The Kuyper Option
Kuyper’s Concept of the Church in the Context of Strategic Christian Action
Original version 2015; this version 2021
Abraham Kuyper, the giant of Calvinistic philosophy, theology, politics, and indeed pretty much every area of life, continues to enjoy a vogue among conservative Christians in the 21st century. This is evidenced by projects like those being conducted by the Acton Institute, with plans to translate, e.g., the entire three volumes and nearly 1800 pages of De Gemeene Gratie [Common Grace], one volume of which it has already completed (as it has a number of his smaller works). There is also the work of the Abraham Kuyper Center for Public Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, which among other things publishes an annual Kuyper Center Review filled with the latest research findings on all things Kuyperian. And articles and books continue to be published about Kuyper, the very existence of which argue strongly for his continued relevance.
It is this continued relevance that is curious. Why should Kuyper still attract, when so many others from the same period have been forgotten entirely, or are only studied the better to understand the period in which they lived? The answer to this question is tied up with Kuyper’s peculiar agenda. The solutions he found to the problems the church then faced happen to be solutions that still find resonance in the minds of those who study him today. Realizing this can help us better evaluate his contribution. For as it turns out, in realizing his solution, Kuyper may have made the same kind of concessions to modernism that the church continues to make to this day. This is what makes his doctrines fascinating but may also point up their limitations. In laying bare these limitations, we may find ourselves confronted with our own.
So with this in mind, let us take a closer look at the core doctrine of the Kuyper Option, his concept of the church. Together with his doctrine of common grace, it forms the foundation upon which he built his edifice of Christian activism and provided the justification for his version thereof. 
Kuyper’s innovation was to propose a twofold distinction in the concept of the church: the church as institute and the church as organism.
In Kuyper’s view, this distinction did not replace the traditional one between the visible and the invisible church, but added to it. In fact, it was an expansion of the doctrine of the visible church. The visible church finds expression in the church as organism as well as the church as institute. Hence, it is a grave mistake to equate the church as organism with the invisible church, just as it is a grave mistake to restrict the visible church to the institute.
Kuyper himself considered this distinction to be implicit in the historic Reformed confessions. Bavinck sees premonitions in Turretin (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, XVIII 3, 10) and Stahl (The Constitution of the Church [Die Kirchenverfassung], p. 46). But as Vree has demonstrated, the distinction was of Kuyper’s own device, a juxtaposition of his earlier “Lascian-Schleiermacherian” model with the “once so detested” institute, as taught by Calvin. He presented it for the first time in April 1870 to an unsuspecting audience of college professors, preachers, and candidates for degrees in theology. This Lascian-Schleiermacherian model emphasized the visible church, but not in the institutional forms of organization, i.e., church services, sacraments, and the like, but in the works of Christians in life outside the church as traditionally construed, while also de-emphasizing hierarchy in favor of a community of believers in coequal fellowship. This was Kuyper’s ideal as presented in his commentary on John à Lasco’s ecclesiological works, the Commentatio of 1860.  Having come to recognize the need for institutional framework in the church, he now partly came back on this position, reintroducing the institute but in a novel framework.
The church-as-organism/church-as-institute distinction received a full outworking in Kuyper’s inaugural sermon to his new congregation in Amsterdam in August 1870. In this sermon he based the distinction on Ephesians 3: 17. The full passage (vv. 14-19), with the relevant clause in italics, runs as follows (KJV): “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.”
Rooted and grounded: rooted, an image from the world of organism, roots, growth, spontaneous life; grounded, an image from the world of artificial construction, an imposed, lifeless structure. Both are necessary. The organism gives life and growth; the institution gives guidance and restraint.
In this presentation Kuyper demonstrated his newfound appreciation for the institutional aspect of the church. “The church cannot lack the institution, for the very reason that all life among human beings needs analysis and arrangement…. Since Christianity does not animate merely an individual, but binds many together, there necessarily comes into existence a legal relationship that degenerates into confusion if there are no judicial rules. Since it places a task not simply on the individual but also on all believers together, there must be an organization that regulates the mandate for everything that happens in the name of everyone. Finally, since its own life constantly threatens to dissipate into the life of the world, it must not merely allow a spiritual sorting to function at the depth but also allow a tangible authentication to function at the surface, which determines inclusion and exclusion.” And beyond this merely human functionality, the institution in God’s arrangement feeds and expands the organism; “here too there is a further bringing to life through man as instrument.”
With this sermon Kuyper fleshed out one of the major themes that would serve to guide his titanic efforts. Even so, it would be years before he fully developed it. After founding the Free University, taking over the leadership (and revolutionizing) the Anti-Revolutionary Party, and, as chief editor, turning the daily newspaper De Standaard into one of the leading opinion-shapers of the day, Kuyper also got around to systematizing the philosophical and theological background for these efforts.
Perhaps the best summary of this systemization from Kuyper’s hand is to be found in his Encyclopaedie der Heilige Godgeleerdheid [Encyclopedia of Sacred Divinity], published in 1894. Despite its three volumes and roughly 1750 pages, this book has the merit of relative conciseness, for apart from it, the “publishing tidal wave” that Kuyper generated was composed largely of bundles of articles first published in De Standaard, and thus characterized by a daunting level of prolixity.
Here are some of the main points Kuyper makes in the Encyclopaedie regarding the twofold nature of the church:
- The institutional church is the lead element of the two, as it is more visible, more out in front, as it were; but it does not effectuate the broader activity of the church; it can only supervise and guide (Notes, para. 7, 9).
- Nevertheless, its role is indispensable to the church as organism because it provides the preaching of the Word, which coordinates this organic activity and mind, and brings it into conformity to the Word (Notes, para. 8).
- The manifestations of the church as organism are also the subject of ecclesiology (Notes, para. 13).
- The body of Christ is more than the institutional church. Rebirth occurs outside the institutional church and can only be presumed by it. This means that the organic church is higher in value than the institutional church. It will endure, while the institutional church will one day be done away with (Notes, para. 14).
- The church as organism is not to be confused with the Kingdom of God, which is why the activities in society fall under the ecclesiological group. The Kingdom of God is actually an institutional concept, as it involves hierarchy, laws, and the like; but it is also an organic concept, which extends beyond mankind to embrace all creatures; it is God’s direct rule that gains in visibility as His creatures exercise obedience (Notes, para. 20, 23).
