Spijker, W. van ’t

Catholicity of the Church in the Secession (1834) and in the Doleantie (1886)



VI. Catholicity of the Church in the Secession (1834) and in the Doleantie (1886)


1. Introduction

At the transfer of the rectorship at the Theological Seminary in Kampen on December 18, 1888, Herman Bavinck presented his well-known address on „The Catholicity of Christianity and Church.” In this address he pointed to certain doubtful traits in Labadism, Pietism, Anabaptism, and Methodism. He said that, instead of making a broad survey of the churches, in order to distinguish between the false and the true and in order not to overlook the wheat because of the chaff, these groups declared all churches without qualification false and called all believers to secede; separation itself was often elevated to an article of faith (Bavinck 1888:46).

Undoubtedly Bavinck had in view certain phenomena which were present within the church of the Secession. The Secession of 1834 in the Netherlands cannot be understood in its original intent apart from the desire of the seceders to return to the confession in the church of the fathers. But neither can it be explained entirely apart from its roots in the pietist movement, called the Nadere Reformatie (Further Reformation).

Bavinck pointed in his address to the nature of faith: „Faith is catholic, is not bound to any time or place, nor to any land or people; it can enter into all circumstances and can join with all forms of natural life. It is suitable for all times; it is profitable for all things; it is appropriate in all circumstances” (Bavinck 1888:50). From this catholicity of the faith, Bavinck concluded that: „if the catholicity of our Christian faith is understood in this way, then we cannot close ourselves off in the ecclesiastical area and, in separation from the one universal Christian church, seek for our salvation out of the miserable situation in which our churches find themselves in this century” (Bavinck 1888:50).

Bavinck claimed that when the free churches had separated


themselves from the state, a situation arose like that in the early centuries. The churches were forced to look after themselves and became not weaker but stronger in the spiritual struggle, for, he said, the future belonged to them. But they had this promise „only on the one condition that they preserve the catholicity of the Christian faith and of the Christian church” (Bavinck 1888:51).

Whoever would surmise with Philip J. Hoedemaker that Bavinck felt that he was suffocating in the Dutch Christian Reformed Church and that he for that reason delivered this address, is mistaken. Bavinck felt all his life at home in the spiritual climate of the old Secession churches. The „glory of the Secession,” was that it defended the truth against the lie and upheld the gospel of free grace against error: „That was the anti-sectarian, the catholic, the truly Reformed character of the Secession” (Veenhof 1969:135,307). In his reference to the recent sad events of the school Bavinck mentioned the death of Anthony Brummelkamp, one of the fathers of the Secession and here also he expressed appreciation: „Brummelkamp was always and everywhere a Christian, catholic in ideas, generous in heart and sensitive in conscience” (Bavinck 1888:53).

The first question which should occupy our attention is whether Bavinck idealized the Secession because he was so deeply rooted in it. Was the separation really as catholic as he thought? Did it not cause a fracture in the unity of the church, which was bound to have serious anti-catholic consequences? And did the struggle for the truth and the manner in which the Seceders dealt with their opponents and sometimes with their colleagues not prove to be the opposite of catholicity? Did it not fail to do justice to the multi-colored truth of God? In short, can the Secession and catholicity tolerate each other? Were people not forced to leave their brothers with whom they knew they were united?


2. The Act of Secession and Return

It is not difficult to find in the Act of Secession of 1834 the motives which occasioned the far-reaching action of the consistory of Ulrum (de Cock 1984:607). With an appeal to the Belgic


Confession, which speaks in Art. 29 of the marks of the true church and of the false church, the council separated itself from those who were not of the church. The entire passage reads as follows: „It has now become more than clear that the Netherlands Reformed Church is not the true but the false church according to God’s Word and Art. 29 of our Confession; wherefore the undersigned hereby declare, in agreement with the office of all believers (Art. 28), that they withdraw themselves from those who are not of the church and therefore desire no longer to have fellowship with the Netherlands Reformed Church until it returns to the true service of the Lord; they declare at the same time that they want to exercise fellowship with all truly Reformed members and are willing to unite with every assembly that is based on God’s infallible Word, wherever God has united them” (de Cock 1984:608).

