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Going Dutch in the Modern Age: Abraham Kuyper's Struggle for a Free Church in the Nineteenth-Century Netherlands

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 June 2013

Department of Theological Studies, Saint Louis University, 2146 Gray Avenue, Saint Louis, Mo 63117, USA; e-mail:


The nineteenth century witnessed a transition from the ancien régime to the ‘age of mobilisation’, says Charles Taylor, from an organically and hierarchically connected society to a fragmented society based on mass participation, charismatic leaders and organisational tactics. Amid this upheaval the Netherlands Reformed Church faced an unprecedented crisis as it lost its taken-for-granted social status. This essay examines the new legitimation that Abraham Kuyper offered the Church through his Free Church theology, and how various other aspects of his theology, including his baptismal and public theology, developed in conjunction with his ecclesiology. Kuyper's ecclesiology thus offers a case study of problems that ecclesiology in general faced due to the social and cultural shifts of the nineteenth century.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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2 Abraham Kuyper, ‘Conservatism and orthodoxy: false and true preservation’ (1870), in James D. Bratt (ed.), Abraham Kuyper: a centennial reader, Grand Rapids 1998, 69. See also Kuyper, Abraham, ‘De Sleutelen’, in Uit het Woord: stichtelijke Bijbelstudiën, Amsterdam n.d., 41–2Google Scholar.

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4 Various studies have dealt with Kuyper and themes of the mobilisation of Dutch society: Bos, David, Servants of the kingdom: professionalization among ministers in the nineteenth-century Netherlands Reformed Church, Leiden 2010Google Scholar; Bratt, James, ‘Abraham Kuyper's public career’, Reformed Journal xxxvii (1987), 912Google Scholar, and ‘Kuyper and Dutch theological education’, in R. Albert Mohler and D. G. Hart (eds), Theological education in the Evangelical tradition, Grand Rapids 1996; George Harinck and Lodewijk Winkeler, ‘De negentiende eeuw’, in Herman J. Selderhuis (ed), Handboek Nederlandse Kerkgeschiedenis, Kampen 2006, 323–41; Koch, Jeroen, ‘Abraham Kuyper tussen gereformeerde natie en Gereformeerde Zuil’, Tijdschrift voor Geschiedenis cxx (2007), 524–33Google Scholar; Schutte, G. J., ‘Abraham Kuyper: Vormer van een Volksdeel’, Het Calvinistisch Nederland: mythe en werkelijkheid, Hilversum 2000, 146–65Google Scholar; van Eijnatten, and van Lieburg, , Nederlandse religiegeschiedenisGoogle Scholar; Michael Wintle, ‘Protestant dominance and confessional politics: Switzerland and the Netherlands’, in Sheridan Gilley and Brian Stanley (eds), The Cambridge history of Christianity: world Christianities, c. 1815–1914, Cambridge 2006, 323–41; Wintle, Michael, An economic and social history of the Netherlands, 1800–1920: demographic, economic, and social transition, Cambridge 2000Google Scholar; and Kennedy, James C., Stad op een berg: de publieke rol van protestantse Kerken, Zoetermeer 2009Google Scholar.

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12 Abraham Kuyper, ‘De Ontwikkeling der pauselijke macht onder Nicolaas i’, Amsterdam 1859, Kuyper Archief, 300; cf. J. van den Berg, ‘Oplossing der kerk in de maatschappij? Modernen, ethischen en de toekomstvisie van Richard Rothe’, in T. Baarda, J. Firet and G. Th. Rothuizen (eds), Ad interim: opstellen over eschatologie, apocalyptic en ethiek, Kampen 1976, 151–67.

13 Kuyper, Abraham, Abraham Kuyper's Commentatio (1860): the young Kuyper about Calvin, A Lasco, and the Church, Leiden 2005, sig. 175, p. 312; sig. 188, p. 335Google Scholar. See also Kuyper's inaugural sermon in the parish of Beesd: ‘Een wandel in ‘t licht: de grondslag van alle gemeenschap in de Kerk van Christus, August 9, 1863’, Amsterdam 1863, Archief Kuyper.