Regarding the study of the church, we end up with the unusual result that it includes the following subjects: the household, the broader society, the state, as well as science, arts, and letters. They do so not as such, but as the fruit of Christians working in those fields.
If that sounds the least bit confusing, it is; at least, it is to its critics. The Kuyperian institute/organism framework was never universally accepted. Recently it has received favorable treatment at the hand of the Kampen Theological University professor Ad de Bruijne. De Bruijne dismisses the criticisms of the framework by arguing that it has been misunderstood; moreover, to his mind it has not lost its relevance for the contemporary situation.
De Bruijne argues that Kuyper’s institute/organism distinction, contrary to the traditional interpretation, was not meant to de-emphasize the institute and replace it with the organism. This is to misunderstand Kuyper, for whom “the institute really was the actual church.” In fact, it was Kuyper’s treatment of the church as institute, not organism, which constituted his innovation. Nor was a “system of Christian organizations” giving shape to Christian subcommunities to be considered the church as organism. Rather, the church as organism expands outside the institute when conditions are favorable, and when they are averse, it contracts. “In such a context, the organism and institute would coincide again, not after the traditional manner of a national church but in new ways.” De Bruijne takes this so far as to speak of “the organic aspect of the institute.” 
As might already be clear from the discussion to this point, as well as the accompanying notes on the Encyclopaedie, such an analysis is overdrawn. But it is understandable given De Bruijne’s background, coming as he does out of the Vrijgemaakte [Liberated] church, which had been founded by the renegade neo-Calvinist Klaas Schilder. It is Schilder’s sustained attack on Kuyper’s model to which De Bruijne is (over-) reacting.
De Bruijne references passages in Schilder’s work containing this criticism (see “‘Colony of Heaven,’” pp. 481-482, notes 6 and 7). But there are other passages not referenced, that neatly encapsulate Schilder’s critique, revealing structural weaknesses in the Kuyperian approach.
One such is found in notes from Schilder’s classroom lectures (see n. 6 above). There, Schilder takes Kuyper’s institute/organism distinction to task.
As organism the church contains all the free life of believers in school, society, art, science; everything that derives from faith. The institute only contains those joined together institutionally in the relation of ecclesiastical structure. We can now indicate concisely our objection: namely, the concept of church in the first part of the comparison is separated from the concept of instituting.
When a marriage is concluded, one does not distinguish between marriage as institution, as far as its being concluded at city hall by the mayor [i.e., a civil ceremony], and marriage as organism, whether it is a moving towards each other of man and woman, or it is so-called free love and an open marriage. The city hall pertains to the concept of marriage, for it entails that the marriage has a certain legality [i.e., accountability before the law] in the state and a responsibility in public-legal sense. A marriage in the sense of an open marriage, as the ugly word would have it, is at bottom adultery [and thus illegal]. Rendering account to the government and its organs cannot be abstracted from marriage.
One needs to reason similarly regarding the church, for it is improper to use the word “church” when one is referring to “the organism.” Of course, the organic is present in the church (no one would deny it) but the concept of instituting needs to be included in the concept of the church.
In other words, the two aspects of institute and organism cannot be separated from each other in the way that Kuyper does. They are correlative and concurrent, two sides of the same coin. To take organism and make it prior to, and to some degree independent of, institute, is to lose sight of this correlation.
So runs this succinct objection, conducted in the dispassionate cadence of the lecture hall. The matter would become passionate, indeed deadly serious, later on when Schilder and those who thought like him were expelled from the Gereformeerde Kerk in 1944. Right in the middle of wartime travails, the Gereformeerde Kerk found the time to discipline the doctrinal insubordination displayed by Schilder and his allies. The ostensible reason for excommunication was the denial of what was known as “presumptive regeneration,” an article of faith for the Kuyperian church, holding that the children of believers were to be considered as being reborn until the contrary proved the case. But that was not the only reason for this exercise of discipline. It was also Schilder’s recalcitrance regarding the doctrine of church as organism that earned him this disciplinary action.
Looking back in 1950, Schilder noted with bitterness and scarcely concealed contempt the role played in this travesty by this doctrine of the church as organism. The church has an organic dimension, but cannot be considered separately as an organism.
Without wanting to – I firmly believe that – Kuyper worked with myths. The magnitude “church-as-organism,” for example, is one of his myths. For the organic in the church [of itself] is no church. And all the organic taken together makes no church. As little as the organic in the state, a club, a school board, a labor union, is the state, or the club, or the school board, or the labor union…. But that myth, once naturalized, gave to various people the opportunity gladly (and likewise often unconsciously) to get around “what it [the Belgic Confession] says….”
Schilder went on to explain Kuyper’s conflict with the Confession:
Kuyper the father operated with the phantom of the “invisible church” …. Now when Kuyper the father worked with the phantom of the “invisible church,” Kuyper the son [a reference to H.H. Kuyper, who succeeded his father as professor of theology at the Free University and as chief editor of De Standaard] could then complicate the understanding of the confession for years and years, by claiming that Article 27 speaks in the confession about the “invisible” church while article 28 and following speak of the “visible” church. A disaster, such a confession-abusing assertion; and to this day it continues in slogans about pluralism and in the perceptible inertia even of otherwise willing people regarding the church gathering as act-of-faith; and also in politics. For now you can say all manner of “wonderful things” about the church (Article 27!) and in the meantime view all kinds of concrete ecclesial bungling as, well, an unpleasant affair, but one that still does not signify a confessional break or gulf, because we’re all singing the praises of the Article 27-church, that wonderfully invisible entity. What is invisible to me, is incurable, and ineligible, and unapproachable. But you’d better not continue – that’s trouble. And the invisible knows no trouble: it is already something like blessed, at least, blessedly idealistic.
But this is to butcher the Confession: “Sure enough, the church alone saves,” says Kuyper, “provided it is not the institute” (Encyclopaedie, vol. II, p. 356). “As if the church did not always need to institute, and as if not, on the same day in which it will be seen by all that outside her there is no salvation for anyone, that at that point the institute, that work of all ages, will also immediately have come to rest and to perfect completion.”