The depth dimension of the 1834 Secession was the motive to return. The return was the purpose for which secession was necessary, even unavoidable. In the concept of the „return” we hear something of „conversion,” of a turning back to the teaching of the Fathers which had been neglected far too long.

The question naturally arises whether the separation was the only and necessary means to reach the desired end and whether there was no other path that could be travelled. On this point there was a difference of opinion between the Seceders and the Reformed people who remained in the Hervormde Kerk. In Ulrum, however, the people were convinced that, in view of the state of affairs at that time, there was no other way to return to the teaching of the fathers than the one that was unsought and unwanted but on which they found themselves forced to go. We refer to the attitude of the Hervormde Kerk’s councils at all levels and to the measures which, on the instigation of the church councils, the government took and with a hard hand forced the believers to remain within the structures of the civil establishment. But there was no mention of departing from the brethren.

That this was indeed the intention appears from the „address and invitation to the faithful and truly Reformed people in the Netherlands”. This appeal appeared at the same time as the Act of Secession. Herein we find words with the same scope as those in


the Act itself: „We have separated ourselves, beloved countrymen and fellow believers, not from the true Reformed Church nor from truly Reformed people; on the contrary we hereby extend the hand of fellowship to all of them and we request them to return in order to maintain the fellowship of the saints, united in one faith, one hope and one Spirit” (de Cock 1984:609).

„Return” here means to come back to the „foundations of the Fathers.” One should not understand this in an individualistic way, for the conclusion of this appeal which was directed to all who would bend their neck under the yoke of Christ stated: „To all such we hereby extend the hand of fellowship and ask for theirs, with the prayer that the Almighty God, the One and Only Triune covenant God of his people, will pour out his Spirit over all his people so that, in exercising the office of all believers they may be the salt of the earth, lights on a lampstand and cities on mountains” (de Cock 1984:611). Over against heresy the Secession sent out an appeal to all true believers, to all who wanted to retain and maintain the Reformed confession. Its resistance to heresy was strong and was immeasurably increased through the violence and the oppression which the Seceders were made to experience. But the desire for a truly Reformed catholicity was equally strong. A passionate longing and appeal for unity with all Reformed people sounded forth: „we extend our hand to you; give us yours”.


3. The Quality of Catholicity

Hendrik de Cock was led in his reformational endeavors by a number of motives which, taken together, characterize his view on the unity and catholicity of the church. He derived the first motive from the Reformation itself. In an earlier study, made during his imprisonment in Groningen, he read broadly in the reformational literature. He became acquainted with the theology of Luther and of Calvin. For de Cock justification by grace alone was central. To this he referred in his 1832 publication: „Serious and Cordial Address to all my Fellow Citizens.” Herein he showed that he was abreast of the Lutheran ideas, with which he gladly agreed. His orientation to Calvin, however, was stronger. He had personally experienced the reading of an abridged


edition of the Institutes as a blessing and he republished it with the recommendation: „this booklet was a blessing far and wide in the days of the Reformation and I hope that it will be the same for many now in their discovery and confirmation of the truth” (de Cock 1984, Vol II: 513).

De Cock also accepted fully the doctrinal decisions of the Synod of Dordt. His first publication dealing with the decision of this synod was dedicated to his „fellow country men and fellow believers who are concerned with their eternal salvation” (de Cock 1984, Vol I:7). While the Groningen theologians, in particular Hofstede de Groot, orientated themselves to the representatives of the modern devotion whom they considered to be the authentic spokesmen of Dutch piety, de Cock directed his interests to the orthodoxy of Dort. „Netherlands-Reformed” was for him the same as „Dort-Reformed”; this put the stamp on his view of catholicity.

A third significant factor is the connection with the Further Reformation. This Pietist movement in Dutch Reformed protestantism had a dominating influence within the circles where the Secession churches originated. Here the conventicles played a large role. De Cock did what he could to lead the conventicles within church paths. But the spirituality of the Further Reformation largely controlled the first generation of Seceders (Brienen 1984:103).