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16 Quoted in Cornelis Augustijn, ‘Kerk en godsdienst 1870–1890’, in Wim Bakker (ed), De Doleantie van 1886 en haar geschiedenis, Kampen 1986, 58–62. For Kuyper's response see Jasper Vree, ‘More Pierson and Mesmer, and less Pietje Baltus: Kuyper's ideas on Church, State, and culture during the first years of his ministry (1863–1866)’, in Cornelis van der Kooi and Jan de Bruijn (eds), Kuyper reconsidered: aspects of his life and work, Amsterdam 1999, 299–309, and John Halsey Wood, Jr, ‘Whither the Church? Richard Rothe's challenge to the Dutch Church’, in Todd Gooch, Lori K. Pearson and Theodore Vial (eds), Papers of the nineteenth century theology group, Eugene 2010, 48–66.

17 Abraham Kuyper, ‘Confidentially (1873)’, in Bratt, Abraham Kuyper: a centennial reader, 51–4; Puchinger, George, Abraham Kuyper: his early journey of faith, Amsterdam 1998Google Scholar; Vree, Jasper, Kuyper in de kiem: de precalvinistische periode van Abraham Kuyper, 1848–1874, Hilversum 2006, 371–3.Google Scholar

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19 Idem, ‘Geworteld en Gegrond (1870)’, in Predicatiën, in de jaren 1867 tot 1873, tijdens zijn predikantschap in het Nederlandsch Hervormde Kerkgenootschap, gehouden te Beesd, te Utrecht, en te Amsterdam, Kampen 1913, 336. See also ‘Confidentially (1873)’, 60.

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26 Idem, ‘De Sleutelen’, 42.

27 Idem, Confidentie, 52; Vree, Kiem, 209.

28 Kuyper, ‘De Sleutelen’, 44–5, and ‘De Sleutelmacht’, in Uit het Woord: stichtelijke Bijbelstudiën, Amsterdam n.d., 99.

29 Idem, ‘De uitverkiezing’, Uit het Woord, 189.

30 Idem, ‘Wedergeboorte en bekeering’, ibid. 34, 37.

31 Idem, De leer der Verbonden, Kampen 1909, 177Google Scholar, 185–6, 192–4, and ‘Wedergeboorte en Bekeering’, 32.

32 Idem, ‘Practijk in de Bediening’, in Practijk der Godzaligheid, Kampen 1909, 37. Kuyper followed the eighteenth-century theologian J. C. Appelius and elsewhere quoted him at length: De leer der Verbonden, 197–207; Appelius, J. C., Brief behelzende de voornaamste gronden, en de byzondere mening van de hedendaagsche nieuwe lere der sacramenten: neffens de voornaamste bewyzen, tegen dezelve: als ook eene oplossing van hare voornaamste tegenwerpingen, Groningen 1768Google Scholar. See also Kuyper, ‘Wedergeboorte en Bekeering’, 35.

33 Kuyper, ‘Practijk in de bediening’, 37. See also De leer der Verbonden, 198–202.

34 Idem, ‘Practijk in de bediening’, 37.

35 Idem, Wat moeten wij doen: het stemrecht aan ons zelven houden of den kerkeraad machtigen? Vraag bij de uitvoering van art. 23 toegelicht, Culemborg 1867.Google Scholar

36 Houkes, Christelijke Vaderlanders, 145–83.

37 Hoedemaker, Philip J., Heel de Kerk en heel het volk! Een protest tegen het optreden der Gereformeerden als partij, en een woord van afscheid aan de Confessioneele Vereeniging, Sneek 1897.Google Scholar

38 Cf. Amy Plantinga Pauw, ‘Practical ecclesiology in John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards’, in Thomas J. Davis (ed), John Calvin's American legacy, New York 2010, 94; Kuyper, Abraham, Tractaat van de reformatie der kerken, aan de zonen der Reformatie hier te lande op Luther's vierde eeuwfeest aangeboden, Amsterdam 1883Google Scholar, sigs 1, 2.

39 Abraham Kuyper, ‘Vrijheid: Bevestigingsrede van Dr. Ph. S. van Ronkel’ (1873), in Predicatiën, in de jaren 1867 tot 1873, tijdens zijn predikantschap in het Nederlandsch Hervormde Kerkgenootschap, gehouden te Beesd, te Utrecht, en te Amsterdam, Kampen 1913, 399, 405, 407.

