The Difference between New and Old Calvinism

Dr. P. J. Kromsigt

From “Doop en wedergeboorte VIII” [Baptism and Regeneration, part VIII], in De Gereformeerde Kerk [The Reformed Church], issue 487, February 3rd, 1898.

Dr. Kuyper, by virtue of his peculiar premises (choosing God’s hidden counsel as guideline), cannot desire “all the church and all the people,” and he forgets that a reformer like John Knox as well as the first Calvinists in this country (choosing God’s revealed will as a guideline) wanted exactly that, and precisely therein lay their great strength. They did not give up the ideal. They were not men of adjustment, of the golden mean, of a policy based on “natural theology” (Deism) — they were men of faith who “in their simplicity” adhered to God’s Word.

And God did not put to shame those who waited on Him. He gave them “all the church and all the people.” Not in the sense that all Dutchmen were converted head for head, but in the sense that our nation became Reformed as a nation, that the Reformed religion was accepted by the Netherlands as the religion, that all external state institutions thereof bore the character of this, that it left its stamp on everything and that it also penetrated more and more inwardly into the hearts, so that our people could rightly be called a Reformed people.

The ideal for which Dr. Kuyper struggles is entirely different. It is not the ideal of the first, fresh reformation period (16th century), but the ideal that emerged in England during the time of decadence (decay, slackening of the original) among the Puritans and Independents in the 17th century, which was later realized in the more practical than believing North America.

This newer Calvinism must be distinguished from the older, the genuine. During the struggle it unfortunately learned to give up the ideal and to adapt more to reality (it is also more individualistic, has less sense of solidarity than the old; hence Independentism). In their struggle against the spirit of the state church, the Puritans increasingly gave up the ideal. They increasingly withdrew from that church and waged the struggle outside the church. More and more it was considered sufficient if one only desired freedom of religious practice. People began to philosophize about this degraded ideal, and thus arose in those Puritan and Independentist circles of the dissenters the truly modern idea of a general freedom of conscience (in the sense of license of conscience, whereby all religions should be treated equally by the state, correlate of the modern, vague, general idea of religion, cf. our article “Hooger dan de Kerk” [Higher than the Church, elsewhere in this issue], quite as it was later defended in the circles of the men of the French Revolution (as is clearly indicated in Weingarten’s important work, Die Revolutionskirchen Englands [England’s revolutionary churches]).

This provides the solution to the riddle as to how the radicals, the most consistent sons of the French Revolution, can coexist so well with this newer Calvinism. The liberals are still more or less under the influence of the old ideas, but these two both desire with heart and soul “a more than so-called separation between State and Church” (Our Program, Art. 20)[1] and then emulously boast of each other’s consistency and each other’s awareness-of-the-times. One especially does not want to be old-fashioned, especially not to belong to the “conservatives of all kinds.” (cf. Het Calvinisme, oorsprong en waarborg onzer constitutioneele vrijheden [Calvinism, origin and guarantee of our constitutional freedoms] by Dr. A. Kuyper, p. 67 : “And should I then carry off any reward from this study, let it be this: That at least the young Netherlands will not repeat the slander of our seniors, and that no one any longer will say that we, Dutch Calvinists, are a party of reaction”).

Dr. Kuyper therefore strives for an Anglo-American ideal (the ideal of the believing practitioners) and not the Biblical-Dutch ideal (the ideal of the believing idealists). Anyone who earnestly keeps this in mind will have, among other things, the key to the life and works of Dr. K. in hand (cf. the conclusion of “Calvinism and Confessional Revision” and the study quoted above for this raving about America).

This excursion was necessary for us to shed full light on the distinction between Dr. Kuyper and the Reformed people proper, those who do not give up the ideal, who do desire “all the church and all the people.” Of these Reformed people there are still many more in our good Netherlands than many suspect, precisely as a result of the serious labors of our fathers. Dr. Kuyper did temporarily lead the Reformed current in the wrong direction, but even with his mighty talent he did not succeed in simply pushing aside the historical Reformed and Americanizing our stalwart Dutch Reformed. To the extent that his ideals emerge more clearly, as they merge more unambiguously with the radicals, to the same extent will our Reformed people likewise drop off from him.

The fragmentation of the artificially cobbled and held together Antirevolutionary Party is clearly visible to those who are not willfully blind. In addition to other parties, a historical Reformed party is in the process of being born. But that is why our Reformed theologians and jurists must be prepared (at least, as much as is possible). That is why there should now be serious study and work.

We hope that the Reformed, who have a vocation in this area, will understand the evocation that also emanates from these articles. These articles are intended to be nothing more than an orientation in this field. We came to this involuntarily as a result of the important issue of baptism, which is central to this case. Let the reader forgive us our digressions from our subject. If he surveys the whole, he will find that in fact they are not digressions at all.

[1] By “so-called” is meant here, among other things, the “separation of state and church” such as Calvin and our fathers desired. Dr. K. simply identifies Puritan and Reformed (Ons Program, 2nd edition, p. 75).