So for Kuyper, actually everything is organism. Although he says some good things about the institute, he actually previously castrated it and relegated it to a subordinate role. A passage in the Encyclopaedie [cf. Notes, para. 23] “takes a bite” out of the institute. “[The institute] cannot bring forth any spiritual force. It cannot give birth through the Word. So the Word was given to the organism?” And then that image of the farmer. The institute can produce neither seed nor field nor rain nor sunshine. But the organism-church can? “You get the idea: the whole thing grates. The images stifle your objection.” The object is not to elucidate but to obfuscate.
Although none of this is very clear, out of all the unclearness one thing jumps out: “the ecclesiastical institute does not retain much that is of any significance. The organism operates the institute among many other things. The organism is primary; and the institute is nothing other than a phenomenon, effect, soon also an instrument, of the organism. The heaviest accent falls on the organism, organism is the radical.”
So then the Confession as product of the church as institute, is likewise of very relative value. “The letter of the Confession is a piece with which a certain little institute temporarily works and temporarily identifies itself, and about which it temporarily groups, and with which it temporarily can drive a whole set of people out of the church and out of the pulpits of a little institute.” But not to worry, “there is still an organism, and this is much broader than a certain little institute. And the Kingdom of God, that is even broader. The confession is a form of the church as organism. It cannot be captured by an institute. Nor delimited.” And all the organizations comprising the church as organism, school, university, labor union, have their own little confessions too: “even if they emphatically separate from the institute, saying ‘I don’t want to be bound by that institutional clamp, not even by one little toe.” Can they not all say, in the institute we are bound to the formulae of unity, but outside it I am free, I am just as much church-as-organism as anything else? The church as organism renders any confession untenable as an authoritative statement.
The upshot is that the whole thing is fluctuating and undulating. It was against these things that Schilder and the Liberated struggled then and struggle now; in 1944, men were thrown out who stepped forward in their battle against these theorems and refused to accept a set of formulas as if they accorded with the Word of God, and for this they were thrown out of the institute “with the pincers and the stick.” But now they can better understand their opponents as well as their own place in the world and the Kingdom of God. And they also now have their very own little institute [the newly-constituted Liberated church], “alongside the others who also have one [e.g., the “synodal” GKN], and now with your little institute you are also [members of the] church as organism. Aren’t all little institutes forms of the church as organism? You fluctuate along with the rest. You oscillate along with them too. The aggrieved among the synodocrats [e.g., the GKN leadership] may have let you go as church-as-institute, they hold onto you as church-as-organism.” It is all in a day’s church work: relativism of necessity issues from these organism-institute theorems.
Schilder’s venom was understandable, but could give rise to the counterargument that his passion clouded his criticism. So we bring forward a more distanced criticism, issued by Prof. W.H. Velema, a member of the unaffiliated, separated, Christelijk Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands).
Velema notes that Kuyper’s concept of the church, the product and conduit of particular grace, was always paired with his doctrine of common grace, which is an attempt to describe God’s dealings with fallen mankind outside the church. It was always difficult, he writes, to maintain a harmony between the two:
The difficulty of interpreting Kuyper’s theology is that one always has to speak with two words. It has to do with particular grace! Everything focuses on that. It is also the origin of his thought. It revolves around common grace. There is no particular grace in the world without common grace. There is however common grace without the direct influence of particular grace.
This is a synthesis that, in Velema’s view, stemmed from Kuyper’s conflicted provenance, on the one hand Schleiermacher-esque idealism from the days before he converted to Calvinism, and on the other, Calvinism itself. This led Kuyper to adopt his peculiar system of common grace. But, this was in fact to incorporate an irreconcilable dichotomy [tweespalt] into his system, and his followers proved unable to maintain the system’s unity.
What has been done with Kuyper’s inheritance, theological, social, and political, forces me to this conclusion. The synthesis that Kuyper practiced succumbed to the violence of the preference for the common-grace track in Kuyper’s theology…. In Kuyper’s theological construction there is a duality which would reveal itself as a dichotomy. The violence of secularization has mercilessly brought the inward division to light across the board. I stand unmoved in believing that Kuyper’s heart lay with the Pro Rege [Kingship of God] motif. The basis for the realization of the Pro Rege (from God’s side and from man’s) was common grace. In that basis lies the origin of all the misery by which Kuyper’s life’s work perished a century after the term arose.
Velema is referring here to the shipwreck that neo-Calvinist world had undergone by the time of his writing in 1991. The Free University had become a free-thinking university with little regard for anything Reformed; the GKN was a bastion of liberal theology; the Anti-Revolutionary Party, after years of power-sharing compromise, had been subsumed in the scarcely recognizable Christian Democrat Appeal party. Velema thus sees Kuyper’s project coming to grief because of a doctrine of common grace that did not really gybe with his simultaneous emphasis on particular grace. But his criticism goes even deeper. “All of this, in our judgement, finds its point of concentration in the concept of the church as organism. In my view we need to say goodbye to this term because its content highlights the dichotomy of Kuyper’s theology and view of culture. Rather than speak of the church as organism, I would like to speak of the calling of Christians in society.”
The church as organism is the real problem. Velema refers to three passages of Scripture that speak to the point: 1 Peter 2: 4-10; Matthew 5 : 15, 16; and Philippians 2: 14-16. Here, the action of Christians in society is referred to as the work of a royal priesthood. “It is about priestly work in the framework of the Kingdom of God,” about shining one’s light before the people so that they might glorify one’s Father in heaven. “I do not wish to invoke the term church as organism in connection with all these activities. These works are done by believers who belong to the people of God. These believers are members of the church, members of the Body of Christ. In that connection, they also have their obligations and responsibilities. But we should not confuse their action within the church with what they do as royal priestly service in society…. The old description: the priesthood of all believers signifies a better job description than the term church as organism.”
Dropping the term will have two consequences. Firstly, the church will have to make the message of the gospel clear and concrete to the world, first and foremost in preaching. Secondly, it will have to make its service concrete in society, in which case, it has to take place in “the way of the church” and not through a political party or social programs by e.g. labor unions. The first is pastorate, the second, diaconate. Harnack in his Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries highlighted the role the early church played in this regard, pointing up the unity of preaching, pastorate, and diaconate, by which the church had had such great influence. “This unity is what I have in mind when I plead for a reassessment of the service of the church in the world.”
