Tag Archives: R. B. Kuiper

Election and Evangelism

Back in the 1920s, R. B. Kuiper observed that many people in the Reformed Church in America rejected the Reformed doctrine of predestination.  He further observed that even some in the Christian Reformed Church were beginning to question it.  In chapter 7 of his As To Being Reformed, he has a good discussion of this doctrine.  Towards the end of the chapter, he has a few words about the proper use of election, particularly as it pertains to evangelism.  I think it is worth sharing:

It is not wise greatly to trouble the unsaved about it.  They should be told of Paul’s reply to the jailer’s question, what he had to do to be saved: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”  But those who are saved through faith in Christ may find unspeakable comfort in it.

Let me use an old illustration.  We often speak of the house of salvation.  Among other things a house has a foundation and a door.  Of this house election is the foundation, Christ is the door.  Those who are still without should be pointed to the door.  Surely, it is well when describing the house to them in the invitation to enter, also to call their attention to the strength of its foundation.  Yet they should be told not to attempt to enter in by way of the foundation, but through the door.  But once they are inside, what comfort, what peace, what joy, may they not derive from the knowledge that the house of their salvation stands absolutely secure on the unmoveable foundation of God’s eternal decree!  “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal: the Lord knoweth them that are his.” He has known them from eternity. (103)

I appreciate Kuiper’s approach here.  This book was written in 1926.  Later on, in 1961, Kuiper would go on to write an excellent book on evangelism, God-Centered Evangelism.  It’s a classic in the field.  The illustration given above comes back in chapter 3 of that book with some further explanation and refinement.

The Reformed Faith and Christianity

This week I’m spending some time going through R. B. Kuiper’s 1926 book, As To Being Reformed.  It’s worthwhile because so little has changed since 1926.  Yes, the names have changed, but that’s about it.  Many of the concerns that Kuiper expresses would be irrelevant today to much of the CRC or RCA, but they are relevant to the Canadian Reformed and United Reformed churches.

Chapter 6 is entitled “Christianity and Calvinism.”  Kuiper begins this chapter by noting:

It is often asked: “Is it worthwhile to be a Calvinist? Does it not suffice to be a Christian?  If only I make sure to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, do I need to bother about being a follower of John Calvin?  Granted that I am an adherent of the Christian religion, is it of any real value that I subscribe to that particular interpretation of it which was sponsored especially by the Genevan reformer?  Compared with the fundamental doctrines of orthodox Christianity, are not the five points of Calvinism quite insignificant? (85)

He begins his reply by noting that it is “a matter of stupendous importance” to be specifically Reformed.  He appeals extensively to B. B. Warfield’s article on Calvinism in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, where Warfield argues that Calvinism is the most perfectly developed representative of the Christian faith.   Kuiper agrees:  “Calvinism is the most nearly perfect interpretation of Christianity.  In final analysis, Calvinism and Christianity are practically synonymous.” (88)

But why?  Kuiper went on to explain that the basic principle of Calvinism is the sovereignty of God, and it is only that doctrine in its purity which can preserve the grace of God found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Arminians of all stripes end up “taking much of the grace out of grace.”

According to Kuiper, Calvinism is not only at the heart of the purest Christianity, it is the purest Christianity.  Said he,

Every once in a while one hears it said in Christian Reformed circles that this is no time for insisting on the niceties of Calvinism, that now we should bring all our strength to bear on the maintenance of the fundamentals of Christianity itself.  Without questioning the good intentions of those who speak thus, I want to say that this line of talk is superficial, misleading even, and hence dangerous.  It is always time to insist on Calvinism of the purest brand.  “Obsta principiis!”  “Withstand beginnings!”  Add water to the wine of Reformed doctrine, and you have begun to weaken your Christianity.  For in last instance the fundamentals of Calvinism are also the fundamentals of the Christian religion. (91)

Then he concluded by noting that every Arminian is a Calvinist when he is on his knees.

Two comments:

1) I wonder what Kuiper would have thought of those who take the name “Reformed” today without being consistently and confessionally Reformed in the historic sense.