A final factor was the influence of the Reveil. De Cock received some of his inspiration from the writings of C. van Zuylen van Nijevelt, who with his firm language opened de Cock’s eyes to the necessity of church renewal (Zuylen van Nijevelt 1831). De Cock also followed with great interest the Reveil movement abroad. That which happened in Wuppertal under the leadership of Krummacher and others made a great impression on him. The idea of a Reformed Reveil appealed to him, one which included the call to true conversion.

These elements, then, determined de Cock’s view of the oneness and catholicity of the church as a Reformational, Dort-like orthodoxy and an experiental catholicity. He considered the fundamental truths of the Reformation to be indispensable. Calvin


enjoyed his unlimited confidence. He wanted to defend orthodoxy but the stress on experience preserved him from the rigidity of thought which would prevail in the simple believers who were outside of the field of vision. De Cock's thought was national-reformed, with the retention of the theocracy. He once sent a passionate appeal to King William I, requesting him to see that a truly Reformed synod would be held, one in which the Dutch churches would present themselves to the people in true unity (de Cock II:429).


Separation but not Separatism

That de Cock was concerned with the catholicity of the church appears from his sharp opposition to the Labadistic, Donatistic, and independentist tendencies which he thought he discovered, for instance, in H.P. Scholte.1 The quarrel between de Cock and Scholte (who had earlier bound themselves together in an eternal friendship like that of David and Jonathan) belongs to the tragic by-products of the „crisis of youth” which the Secession churches had to undergo.2 But it became especially apparent in the sharp exchange of ideas between them that de Cock was averse to separatism as a sectarian phenomenon.

In the 17th century the Reformed Church in the Netherlands underwent a dangerous crisis when the activity of Jean de Labadie led to separation in many localities. One who opposed him most vigorously was Jacobus Koelman, a preacher who was deposed by the government and who appeared to be predisposed to separatism. Nevertheless Koelman, who was a warm supporter of the conventicles, opposed separatism on principle (Koelman 1770). His arguments against separatism and subjectivism in church affairs were eagerly used by de Cock when H.P. Scholte began to display the same separatist trend of thought.

De Cock sought to defend the catholicity of the church with an appeal to the catholicity of the covenant. It is the tragedy of the Dutch Reformed churches that precisely the teaching of the covenant has given occasion to many church schisms. De Cock, however, defended the objectivity of God’s covenant promise and thus could also continue to defend the breadth of the covenant. This he found to be a strong and sure foundation for the oneness


of church and folk who in virtue of a sure and certain promise stand in a real relation with Christ.

In his objective understanding of the holiness of the covenant, de Cock was able to proceed ecclesiastically. It is true that he sought connections with the conventicles because it was there, in the broad undercurrent of Reformed life, that the truth of God was preserved against the error in the spirit of the time. But this did not mean that de Cock defended the conventicles that relativized the church in its offices and its means of grace. On the contrary, wherever he could he sought to turn the conventicle into a church. He established offices and he promoted church assemblies; in short he thought ecclesiastically.

In this endeavor de Cock sensed an affinity with Koelman who also defended the right of the covenant and the church against the Labadists. De Cock vigorously rejected the accusation of separatism of which he and many others were accused (de Cock 1833:69). In order to refute this charge as well as others, he wrote his „Defense of the True Reformed Teaching and of the Truly Reformed People” (de Cock 1833:73). With this in view he published many letters in which the concurrence of the believers was clearly manifested. They were published „for a witness to the world that the Word of the Lord is true so that they all may be one as the Father is in Him and He in us so that the believers may be one in the Father and in the Son and that the world may believe that you sent me” (de Cock 1984:381).


4. Varieties of Catholicity

The „crisis of youth” mentioned above can largely be attributed to the different secession movements which arose. When we speak of the Secession, we should not forget that in it a complexity of diverse movements surfaced and took shape and that each experienced its own ideal of catholicity. Here four streams can be distinguished.


