Politics, Church, and Kingdom
A Critique of Neocalvinist Politics
A. A. van Ruler
translated by Ruben Alvarado
From the chapter “Church and State,” in Droom en Gestalte [Dream and Reality] (Amsterdam: Holland Uitgeversmaatschappij, 1947), pp. 189—214.
All of this makes clear that one must be extremely careful with the sociological way of thinking [atomistic individualism which ignores the role of the state] and, on the other hand, must argue for a sensible politicization of the issues of the life of the community. This implies that, in reflecting on the relationship between Christianity and politics, one has to respect politics as the core of the state. Anyone who leaves the aspects of state and civil government out of consideration must have a distorted picture of the relationship between Christianity and politics.
But now there is something similar to say about the other term in this relation. One has just as much to respect the church as the core of Christianity. And therefore the relationship between Christianity and politics can be rightly described only when one anchors it in the relationship between church and state.
The sociological way of thinking has also impacted these areas of Christianity and the church very strongly. This is also quite obvious as soon as one realizes that the sociologization of life is nothing more than an expression of its humanization. It is not limited to state and society. Humanization affects all of life, including Christianity, including the church. And just as the sociologization of state and society is most obvious in the fact that one no longer sees the third dimension of the authority relations set by God in these areas, so is the humanization of Christianity and the church manifested in the fact that one no longer recognizes the third dimension of the presence and the truth of God in these entities. Christianity becomes a world- and life-view, and then of course one among many. And the church becomes a religious club.
Dogmatically, one will not utter that easily. One leaves that, to speak in the language of the Anti-Revolutionaries, to the free-thinkers. And the Barthians are horrified by the misdeeds that New [i.e., liberal] Protestantism has perpetrated on Christianity and especially the church. But dogmatically what one reproaches in the free-thinkers and New Protestantism, one turns around and does political-theologically in politics. That is why I continue to speak of traditional Christian politics as a form of political modernism. And what the Barthians do when they join the Labor Party, is exactly the same in that respect as what people have done with Christian politics the entire time.
I have in mind especially the slogan: keep the church out of it! We know this slogan only too well in the Christian Netherlands, in all kinds of tonalities. The first consideration is of course the practical one that we as Christians, regardless of the denomination we belong to, must work together in all areas of life, especially in politics, and that the church cannot divide us in this. When we are busy with public matters and with culture, we have to forget that there is a church. But soon another melody comes over the loudspeakers and we are assured without a blush, as the most obvious fact, that this leaving the church out of it, in itself is also entirely proper because the church has its own field of work, exclusively the cult-community, and therefore does not have to act in the field of culture and public life. In its preaching and sacraments, it provides only the guidelines and the spiritual powers which the members of the church need when they start their work outside the cult-community in the cultural community. In public life the church has neither its own function nor its own place. No function of its own, for the church with the prophetic Word no longer addresses the government, it no longer addresses the whole people, and when it speaks the prophetic Word, it no longer intervenes in the affairs of the public life of the people as a whole. This entire public prophetic function of the church has in itself shriveled to what is called “evangelization.” This is the only thing that is left of it: one occasionally ventures out and proclaims the gospel, not within the bounds of the patrimony of the palingenesis, but to the whole people, which is, according to the sociological way of thinking, to the individuals among the people. Far be it from me to say one bad word about evangelism, but when it is the only poor remnant of the national-prophetic task of the church, it becomes a ludicrous display, and, even worse, a curse. And the place of the church in public life also lapses, along with this function of the church in public life. The most characteristic aspect of this is the place of the church in terms of constitutional law. As soon as one yields Christianity and the church, at least in a political-cultural sense, to the dissolving effect of the sociological way of thinking, one emphatically declares that he is fine with the state when it speaks of denominations, and these denominations, in terms of constitutional, or actually civil, law, are then ranked among the moral persons, along with all the other associations, foundations, and societies. And if one protests against this and stands up for the constitutional recognition of the divine-human character of the church as the body of Christ, then the scorn from the Anti-Revolutionaries about such a narrow-minded and naïve formalism equals that of the Barthians.
That is the content and the import of the slogan: keep the church out of it! This slogan may have been born from the practical need of the many churches: if we do not keep the church out of it, we are immediately faced with the bewildering fact that there seem to be so many churches; and the question then arises, which church should assume the public position and task and function. In the first place, I would like to answer that a solution to these issues is dawning. In the days of the occupation, the church was simply forced by acute circumstances to exercise its public function. And it managed to do so, making the best of a bad situation. We still honor the leaders of the ecclesiastical resistance. But one seems to wish to forget as quickly as possible that solutions to the theocratic-ecumenical problem did emerge at that time. Has joint speaking and acting suddenly become fantastic nonsense? Is an organ of interdenominational consultation now impossible? Are we waiting for the Russians before we rebuild that body? Is the leadership of the national Reformed Church now suddenly an unacceptable intolerance and a Reformed imperialism in our Dutch society, which is still based on Reformed politics? The existence and contents of my book Religion and Politics were summarized in such a way as to make me into an advocate of a Dutch Reformed Church culture, a “Papist impudence.” But then I have to ask whether one is really so blind to the true national-ecumenical confession of the Dutch Reformed Church. It does not assume that it is the only true church of Christ! From the deepest core of its confession, it is a life affair for it to see and hold fast the other church communities as churches. And in an equally deep sense it confesses the autonomy of civil government. To find a true church culture, one will end up with Roman Catholicism. And I ask whether Rome, in its deepest intentions, could want anything other than a Roman Catholic culture in optima forma.