What is often hinted at but not explicitly brought forward is the question, why church as organism? What prompted Kuyper to develop it, and his followers to cling to it, to the point of expelling members, otherwise in good standing, who disagreed with it? Everyone accepts that it constituted Kuyper’s adaptation to the new political realities of the late 19th century. This virtually dictated such theological revision, or at least mandated some such theological reappraisal. In the eyes of some, Kuyper’s solution was a brilliant and heroic attempt to adapt to the exigencies of the times; in the eyes of others, it was a sellout of the church precisely to those times.
What comprised these “exigencies of the times?” The eye of the storm as far as political realities were concerned was the compound demand for freedom of religion, freedom of enquiry, and freedom of conscience. These seemingly innocuous, indeed unimpeachable imperatives entailed unintended consequences that many did not perceive, although clairvoyant thinkers like Frédéric de Rougemont had premonitions. But more on that momentarily.
Kuyper’s program was oriented around the recognition of freedom of religion and freedom of enquiry. It was this, taken as a precondition, that lay behind his reworking of doctrine, in the form of common grace and the church as organism.
The Stone Lectures give a good indication of his thinking. He argues strongly for the sovereignty of God, the reality of sin, the need to restrain sin, which is the root both of the existence of nations and of the state. The nations need to honor and yield to God. “For God created the nations. They exist for Him. They are His own. And therefore all these nations, and in them all humanity, must exist for His glory and consequently after his ordinances, in order that in their well-being, when they walk after His ordinances, His divine wisdom may shine forth” (p. 103).
The state is His device, not the result of any kind of social contract. “Therefore all the powers that be, whether in empires or in republics, in cities or in states, rule ‘by the grace of God’” (p. 105). And the church exists not to save souls, but for God’s sake.
But – there can be no question of a national church, and the rule of God over the nations is of “common” grace – “the magistrate is an instrument of “common grace,” to thwart all license and outrage and to shield the good against the evil” – and has nothing directly to do with “particular” grace.
What this means is that the direct lordship of Christ is restricted to the church. “In Christ … the Church has her own King.” But in conformity with Kuyper’s commitment to a Christian presence in the public square, this paves the way for the entry of the church as organism. Christians in all areas of life are the church in the public square. And so Kuyper can have his cake and eat it too: the Christian religion can exercise its undeniable role in public life while preserving freedom of religion and freedom of conscience, for the state never explicitly recognizes the church as such. Christ exercises His kingship through the church as organism, hence incognito to society at large. Voilà! The Kuyper Option.
The adaptation, thus, was made to the new exigency: the state may not favor one religion over another, because to do so would violate the freedom of religion of the disfavored.
On the face of it, there is nothing to object to in the idea of freedom of religion or freedom of conscience. The problem begins when these are elevated to absolute status. Because there are other rights as well; and when rights are made absolute, then all rights are absolute and there is no standard by which to judge priority. That is the case with the entire system of “equal rights for all.”
Kuyper succinctly acknowledged his allegiance to this approach at the gala celebration surrounding the 25th anniversary of the founding of the newspaper De Standaard in 1897. “In the confusion of our political life,” spoke he to the admiring throng, “equal rights for all is the demand at which all orientations can meet.” P.J. Hoedemaker highlighted the significance of this statement. “Even though I did not take part with the crowd that urged him on there, I knew, just as well as if I were present, that, by this, he had reduced everything that he said that evening to its simplest and truest expression.”
For Hoedemaker, the statement encapsulated everything that was wrong with Kuyper’s approach. An erstwhile colleague of Kuyper’s on the faculty of the Free University, Hoedemaker had refused to join Kuyper in the exodus from the established church, and was dismissed from his position as a result. Since then, he had done battle with Kuyper’s neocalvinist agenda on all possible fronts.
“I am prepared to defend against anyone the thesis that this is the principle of the Revolution, of Rome, and of all tyranny,” he wrote. “The principle that is usually called ‘rights for all’ can be interpreted this way as well: ‘power and advantage for me and mine.’ … A pity that those who, as Dr. Kuyper rightly noted, encounter each other at this single point, precisely for this reason must collide with each other on all other points, simply because they advocate divergent and conflicting interests!”
In the Stone Lectures, Kuyper had this to say about the role of the civil magistrates:
They have to recognize God as Supreme Ruler, from Whom they derive their power. They have to serve God, by ruling the people according to His ordinances. They have to restrain blasphemy, where it directly assumes the character of an affront to the Divine Majesty. And God’s supremacy is to be recognized, by confessing His name in the Constitution as the Source of all political power, by maintaining the Sabbath, by proclaiming days of prayer and thanksgiving, and by invoking His Divine blessing.
Aside from the question, which God is it to whom Kuyper is referring? – or as Van Ruler put it, Kuyper “hesitates between the sovereignty of the triune God, i.e., the God of revelation, and the sovereignty of God-in-general, i.e., the God of the philosophers” – the untenability of such a mandate becomes clear when tested against the touchstone of absolute freedom of religion. For it is obvious that in this case the state is favoring a particular religion, viz., the Christian, at least by implication, despite the absence of the mention of Jesus Christ or the church. The “state’s compelling interest,” as they say nowadays, is in favor of those who would be violated in conscience and in their religious exercise by the state’s imposition of regulations derived from another religion.
The problem is the one that Velema remarked upon earlier: there is a dichotomy in Kuyper’s system through which, under the pressure of modernism, it fractured as if along a fault line. The common grace track followed from the requirement of “equal rights for all.” The confessionally Christian track proclaimed “there is no inch in the entire field of our human life regarding which Christ, who is Sovereign of all, does not call ‘Mine!’” The circle would be squared through the action of the church as organism. What this program actually fostered was the politicization of the church, its separation (some say “ghettoization”) into a party formation, and the balkanization of Dutch society. This is the famed pillarization that characterized the Netherlands for the greater part of the 20th century and only in our day is receding in the mists of time.
For Hoedemaker, the problem with Kuyper’s approach was precisely that it converted the church into an instrument to advance a party-political agenda. But the church was called to be leaven in society, meaning that it was to permeate society such that society at large would come under its influence and so begin to reflect the lordship of Christ and kingdom of God, in all areas of life, including politics. Kuyper’s approach, by contrast, called the church to form itself into a compact umbrella movement, removed from society at large, withdrawing into its own structures and organizations, with the political party acting as its locus of unity. But this would lead to the salt losing its savor, the leaven no longer leavening the whole lump of dough, but only pursuing its own “leavenness.” And leaven on its own has lost its reason for being.It was to this that Kuyper’s erstwhile comrade, Hoedemaker, reacted. In his ambitions to make the church relevant in an age of “neutrality,” Kuyper had embarked upon a path to destruction, and he was taking the church with him.