Experientialist Catholicity: Hendrik de Cock

The first movement took place in the northern provinces, largely under the influence of Hendrik de Cock. As we have seen, de


Cock was a man of a Reformed, experiential conviction. His endeavor found sympathy with believers who no longer felt at home within the Hervormde Kerk. The conflict with the Churches under the Cross (who refused to subject themselves to the new church order and therefore in about 1837 had organized themselves independently) should, according to de Cock, not have taken place. De Cock was initially their leader and they recognized in his teaching some of the doctrines they emphasized, such as election. The problem they had with election played a significant role in their circles. For whom, they asked, is the promise intended? Can one be certain of his/her salvation if one does not first know that he is personally elect? Should the marks of election therefore not play an important role in the preaching of the gospel? Must a believer not first know that he is loved of God before he can appropriate a single promise to himself?3

It is understandable that these questions produced their own kind of spirituality, one that was unassuming and inward looking, averse to all that happened in the world and more or less suspicious of the church and its means of grace, which were „only external.” De Cock did not write these people off but approached them in a pastoral way and sought to win their confidence.

The Churches under the Cross declined in strength because they could not feel at home in the questions of freedom (the reason why they rejected the name of Reformed Church) and because they had great objections against the new church order of Utrecht of 1837 (Veenhof, 1974). They apparently intuitively sensed that a relationship exists between piety and church organization, a relationship that is taught also in Art. 30 of the Belgic Confession. In 1869 the Churches under the Cross joined with the Seceders and the united church was called the Christian Reformed Church.

We could characterize this catholicity of de Cock as the catholicity of the experientialists; it is a way to experience unity that is alive and well even today. It is a unity in the subjective experience of salvation, the catholicity of the Christian’s experience within the limits of the orthodoxy of Dort.


Independentist Catholicity: H.P. Scholte

Alongside the experientialist view of the unity of the church, there was another stream among the seceders, this one under the leadership of the Rev. H.P. Scholte. It was he who had pushed de Cock forward and had also sought to establish relationships with movements abroad. The periodical De Reformatie, of which he was the inspiring editor, served as a source not only for the history of the internal developments of the Secession but displayed on many of its pages how Scholte followed with great interest the developments of various renewal movements in other lands. His view of the church and its confession was very independentist and for him the church was an assembly of the believers who consciously joined together. Hereby the significance of the covenant pales. For him church order had only a secondary significance, yet this did not prevent him from being continually busy in designing church orders, which produced great difficulties in the circle of the Seceders.

De Cock found in Scholte a continuing tendency toward independentism. His character provided few points of contact for practical cooperation and it is noteworthy that after Scholte’s departure for America a certain rest settled upon the circle of the Seceders who remained. And yet he represented an element which may not be underestimated in its significance. It is the tendency towards individualism, to independent action that does not immediately take account of the brethren. This tendency has remained until today in the churches of the Secession. It produced much energy and was supported by a strong conviction; it endured persecution and indignity but it did not promote fellowship (Oostendorp, 1964).

One would nevertheless be mistaken if he were to conclude that Scholte was not open for what took place in the outside world. His interests were broad, but in his own unique way they bore the same marks as those which were found in his strongest opponents; in his thought subjectivism played too great a role. Scholte showed a tendency to Darbyism in which the church finally disappears from view.


Evangelical Catholicity: Anthony Brummelkamp

A third type of catholicity is found in the interesting person of the


Rev. Anthony Brummelkamp, the person whom Bavinck described as a pre-eminently catholic Christian. Brummelkamp represented evangelical piety: broad and internal, authentic and alive. He remained at home in the circles of the Reveil. He attended the assemblies in Amsterdam and presented his contributions in the fellowship of the Christian Friends. For a long time he was looked at with suspicion in the circle of the Seceders but his uprightness finally convinced them to accept him, even when he devoted himself fully to the Evangelical Alliance, for which he held a rectoral address in 1873. For him what was most important was not where we differ, but where we agree. This approach, he said, can assist us to overcome our differences (Brummelkamp, 1873:14). When the fifth gathering of the Evangelical Alliance was held in Amsterdam in 1867 Brummelkamp was in attendance. Those were the tense days of conflict between France and Germany but the national conflicts fell by the wayside as Brummelkamp said, „The fact that at such meetings one feels the need for Holy Communion certainly estranges nobody. As for me I can only say that a certain incompleteness prevails when in such a situation there is no opportunity to sit together at the table, not the table of this or that communion, but of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Brummelkamp 1873:34). One can speak of a universal Christendom in Brummelkamp, one not above, but within the differences in faith. This did not result in setting the confession aside but in an acceptance of the existing oneness (Brummelkamp 1873:15).