But in the second place I would like to say that, while it is true that the slogan “keep the church out of it!” may have been born from the practical need of the many churches, this never should have been taken seriously enough to engender a new confession, that of the pluriformity of the church. In this confession, the multitude of churches are taken as a matter of principle; not only does the unity of the mystical church but the multiplicity of the institutional church as well belongs to the characteristics of the church, of which one made confession. If that is true, then meaningful talk of the public function and place of the church is not only a practical, but also a principial, impossibility. This then removes all prospect of a determination of the relationship between Christianity and politics, in which the church plays a constitutive role. That is why this principled confession of the pluriformity of the church has caused more trouble for the theoretical and actual shaping of the problem of revelation and the state than has the practical danger of the multitude of churches.
And this new confession also indicates that the slogan “keep the church out of it!” has deeper roots than only the actual constellation of things, in which there are so many churches. One had a thoroughly incorrect understanding of what church was. One did not want its public place and function. One did not want theocracy! Kuyper, the father of traditional Christian politics, therefore spared no effort to root out the idea and the reality of the national church in our Dutch commonwealth. The sociologization of things had also taken over the church in the minds of Christians. One no longer saw it as a figure in the historical-eschatological actions of God. One had come to see it humanly. The confession of the truth of God, in terms of constitutional law, became one of many opinions of men. That is what one has when one takes conscience (of government and subject) as seriously as Anti-Revolutionary politics does. If conscience becomes the center of the system, then all of reality, including the truth of God, becomes the content of consciousness. One will have to see that one loses the entire revelation of God in this manner. If one does not posit it in the state, one cannot, in the long run, hold fast to it in the church.
In these matters, one tries to save a few things by distinguishing between the church as institute and the church as organism. The state has nothing to do with the church as organism, because it does not come into contact with it. The church as an organism is too mystical, too spiritual, and too invisible for this. On the terrain of the state, the church only manifests itself as institute. And as such it is very visible, especially insofar as it has a relationship with the state. It then has its offices, its church order and its buildings and possessions. This brings it into contact with the state in all manner of ways. But there is not the slightest objection when the state treats this institute of the church as an ordinary human corporation with regard to these matters.
Moreover, with the church as organism one has gained an entirely new way to go from salvation to culture, than with the always rather tight relationship of church and state, central as it is to a theocratic solution to the problem of Christianity and politics. The church as organism – this term not only has mystical, it also has cultural qualities. Primarily, the organic aspect of the church is found in the hidden community of life of Christians, of church members, centrally the regenerated, who are connected to one another by a life-bond and who form one body. But these people stand in the midst of the world, in their environment and in their work, and from there they radiate the influences and powers that have been given to them. There is an expansion far into life of the organic life movement of the congregation of the Lord. Here the families, the companies, the sciences, the arts, which are of central and decisive importance to theocratic thought, are revealed. In short: this is Christian culture.
This is an immediate, “organic” transition from salvation to culture. In this manner, many institutions which in theocratic thought are of central and decisive importance, can be skipped. Christian culture grows and flourishes organically. The state and the government can be completely excluded. Their function and task in the kingdom of God is completely overlooked.
But the church and its prophecy can also be left out. The church of the Word has become an institute and the institute has been denatured to the sociological organization of people. Salvation is conceived as mystical. It is centrally the new life in the regenerated heart. There the church, with its preaching, essentially stands outside. The preaching of the church can at best serve as an instrument in the awakening of the regenerated life. But the rebirth itself is immediately, straight from the Spirit in the heart. And this mystical salvation, this regenerated life, which stirs organically in the heart, also permeates, again organically, the whole of life. There arise Christian political parties, Christian schools and universities, Christian trade unions and societies, a Christian press and Christian art. In a word: the whole of Christian culture. The church stands outside of this. And the government, the servant of God, stands outside. And the people as people stand outside.
This is Kuyper’s theology. But it does not stop there. It must be kept in mind that this theology, whether praised or criticized, still dominates the situation in the Netherlands, consciously or unconsciously. The spirits are still completely in the grip of the logic of this system. And it must also be remembered that Kuyper did not really invent his theology, but that he did nothing else in his theological system than – as the great personality which gives form to what lives in the mass – give expression to what had grown in the centuries of Reformed Pietism and the Réveil. The logic of his system is deeply anchored in the spiritual life of the Netherlands. That is why the theocratic offensive against Kuyper is not really a monomaniacal quest for a scapegoat.