Hoedemaker himself had been urged to follow a similar path; as the argument went, one must fight fire with fire. So he went along in a thought experiment, along the way describing the “New Normal” in church and state:
“Brought together by the same need, we gather around the same banner. In the nature of the case, we are presumed to be connected to each other in an intimate way. But later it is discovered that we are pulled apart from each other, by sympathies or antipathies that we sometimes have not even given account of to ourselves, but actually by the dissimilarities of practice.” For in fact we are operating under abnormal circumstances, which are so different from each other that no general rule can be given for them. We go around suspecting Kuyper’s influence here, his rival Lohman’s there; joining with the Separatists in the local school and electoral college here, abstaining from such, as dangerous, there; here going along with public education, there throwing in with societies for evangelism. “He who makes up his mind to enunciate a general principle in the midst of this diversity may do so, as long as he never allows his fellow travelers to get the idea that they are highly inconsistent. And he lacks the right to do so, because he would then be condemning his brother to the same isolation or theory of abstinence to which he condemns himself.”
The isolation of which Hoedemaker speaks was the isolation of the prophet saying things that his compatriots do not want to hear. It is an isolation brought on by the desire to be consistent with the confession of faith.
There is only one remedy for the abnormal condition of church and state, Hoedemaker argues, and in his view, this cure is worse than the disease. For it is said:
One must form a group that is joined to his person at least to the degree that one may with confidence entrust him with leadership. In other words, he must form a party. In times of action, he is even forced to do so – or else, withdraw entirely. … In the sphere of politics, this time of action has come. So then, if one is not willing to join with this or that group, one must form one’s own party. Otherwise he is either ignored, neutralized, or used. If one neglects or refuses to do this, he contradicts himself, he delivers over those who initially or entirely were won to his principle, to competitors, and pronounces: from this point on, you need not worry about me and what I say.
It is one thing to articulate a principle, but another thing to apply it. It first has to be laid out and explained. It needs time to gain traction, especially when it runs against the grain. But in times of action, one has to face the self-evident truth that one may not deny in practice what one confesses in theory. One is then reminded – with the greatest justification – that the time of words has past.
But to jump in like this is self-defeating. “On my standpoint I cannot and will not form a party.” Not because it would be prohibitively difficult. For this, one only needs “a principle, a demonstrable goal, a well-chosen name, a catchy slogan, a clear program, a banner with bright colors, a few sympathizers, among whom a few aspirants for positions here and there over which the party here and there, sooner or later, will have at its disposal.”
The principle is simple enough, found in Holy Scripture and enunciated in the Belgic Confession: “the law of God is also the law of truth, and it is not the law of the majority.” So we have our principle ready. We also have a goal. No one except an idiot does not have one, and usually more than one. And every group likewise. His is like many, a state free from the church – “as long as the church is also free of the state, the school from unbelief, and legislation from the Romish principle that the magistrate may have no independent confession but must serve the church.” The slogan can be cut from the same cloth; but what about the party program? Well, he did in fact draw one up once, “in a moment of weakness, and provoked by unmerited accusations.”
It is all in vain: because in spite of all the rhetoric, the principle of unbelief is no longer combatted. No one even wants God to make the Netherlands a Christian nation, the Dutch government a Christian government, the Dutch church a well-ordered church. “Unbelief on this point is so deeply entrenched that those who oppose this are not even challenged.”
Rather, “the churches have become parties and the parties are like locomotives chugging past each other each on their own track. Christianity is a sham that no longer impresses. Talent rules. Everyone bows before it. Belief succumbs. In Greece, the skeptics followed on the sophists! A people that sees more and more that every position, however ridiculous, can be made plausible if only one constructs it well, no longer believes that God’s Word is a lamp for one’s foot and a light for one’s path.”
The politicization of the church and the tailoring of its message to political success has led to the peculiar situation in which a challenge on the level of principle is considered to be something that might weaken the political position and cause personnel to depart for greener pastures. “Is that not the reason for the peculiar polemic that has come into favor especially in recent years? One can negotiate with a party and a party chief, but with the truth? Not at all. This is why one gives such short shrift to the confession, and none at all to Holy Scripture, despite the lip service paid to both.”
This is what afflicts the entire Kuyperian movement. Kuyper’s Anti-Revolutionaries needed to stop combatting the Revolution; rather, they needed to be converted from the Revolution. So then, “I must go up against a psalm-singing, palm-waving crowd marching under the banner, ‘Our help is in the name of the Lord!’ and say to it, you betray country and people, you deny your King and dishonor the name of your God, even while you mean to serve Him! … And I have to do that even though no guillotine is needed to dispose of me, knowing that a word can do this, and having me shushed would be the best thing that could happen to me.”
It is the goal itself, the goal that all political parties pursue, that makes it impossible to function; and that goal is to have others and everyone participate in the same blessings that one also seeks for oneself. But in the principle of equal rights and the goal of equal participation “lie the renunciation of the confession, ‘I believe in one holy, catholic Christian church.’ That renunciation also entailed the break with all unity in ecclesiastical and political spheres, the synodal organization of 1816, the separation of 1834, the Nonconformity of 1886, the anti-semitism and anti-papism here and elsewhere, the break between Kuyper and Lohman, and the proposed rights for minorities with the prospect of fresh confusion, schism, and rupture of ties of family, brotherhood, and friendship.”
Hoedemaker saw only one solution: “Return to God and His Word. So easy. As easy as faith.”
In the event, Hoedemaker did not stay silent. For one thing, he wrote his Reformed Ecclesiology in an Age of Denominationalism (English translation of De Kerk en het Moderne Staatsrecht published by Pantocrator Press in 2019) containing a detailed refutation of Kuyper’s (and others’) ecclesiology and his own outworking of the principle enunciated here: the whole church for the whole people. A discussion of this alternative ecclesiology will have to await another opportunity.
