In explaining how the Dutch Reformed could exist in a largely secular yet still national church society, Abraham Kuyper was forced anew to wrestle with the meaning of church government and baptism. John Halsey Wood Jr. gives not only a fine account of Kuyper, but also a skilled handling of church-state relations and the idea of a “nation,” something poorly lacking in modern scholarship.
In short, a nation isn’t a state. A nation is the collective ethnos of a people, including language, religion, and culture. The state is the necessary (yet often parasitic) apparatus in the modern world. Surprisingly, one could have a national church without a state church.
Kuyper’s solutions were new because while advocating separation of church and state, he also tried to avoid a purely voluntarist church while also having a relatively high view of the sacraments. Said another way: would not leaving the government of the church to “the people” entail the horrors of the French Revolution?
Rooted and Grounded
Kuyper was able to alleviate some of the tension with his concept of “organicism.” The organic church precedes the institutional church. Kuyper’s use of organicity isn’t supposed to be Hegelian, but like our Lord (John 15-17) it is to note our interdependence.
Rooted: free life doesn’t come from human skill but from the hand of the Creator (63).
Grounded: metaphor for the institutional church
Unfortunately, Kuyper’s desire for a purer church drove him very close to a Baptist view of baptism while retaining a Reformed practice. If the church is a church of believers, then why baptize babies? Kuyper solved this problem at great cost: he presumed regeneration on the part of the infants.
This is an outstanding account of late Dutch church and state politics. Wood notes Kuyper’s strengths and weaknesses and places them within the unique situation Kuyper found himself.