How is one to judge this scheme of institute and organism, which in such a glorious way manages to leave the church outside the sphere of politico-cultural life? There is, of course, something true in this schematic. There are institutional and organic moments in the fully developed church concept. There are things and there are people in it. There is the entirety of preaching, sacraments, and offices. And there are the believers, the baptized and the called.
But the first mistake lies in the manner in which this scheme is used – the two are held too far apart and are overly contrasted with each other. In a pure church concept, the things and the people, the institutional and the organic, are much more with each other and in each other and around each other. Preaching, the sacraments, and the offices only exist and only function in the communion of the congregation. In particular, the fellowship of the church, believers, the born-again children of God only exist roundabout preaching, the sacraments and the offices. Not only are they made public in this way: they are born in this way. The only seed of the new birth is the preached Word of God. And so they are also maintained. What is a believer in the world, if the quickening Word of the church does not go over him, out into the world? Thus the institutional and the organic elements in the church are intertwined, just as the sign and the thing signified are intertwined in the sacrament.
With regard to the essence of the problem which concerns us at the moment, the relationship between the church and the political party, this means at least two things. First, one cannot view the Christian political party as a manifestation of the church. In terms of this view, the use to which the scheme in question is put is constantly shifting. The concept of the church is so elastic that all forms of Christian culture, the school, the trade union, the press, etc., are seen as just so many manifestations of the church, namely of the church as organism. They belong to the evolving life movement of the congregation of the Lord, in which the forces of the eternal kingdom, the realities of particular grace, are positively engaged in the process of the history of the human race and are culturally formed. The church as organism then ends up a long way from the church as institute, becomes tremendously independent, and threatens to be identified with the kingdom of God. The one is more fatal than the other. The entanglement of the organic and institutional moments of the church, which is a condition of life for the church (in this dispensation, eternal life stands and falls with the promise of it, which comes to us in preaching) is then torn apart. Culture is then understood as a church, namely in the sense of the church as organism. That is a curious thing! To keep the church out, one applies a scheme that compulsively leads to understanding the entirety of culture as the church. The promise concerning the service of government, the vocation of the people to the service of God, the entire secularization of life, which, according to Kuyper, was also one of the deepest fundamental thoughts of the Calvinist Reformation and entails that life becomes de-churched in order to establish that the living God is concerned with ordinary life, all of this is again heedlessly thrown overboard. There is no “churchier” culture imaginable than a “Christian” culture in which the church is kept outside. The church maintains the bond with the state, the people and ordinary life. Mysticism drives everything into isolation. Christian culture is a ghetto in national culture. And a ghetto is a church intensified into the cultural. The prospect of the kingdom is utterly obscured. Nothing more remains of the comprehensiveness of the kingdom which encompasses the duality of the church and the state, the duality of salvation and existence, and the duality of revelation and culture. The entire historical and eschatological character of the acts of God disappears from the field of vision. The kingdom is trapped in mysticism and culture.
And if one lets the institutional and the organic moments in the church concept remain intertwined in the right way, then that means in the second place, that in the political party and in all political and cultural life, one cannot hold the church outside the field of vision. This generates enormous tension. Partisanship is totally unnatural. It is a vessel into which one cannot ladle the water of Christianity. However, modernity and the arrangement of the life of the community in terms of the modern spirit have created the forced situation that one cannot make do without parties and groupings, neither politically, nor socially, nor culturally. And in certain constellations one must also come to the formation of Christian parties and groupings.
If one can then calmly consider these to be forms of the organic church, then of course there is no difficulty. But that is precisely what one cannot do. The organic church is too closely intertwined with the institutional church for that. If one could leave the church out of it, then the difficulties could still be overcome. But that too is impossible. Nothing happens that is Christian unless the Word of God happens. And when the Word of God happens, then there is the church. That is why, even when one proceeds to Christian party formation in any area at all, one must take care to leave the church and its public function alone. That always means that the party has to retreat as far as possible in favor of the church. And that is a highly unsatisfactory situation. The more the party retreats before the church, the more powerless it becomes. And the church, despite all good intentions, is drawn into partisanship, as long as there is just one Christian party formation. This problem is completely insoluble. One can only make the best of it in practice.
The second mistake in the manner in which one applies the distinction of the church as institute and as organism, is made when one seeks the organic aspect of the church in the mutual relations of believers and in their life connections. This is a mystical way of thinking. And now far be it from me to say one bad word about mysticism. On the contrary! I plead with passion for the experiential character of the knowledge of God. But one goes completely off the rails when one takes mysticism as his starting point. Introspection [bevinding] also comes into it, from the side. The heart is lifted up in the song of praise. The center and source of all salvation lies in Christ. And the life of God does not first flow from Him through the heart, from there to the church, to history and to culture. He is the center of all existence. From Him the life of God flows out in all directions, including to the center of the heart. The mystical, sacramental, historical, political, and cultural range in a circle around the messianic presence of God.
