What is the social nature of our relation to God? What is the church, and who is the church? How should it to relate to the broader society?
Such questions are explored at length in On the Church, a newly translated, newly released collection of essays and speeches by Abraham Kuyper on the nature of the church. Published by Lexham Press in partnership with the Acton Institute, the anthology highlight’s Kuyper’s unique ecclesiological vision of the church as both “institution” and “organism” — or as the Apostle Paul puts it, “rooted and grounded.”
“’Rooted and grounded’ unites organism and institution,” Kuyper says, “and Scripture itself refuses to allow any separation — it weaves them together. By means of the person who sows and plants, the metaphor of vital growth overflows into that of the institution; by means of the living stone, the metaphor of the building flows over into that of the organism.”
Kuyper’s doctrine of the church was not developed or delivered in a vacuum, but in response to his own social context and the challenges of his day. The disestablishment of the church in the Netherlands and the resulting social pluralization was one thing; the external challenges to the doctrine of Scripture by “higher criticism” and “modern science” were another. “Enlightenment rationalism continued to challenge Christian epistemology,” explains John Halsey Wood Jr., the anthology’s editor. “In addition, a changing social landscape, as much as the changing intellectual one, also posed a challenge to theology and the church.”
Of course, many of those same forces, pressures, and questions persist today in varying manifestations. From within the church, we still see a conflict between “organism” and “institution,” rather than an embrace or appreciation of each. Even still, or especially now, “Christians are often told to be ‘spiritual but not religious,’ Wood reminds us, “a formula that exalts inner experience and belittles outward ritual.”
In his introduction, Ad de Bruijne summarizes Kuyper’s relevance among our present day tensions:
Today’s emerging manifestations of the church are characterized as post-institutional. These forms leave conventional, fixed church structures behind and present themselves as fluid and flexible. An alternative vision regarding the church’s public calling is gaining ground among younger generations of evangelicals. These young Christians envision the church as neither withdrawing into the private sphere nor seeking public influence and power, whether directly or mediated through faith-based initiatives. The church ought to form a contrasting community that confronts the existing political societies of this world with the way of life of the world to come, thereby presenting a challenging public alternative. These views culminate in the argument that Christendom—the Constantinian world in which the church was the dominant public reality—is gone forever.
Kuyper presents a different perspective, as the champion of the re-Christianization of Dutch society. He was convinced of the institutional dimension of the church and even created new Christian organizations that were meant to fight a visible battle in all spheres of life…This volume demonstrates… that Kuyper’s ecclesiology has far more than mere historical value. Kuyper himself consciously distinguished between the basic concepts of his doctrine and their applied forms in his proposals for his own day. He was aware that contexts other than his own would require different applications and even gives hints of these possibilities in ways that are suprisingly close to contemporary forms of the church. The selections presented in this volume thus offer a very relevant contribution to our debates.
This anthology is part of a series titled, Collected Works in Public Theology, which is comprised of 8 key works spread over 12 volumes. The translation project includes additional anthologies of Kuyper’s writings on common grace, education, the church, Islam, charity and justice, and business and economics. For updates on new releases, follow the Acton Institute and the Abraham Kuyper Translation Society.