Brummelkamp’s participation in Holy Communion with the circles of the Evangelical Alliance was not appreciated in his own churches and he admitted, „Even in our church objection was raised” (Brummelkamp 1873:34).


Confessional Catholicity: Simon Van Velzen

The objection against such a practice came undoubtedly from those whose view included not only the catholicity of the Christian faith but also of the church. In this fourth variety we place Simon Van Velzen. He was rather critical of all sorts of freedom which his brother-in-law Anthony Brummelkamp found permissible. He also crossed daggers with Groen van Prinsterer for his practical significance of adherence to the confession. Van Velzen’s position became clear in his „Apologia for the Church


Secession in the Netherlands” in which he advocated adherence to the confession by saying, „If anything good can be expected for the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, then the legal authority for its confessional standards must be recognized uprightly and without reservation” (Van Velzen 1848).

What the recognition of the confession meant, Van Velzen indica-ted with the following expression: „No abandonment but also no narrow-mindedness; whoever uprightly and fully expresses agreement with the Confession and does not show anything contrary may not be suspected. Further, each one must be granted freedom in the way he presents the truth. Even among the apostles there was a variety in their presentation. Among the earlier faithful Dutch theologians there was variety, along with their upright agreement in the truth. Therefore let no one make it difficult for others who have similar differences. On the contrary, may the variety and multiplicity of gifts be highly appreciated, but may all reveal themselves as one body of which Christ is the head, as one building resting on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, on which our confessions fully agree” (Van Velzen 1848:53).

Van Velzen, in distinction from Brummelkamp, has been called a dogmatic, inflexible and narrow leader. Nevertheless this was not the case. Although his relationship with Brummelkamp may have been difficult now and then, they both appreciated each other. And it is especially this last type of catholicity within the multicolored views concerning oneness and catholicity, which in time gained the upper hand. Van Velzen was concerned for the catholicity of the church, the catholicity of the Reformed church, and not just the catholicity of the faith or of experience, however this experience may be structured. This catholicity of the church he claimed lies in adherence to the confession in a unnarrow-minded and upright way. The other varieties of catholicity in his view could lead only to unity if they maintained the confession as the norm for catholicity.


5. The Limits of Catholicity

The historical situation in which the Secession originated placed


restrictions upon the catholicity of the church which inflicted injury upon its character. We think first of all of the rupture on the national level. In his address at the meeting of the Evangelical Alliance in Amsterdam in 1867, Groen Van Prinsterer could say that the Netherlands was the product of an evangelical alliance in history (Van Prinsterer 1960:130). He pointed in this connection to the national struggle for freedom from Spain, which according to the Reformed people was undertaken as a religionis causa. Hereby a very close relationship arose between church and state. The later French occupation had loosened the connection, but the restoration of national independence in 1813 made the relationship between the state and the Hervormde Kerk (Gereformeerde) strong once again. It is also undoubtedly true that in the thinking of William I and the civil servants in The Hague the Secession was an assault not only against church authority but in a certain sense against civil authority as well.

The Seceders themselves, especially in the early years, had difficulty with the idea of a free church. When their actions finally resulted in that, they abandoned the idea of a theocracy; thereby an element in the idea of the catholicity of the church which had always played a role fell away. When the connection with state and society was loosened, a change in theology was necessitated. The new situation undoubtedly also produced advantages and the church in its testimony could soon direct itself without hindrance to the government and the people. But the idea of all the people in the one church was gone, although Hoedemaker spasmodically continued to hold it.