2)  This is a good reminder for Reformed pastors to regularly preach and teach the Canons of Dort to their congregations.  I’ve written on that here.  The doctrines of grace should never be taken for granted.

Kuiper on Avoiding the Pitfalls and Perils

In chapter 4 of As To Being Reformed, R. B. Kuiper outlined what he saw as the perils facing the Christian Reformed Church in 1926.  They were as follows:

  • Modernism
  • Fundamentalism
  • Worldliness
  • Orthodoxism (dead orthodoxy)
  • Confessionalism
  • Legalism
  • Uniformity

At the conclusion of the chapter he briefly discusses the way forward:

One word says it all.  That word is Spirituality.

If we are led by the Spirit of truth, we shall avoid the pitfall of Modernism and the one-sidedness of Fundamentalism.

If we are controlled by the Spirit of holiness, we shall flee from the sin of worldliness.

If we have the Spirit of Christ, we shall be, not merely orthodox, but Christian as well, and thus escape orthodoxism.

If the Spirit of God dwells in us, we shall ever esteem God’s Word more highly than that of the church and so steer clear of confessionalism.

If God’s free Spirit be ours, we shall be free from the sin of legalism.

And paradoxical though it may seem, if we all have one Spirit, we shall differ from each other and yet agree.  With diversity in form we shall ‘keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’

There is nothing that the Christian Reformed Church needs quite so much as a spiritual revival. (70)

R. B. Kuiper on Synodical Pronouncements

“Of late it has become customary in Christian Reformed circles to speak of Synodical interpretations of the Confessions, and these interpretations are regarded binding on the members of the church in the same degree as the Confessions themselves.  I am afraid that we are on a dangerous road.  If we continue to travel it, we shall get line upon line, precept upon precept.  Let us not say, for example, that Synod of Kalamazoo in the matter of common grace added an interpretation to the Confessions, but rather that it merely pointed out that certain brethren had contradicted the Confessions.  On page 44 of his Reformed Pharisaism? the Reverend K. Schilder boasts that, while some Presbyterian churches of Scotland and America have added interpretations to their Confessions, the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands have consistently refused to do this.  Let us play safe by following the example of our Dutch mother!”    As To Being Reformed (1926), 68-69

Why Kuiper Left the RCA

R. B. Kuiper traded the Christian Reformed Church for the Reformed Church in America (RCA), at least for a brief time.  The Second Reformed Church of Kalamazoo called Kuiper in 1923 and he accepted.  However, he was only there for about two years.  Why did he go back to the CRC in 1925?  It had to do with the doctrinal soundness of the RCA in general and nothing really to do with the RCA congregation in Kalamazoo.

More particularly, it had to do with the appointment of Dr. Edward S. Worcester to the chair of systematic theology at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary (a seminary of the RCA).  That happened in 1923, the same year that Kuiper became an RCA pastor.  However, Kuiper didn’t hear about Worcester’s theology until he’d been in Kalamazoo for six months.

There were several points of concern.  One was that Worcester took issue with the Canons of Dort on the free will of man.  He was essentially an Arminian on that point.  But even more basically, he had serious problems with the doctrine of Scripture.  Kuiper writes in his As To Being Reformed, “Dr. Worcester boldly rejects certain teachings of the Reformed churches.  He finds no Scriptural warrant for the opinion that all men are descended from Adam” (25).  This stemmed from Worcester’s position on the character and authority of Scripture.  Kuiper wrote, “Dr. Worcester appears to be in doubt about some fundamental teachings of the Christian religion.  When it is said in article 5 of the Belgic Confession that we believe, without any doubt, ‘all things’ contained in the Bible, he wonders whether the reference is to the inerrancy of Scripture, or only to things ‘necessary to salvation,’ and adds that he regards the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture as very academic, seeing that it is confined to the original manuscripts” (25).

Synod 1923 of the RCA voted almost unanimously to appoint Worcester to this influential seminary position.  The belated realization of this was the catalyst for Kuiper to leave the RCA.  He concluded, “…let me say that the case of Dr. Worcester convinced me that I could not possibly feel at home in the Reformed Church in America” (28, italics original).