Wes Bredenhof on Abraham Kuyper

Wes Bredenhof – Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Launceston, Tasmania.

Wes Bredenhof (born in Taber, Alberta, Canada) who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Alberta in Edmonton and received a Master of Divinity degree from the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario,  was also granted the Diploma of Missiology from CRTS. He got ordained to the ministry as a missionary to the native people living in Fort Babine, British Columbia in 2000.  Ten years later awarded a Doctor of Theology degree from Reformation International Theological Seminary in Fellsmere, Florida.
He did his doctoral work under the supervision of Dr. L.J. Joosse (retired pastor of the Reformed Church in Groningen-West, the Netherlands). The title of his dissertation is: “For the Cause of the Son of God: the Missiological Relevance of the Belgic Confession.”

He also wrote several articles on John Calvin, but also figures like Abraham Kuyper who according to his view, simply do not exist anymore.

With the life of that preacher, we can see how easily people can be brought away from the biblical truth when they go to theological colleges or universities and start reading too many philosophical and theological works which are not based on the Bible. Abraham Kuyper was essentially a Unitarian, denying the divinity of Christ and the forgiveness of sins through his blood; his church attendance in younger years was according to James D. Bratt and Bredenhof pathetic, but in his older years he again stopped attending public worship on Sundays, choosing instead to stay home and write Bible meditations for his newspaper De Standaard.

Abraham Kuyper wrote to his fiancée Johanna Schaay in about 1860 about Jesus Christ:

“He is not God to me, for my religious sense teaches me to know but one God. To me he is a man and nothing but a man.”

At that time he still saw the Biblical truth, but according to Bredenhof

“He was a doctoral student in theology, but clearly not yet a Christian in the biblical sense of the word.  That would come later — after his ordination to the ministry.”

With that “biblical sense” Bredenhof probably means the human doctrinal tradition. At the University of Leiden he pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree and thought later of that period:

I entered the university a young man of orthodox faith, but I had not been in the school more than a year and a half before my thought processes had been transformed into the starkest intellectual rationalism. {Frank Vandenberg’s Abraham Kuyper}

Kuyper as a young student

Kuyper his faith shrivelled, to be replaced by the modernism and liberalism then in vogue. Related to this point, Kuyper didn’t make a public profession of his faith. In fact, it would not be until some years later, after he graduated from seminary and was a candidate for the ministry, that he would finally take that step. Even then, there wasn’t much faith to confess.

James D. Bratt Abraham finds that Kuyper was a great man, “but not a nice one” (and his book about Kuyper exposes some personal flaws, but also takes note when the man grows in holiness. Bratt also gives his own take on the legacy of Kuyper and, there too, readers might take issue with his conclusions. He writes:

“Neo-Calvinism is the only resource available besides neo-Thomism to rescue American evangelicalism from cultural irrelevance, to unite the warm heart at which evangelicalism excels with the furnished mind that public engagement requires and the responsible pluralism that modern society demands” (380).

Wes Bredenhof finds that

eventually God used Kuyper in a powerful way to bring about a reformation in the Hervormde Kerk (the Dutch state church).

For him Kuyper was the leading figure in the Doleantie of 1886.

However, prior to that, he was also the driving force behind the founding of the Free University of Amsterdam.  He had a vision for a university free from the bonds of church and state.  It would be a Christian institution, certainly, but not beholden to the powers which had caused so much decline in the Dutch state universities of the era.  The Free University of Amsterdam opened its doors on October 20, 1880.  It had five professors and eight students.

Kuyper delivered the opening address.  Entitled “Sphere Sovereignty,” it encapsulated his vision for the university.  It laid out how the Free University (ed.: Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) was going to be different — holding to a Christian worldview ethos in which every aspect (sphere) falls under the sovereignty of God.  It was a masterpiece of Kuyperian rhetoric.  {Quotable Church History: “Not a square inch…”}

Bredenhof finds it amazing to think that this man went from denying Christ’s divinity in 1860 to preaching Christ’s divine sovereign prerogatives in 1880 and writes

In those 20 years, God not only transformed his heart and mind, but also the hearts and minds of countless other Reformed church members.

Though it were the squiggles of several so-called “theologians” and political thinkers who had further distanced him from Biblical truth.

