A Pamphlet Concerning the Reformation of the Church

(Kuyper has discussed the unity of the church as that unity is expressed in broader ecclesiastical assemblies and in relationship with other denominations worldwide. He now concludes chapter 2 of his book with the following paragraph.) 

33. Whether the Churches Ought to Interfere in What Does Not Belong to the Church 

A church of Christ ought not to be locked up within itself in order to live for itself only. It also has a calling over against that which is outside, and that in three respects. First, after the members of the family of faith are properly cared for, the church must extend her alms and the care of her mercy to the wretched ones outside her gates. Secondly, the church must win, through evangelism, for the confession of Christ, those who live together with the church in the same city or village but do not participate in her glorious confession. Thirdly, the church must send evangelists or missionaries to other regions and areas to plant the church where it is not yet found. The church's work is the work of philanthropy, evangelization, and missions.

Mercy towards those outside must be shown, not in order to obtain a good reputation, but because it is God's will and because the church lives in the consciousness of common guilt as the fountain of common misery. 

Evangelism must have as its exclusive purpose the extension of the church in places where it is already established, and it ought to extend to Jews and heathen, to unbelievers and superstitious, to the poor as well as to the rich. The preaching of the gospel to those baptized is not evangelism but rather catechizing, and must proceed from the ministry of the Word; or, if the ministers are neglectful of this, from the office of all believers. Each person in particular is called for the work of evangelizing among those who are outside the church in so far as God the Lord brings him in contact with outsiders. But the church as church is called so that definite men may be appointed as evangelists. Their activity must lead to the bringing in of these outsiders into the church. This is true because a good student who wants to make confession ought also to be baptized and the right to administer holy baptism belongs only to the church. 

Missions to other regions or lands can in the same way be either particular or ecclesiastical. Each believer who knows himself to be called to this must go to strange lands or regions to preach the gospel, and one could wish that more people felt themselves compelled to do this.¹ On the other hand, particular mission societies who wish to send with authority in order to establish the ministry of the Word, to organize an administration of the sacraments, and to erect a church of God must not be tolerated. What individuals may do is bring together money to help a believer who wants to go so that he has travel money and provisions. But then such a one is no missionary, no sent one, no minister of the Word; he does not have the right to administer the sacraments and all he may do over there is to be a witness of Christ, and to preach the gospel. If such an individual, however, succeeds in converting Jew, heathen, or Mohammedans, and they request baptism, then such an individual ought to turn to his own church or to a neighboring church so that this church, now sending, can transfer a missionary, and by this missionary can administer holy baptism to these converts. Then he, by uniting them to a church, can prepare, through the choice of elders and deacons, the ministry of the Word for that group. But a church can also directly send, i.e., dispatch an evangelist or minister of the Word with the mandate to preach the gospel, and with power, if the Lord gives converts, to administer baptism to those in the name of the church, to gather them ecclesiastically, and to introduce among them the ministry of the Word. 

Only a mission on this foundation may continually rely on the sympathy of the Reformed churches. No one has the right, while he himself does nothing, to judge others who do what their hands find to do. 

Only one matter must be positively condemned. The so-called commission of Mission Societies by certain preachers is an action which must be called irresponsible. Preachers are no Roman priests who work ex opere operato, and even if there were together legions of preachers loosely joined, outside of a church connection, these have neither the authority nor the least competency to grant a commission which can only be granted by the church federation. 

34. What the Calling of the Churches is With Respect to the Schools Education forms a uniquely independent sphere of spiritual activity just as home upbringing does. 

Therefore it is not, proper for the church to assume public education as part of its duties. This would restrain civil development even as Rome's strong meddling in family life has killed family life in a number of lands. 

On the other hand, it is good that the church has dealings with the school in three respects: 1) The church must establish, support, and maintain schools in so far as it sees that these are lacking due to neglect or else by interference of incompetents in schools which exist but exist in a wrong spirit. 2) The church has to care for the children of the needy that they be educated which, for the sake of thriftiness, leads to the establishment of diaconate schools. 3) The church has to watch over the independently existing schools for good instruction in the pure truth which is according to the Word of God. 