Thus also the organic aspect of the church does not lie in the mutual relationships of believers but in the relationship of Christ to the church. He is the head of the body. That, and that alone, is the one indivisible life-whole, the truly organic. And the life-connections between believers are nothing, they are not even there, apart from this connection between Christ and His church, just as man is not there as a believer unless in Christ. And because the organic character of the church lies exclusively in this fellowship of Christ and the church, in the church’s being taken up in Christ, therefore the entire church is also organic in nature. Even the institutional aspect of the church, the institutional elements of the church, in short, the church as institute, is organic in nature. Everything that it is, is only in this fellowship with Christ.
And it is also institutional. There are things in the church. But the concept “institute” does not actually apply to the church. The church is, in all that it is, including in its institutional moments, the body of Christ. And the body of Christ is also completely visible, just as surely as the Son of God truly became man.
Kuyper was prevented by his idea of Christ as King of the church from seeing this real organic life-entirety in the church. That brings us to the great question of the kingship of Jesus, which has already been discussed. Of course, this notion of the Kingship of Christ is a good one. It can even be considered central. The Messiah, as described in the Bible, is King before anything else. In terms of the history of religion, there is much to be said for the fact that the figure of the Messiah even grew out of the empirical monarchy. In short: kingship is essential to the messianic life of Jesus. One might even argue in favor of the proposition that the kingship of the Messiah, and then kingship over the world, is more essential than being Head of the church. Of course, the latter must also be fully recognized. The Messiah is the Head of His body in the world. And the communion between the Head and the body cannot be thought of intimately enough. But, if there is a means and an end in these things, then one must say, in determining the relationship between being Head of the church and being Lord of the world, that the very intimate communion of Christ and His church, expressed in the relationship of Head and body, is nothing else than the means to the end, and the end is the much less intimate but historical-eschatological position of Christ in the world, expressed in the words that He is Lord of the world and King of kings.
Thus the kingship of Jesus must be confessed to all. But then in the right way! In my understanding of the biblical proclamation, one makes a capital error when it is said that Jesus is the King of the church; and that mistake is made when one considers this royalty to be restricted to within the church, but that mistake is also made when this kingship is seen as starting in the church, from which it is spread wider and wider over the surface of life. This latter view is also fundamentally wrong, because in this way one is never rid of the church in the kingship of Jesus. We see that in Kuyper’s theory of culture. He cannot understand Christian culture otherwise than as a form of the organic church. The whole remains enclosed within the boundaries of the church. The true secularization of life is thus abandoned after all. Life does not remain ordinary life. It is not only baptized and sanctified. It is also churchified.
To really find ordinary life in the kingship of Jesus, one must start with ordinary life. And for that, one must start with the state. The kingship of Jesus is primarily and originally that He is King of kings and Lord of lords and that He has received a name (a title) which is above all names in heaven and on earth. In Philippians ch. 2, Paul is especially thinking of the authorities, thrones and dominions, in short, the demonic forces which have pounced on man and the cosmos. Jesus in His ascension is placed above that. But in Psalm 2 the psalmist also, and especially, thinks of the ordinary political rulers who rage with the peoples and imagine a vain thing, who wish to break the bonds of salvation and the grace of the God of revelation, and cast them off, but upon whom comes the grim laughter [grimlach] and the smile [glimlach] of God: yet I have anointed my king over Zion, the mountain of my holiness. The Messiah is made King over the kings and Lord over the princes. And these two visions: dominion over the demonic forces and dominion over the earthly rulers are essentially one. We take full account of the demonic character of the state.
The kingship of Jesus stands in those surroundings! In the midst of demonically controlled, politically shaped life. And the intention is for Him to exercise His kingship there, for His ruling presence to be there. This life is being de-demonized. It becomes baptized and sanctified. The state becomes civil government. The church does not stand outside. It is used as an instrument in this establishment of the kingdom of God in the flesh. It is there to baptize. And it is there to speak the truth in its prophecy, truth which de-demonizes the whole of reality and elevates the state from its demonic dream to the service of the living God as civil government. But the church does not take the place of the state, nor does the sacrament take the place of the meal at home and church life the place of ordinary life. The prophecy of the church is no more than a proclamation, with this content, that Jesus is the King of kings. That is why the church does not expand into the whole of life. It knows its place and its limits. It respects its Head. And it respects its Head’s kingship of the world much more. And that is why it fully respects the integrity of the world and the alien nature of the state and the independence of the civil government. That is why it carefully denies that Jesus is King of the church. It sees the amplitude in the historical-eschatological royal and salvific acts of God, the duality of salvation and existence, of church and state, and it sees how in the transition from Headship to Kingship the jump is made from one to the other. The kingdom includes not only the church, but even more the state. It posits not only salvation, but even more than this, that existence is saved in and through salvation.