In sum: Kuyper’s ecclesiology cannot be understood in a vacuum. It is a specific response to a specific set of circumstance, viz., the democratic process within the confines of the secular, “neutral” state. As long as such circumstances continue, Kuyper’s plan of action will find adherents. And, we might say with Hoedemaker, the church will continue to be held in thrall precisely to that “democratic process,” and to “equal rights for all.”
APPENDIX: NOTES, KUYPER’S ENCYCLOPAEDIE (1894)
Vol. III, Particular Part
Second Department: The Ecclesiological Group
- The ecclesiological group embraces the study of the ecclesia, the church. While the group always had some position among the theological subjects, it was not a clear one. But the Ecclesia is an independent “moment” in the body of theological study besides Scripture, Dogma, and Office. It is so because, like Dogma and Office, it is a “special apparition” that cannot be explained from general life, but is a factor entering human life from outside (p. 188). But on the other hand it remains a human phenomenon. “The church is at no time anything other than a human phenomenon, albeit under the influence of a higher power [potenz]. This higher power is however dominant in such a complete sense that the church cannot be understood otherwise than as the product of the effect of a higher grace” (p. 189).
- A further aspect is the distinction between being [zijn] and consciousness [bewustzijn]. It exists not only in our consciousness but possesses an independent spiritual reality. Thus it exists through two factors: the real factor, rebirth, and the dianoetic factor, the kerygma of the Word. The sacrament stands as a mediating factor between the two.
- This is not an individual but a corporate phenomenon. “Of course the effect of the spiritual-real factor is also individual, but only in connection with and as the result of the effect on the whole. Individuals in themselves do not exist; there only exist membra corporis generis humani. For this reason the palingenesis focuses on that corpus; it is according to the character of this corpus that the palingenesis constitutes a soma, and it is from the organic character of this corpus generis humani that the organic character of the church arises.” Also in connection with this, the action on the consciousness is not individual but corporate “which regulates its forma according the forma of human consciousness taken as a unity, and which for this reason demands an organization or institution, by which this general comes into its own in the reborn and enlightened human consciousness” (p. 190-191).
- This is why it is false to consider the church as one religious association among many. “Whoever does that subsumes the church into a higher genus … and discovers the general human not in the church but in this general concept of religious association” (p. 191). This robs the church of its absolute character whereby it is no longer for all of mankind but only a part. This leads “unnoticeably” to the false concept of the national church instead of the global church.
- Re The national church [volkskerk]: “For us the Christian national church, just like for many Asian peoples their Buddhist or Shintoist national churches” (p. 191). Hereby not only the church but theology loses its independent position in “the” human life and “the” human consciousness. They then become mere historical phenomena, one among many. One can then no longer speak of the revelation to us of the truth, nor of the church giving us the reborn life of the humanity.
- The Reformed dogma of the ecclesia invisibilis and visibilis saved this absolute significance of the church. This dogma distinguishes between the phenomenal appearance and the noumenal underlying reality, and likewise between the actual form in which it appears and the ideal form demanded by its inherent potentia. The Roman church lost this distinction. By identifying church and kingdom, all Christian life and activity had to be subsumed under the institutional church. It was not realized that the soma tou Christou reveals itself not only the instituted churches but in “all manner of ways in the various energies of human life.”
- Two consequences of this for ecclesiology: the church as subject of this study is chiefly to be understood as the institutional church, as only this church is apparent to us, not the part of it in heaven, nor the part as yet unborn. But furthermore, the institutional church is not the only aspect. The power behind it, it does not possess; it can do nothing on its own. “All spiritual power that works in it, it receives, and it is entirely impotent to produce even one single one. The institutional church as such cannot bring one sinner to conversion, nor have one administration of Word or sacrament bear fruit. It works through spiritual power, but this is not derived from it. To the degree, thus, that such spiritual realities unconsciously invade and manifest themselves in general human life, they are not derived from the institutional church but effected by Christ apart from it” (p. 195). Furthermore, much of the activity that this power manifests takes place outside the institutional church, in all the activities of life.
- Nevertheless, the connection between the institutional church and these external manifestations of the body of Christ cannot be lost sight of. The connection is not in spiritual reality but in the Word, which the institutional church preaches so as to orient the Christian’s consciousness in conformity therewith. The forces of the Kingdom act in coordination within and without the institutional church, by virtue of this “central action on consciousness” (p. 196) effected by preaching, that always emanates from the institutional church.
- Because of this, the institutional church takes the leading position in ecclesiology. This being the case, we next need to discover what we mean thereby. The Roman church gives one answer…. The various forms of institutional church all have their various effects on the nations and cultures in which they appear. Thus there are confessional differences across nations. But nowadays ecclesiological studies are conducted mainly along academic and not confessional lines. “The communal in the faith-conviction of the school has here replaced the communal in the faith-conviction of the church” (p. 202).
- The standard for ecclesiological criticism must come from the Word of God exclusively.
- Scripture is the exclusive source of the doctrine of the church. “The idea of the church may not be tracked down from its appearance, but is revealed to us in Holy Scripture; and any notion that the church is nothing more than the development of an idea, and its history nothing more than the evolution of distinct forms of appearance that this idea might take on, must therefore be opposed forcefully” (p. 214).
- The ecclesia visibilis has two forms: the institute and the organism. “As organism by that which is produced in the Christian metamorphosis of personal, domestic, moral, and social life; as institute, by the formation of a corporation ad hoc” (p. 204).
- But not only the institutional church, for the church comprises many activities that do not fall under the institutional church. These are ignored if only the institutional church is made the object of study in ecclesiology. This is the reason for the “sharp distinction” (p. 215) between church as institute and church as organism. “Two sorts of effect proceed from Christ, one that is revealed in the institution of a certain ecclesiastical organization, its maintenance and regiment; and the other that shows itself in the metamorphosis in the Christian sense of the common manifestations of general human life. That organization is found in the instituted churches as such, while that metamorphosis of human life in the Christian sense reveals the church as organism” (p. 215).
- The soma tou Christou is more than the institutional church. “Rebirth itself, which forms the real-spiritual foundation of all ecclesiastical revelation, is itself not a fact that comes about through the institute but a happening [gebeurtenis] that goes about [omgaat] entirely outside the ecclesiastical institute and can only be presumed by the institute” (p. 215). Thus, in a certain sense the organic church stands much higher in terms of value than the institutional church, since those who die in Christ are fully members of it even though they have left the institutional church, and it will proceed into eternity while the institutional church will disappear. “This shows convincingly that the distinction between institute and organism is neither secondary nor arbitrary but is fundamental and necessary” (p. 216).