40 On Calvin see Witte, John Jr, The Reformation of rights: law, religion, and human rights in early modern Calvinism, Cambridge 2007, 70–6Google Scholar.

41 Kuyper, ‘Vrijheid’, 400.

42 Idem, Confidentie, 86–91.

43 Idem, ‘Vrijheid’, 406. See also Confidentie, 80–4.

44 Idem, Kerkvisitatie te Utrecht in 1868 met het oog op den kritieken toestand onzer kerk, Utrecht 1868, 67Google Scholar, 14–16.

45 Vree, Jasper, ‘De Drie Formulieren van Enigheid: een vondst van Abraham Kuyper’, Historisch Tijdschrift GKN xiii (2007), 317.Google Scholar

46 On the history of Kuyper's break with the national Church, the Doleantie, see the essays in Wim Bakker (ed), De Doleantie van 1886 en haar Geschiedenis, Kampen 1986, and Deddens, D. and Kamphuis, J. (eds), Doleantie-Wederkeer: Opstellen over de Doleantie van 1886, Haarlem 1986.Google Scholar

47 On the development of Kuyper's organism/institution formula, Jasper Vree says that Kuyper ‘let the distinction rest’ until his Encyclopedia of 1893–4, and Vree also claims that the term ‘visible organic Church’ does not appear until the Encyclopedia. P. A. van Leeuwen, however, found the term appearing first in 1887. Whatever the history of the terminology, this essay argues that the concepts, if not the terms, were already present in 1883 and that they animated Kuyper's account of the Church in the Tract: Antonius van Leeuwen, Petrus, Het kerkbegrip in de theologie van Abraham Kuyper, Franeker 1946, 146Google Scholar; Jasper Vree, ‘Organisme en instituut: de ontwikkeling van Kuypers spreken over kerk–zijn (1867–1901)’, in Abraham Kuyper: vast en veranderlijk: de ontwikkeling van zijn denken, Zoetermeer 1998, 95–8.

48 Abraham Kuyper, ‘(Main points of ecclesiology)’, in De heraut, 1884. See also Kuyper, Tractaat van de reformatie der Kerken, sig. 14.

49 Idem, ‘Locus de Ecclesia’, in Dictaten dogmatiek, Grand Rapids n.d., 107–8.

50 Idem, Tractaat van de reformatie der kerken, sig. 14.

51 Cf. Kolb, Robert, Martin Luther: confessor of the faith, New York 2009, 157CrossRefGoogle Scholar; van der Borght, Eduardus, Theology of ministry: a reformed contribution to an ecumenical dialogue, Leiden 2007, 101.Google Scholar

52 Kuyper mentioned the priesthood of believers in 1867, when arguing for more democratic church elections, but a discussion of the priesthood of believers is absent in Confidentie (1873), for example, where Kuyper was concerned to uphold the central teaching authority of the Church: Wat moeten wij doen, 8; Confidentie. After the Doleantie, Kuyper developed the lay office with reference to the priesthood of believers in Encyclopaedie der heilige godgeleerdheid, Kampen 1909, 545–69.

53 Idem, Tractaat van de reformatie der kerken, sig. 26.

54 Ibid. sig. 12. See also his Tractaat van de reformatie der Kerken, sigs. 20, 26, and Separatie en doleantie, Amsterdam 1890, 28–30.

55 Idem, ‘Locus de Ecclesia’, 108.

56 Idem, Tractaat van de reformatie der Kerken, 14; ‘(Main points of ecclesiology)’; ‘Locus de ecclesia’, 112.

57 Idem, Lectures on Calvinism, Grand Rapids 1931Google Scholar, 21. See also p. 62.

58 Idem, The work of the Holy Spirit, New York 1900, 299300.Google Scholar

59 Idem, E Voto Dordraceno: Toelichting op den Heidelbergschen Catechismus, Kampen 1892–5Google Scholar, ii. 311, 404–5.

60 Idem, Tractaat van de reformatie der Kerken, sig. 20.

61 Idem, Lectures on Calvinism, 16, 21, 47, 62–5.

62 Idem, ‘Locus de Foedere’, in Dictaten dogmatiek, Grand Rapids 1910, 134, 153–4.

63 Idem, Tractaat van de reformatie der Kerken, sig. 17.

64 Ibid. sig. 16.

65 Ernst Troeltsch agrees that the chief difference between Calvin's Calvinism and Kuyper's neoCalvinism is the principle of tolerance in Kuyper's system: The social teaching of the Christian Churches, Louisville 1960, 673.