In this way room is made for ordinary life! And for history, culture, the peoples of the earth, and the state. It is more than a basis for the church. It is also more than an object destined to become the church. It is also more than life that is given up and surrendered to the demonic. Ordinary life, history, culture, the people, the state – this is the very thing that the living God is concerned with in all of time and eternity. It is there that He wishes to establish His kingdom.
In order to hold onto this, one must begin, in the description of the kingship of Jesus, with the aspects of the state that are constitutive to this kingship. We have already seen how thoroughly wrong it is, and to what fatal consequences it leads, to consider this kingship primarily in terms of the King of the church. Once you end up with this figure in the church, you will never again get out of the church. And to the degree that this kingship spreads from there into culture and ordinary life, there will be expansion on the part of the church on the one hand, and the churchification of life on the other. One then misses the actual mystery of God’s intentions. All political-cultural activity which results from this is then essentially a denial of the real kingship of Jesus. I underline this and insert it into the discussion with emphasis. In other words, I am saying nothing less than that the construction of a Christian culture, as we have known it for a century now, amounts to a denial of this kingship, despite all appeals to the kingship of Jesus. Clarity will have to come on this point!
And one denies the kingship of Jesus if one does not start at the core of it: He is King of kings, in other words, this kingship has primary and original political content and purport; it must first be established by proclamation in the state, and only from there (not from the church) over the whole of life. That is why Christianity has and shapes its own political form, insofar as it makes its own new form of life expand around the posited new center of existence and the commonwealth, which is to be found in the life of the people under the ecclesiastical and the civil government. The latter, the civil government, is essential to this.
At this point the statement of Jesus is usually put forward to refute the theocratic mindset: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18: 36). What one wishes to prove with this is usually the idea that the aspects of the state are alien to the kingdom of God in the manifestation of the realm of Christ. If that were true, then my entire argument would indeed fall to the ground. And we would be back to the starting point of this discourse, and we would have to write it anew from the idea that Christianity and politics are indeed heterogeneous quantities. One needs to realize this consequence of this use of the text.
But the text is used incorrectly. First of all, it should be noted that it says: my kingdom is not of (ἐκ) this world. It does not say: my kingdom is not in this world. That would be a denial of the basic motive of the Gospel of John, the incarnation of the Word. On the contrary, one will have to say, on the basis of the entirety of the New Testament’s kerygma. The kingdom of Jesus is completely in this world. It is only in this world. It is the kingdom of God in the flesh. And as soon as this flesh is set aside, or in other words, the kingdom is no longer in this world, then it ceases being the kingdom of Jesus; He then gives it back to the Father, and it becomes the kingdom of God again. That is why every notion to look for His kingdom outside of this world and beyond the things of this world must be foreign to us in a radical manner.
But it should also be noted that the answer to the question: if the kingdom is not of this world, then “of,” that is, from which, world is it? – is not so certain. One here very easily suggests a dualism of two worlds, one of which is the earthly world, characterized by materiality, externality, and violence, and the other of which is the eternal world, characterized by spirituality, inwardness, and reasonableness. When this dualism may be understood as a duality of two spheres of being, then one can indeed stand in one and the other world and move from one to the other. But I deny that this exegesis is correct. It is contrary to another ground motive of the Gospel of John, eschatology. This is considerably more Old-Testamentish than is usually imagined. And when we explain our text from here, it becomes evident that the kingdom of Jesus is not from that other, ontological sphere of invisible, spiritual reality, but from that “world” of the future of God, who comes to us with His kingdom and is already penetratingly and overwhelmingly present in the here and now. The kingdom of Jesus is from a different world than ours. But this other world and its otherness must not be conceived spatially, ontologically, but rather temporally, historically-eschatologically. The word cosmos has the scriptural meaning of the word aioon in the Gospel of John. Only in this way does the word “of” also maintain its strength. If one thinks dualistically in the ontological sense, then the kingdom of Jesus is not only from this other world, but then it is that other world. If, on the other hand, one thinks dualistically in the historical-eschatological sense, the kingdom of Jesus is indeed nothing but the kingdom of God, just as it is penetratingly and overwhelmingly present in the here and now.
And if one then finally understands the text in a biblical way, then the word “kingdom” in this pronouncement of Jesus gains its full, massive sound from the eschatological future of God, and the kingdom of Jesus truly proves not to be alien to the aspects of the state in cultural existence. After all, it is then only a kingdom. To view this expression as a metaphorical way of speaking, signifying the whole of spiritual and moral values and forces, is not a biblical, but a Hellenistic way of thinking. Seen from the kingdom, the city, the state of God, the kingdom of Jesus also fully exhibits its constitutional features. It is rule by the King. And He rules over the demons, the prince of this world and all his minions, and therefore also over the princes of this earth. The satanic in the temptation on the mountain was not in the vision of the rule of the Messiah over the kingdoms of the world and their glory, but in the way which the devil pointed to this vision: in the recognition of the power of the devil over the world, in the denial of the power of God, in a word, in avoiding the sacrifice of the cross. But through the sacrifice of the cross, the vision has become real and the Messiah rules from the cross and from heaven, in the twofold exaltation of His death and ascension, over all the kingdoms of the world and over all their glory, and He does so as king!