Would the Seceders be able to preserve catholicity if a rupture came on the level of the Confession? The tragedy was that after the Secession there have been two kinds of Reformed people: those within and those outside the Hervormde Kerk. In his concept of the Hervormde Gezindte (Reformed persuasion) Groen Van Prinsterer tried to maintain the unity of both groups. His sympathetic plea for the Seceders arose from his conviction that they had to leave the Hervormde Kerk in order to remain Reformed. But he himself took another decision. He always made clear that he considered himself to be one with them confessionally, but the many people who with him stayed in the Hervormde


Kerk experienced their adherence to the confession in another way than the Seceders did.

They soon saw the latter as confessional hair splitters. In time the Seceders themselves confronted the danger of an over-emphasis on the confession, especially when this seemed to be the only way to maintain order in their own membership. Then it clearly appeared that the appeal to the confession could not convince people of the other group. Groen Van Prinsterer asked Simon Van Velzen: „What do we want when we appeal to church standards? Is it our highest goal to maintain the forms? Or are they a means by which the higher desire of maintaining the truth of the gospel, the building of the church and the expansion of the congregation, may be reached?” (Van Prinsterer 1960:130). The question, Whence the misunderstanding in regard to the confession? makes clear how poorly an appeal to the confession functioned within the frame of catholicity.

The reason for this lay in the rupture that happened in the unthinkable place where the truth of the gospel is at stake, namely, in the church. The Reformed people in the Hervormde Kerk continued to oppose the spirit of error; they too resisted with all their might that which they considered to be false, but they remained within the church even after they openly granted „That the restoration of the Reformed church fellowship was doubtful.” This admission, plus the fact that the Seceders had been suspended and deposed, punished and persecuted, convinced the Seceders all the more that the act of secession was an act of pure obedience of faith. They broke with the institution for the sake of the church and when in longing for unity they stretched forth the hand of fellowship to all truly Reformed people, the church walls appeared to be too high to give one another a hand of fellowship. The way of the conventicle was open but they refused to follow that path. And since the path of toleration was to them not viable, a scaled down catholicity arose. When questions of the oneness, the holiness and the catholicity of the church were addressed, they were strongly focused on the endangered core of the gospel which was then isolated from other aspects of the Bible’s message. In order to concentrate on the gospel they settled for isolation. For the sake of the church they accepted, although


not without an internal struggle, a certain limitation on the catholicity of the church.

When for the first time representatives of churches in Scotland appeared at their synods in the 1860s and their own representatives traveled to England and Scotland, the isolation was broken and they once again experienced unity with brothers, an experience which contained the promise of a richer and more developed church life (Acts of Synod 1863:129).


Kuyper’s Idea of Catholicity

Abraham Kuyper’s teaching of the catholicity of the church was determined by his ideas concerning the visible and invisible church, by his distinction between the church as organism and as institute, and by his ideas on the pluriformity of the church.4

In his „Treatise on the Reformation of the Churches” Kuyper wrote of the fourfold way in which the church of Christ can be understood: „The essence of the church must be understood on the basis of the authority of Holy Scripture under four points of view. One can have in mind either the church as it is determined in God’s council, or the church as its life is hidden in Christ, or the church as it is realized among people on earth, or, finally, the church as it will finally rejoice in glory before the Throne” (Kuyper 1883:5).

From his writings on the reformation of the church it is clear that Kuyper’s concern for the church was limited to its manifestation on earth. This church is both visible and invisible. „It is one and the same church which, according to its hidden essence, takes shelter in the spiritual realm in order to reveal itself only to the spiritual eye, which also at the same time appears in its external visible forms in order to be open to natural observation both by the believers and by the world” (Kuyper 1883:7).

The visible and invisible church are related to each other in such a way that the essence of the first is always found in the second: „The essence of a visible church is and always remains the invisible church, provided one includes the in-built impulse of the spiritual and mystical church to display itself externally. The invisible church is the body of Christ, that is, the organic union of


all the elect in the Holy Spirit, under Christ as their Head” (Kuyper 1883:29).

Behind the distinction between the visible and invisible church we find another hidden distinction, namely, the one between the church as organism and as institute. Kuyper connected the church organism with the council of God’s election and with regeneration. In the ideal sense it is understood in Christ as the Head of the reborn humanity. Thus the church comprises the restored organism of the original human race which was lost by sin. This restored organism is determined by election. By means of this theory he made possible a very broad understanding of catholicity. The universality of the church has strong cosmic aspects, understood both intensively and extensively (Velema 1957:194). It is at the same time eschatological in nature. God sees in the church a completely reformed humanity as it will be in reality in the eschaton. One cannot deny that this is a grand conception which offers broad perspectives for the catholicity of the church.