- The Reformed confession took the proper standpoint from the beginning. It spoke of the church as the “assembly of believers.” It brought the word ecclesia into connection with election. It is self-evident that to find the essence of the church in the “persons and the organic connection” (p. 216) of the elect has broken once and for all with the notion that the church is exhausted in the institute and arose through the institute. For the elect are organic members of the genus humanum, not isolated individuals, and this organic reality was first regarded, before the institute was considered. Q. 54 of the Heidelberg Catechism notes that the believer is a member of the church and will be so into eternity. “This excludes any identification of the church with the institute” (p. 216). It is not the teachers as a class that the HC refers to as the subject of assembly, and the essence of the church is not made dependent upon the working of the institute; rather, all determination regarding assembly lies in the eternal decree, so that even art. I §. 17 of the Canons of Dort speak of children of believers dying unbaptized as being saved despite the fact that they were never taken up in the institute.
- Historically as well, this distinction is not new. Rather, it is founded in the essence of the church as confessed by the Reformed churches from the beginning. Although many Reformed theologians have neglected the organic aspect by focusing on the elect as individuals, this is not the fault of the confession, “which always brought election into connection with the doctrine of the σῶμα and taught the believer that on earth he is not only membrum of the institute but an eternal membrum, member, of the body of Christ, i.e., the essential church willed by God. The concept of “member” excludes every individual conception, and already posits the organism as such” (p. 217).
- The etymology of ecclesia provides further confirmation. The word in the NT is derived from the Septuagint and translates the Hebrew words edah and qahal (“both concepts virtually agree” – p. 217). With the Greeks, the ekklesia was the assembly of voting citizens. Therefore the actual assembling in institutional sense was “something accidental and temporary” while the organic background of the ekklesia was in the people, like in Israel, where edah in institutional sense was only seen when the people assembled, while the qahal embraced all the people even when out of session. “The instituted ekklesia and the instituted edah thus derive from the demos and the qahal as organic concept” (p. 217). Synagogue was the first purely institutional concept by contrast with the “organic essence of the church.” The “rich” organic concept of edah was fossilized by the Jews into the synagogue but revived in the NT through the ekklesia. If one keeps in mind that the assembly of the all the peoples of the earth, which was already envisioned in the call of Abraham, was thought of by the apostle as realized in the ekklesia, which means that the ekklesia was not a new creation but the constitution of the disturbed organism of humanity, then one can see that the organic whole occupies the foreground in the concept of the church and the institutional ecclesiastical form cannot be thought of other than as a specific form in which a part of the church emerges for a time.
- For this reason the principium divisionis for the ecclesiological group is to be found in the distinction between the church as institute and the church as organism. The dividing line between the two is clear. The institutional church has a board of supervisors [bestuur] that regulates affairs; it has a charter; and it has a fixed administration to carry out the given task. Everything proceeding from this is of the institute; everything that does not, is of the organism.
- To sum up, the ecclesiological group has two main headings, one comprising the subjects concerning the church as institute, the other, the church as organism. The subjects can be listed like this:
- Subjects concerning the church as institute
- The diathetic subjects (i.e., regarding the state or condition of the institute)
- Ecclesiastical law
- The historical subjects
- The statistical subjects (i.e., the condition of the contemporary as opposed to the historical church)
- The diathetic subjects (i.e., regarding the state or condition of the institute)
- Subjects concerning the church as organism
- The Christian metamorphosis of personal life
- Historia pietatis
- Christian character
- The Christian metamorphosis of organized life
- Christian household and family
- Christian society
- Christian political science
- The Christian metamorphosis of non-organized life
- Christian science
- Christian letters
- Christian art
- The Christian metamorphosis of personal life
- The methodology of the ecclesiological group
- The history thereof
- Subjects concerning the church as institute
- (From the introduction to the organic subjects) The “organic effects in the complex” of the church are not the “kingdom of heaven” but are of the church of Christ as such, and so properly placed under the ecclesiological group (p. 305). The NT teaches that the ekklesia is a soma of which Christ is the Head: thus, an organism. (Further discussion of Matt. 16: 18; Eph. 1: 23; Heb. 12: 23; Eph. 3: 10.)
- Still, we cannot separate the two. The church is one, which, according to its essence, is an organism. “But the manifestation in institutional shape also pertains to the various ways in which this church is manifested.” This is ordained by Christ: “apart from the instrument of this institutional shape, the organic church could not exercise its strength” (p. 306). But it does not work exclusively through the institute. “The rebirth, apart from which the entire institute is afflicted with dessication and impotence, occurs directly through the soma and the Holy Spirit inhabiting the soma, not through the institute” (p. 307). All spiritual effects and gifts proceed not from the institute but from the soma as organism. The institute serves this as instrument, to lead these spiritual effects and gifts and bring them to awareness, but it cannot bring them about. It is like the farmer who cannot create see nor ground nor rain nor sunshine but can bring these various elements into relation and so allow grain to grow in the field.
- Taken in this sense, this organic appearance of the ecclesia is invisibilis, but the organic revelation of the church is not limited to this, it also becomes visibilis. It is a grave error to only see the visible church in the institute. It also becomes visible in the renewed shape it gives to human life. Compare England with China…
- (p. 309) It is incorrect to view these distinct elements as a distinction between the church and kingdom of God. The latter is not a spiritualistic but an institutional concept and thus cannot be counterpoised to the institutional church. It stretches across the entire cosmos, and embraces every creature. It is both institutional and organic at the same time. Its central life is found in the rule of God exercised in the conscious creature. This is why it can be within us but not come with outward appearance. It begins spiritually in the background and must continue so until Christ transfers the kingdom to God the Father. God rules now, but like a ruler who keep the creation under restraint, not as a king who organically through his spirit and institutional through his law conducts his royal rule in the hearts of his subjects.