The first and the last of these rules apply to education in all grades, including higher education. According to its nature and essence it is not the business of the church to educate scientifically, although she is perfectly free to establish seminaries to prepare candidates for the holy ministry. If, on the other hand, there is no occasion to receive, education in the higher sciences, or the existing education for Christian youth is useless, then the church would be properly held responsible, not by virtue of her office, but, being made aware of the lack, to provide in this deficiency. But also where, whether through individuals or through the magistrate, high schools are established which are useful for the children of holy baptism, the church should always have to watch and to see to it that the content of the education given is the truth and is not detrimental to the truth. 

The church of Christ is the pillar and ground of the truth and thus where that truth which is according to the Word of God is threatened or in danger, whether inside or outside her sphere, it is her right and her calling to raise her voice loudly and to rise heroically for the rights of her King and Lord. 

Chapter III 

 

Concerning The Deformation Of The Churches 

35. What We are to Understand by the Deformation of the Churches 

Deformation develops in churches which were once properly formed but have now lost their purity. All imperfections which characterize the church in the process of formation are not discussed here. In the Apostolic church in Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, etc., the formation of the church, during the life of the apostles, was still far from perfect. Many parts of the ecclesiastical organism were not yet developed. Likewise, the churches which came to manifestation anew in this country during the time of the Reformation often did this in a very effective way. Before 1563, even a common confession was lacking. Yet this was never considered deformation, either in the First or Sixteenth century, because deformation, disfigurement, corruption, degeneration, imply that the form or the nature was first good but since then has suffered and decayed. Nor must failure to attain the ideal be understood as deformation. In connection with the deformation of churches one can imagine an ideal situation, and that in a twofold sense. One can think of the condition of the heavenly church as an ideal here upon earth. But this will not do because it challenges God's order over this dispensation and opposes His arrangement. Or one can imagine a condition on earth which only one, in a single place, under very favorable circumstances, can exist and have existence for a short time, and which one now chooses as a model for the formation of all churches in every place and in every time. Measured by this standard and compared with that ideal model, nearly all churches will fall short and fall under the judgment of being incomplete. It is good, in this strong criticism, to have a living consciousness that the church never may have peace with itself nor fall asleep on what she has acquired, but she must always hold high her glorious banner so as never to rest with what is wrong or faulty. Nevertheless, this way of judging is wrong for two reasons. First, it is wrong because our ideal must never be borrowed from what is sometimes seen in an individual church for a short time, but must always be taken from God's Word. Secondly, it is wrong because we do not do justice to the differences of places, times, and occasions; and to set forth the exception or the rule discourages, is unfair, and works toward Donatism. It is therefore pertinent that, with respect to the ideal, our only lawful ideal is that which Holy Scripture sets before the church of God as an obligation, whether directly or by lawful conclusions, also with respect to the interpretation of the Holy Spirit in history. This high ideal, just because it is an ideal, is never fully attained for any length of time on earth. And finally, with this in mind, one can properly speak of deformation if the church to which one belongs declines and sinks away from a higher level to a lower one. It surely remains the obligation of a church which has never occupied a higher level to strive for a more perfect state. And it is also permissible to consider that striving for a more perfect state as reformation. But it does not under such circumstances come to deformation, i.e., corruption. To proceed with discretion and clear insight, one must make a threefold distinction: 1) Church formation which is still in the process of attaining a fixed form; 2) church formation which, though having arrived at a fixed form, still has to strive for a more perfect form; 3) church formation which having given way from an earlier, purer church form must now lift itself up from that into which it has sunk. And only the last mentioned has to do with a deformed church.


¹ It is clear the Kuyper here denies that mission work always proceeds from the church and is always the official work of the church.