But the problem in this view lies in its non-real nature: Kuyper relates his views to the essence of the church, not to its existence. This clearly appears when he says that the attributes of the church must not be confused with the marks of the church. The marks concern the external church; the attributes, the essence of the church, „The attributa concern the internal essence and consequently are not applicable to the institute but are directly contradicted by the nature of the institute . . . The soul of the church is the invisible church, the church in its essence as this was created by God and to this alone do the attributes belong” (Kuyper 1910:81).

Kuyper explains what this means in the following words. „The unitas has never existed on earth; it does happen that people pray for the unity of the church but this is as foolish as if we were to pray, Lord give me a soul, whereas a soul was given to us in the Creation. No, the church possesses its oneness and if it were to lose it’s oneness for a single moment, then the church would no longer exist. Jesus prayed for the oneness of the members of the church but never for the oneness of the Church” (Kuyper 1910:81).


The same holds for the catholicity of the church: it is a qualitas essentialis of the Body of Christ which consists in the fact that the church of Jesus Christ is ,,the reconstruction of the entire fallen human race. The genealogical tree of the human race is not abandoned, but if it is to blossom eternally, it must be pruned of its wild branches. And because the human race is katholikos that is, comprehends everything, it much follow that as far as the tree of the genus humanum extends, so far does the body of Christ extend also . . . This ‘Catholicity’ is not an accidental but an inherent and essential attribute of the church which belongs to its essence” (Kuyper 1910:94).

The distinctions which Kuyper applies to the church, namely those between the visible and the invisible, between the church as organism and the church as institute, pervade his views on oneness and catholicity. They are related at every point to the distinction that plays a great role in his entire theology, namely that between essence and existence, between being and consciousness. Oneness and catholicity concern the invisible, essential church.

Thus Kuyper cleared the way to develop his teaching on the pluriformity of the church (Van Leeuwen 1946:208). Actually, if in the visible institute there is an impulse to reveal itself fully, and yet only the existence but not the essence is fully revealed, then an important factor for the church’s manifestation is made dependent upon the laws and developments which hold for the creation. Like every other community, the church must develop according to universal human norms. But the question is: What corrective is there if the essence of the church lies in that which is invisible? Pluriformity has been given with the creation, according to Kuyper; but once one has applied this creation motif to the church, one can no longer oppose a certain relativizing of ecclesiastical disunity. Church pluriformity implies confessional pluriformity (Van Leeuwen 1946:212).

Here lies the origin of Kuyper's dealing with the concept of „principles”. In the struggle of spirits the Reformed principle has first place and Calvinism gives to it the greatest mileage. With his appeal to return to Calvinism (Calvinism n d: 189) Kuyper did not at all mean that all believing Protestants should subscribe as


quickly as possible to the Reformed confession „in order to cause ecclesiastical pluriformity to be melted down into the oneness of the essence of the Reformed church.” That would be in conflict with his ideas and also with his broad ecclesiastical perspective: „You have heard how broad my concept is and how spacious is my point of view, including the life of the church. I do not expect good from anything except the free development of church life; I applaud multiformity and see in it a higher stage of development. And even for the church which confesses the faith most purely I would call for the help of other churches so that its undeniable one-sidedness should be supplemented” (Kuyper Calvinism n d: 189,192).

The unity and the catholicity of the church, according to Kuyper, „touch the other world, not the visible but the invisible. They ought to exercise influence on the manifestation of the church but they can come to expression only in a highly defective way” (Kuyper 1910:101). The oneness and the catholicity of the church are always intended as an object of faith.


