Kuyper on Church and State I

The Significance of Kuyper’s Doctrine of Presumptive Regeneration on the Concept of Church and State

Rev. C. A. Lingbeek
This article originally appeared in De Gereformeerde Kerk, no. 1843, January 31st, 1924

So we come to Dr. Kuyper and to his doctrine of Church and State.

And then we begin by pointing out the great emphasis that Dr. Kuyper was accustomed to place on the new birth.

Not that Dr. Kuyper prescribed, as was and is the custom of Anabaptists and other Christians, a course of birth pangs through which one must pass before he could count himself among the born again and thus among the children of God. Far from it; Dr. Kuyper did not make it difficult for his own in this respect, for he taught them to assume that all those who belonged to their circle, just by being born in their circle, were also born again.

And yet, for Dr. Kuyper being born again was the most important characteristic of the Christian; it was the  great principle out of which the entirety of further Christianity bloomed.

Now doubtless it is undeniable that rebirth pertains to those things needed for salvation. That is precisely why it is so difficult to highlight the peculiarity of Dr. Kuyper’s doctrine.

But let us then try to do so in the following way:

The Christian can be viewed from more than one side or in more than one relation to someone else or to something else, and in each case that will naturally lead to his being referred to by a new name.

For example, the Christian can be considered in his relation to the Word in which his God has spoken to him and still speaks to him, and then he is called a believer. (“I have believed thy commandments” [Psalm 119:66])

He may be considered in reference to his Savior Jesus Christ, and then he is called a ransomed of his Lord, and therefore now a member of his glorious Head.

He can also be considered according to the relation in which he has come to the Lord his God. And then he is not merely a creature of his Maker, but by grace also a child of his Father.

In all of these, a Christian is considered according to his relation to something or someone outside or above himself.

But the Christian can also be considered in himself, and in that case as to how he now stands in relation to his former or natural state and condition. And then, as to his state, he is called one that is now justified from the guilt of sin, wherein he lay by nature. And as to his spiritual condition, one who is now born again from natural spiritual death, and raised to a new life.

All these designations and more are applicable to the true Christian, and one by no means excludes another.

But now, as we intimated before, the different orientations among Christians are nevertheless known by that name and thereby by that side of the Christian to which they devote the most attention, and which, as the most important in their eyes, they put most in the foreground.

The Reformers, for example, laid the greatest emphasis, as we saw, on the Word; the church was to them the gathering of those who believed God’s Word.

The Anabaptists, on the other hand, emphasized the New Birth; they were the born again.

And now, in everything in which Kuyper differs from the Anabaptists, we are struck by this, the fact that for him rebirth likewise occupies such a large place. His church is the gathering of the born-again. His science is the science of the born-again, etc.

The greater emphasis put on the Christian’s being born again than on his relationship to his God and to His Word also manifests itself in the doctrine of the new birth itself, such as Dr. Kuyper developed it.

It may be useful here to compare what Calvin (and in his footsteps the confession of our Reformed church) teaches about the new birth and what Dr. Kuyper teaches about this.

With Calvin and in the confession, God’s Word comes first. That Word is that through which God speaks to all who hear it. It is true: a sinful man is darkened in mind and does not find the way to eternal life solely by that Word. Nevertheless, through the Word the natural man also receives a natural knowledge of God’s will whereby he can know thoroughly what God requires of him.

And as for the elect, they receive with the Word enlightenment by the Holy Spirit. Thereby that word leads them to a wholesome knowledge of their own sin, but also of the Lord and His virtues; they confess His love; they accept His word of salvation, and through that faith they are now born again to a new life.

Thus, with Calvin: the Word first, and the new birth at the rear.

With Dr. Kuyper, on the other hand, rebirth comes first. What in Calvin is the enlightenment by the Holy Spirit which in the elect is accompanied by the preached Word, in Kuyper is the rebirth by the Holy Spirit, which precedes preaching and faith.

First, therefore, with Kuyper man is regenerated by the Holy Spirit. And when he is already born again, only then does the Word start to work, yes, then it may still take years and years before he is effectually called by that Word and brought to faith and repentance.

We see how the Word here takes on a much reduced place and significance than in the previous one.

It is not here the spiritual sun, which the Lord makes to shine upon the world, and whereby the Holy Spirit awakens and calls His own to new life.

No, that life, separated from the Word, is communicated by the Spirit without the Word. And the Word then only receives the task of feeding the already spiritually quickened. (The visible Church is therefore reduced with Kuyper to: “the institute for the ministry of the Word”).

Perhaps someone will be inclined to think: it is only a matter of semantics here, the names one gives things. What Calvin calls the enlightenment, by which the blind person is enabled to fully receive the light of the Word, Kuyper calls rebirth in the strict sense; that is, the imparting of the first germ of the new life. And what Calvin calls the rebirth through faith, Kuyper calls rebirth in a broader sense. And so: Calvin and Kuyper both want to teach that in order to arrive at a faithful reception of the Word, the working of the Spirit of the Lord is necessary. And the whole difference between the two theologians boils down to a difference in the naming of things.

But then we have the boldness to think that by thus putting rebirth-by-the-Spirit-alone first, and by separating the working of the Spirit from the Word for a substantial period of life, one in any case runs the risk of making the Word of God a Word for the regenerate and losing sight of the fact that the Word does not come only after the new birth but also before, and that in the latter case it has exactly the same authority as in the former.

In this manner, without noticing it, we take the line of the Anabaptists.

Perhaps at this point someone thinks they should exclaim: I don’t see that at all! The Anabaptists released the born-again from the authority of God’s Word and boasted in their inner spiritual light, while Dr. Kuyper very firmly binds the born-again to the authority of the Word, throughout their lives.

Our answer is: by appearance, that is true!

We repeat, there is this agreement between the Anabaptists and Kuyper:

The Anabaptists were not Bible-Christians but Spirit-Christians. In the end they recognized no higher divine authority on earth than the authority of the Spirit and His promptings. Therefore they must feel a deep contempt for the realm of natural life in which these Spirit-workings were not found; therefore also for civil government.

And when one, as Dr. Kuyper does, inclines to the idea that the Word of God only speaks after we are born again, then the authority of the divine Word is thus limited to the spiritually quickened.

In a word: one then does to the authority of God and His Word what the revolutionary parties on our continent did to the authority of earthly princes. Those revolutionary parties allowed the princes to retain their names and titles and the insignia of former power, but power itself they withdrew from them, either entirely or in part. And this is what happens in the area we are currently discussing, when people continue to call the Word of God the Word, but meanwhile start to set all kinds of limits on the authority of the Word.

But in Dr. Kuyper’s doctrine of common grace we find a further restriction. Not only is the Word restricted to the regenerate. No indeed, it is much worse than that. For the authority of the Word is further restricted to the sphere of their spiritual life.

Of this we will speak another time.