Many committed Christians struggle with the advisability of voting for a Mormon in the upcoming Presidential election. The choice is between a man who governs as if he were God (Barack Obama) and a man thinks he will be God (Mitt Romney). Once again the specter of voting for the “lessor of two evils” raises its ugly head.
Shall we vote against a man who is actively seeking to destroy America by voting for a man whose policies may delay that destruction? There is of course another question: Shall we vote for either one of them since neither possesses the leadership traits required by the Bible?
In the realm of political action the principle of “coalition” is fraught with difficulty and nuance of application that challenges the most astute theologian, not to mention the political practitioner. The work of Abraham Kuyper in Holland between 1870 and 1920 is perhaps our best modern example of the cultural application of the Biblical principles of war, including the principle of coalition.
This article examines the man and his strategy for cultural reformation and its practical outworking in terms of political tactics and outcomes. Kuyper is often lauded as a showcase model of the application of biblical principles to the political arena in Holland. However, even a man with the leadership traits of Abraham Kuyper may have been compromised by abuse of the principle of coalition.
The Cultural Strategy of Abraham Kuyper
Who was Abraham Kuyper? Abraham Kuyper was a Dutch theologian, journalist, and statesman. For 50 years he edited De Standaard, a journal of political and cultural commentary in Holland. He Founded the Free University in Amsterdam and organized a Christian political party, The Anti-Revolutionary Party. He served in the Dutch Parliament and as prime minister from 1901 to 1905.
MYTH: During his tenure as Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper applied Biblical law to the legal system of Holland
Historical Context: Kuyper stepped onto the world stage in the late 1800s into the trail of philosophical destruction left by the Enlightenment era. The industrial revolution was well underway. The rationalism of the Enlightenment had transformed the socio-political outlook of the European states. God and His revealed Word were no longer revered as the sovereign source of governing authority. In His place had arisen the sovereign individual and more ominously the sovereign state – the state accountable to nothing other than its own autonomous will. Even in Holland, this humanistic spirit had overtaken a plurality of the electorate, forcing Kuyper’s coalition with the Catholics, especially on issues dealing with educational freedom.
Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1871) had revolutionized not only man’s understanding of science, but nearly every other discipline as well. All of life was now seen through evolutionary glasses. Men sought the reins of government to direct the evolutionary process via social engineering. The 19th Century also saw the rise of the Pantheistic romantics protesting the impersonal transcendence of the god of the rationalists.
Summary of Kuyper’s strategy: In the teeth of this secular whirlwind, Abraham Kuyper championed historic Calvinism, the application of the Word of God to every sphere of life. He developed the theory of “sphere-sovereignty” in which every aspect of earthly activity – church, education, business, law, art, etc. – is independent of the others and directly accountable to God for its functioning. The state is limited in scope and likewise accountable to God. The state functions primarily as an “umpire”, deciding disputes between the spheres, but not interfering in their internal affairs.
Thus, Kuyper spoke of “a free church in a free state”. The University he founded was named the Amsterdam Free University, signifying its independence of both church and state. His call to the civil government itself to submit to God was captured in the name of the political party he founded – The Anti-Revolutionary Party. This party was anti-revolutionary in the sense that it stood against the tenets of the French Revolution and its radical rebellion from the God of the Bible.
He was an ardent defender of the sovereignty (authority) of God in the civil sphere, as opposed to both popular sovereignty and state sovereignty. However, he failed to recognize the stark violations of this principle in the Dutch, English and American revolutions. All of these abandoned the civil covenant under the authority of God for a secular republic based on popular sovereignty and perceived leadership traits.
Kuyper’s desire for a Christianized state is capsulized in his famous poetic testimony at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of De Standaard: “One desire has been the ruling passion of my life. One high motive has acted like a spur upon my mind that I should seek escape from the sacred necessity that is laid upon me, let the breath of life fail me. It is this: That in spite of all worldly opposition, God’s holy ordinances shall be established again in the home, in the school and in the State for the good of the people; to carve as It were into the conscience of the nation the ordinances of the Lord, to which Bible and Creation bear witness, until the nation pays homage again to God.”
At least this was his stated goal early in his career. Later he argued that such a goal was quixotic and impossible in a pluralistic society and that civil government must rule according to God’s will revealed in nature; i.e., natural law (Creating a Christian Worldview, p. 164). Moreover, he argued specifically against theocracy, confusing the rule of God’s law in civil government (theocracy) with the rule of the church over the state (ecclesiocracy).
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In addition, his doctrine of sphere sovereignty precluded any single sphere, including the Christian community, presuming to speak for the entire society. This position coincided with his amillennial eschatology, an eschatology that failed to fully press the crown rights of King Jesus, in spite of Kuyper’s famous slogan, Pro Rege, ”For the King”. These faults overshadowed the powerful example of his leadership traits.
Implications for subsequent history: In the short run, the work of Abraham Kuyper and his leadership traits were a great boon to Dutch society, but after his death it was quickly overrun by the juggernaut of modernity. The model of the autonomous nation-state was adopted by Holland, as by virtually every modern nation. It is the vainglorious image of Daniel 2 writ large, with the beastly characteristics of Daniel 7.
The absence of Biblical civil covenant and an explicitly Bible-based social philosophy in Holland led to a humanist takeover of Dutch society after Kuyper’s death. It was as if the monumental effort and leadership traits of the one man Kuyper– like the proverbial finger in the dyke – was holding back the deluge. When that finger was removed the flood surged in. The humanistic culture of death became firmly entrenched within two generations of Kuyper’s demise in 1920; for example, the Netherlands became the world leader in the “assisted suicide” movement.
It was Kuyper’s foundation of pluralism that created an attitude of tolerance for such atrocities. The stage had been set for disaster at least 200 year’s prior to Kuyper by William & Mary, joint rulers of Britain and Holland, who rejected Scotland’s Solemn League & Covenant in the “Bloodless Revolution” of 1688. Under the Solemn League & Covenant the nation had covenanted with God to govern according to His law.