This also points to the aspects of the state in the pericope (John 18: 28—19: 22), from which the text under consideration is taken. All of history revolves around the kingship of Jesus. Pilate’s first question to Jesus is: are you the king of the Jews? (18: 33). And the last thing that Pilate says about Jesus is the inscription above the cross: Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews (19: 19). And from His kingdom Jesus also sounds the call of truth to the state, which in Pilate sleepwalks, dreaming demonically along the abyss. He says: Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice (18: 37). And from His kingdom Jesus also proclaims the truth of God over the state, in its demonic slumber: you would have no power over Me, were it not given to you from above (19: 11). And with this word, the entire superhuman, historical-eschatological song of the entirety of scriptural truth breaks in. The kings will serve the God of salvation. The Old Testament is full of that. And the famous word from Romans 13: “For there is no power but God, and the powers that are there, are ordained of God,” is like an echo of the last word Jesus quoted to Pilate. The boundaries of the kingdom of God, as it is embodied in the flesh in the flesh of Jesus, are drawn so extensively into existence that they truly do not only include the church, but also the state. The government is a manifestation in this kingdom. It is the servant of God. And people act really dumb, when they oppose this “positive” appreciation of the state as the servant of God from Rom. 13 with the “negative” evaluation of the state as the demonic beast from the abyss from Revelation ch. 13. Then they truly do not know what they are talking about.
As if Romans 13 did not treat of the same beast! As if that “positive” appreciation of the state were such a sunny, friendly affair! Existence cannot be experienced this idealistically. Behind that positive “appreciation” of the state is all the Messianic work of God, the labor of His soul in the atonement of the guilt of sin and in the de-demonization of existence. One must understood Romans ch. 13 from Revelation ch. 13, and the government’s office from the state’s demonic nature. It is precisely the salvation of God in the world for us to be called to this end. Romans 13 describes the vision. And Revelation 13 only tells us that all God’s experiments fail in the end. The moment of salvation takes place when the church in its prophecy proclaims the truth from the messiahship of Jesus, calling the state from its demonic nature, to serve God as civil government. In the light of this historical moment of salvation (the de-demonification is accomplished!), the sacramental moment of salvation of the consecration in the Mass must pale and lapse. It incorporates the kingdom into the church, and denies the intentions of God. The idea of consecration is therefore the primeval Christian lie. On the other hand, to call that which is the historical moment of salvation par excellence the Fall of Christianity is just as much to be bewailed. When the church is recognized, the state begins to see its service in the kingdom, and culture becomes Christianized; it is not the Fall of Christianity, but the center of the historical-eschatological action of God on the earth.
This kingship of Jesus is not only a matter of the decretive will. It is that too, of course. This is what it always appears to be in the end, when all the experiments of God lead to nothing and salvation takes place in the crucifixion of existence in a divinely hidden and wondrous way. Jesus is still king, including and precisely when He is rejected as king. In the sacrifice in which He is rejected, He brings the atonement of guilt. We cannot comprehend that. This deepest of all the mysteries of God, we have to leave to the decretive will. For example, we cannot deduce from it that we should reject the Messiah in order for grace to become greater. We can only be called to the recognition of the Messiah.
That is why the kingship of Jesus is also fully a matter of the preceptive will. It is already that when it comes to us as a promise, and when it is said to us that the kings will serve the God of salvation. We may believe that. We have to believe that, with everything that the living God promises us. We therefore have to make a profession of this promise of God. This is the only thing that the church may believe and confess about the state: that as civil government it will be a servant in the kingdom of God on earth. Theocracy is the highest peak of the church’s confession. Everything else that the church thinks it knows and has to say about the state, is human delusional wisdom.
But this promise of God concerning the state also proceeds into the world in the form of the commandment of God, as do all the promises of God: as soon as they go out into the world, they assume the form of the commandment. The law is the medium between revelation and existence. That is why the church not only has to trust in its faith and to proclaim in its confession that the ruling authorities will serve the God of salvation, but in its prophecy it also has to call upon the state, in all its demonic nature, to this service. And certain measures can be taken and certain deeds done, by which the state agrees to this service. God wishes to be concretely served on the earth, in the visible and tangible reality of existence, even up to its highest, to the political heights.
That the mediation of the church is indispensable for this service of God by this state, is therefore not in the least contradictory. This mediation by the church is gladly pushed to the forefront when one wishes to put the brakes on such unrestrained talk about the task of the government in the kingdom of God. And then it is pointed out that Jesus is the King of kings only as Head of the church. There is not the slightest objection to this formulation. But it says nothing in the direction of what is meant by it. If one considers that the church is primarily and centrally the church of the Word, the bearer of the gospel of the kingdom, then it is perfectly true that Jesus is the King of the world only as Head of the church, because it is the church which proclaims His kingship as the decree, promise, and commandment of God over the world.