Catholicity and the Doleantie

He who has carefully studied Kuyper’s writings and the effects they had on the church movement, of which he was the undisputed leader, finds himself in a quandary: How can one make a connection between theory and practice? Whoever directs the catholicity of the church to the world of faith, not to the world of ideas, nor to the eschaton, has robbed this concept of its force for the existence of the church. Nevertheless, Kuyper’s view has been of decisive significance for reform activities in the Hervormde Kerk. In his „Treatise on the Reformation of the Churches” he dealt with the visible church and then arrived at the point that only in theory could such Reformation occur that the church would have to be called a false church. Kuyper, accordingly, considered the Act of Secession of 1834 to be a measure which was prematurely applied.

The Rev. W.H. Gispen has written that Kuyper’s argument was „that a secession is never or almost never legitimate and that everyone is bound to remain in the church in which he was born, was baptized, and made confession. The Treatise is the strongest


plea that I have ever heard or read against the Secession” (Gispen 1903:181).

While the Secession related unity and catholicity to the visible church which should serve the truth, Kuyper relegated both of them to the invisible world. In this way he created the possibility to speak of the Hervormde Kerk in terms of more or less pure. The only need was that the churches be delivered from the illegal and unscriptural organization. In this connection the comment of Herman Bavinck is instructive: „if the opposition is not understood as exclusive, one can summarize it by saying that the Secession was a struggle for the truth and the Doleantie for the right of the Reformed churches. The former was ethical and the latter was juridical in nature” (Veenhof 1969:355).

It therefore need not surprise us that the theologians of the Doleantie were experts in church polity. They started, in the footsteps of Kuyper, from the independence of the local church, from the church which manifested itself in a single organization. But we would ask: Did they hereby not abandon an essential element of catholicity? The tensions concerning this have continued until the present in the history of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.

Developments in and after the Doleantie led to the result that Kuyper and his followers, like the Seceders, soon found themselves outside the Hervormde Kerk. People kept alive for a long time the theory that the local believers had broken only with the organization, but existence proved to be too strong.

The reality presented an image that one could no longer deny: „the Doleantie had become a second Secession movement and the people of the Doleantie accepted this reality” (Augustijn 1986:12). The way was then open for a union with the largest part of the Seceders and, following the union, a consolidation could begin which worked with vigor to bring about a more realistic catholicity, first in the intensive sphere of a strong concentration upon the one truth and later in the area of the extensiveness of the true oneness. This has shown itself to be a strong stimulant in the discovery of ecumenicity and catholicity, as these have for years been held as the ideal.


For the Secession of 1834, separation was a means, the only means, to hold fast to the truth. This truth concerned the church, the true church. For the Doleantie of 1886, separation from the organization was a requirement to reform the church and to gather the believers together in a purer church. The people of the Doleantie were more quickly convinced than were the Seceders that the church must exist free from the government, and out of this conviction came the later correction in Art. 36 of the Belgic Confession. But as free churches they took a stand, according to Bavinck, to preserve the catholicity both of the Christian faith and of the Christian church. To use the words of the Confession they appeared to become „very small and in the eyes of men to be reduced to nothing” (Art. 27). They knew that they had been preserved and kept standing because Christ is an eternal King who cannot be without subjects.



1. See also W. van ’t Spijker, „De dogmatische aspecten van de Afscheiding” in Aspecten van de Afscheiding, A. de Groot and P.L. Schram, eds, 1984; „Theologie en spiritualiteit van de afgescheidenen” in De Afscheiding van 1834 en haar geschiedenis, 1984.
2. See complete edition of the official materials concerning the departure from the Netherlands Reformed church. Vol I, 1863.
3. This problem played a great role in the so-called Churches under the Cross. See F.L. Bos, Kruisdominees, verhalen uit afgescheiden kringen, 2nd edition; J.C. van der Does, Kruisgezinden en Separatisten 2nd Edition; H.A. Hofman, Ledeboerianen en Kruisgezinden, een historische studie over het ontstaan van de Gereformeerde Gemeenten (1824-1937), 1977.
4. For Kuyper’s concept of the church, see: H.J. Langman, Kuyper en de volkskerk, 1950; P.A. van Leeuwen, Het Kerkbegrip in de theologie van Abraham Kuyper, 1946.



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Bavinck, H. The Catholicity of Christianity and Church, 1888.
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