- This means that the kingdom of heaven is broader than the church. The church embraces the elected, reborn and renewed mankind, while the kingdom embraces the angels and unconscious nature. The institutional and organic expressions of the life of the church are thus only means by which the kingdom of God is established and deepened. “Therefore, it is improper to set the organic effects of the church as ‘kingdom of God’ over against the institutional, as made by man” (p. 311). They are both expressions of the soma and thus ecclesiastical, while the soma is only one of many elements of which the kingdom of God is composed.
 One example is De Bruijne’s article referenced below. Two major recent contributions are Bratt, James D., Abraham Kuyper: Modern Calvinist, Christian Democrat, W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2013; and Wood, John Halsey, Going Dutch in the Modern Age: Abraham Kuyper’s Struggle for a Free Church in the Nineteenth-Century Netherlands, Oxford University Press, 2013.
 In honor of Kuyper’s famed “driestarren” – newspaper articles set off by tristars – I will be using tristars to set off the sections of this article.
 Alvarado, “Notes on the Encyclopaedie v. III” (appended to this article), para. 22; Bavinck, Refomed Dogmatics, IV, pp. 303ff.
 Alvarado, Notes, paragraphs 15 and 16.
 Ibid., p. 304.
 Untenably, according to Schilder. Cf. De Kerk: college-dictaat (Kampen: Copieerinrichting v.d. Berg, 1978), pp. 112f. These are published lecture notes originally dating from 1942.
 Jasper Vree, Kuyper in de kiem: De precalvinistische periode van Abraham Kuyper, 1848-1874 (Amsterdam: Verloren, 2006), p. 314. Vree is emeritus professor of church history at the Free University of Amsterdam. He is considered the preeminent contemporary Kuyper historian. Vree’s research on this point is included in Bratt, Abraham Kuyper, ch. 9.
 Ibid., pp. 55ff. Cf. also Vree and J. Zwaan, Abraham Kuyper’s Commentatio (1860): The Young Kuyper about Calvin, à Lasco, and the Church, 2 volumes (Brill, 2005).
 Bratt argues provocatively that Friedrich Schelling’s organicist nature philosophy might have provide Kuyper with the conceptual tools to reconcile Schleiermacher and Calvin. Cf. Abraham Kuyper, pp. 183-184.
 Available in translation: Rooted and Grounded: The Church as Organism and Institution, trans. Nelson Kloosterman (Christian’s Library Press, 2013).
 Kuyper, Rooted & Grounded, ch. 3 (Kindle Location 465-476).
 Kuyper, Rooted & Grounded, ch. 3 (Kindle Location 480).
 Koch, Abraham Kuyper: een biografie (Amsterdam: Boom, 2007), p. 392.
 “Another ground for the limited consistency of Kuyper’s system of divinity was the journalistic nature of his work. It is jumpy and ad hoc, often prompted by the demands of the moment.” Koch, Abraham Kuyper, epilogue. The titles include The Work of the Holy Spirit, E Voto Dordraceno, Common Grace, Our Worship, Pro Rege [For the King], and Van de Voleinding [The End-Times]. For this reason Koch characterizes Kuyper as first and foremost a journalist.
 Ad de Bruijne, “‘Colony of Heaven’: Abraham Kuyper’s Ecclesiology in the Twenty-First Century,” Journal of Markets & Morality, Volume 17, Number 2 (Fall 2014), p. 460.
 Ibid., p. 462.
 Ibid., p. 463.
 Curiously, De Bruijne in his article refers repeatedly to the Schilderite critique of Kuyper as “neo-Calvinist,” but does not refer to Kuyper’s system itself as such. As if Kuyper were not the proud originator of neo-Calvinism, and though he did not originate the term – his critics did – he embraced it. Cf. Koch, p. 389.
 De Kerk: college-dictaat, p. 92.
 Verzamelde Werken: De Kerk [Collected Works: the Church], vol. III, p. 408.
 Ibid., p. 409.
 In the following paragraphs, apart from material in quotation marks, I am paraphrasing Schilder’s argument.
 Verzamelde Werken: De Kerk [Collected Works: the Church], vol. III, p. 410.
 A reference to the fact that Kuyper attributed the ministry of the Word specifically to the church-as-institute.
 Cf. Alvarado, “Notes on the Encyclopaedie v. III,” para. 21.
 Ibid., p. 411. The images: a reference to Kuyper’s incessant resort to imagery to make his arguments.
 Ibid., p. 412. The radical: refers to the grammatical concept.
 Ibid., p. 413. Again, this paragraph is a paraphrase; direct quotations are included in quotation marks.
 Ibid., p. 415.
 “Kuypers conceptie van de kerk als organisme kritisch bekeken” [Kuyper’s Concept of the Church as Organism Viewed Critically], Theologia Reformata, Vol. 34, No. 4, December 1991, pp. 295-309.
 This denomination was formed in 1834. Some of its churches merged with Kuyper’s Gereformeerde Kerken in 1892, but others maintained a distinct denominational existence. Theologically they are more traditionalist than are the Kuyperian churches. The author of this article is likewise a member of this denomination.
 Ibid., p. 305.
 Ibid., p. 306.
 Ibid., pp. 306-7.
 Ibid., p. 308.
 See his The Individualists in Church & State, trans. Colin Wright (WordBridge, 2015).
 Kuyper, Calvinism: Six Lectures Delivered in the Theological Seminary at Princeton (New York et al.: Fleming H. Revell Company, n.d. ), pp. 104-105.
 Ibid., p. 137. Hoedemaker critiqued this notion extensively, together with the church as organism, which he viewed as correlative: cf. The Church and Modern Constitutional Law (Aalten: WordBridge, 2014), pp. 39ff., 67ff.
 P. J. Hoedemaker, Heel de Kerk voor Heel het Volk [The Whole Church for the Whole People], 1897, p. 23.
 Hoedemaker, Heel de Kerk, pp. 23, 24-25.
 Calvinism, p. 133.
 A. A. van Ruler, Religie en Politiek, p. 373.
 Kuyper, Souvereiniteit in Eigen Kring [Sphere Sovereignty], 1880, p. 35.
 Hoedemaker, Heel de Kerk, pp. 11-12.
 Ibid., p. 12.
 Ibid., pp. 12-13.
 Ibid., p. 13.
 Ibid., pp. 13-15.
 Ibid., p. 19.
 Ibid., pp. 20-21.
 Ibid., p. 21.
 Ibid., p. 22.
 Ibid., pp. 26-27.
 Ibid., p. 27.