That is why it is such a highly impure posing of the problem when one asks whether the Lord Christ is now visibly or invisibly ruling the world, and when to this question one, out of resignation, answers that He rules the world only for faith, in a hidden way. It is, in my view, one of the basic errors of Christianity, a symptom of as-yet-ongoing Platonization, when faith is directed towards the invisible world. Faith is focused on visible things, and it clings to what the living God has said about these visible things, and it looks upon them in that way. That is why there is much hidden in what faith sees. As soon as one touches on the counsel of God, one walks in the mysteries of God. But the hidden God can be visible. Think about the Word made flesh. Think especially about the sacrament. And as soon as one proceeds from the counsel of God through the promise of God to the commandments of God, one enters into the ambiguity of the visibility and the invisibility of the reconciled life. Something of sanctification becomes visible. “Signs” are put into the world. And these signs are not to be understood as impotent attempts by man to try, on his own, to demonstrate something of the salvation, the message of which he has understood. They are rather to be understood as acts of God, who is messianically present in reality, electing and sanctifying. The atonement is also fulfillment, fulfillment of all things by the exalted Messiah, who is present in things with the power of His saving work. We then get to see something of the service of God. Just as, in order to stay on our subject, one can indeed see the name of God on earth in the Christian culture of Europe and America.
This fulfillment of things by the Messiah is done spiritually. But that means: in the manner and in the power of the Holy Spirit. It does not mean that it is done in the manner of the human spirit. Then indeed the entire presence of Christ in the cosmos would be inward and invisible. But the Spirit loves the outward. He does not shy away from the dust. He works historically. He creates (and destroys) cultural forms of the kingdom, according to His omnipotence. That is “the way of the king” (J. Koopmans). This is how He is present on the earth today.
From here we can return from the question of the kingship of Jesus to the question we were discussing, the church as organism. We assumed that the actual organic aspect in the church should be sought in its communion as a body with its Head Christ. At the end of our expositions on the kingship of Jesus we found in the idea that the exalted Christ with the power of His saving work is really present (precisely through His ascension) in things, the truth, that Christ himself is a reality, in the neighborhood and the company of the authorities, powers and dominions, in heaven and on earth. Once again it is Hoedemaker who saw the extent of this. When Kuyper elaborates his idea of Christian culture as a revelation of the organic church, he remarks very acutely: “What here is called the body of Christ in fact has nothing to do with Christ. It is only the influences of Christianity become visible” (De Kerk en het Moderne Staatsrecht, p. 101; cf. p. 61).
And from there Hoedemaker lands his most telling blow, when he concludes from this recognition of the reality of Christ, that one should not transfer the question regarding the relationship of Christianity and politics from Christ to Christians, and thus from the political to the social. That is the essence of what happens in the Netherlands, when one commits himself to the formation of a Christian culture and keeps the church out of it. The matter is transferred from the Christ to the Christians; one no longer believes in the reality of Christ as the Messiah, who does the work of God on the earth; but one believes all the more in the Christians, that they are a solid basis and a suitable instrument for the historical-eschatological actions of God. On the contrary, it is good and necessary to remember that, after all, Christians too are always rebels, nothing but heathens from the heathen, members of their people. They certainly cannot take the place of the Christ. On the contrary, they must, again and again, in their heathen existence, out of which they work together on the culture with all the other heathens, with their people, meet the Christ. After all, it is only Christ Himself who brings and is the kingdom of God, who places the name of God on the earth and, in the formation of cultures, does the will of God not only in heaven but also on the earth. And to that end He uses those who please Him. There are servants of God on the earth. Centrally, there is the servant of God on the earth, the civil government. From out of Christ, who Himself is present acting in the midst of the demons and powers, one cannot deny that in a primary and original way the service of the state is engaged in the kingdom of God. This is the great objection to the sociologization of things. From out of Christ, Christianity is above all a political affair in the most stringent sense of the word.
It is a curious case. We are arguing that one cannot come from the gospel of the kingdom to cultural formation without fully involving the church. And we come back to the proposition that one cannot come to this cultural formation without involving the state, the dimension of civil government set by God in existence. In this one sees how closely everything is connected. Apparently one has to respect two things at the same time: the service character of the church, and the omnipotence of God. The church is only there to serve in the world. It has to serve the world, in which the kingdom is founded, with the truth. As such it must also be fully engaged. If one keeps the church out of it, then one cannot come to real cultural formation in terms of the intentions of God. But one goes awry when he makes the church too broad, allows it to continue as an organism in the Christians, who organize themselves to seize power, to take the Christianization of the world into their own hands. Then the church not only does not serves the world anymore, but it also wishes to rule. It adds power to the truth. But that is not in accordance with the intentions and the ordinances of God. He has given the truth to the church and power to the state. That is His omnipotence; He has arranged it as He willed; and He uses who pleases Him. And in His historical-eschatological actions on earth for the formation of cultures, He is certainly not bound to His Christians. He has a bone to pick with the nations. And the only union and mixture of truth and power that is permissible is in theocracy, in the marriage of church and state. Then and only then does cultural formation arise, in which all aspects are respected: revelation – the public function of the church – the service of the civil government – the people as a whole – heathen existence. This is how God wishes to be served on the earth.
