries, while Kuyperian Calvinism was enormously successful, to the point that Abraham Kuyper even became prime minister of the country from 1901 to 1905.

The issue, however, has not died out. As Hoedemaker put it to a follower of Kuyper’s, “It will not perhaps be us but the representatives of the principles which you and I confess, who will speak further over these matters as we lay to rest, twenty, fifty, a hundred years from then, if the conflict should yet endure that long.” The conflict continues to this day. The number of followers of Hoedemaker has grown in the last one hundred years, and the struggle between them and the champions of what Gary North has termed “political polytheism” continues. It has in recent years crossed the Atlantic, although any direct connection between the Dutch and the American theocratic movement has heretofore not existed.

I will therefore conclude with a quote from Hoedemaker which cuts right to the heart of the issue which faces the church in America today. All you need do is substitute the words America and Americans for the words the Netherlands and Dutch as you listen to the question posed in this quote. “Do you believe that God can once again make the Netherlands a Christian nation, the government of the Netherlands a Christian government, the Dutch Reformed church a properly ordered church? Perhaps one dare not give a negative answer to that question. Allow me to reformulate it: do you believe that He, and not a man according to a well-devised plan, but He, in His own time, according to His own plan shall do it? But this question is still not quite to the point. I will put it this way: do you wish that He would do this; would you consider it a blessing if He did do this; are you convinced that we are lost if He does not do this?” That is the question with which we are faced today. And it is to be hoped that the situation will not continue as Hoedemaker predicted it would. “One would so like to get on as if nothing was the matter, and he really thinks to get quite far if only he avoids the way that he himself considers contrary to God’s Word. In this regard, unbelief is so deeply rooted that he does not even dispute someone who opposes this” (Heel de Kerk en Heel het Volk, p. 19).