Since then, Kuyper’s words and the thoughts behind them have gone on to inspire many other Christians to take Christ’s claims seriously. {Quotable Church History: “Not a square inch…”}

But Jesus never claimed to be God and always mentioned to others or to those he miraculously helped that they should not thank him but God and tell others about the wonders of his heavenly Father to whom they should bring praise and glory, and not to him.

Dutch theologian Petrus Hofstede de Groot (1851/52)

In 1826, Ulrum, located in the north-west of the Dutch province of Groningen (one of the two most northern Dutch provinces), the Dutch Reformed Church received a new pastor in the person of the Frisian Petrus Hofstede de Groot. He belonged with his colleagues Johan Frederik van Oordt, Willem Muurling and L.G. Pareau to the so-called Groningen Theologians, an influential theological movement, partly through their magazine Waarheid in Liefde (Truth in Love). In his numerous books he vigorously upheld the orthodox faith against the Dutch “modern theology” movement.  Several times he was a delegate to the synod of the Dutch Reformed Church, which met in The Hague.

In one place Hofstede de Groot summarized his belief:

“Christianity is no doctrine, it is power, spirit, and life, for the enlightenment, warming, sanctification, and perfection of man.”

His message was moral improvement. While some delighted in the pablum he offered in his weekly preaching, others in Ulrum saw according to Bredenhof the sad reality.

Several Ulrum members refused to make a public profession of faith with de Groot as their minister. {Quotable Church History: “If I had to add a single sigh to my salvation…”}

Hendrik de Cock came there in the picture for bringing the human doctrines as a criterion. Bredenhof writes

One of the members who had refused to make profession of his faith with de Groot was a working-class brother by the name of Klaas Pieters Kuypenga. In due time, de Cock urged Kuypenga to come by the Ulrum manse for an hour a week to receive further instruction. Kuypenga agreed.  But what happened was remarkable. Kuypenga became one of God’s instruments to bring de Cock to true faith in Jesus Christ. During one of their sessions, Kuypenga remarked to his pastor:

  “If I had to add a single sigh to my salvation, I would be eternally lost.”

This language stunned de Cock and it put the proverbial stone in his shoe — he couldn’t stop thinking about what this meant.  In due time, God would providentially bring other factors into play so that de Cock would become a Christian and start preaching like one. De Cock would go on to challenge the liberalism of the Dutch Reformed Church and be instrumental in a reformation known as the Secession (in Dutch: Afscheiding) of 1834. {Quotable Church History: “If I had to add a single sigh to my salvation…”}

Bredenhof, like so many theologians, belongs to those who do not understand that Grace is given free, but one can lose it. He is right to say we

have nothing to contribute to our salvation except for the sin which made it necessary.

But the unitarians and those who saw sin as a matter of free choice of man did not want to add something to the perfect work of Christ, nor wanting to hold to a different gospel than the one presented by the disciples of Christ.

Kuyper is sometimes regarded a villain in church history because of the role his views would play in later church controversies in the Netherlands.  However, on the point of Christ’s sovereignty over all human endeavours, we all ought to stand with “Father Abraham.”

writes Bredenhof, forgetting that this Father Abraham worshipped The God Who is One and not two or three and Who is an eternal all-knowing invisible Spirit Being, whilst the Trinitarians worship a man of flesh and blood who was seen by many and who did not know everything (or would have told lies when he said it is only given to God to know such things when he said he did not know it).

It’s amazing to think that this man (Kuyper) went from denying Christ’s divinity in 1860 to preaching Christ’s divine sovereign prerogatives in 1880.  In those 20 years, God not only transformed his heart and mind, but also the hearts and minds of countless other Reformed church members.  Since then, Kuyper’s words and the thoughts behind them have gone on to inspire many other Christians to take Christ’s claims seriously.  For that we should praise God’s sovereign grace, but also take those claims seriously ourselves in every area of life. {Quotable Church History: “If I had to add a single sigh to my salvation…”}

claims the writer of Solus Christus (The Study, 2018),  God did say! (Reformed Perspective Books, 2014), and The Gospel Under the Northern Lights (Providence Press, 2011).