So far I have pointed to two errors in the way in which people use the scheme of institute and organism to keep the church out of Christian cultural formation. In the first place, I mentioned the mistake of separating these two, the church as institute and the church as organism, too much from each other and keeping them in opposition to each other. In the second place, I mentioned the mistake of looking for the organic aspect of the church in the wrong place.
Add to this, in the third place, that the institutional in the church is overly externalized by this radical separation from the organic. I pointed out, in the footsteps of Hoedemaker, that one cannot really say that the church is an institute. The church was not “founded,” neither on the day of Pentecost, nor in the regions of Caesarea Philippi, nor with Abraham, nor with Adam. It is there, with the evidence of the counsel of God, in the factuality of the Messianic presence of God in the flesh. But then one can say, cum grano salis, that there are institutional moments in this church. As the body has ears and a mouth and eyes, so the body of Christ has preaching, the sacraments and the offices, its liturgy and church law and diaconate.
But regarding all of these institutional elements, it must be held onto that they are not taken up from the outside, from the world, and added to the mystical essence of the church, but are excreted from within, from the essence of the church. To mention one example: there are offices in the church, but not because such is necessary in view of the order by which everything must take place. The whole idea of office and the offices themselves comes from the innermost essence of the church, from Christ, the Messiah, that is: the office-bearer par excellence! And in connection with that, church law. It is again excreted from the innermost essence of the Messiah’s work, from the atonement of guilt by the satisfaction of God’s law. That is why church law is also a holy, a fully divine-human affair.
This rooting of all institutional moments in the essence of the church as the body of Christ, therefore implies that they do not show a once-for-all, fixed picture, but a highly variable one. When one oversees what we call church history, one is impressed by this. But it speaks much more, when one oversees the history of the church in the divine sense of the word, the history of the church “from the beginning of the world to the end” (Heidelberg Catechism, q. 54), like the Bible speaks of it. What is the church with Adam or with Abraham? As soon as one understands the church not as an institute, and understands the institutional moments as organically arising from the essence of the church, one deals with astonishing ease with the questions that arise here.
This also entails that one cannot speak of the church as of a human formation. Even in view of its institutional moments, one cannot say that they are inserted by man. It is there as it is. It is there in demonstrable fashion, in unbreakable relationship and continuity. There is tradition. There is apostolic succession. There is no mention whatsoever of human formation. It is a historical planting. This goes through many changes. Deformation and reformation take place. There is even planting and transplanting. The deeds of men play their part in this. But it is always the one and the same church. One cannot come up with the idea of founding a new church.
In short, in all that it is, it shares in the divine-human character of the body of Christ. Just as the body to its fingertips is one, identical body, so is the church, even in its smallest and most outward divisions, the divine-human body of Christ. Even church property is touched by this particularity.
In saying all of this, I mean that it is simply impossible to isolate certain parts of the church. As soon as one has something of the church, one always has the whole church. That is why the slogan: keep the church out of it! will never succeed. One cannot keep the church as institute out of it, because in its institutional moments it is also the whole divine-human body of Christ.
And therefore it is impossible to claim that the church can only come into contact with the state in its form as institute. If anything of the church appears on the terrain of the state, then, in that something, the whole church appears in its full divine-human essence on the terrain of this state. And then the question must be brought to a conclusion, as to whether the church can and will be recognized by the state in what it is, in terms of its essence. This is not the main thing in the theocratic marriage of church and state. In theocracy, therefore, it is not the point that the church is recognized in its right and honor and place by the state, but that national life is ruled according to the Word of God. That is the point of theocracy. But the most telling theocratic sign in fact lies in the place which is reserved for the church in constitutional law. As long as the church is ranked as an association among the moral persons, the theocratic content of the situation is reduced to a minimum. Whether one will ever succeed in actually expressing the divine-human character of the church in constitutional law remains an open question over the course of the ages. The difficulties which are practically and above all theoretically associated with them, are a clear indication that theocracy is and remains a torso. And this not only applies to the place of the church in constitutional law. The function of the church in public life will also be involved in an ongoing struggle. This also involves many difficulties, theoretically and above all practically. How exactly it should happen that the church, serving the world, speaks the truth about and in the whole of public life, we will never know with precision. From the burning vision one can only receive certain points of view and then act in terms of these points of view, making the best of it.
But we always have to bear in mind that in everything we do and say, even the most minute, the whole church is at stake, as is the whole truth of God, and therefore also the whole culture and kingdom.