66 Pace Koch, Jeroen, Abraham Kuyper: een biografie, Amsterdam 2006, 64.Google Scholar Echoing Troeltsch's estimate of neoCalvinism's ecclesial tolerance, Charles Taylor says that the affinity-group quality and the relinquishing of the claim to be the one true Church define the modern denomination, which is the religious form appropriate to the ‘age of mobilisation’: A secular age, 449–59.

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68 Casanova, José, Public religions in the modern world, Chicago 1994, 55CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

69 ‘Public theology’ is a debated term. I use it in the general sense that Martin Marty and Edith Blumhofer do: ‘the interpretive language of thinkers in believing communities, when they direct themselves to the public [i.e., common] good’: ‘Public religion in America today’. See also Kennedy, Stad op een Berg, 20–1.

70 Kuyper, Abraham, De zegen des heeren over onze kerken: rede ter inleiding op het gebed voor het samenkomen der Gereformeerde Kerken in Generale Synode gehouden in de Noorderkerk te Middelburg, op 10 Augustus 1896, Amsterdam 1896, 22.Google Scholar

71 Ibid. 23.

72 Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism were given in 1898 at Princeton seminary. His three volumes on common grace appeared first as a series of newspaper articles beginning in 1895. Other important public theological works include his series on the Kingship of Christ and his Theological encyclopedia, which he considered his intellectual magnum opus.

73 Houkes, Christelijke Vaderlanders, 231–50.

74 Abraham Kuyper, ‘Common Grace (1895–1901)’, in Bratt, Abraham Kuyper, 194–5.

75 Harinck, George, Waar komt het VU–Kabinet vandaan? Over de traditie van het neocalvinisme, Amstelveen 2007, 5.Google Scholar

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77 Cf. Houkes, Christelijke vaderlanders, passim.

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79 Idem, ‘Common grace’, 191.

80 Idem, De gemeene gratie, Kampen 1931–2, ii. 52.Google Scholar

81 Ibid. ii. 268–83.

82 Idem, ‘Common grace’, 191–3.

83 Ibid. 197.

84 Secularisation 1, according to Casanova: Public religions in the modern world, 20–5.

85 Cf. Abraham Kuyper, ‘Calvinism: source and stronghold of our constitutional liberties (1874)’, in Bratt, Abraham Kuyper, 290–1; Casanova, Public religions, 7; Berger, Peter and others, Religious America, secular Europe? A theme and variations, Aldershot 2008Google Scholar, passim; Douma, J., Algemeene genade: uiteenzetting, vergelijking en beoordeling van de opvatting van A. Kuyper, K. Schilder, en Joh. Calvijn over ‘Algemeene Genade’, Goes 1976Google Scholar, 66.

86 Kuyper, Tweeërlei vaderland, 30.

87 Kuyper used the term ‘life-system’ as an English equivalent to the German Weltanschauung, which Peter Heslam equates with the more recent term ‘worldview’: Creating a Christian worldview, 88–9Google Scholar; Kuyper, , Lectures on Calvinism, 940Google Scholar; Naugle, David K., Worldview: the history of a concept, Grand Rapids 2002Google Scholar.

88 Molendijk, Arie L., ‘Neocalvinistisch cultuurprotestantisme: Abraham Kuyper's Stone Lectures’, Documentatieblad voor de Nederlandse Kerkgeschiedenis na 1800 xxix (2006), 519Google Scholar, and Neo-Calvinist culture Protestantism: Abraham Kuyper's Stone Lectures’, Church History and Religious Culture lxxxviii (2008), 235–50Google Scholar.

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