In 1905 the words

all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of antichrist may be destroyed.

in the statement of the Reformed faith in 37 articles written by Guido de Brès Confessio Belgica (Belgic Confession) were being deleted by the General Synod 1905 of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland). No wonder because in many reformed churches at that time and until now we can find lots of idolatrous actions and unbiblical worship. At that time the same as now there had come ignorance of the distinction between Law and Gospel as one of the principal sources of the abuses which corrupted and still corrupt Christianity, lots of Christians forgetting how love is essential for the faith. Love should be the fire of the faith and the faith should make good works, though not having based our faith on them, inevitable and in a sense necessary. The church has to be the place of love and acceptance for the other. But by the years it was that not accepting that others had other ideas which created so many divisions in the Low Countries but also in other countries their churches. writes:

The differences between denominations are real, and we should not diminish them. True, every person who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and SAviour is a child of God. But the differences in understanding the gospel are real, with far-reaching consequences, sometimes. {Belci Confession, Art. 29}

Flemish Bijbelvorsers or scholars of the Bible had enough of the Catholic Church not following the Words of God, not to create pictures of God or other gods to bow down for. The dispute over the use of religious images (icons) in the Byzantine Empire in the 8th and 9th centuries came to a climax by the true Christians going in against the many false dogmatic teachings and pagan worship in the Roman Catholic Churches.

In Belgium for centuries we have felt that problem. Several times from the 12th century onwards with a climax between August 10 and October 1566,having a black spot on the actions of Bijbelvorsers or Bible (re)searchers their history. During that time many churches were violated and their interior destroyed by those who could not bare it any more how in those places of worship were worshipped false gods and saints as well where everywhere statues placed, which are an abomination in the eyes of God. These spates of iconoclasm did spread in Europe in the 16th century, and our “Beeldenstorm” or “Bildersturm” became known in English as the Great Iconoclasm or Iconoclastic Fury. From our regions in Flanders it spread first to the North going up to North Brabant and farther going up to Amsterdam (also being called Mokum) located on the IJsselmeer, to which many serious Bible Students and Belgian and French Bible Scholars had fled for escaping the torture by the Spanish and French Catholics and the inquisition, wanting to exterminate them for them not wanting to take Jesus as their god.

La masacre de San Bartolomé, por François Dubois.jpg

St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre by François Dubois

The Flemish example of going against all that pagainsm which had come into the church and demanding religious freedom, found imitation in other parts of Europe, especially in Switzerland and the Holy Roman Empire in the period between 1522 and 1566, notably Zürich (in 1523), Copenhagen (1530), Münster (1534), Geneva (1535), and Augsburg (1537). The sharper contrasts, which were partly a result of the Iconoclasm, indirectly led to the outbreak of the Eighty Years’ War and the creation of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. The fight of the unitarians and protesters against the Catholic Church in France brought a prolonged period of war and popular unrest between 1562 and 1598. The Roman Catholic Church did not want the people to read the Bible, in fear they would find out where the Chruch fooled them and would not give them any opportunity any more to get money from them, for example to buy penitence or sentence reduction for the sins committed. Many who had Jesus as their God but came to read the Bible also came to the Biblical Truth that Jesus was not God but the son of God and the way to God. By reading the Bible and coming to the faith, those believers also came to see the importance of witnessing and did not mind to go to public places to preach everywhere they could. Such public statements of their non-Trinitarian faith were a thorn in the side of the Catholic Church and rulers. It is estimated that three million people perished in this period from violence, famine, or disease in what is considered the second deadliest religious war in European history (surpassed only by the Thirty Years’ War (between 1618 and 1648), which took eight million lives) and ended with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, having irrevocably changed the map of Europe.

More and more people came to see how the Roman Catholic Church had gone astray from the teachings of Jesus Christ and the faith of the first century church. The writers of the Confessio Belgica were aware of how often churches go astray and therefore made a call to remember that the church must cultivate a spirit of discernment to understand Biblically what the church is all about. People their criterion should be the Word of God as presented in the Book of books, the Bible and which is the only infallible Word.

Though lots of people fought against those who claimed to have authority from the Bible, we can find that in our day something similar happens whereby alongside the authority of the Word, the Protestant Church leaders stand on their ecclesiastical authority and claim, as it were, infallibility for their ecclesiastical statements.

The Bible’s authority is diminished when people put human reason, tradition and experience alongside and often above the Scripture. This is often given a fancy name which you may hear from time to time: it is called “the Wesleyan Quadrangle.” Often in this view Scripture is still given pride of place; but not always. Sometimes people seem to go through contortions that would do a gymnast proud to worm their way around the Bible. Nevertheless, reason, tradition and experience do have a very important function in our decision making and in thinking. No one reads the Bible with 100% perfect vision; we all do have some colouring with which we read.

writes in Belci Confession, Art. 29.

