The Pastor and the Church: Abraham Kuyper

I just finished Our Worship (Onze Eredienst; 1911) [ed.  Harry Boonstra, trans. Boonstra, et. al (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009)] by Abraham Kuyper.  The book is a series of published articles on public worship and liturgy which Kuyper penned around the turn of the 20th century in a Dutch Reformed  “magazine,” De Heraut.  The topics include liturgy, the assembly, the meeting, the prayers, song, preaching, elders, deacons, and so forth – 316 pages of such discussion.

I enjoyed the first chapters quite a bit.  Here’s a golden section from the first chapter, “Revival of Liturgical Awareness.”

“In a genuine church…the gathering of believers” originates in “a historical past that goes back all the way to Pentecost in Jerusalem.  Such a church is rooted in a past of eighteen centuries, in which a temporary minister serves for only a set number of years to accomplish his holy service, and then that same service continues under the ministry of his successor.  That means that it is not the minister who created the church, but that the church existed long before him.  He was born in the church, he served in it, and therefore had to honor the traditions that developed within the church over the centuries.” (p. 7; emphasis mine).

That’s great: Kuyper is reacting to the “free-reining spirit” common in America (yes, even back in c. 1900) where a minister starts his own church, gets some followers and goes from there.  Kuyper said that such a conglomeration is “nothing other than a circle gathering around a talented speaker” (Ibid.).  Kuyper’s response is classic: the minister is a very tiny part of a much greater thing.  He does not have the liberty to do what he wants with the church.  He’s an important servant in some sense, but he must remember that the church existed before him and will be there long after his tongue no longer speaks.  He’s a tool in the hands of Christ, used for a time to build something much more significant than himself: the body of Christ.   This is a great note for me as a pastor to remember: “The church has authority over the minister and not the minister over the church” (Ibid., 6).

The minister serves Christ and his church – not the other way around.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

6 Replies to “The Pastor and the Church: Abraham Kuyper”

  1. Thank you Shane!

    I wish I remembered this simple, but very important point, about seven years ago (“The church has authority over the minister and not the minister over the church.”) when this issue came up in a small nondenominational church in which I was a leader. Now, I attend a PCA church and recognize the importance and value of denominational standards and sound Reformed doctrinal standards.

    Then, about seven years ago, we were young, fervent, zealous, and energetic. We were a tight group of friends. We were parents and the high school age youth of a very active youth group which split from a large church when the Youth director was fired. We thought the Youth director was unjustly fired for being too evangelistic, and we eagerly sought him as our Pastor. He became our Pastor. No elders nor deacons were ever set up. There were leaders, but the minister and his wife were part of the leadership team, and the Pastor effectively controlled everything.

    I remember very distinctly another leader questioning me on this point (“Who is in charge?) when that leader strongly disagreed with the Pastor. I gave the other leader the wrong answer. We continued to be tossed about through different issues until the church splintered apart, bit by bit, different attendees going different ways, and finally effectively died (although some could argue that it merged into another small nondenominational church).

    In summary and conclusion, we would have done much better if we knew this point. There were other problems such as lack of sound doctrine and creeds to which we agreed, but this was a big point. Thank you again.


  2. GLW – Ha! Funny how sometimes trying to run away from anabaptistic principles leads one right back into them! Thanks!

    Appreciate the story, Bill, thanks for that.



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