In the time of the confession, that treatise treated also the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, closely following the French Confessio Gallicana (Gallican Confession) of the first National Synod of the Reformed Church of France (1559). That Gallican Confession affirmed that the Bible is the only rule of faith. It also included an exposition on predestination, the doctrine that God elects or chooses who will be saved and as such gave notice that not everyone is saved or secured by the sacrificial offering of Jesus, and stated Calvin’s doctrine of the Eucharist. The Belgic Confession was first printed in 1561 at Rouen and was revised at a synod in Antwerp in 1566 to be printed that same year in Geneva, and subsequently translated into Dutch, German, and Latin. It was accepted by synods at Wesel (1568), Emden (1571), Dort (1574), and Middelburg (1581) and was further revised and given final acceptance at the Synod of Dort in 1619.

Anyone who has ever studied the Belgic Confession, even on a superficial level, is aware of an oddity in article 36. This is the only place in the Three Forms of Unity (ed.note: collective name for the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort, and the Heidelberg Catechism, which reflect the doctrinal concerns of continentalCalvinism and are accepted as official statements of doctrine by many of the Reformed churches.)where we find a footnote in most versions of the Confession. Whether it is the United ReformedCanadian Reformed, or Protestant Reformed Churches in North America, or the Free Reformed Churches of Australia, all have an additional footnote.

Article 36 is titled “The Civil Government” or sometimes “Of Magistrates” and addresses what we confess about the role of the government. The relevant text in the body of the confession originally read:

[The government’s] task of restraining [evil] and sustaining [good] is not limited to the public order but includes the protection of the church and its ministry in order that all idolatry and false worship may be removed and prevented, the kingdom of antichrist may be destroyed, the kingdom of Christ may come, the Word of the gospel may be preached everywhere, and God may be honoured and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word. (Italics added) {Book Review of Article 36 of the Belgic Confession Vindicated Against Dr. Abraham Kuyper}

Still today we do not see that

God may be honoured and served by everyone, as He requires in His Word.

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Preceding

Nederlandstalige protestanten vinden de weg naar vroegere protestantse leermeesters

Protestant denominations of the Low Countries and Abraham Kuyper

Does Religion Have Any Place In Culture?

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Additional reading

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Related

  1. Church History 6B: Reformed Theology
  2. Abraham Kuyper: larger than life
  3. Sphere Sovereignty
  4. Contra Theonomy: The Belgic Confession and Mosaic Law
  5. Belgic Confession Article 1.
  6. Belgic Confession Art. 3
  7. Belgic Confession, Art. 9
  8. Belgic Confession, Art. 10.
  9. Belgic Confession, Art. 17
  10. Belci Confession, Art. 29
  11. Belgic Confession, Art 29b
  12. Belgic Confession, Art. 35a
  13. Belgic Confession, Art 35b
  14. Belgic Confession, Art. 35c
  15. Belgic Confession, Art. 36
  16. Belgic Confession, Art. 37a
  17. Belgic Confession, Art 37b
  18. Belgic Confession, Art 37c
  19. Justice in the Revolution and in the Church — I
  20. Vintage Church of England Prayer Book (c. 1860)
  21. The Lord our Protector – Le Seigneur notre Protecteur (French-Français: Darby Bible 1859/1880)
  22. The Duty of the Christian Citizen!

2 thoughts on “Wes Bredenhof on Abraham Kuyper

  1. In this day and age we need even more that people come to see the Biblical Truth and that the many denomination churches come to see what it really means to be in unity with Christ.

    The 21st century Church will face the same stark choices and the same potential for misunderstanding, disunity and tribal politics as in the previous centuries, but those who really study the Bible should know these times are more important to have greater unity and more preaching spreading all over the world.

    People should also be aware that this time, however, we have an opportunity to approach politics and the state elections differently… like followers of Christ being conscious of the needs of this world, but also of the necessity to protect the poor and homeless.
    Christians who differ in secondary and political matters can nevertheless do so charitably and in a way that preserves both unity and freedom of conscience.

    We can only hope that many currents in the church will finally bury the hatchet, and if they really feel part of the Body of Christ, that they will behave the same way as Jesus expect his followers to behave.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Between theology and philosophy | Stepping Toes

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