Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch Reformed theologian, is perhaps most famous in America for his quote,
No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’1
This might seem to suggest, and is often quoted to support the idea, that Christians ought to “vote their faith” – that one’s politics should not be uninformed by one’s faith. Its triumphalistic tenor almost seems to be laid over a melody of “Onward Christian Soldiers”.
It is of course true that one’s faith should, and inevitably does, inform one’s politics. The question is how. The same Abraham Kuyper also stated approvingly in another work,
[Calvinism] rejected the theory of the Anabaptist, and proclaimed that the Church must withdraw again within its spiritual domain, and that in the world we should realize the potencies of God’s common grace.2
The Church must withdraw? What of “Onward Christian Soldiers”? What of “Mine!”?
American Protestantism has long suffered from a poorly defined ecclesiology (cf. Moore 2004, ch. 4). The Church being therefore poorly defined becomes impudent as well, claiming for itself all the honors which pertain to Christ its head. The rule of Christ over the believer by the Holy Spirit is transformed at the ballot box into the rule of Christian principles over the nation by the government.
The Church, however, is the body of Christ; not Christ himself. Seen in the light of this distinction, the political leap so often taken for granted appears almost absurd. Recognizing the mutual independence of the Church from political power is not “compartmentalizing” or “hermetically sealing” faith from politics, as if faith could only inform one’s political opinions in one way. Indeed, the Christian conception of sin as a problem of the heart makes it impossible to jump straight from “it’s a sin” to “it should be a crime” without other factors. Kuyper calls on the Church to withdraw from the overextension of its authority because of his faith, not in spite of it, and without any injury to Christ’s rule.
Nor does the Church constitute the entire obligation of the individual Christian. The Church’s withdrawal into its spiritual domain does not leave the Christian’s worldly life uninformed by his faith. Does the Church claim ownership of a Christian entrepreneur’s business? Is that entrepreneur therefore less ruled by Christ in the time he spends in his business? It was one of the great doctrines of the Reformation, that God is glorified by the lives of Christians outside the Church as well as inside. The totality of Christ’s claim which led the Catholic Church to subsume everything under itself,3 taught the Reformed churches with this new understanding their place, while yet sanctifying the work of its members outside of its walls. The Church then had no need of being an octopus, for it was conscience, not itself, which sanctified the daily lives of its members.
Away then with the conceit that there is a single “Christian” way to vote, and that the institution of Christian principles is an extension to the Kingdom of God. Christ rules over the world; we are not called to make him rule except in our own lives. So far then as politics consists in dominion over others, the Kingdom of God is not advanced by it.
Under the hierarchy of Rome the Church and the World were placed over against each other, the one as being sanctified and the other as being still under the curse. Everything outside the Church was under the influence of demons, and exorcism banished this demoniacal power from everything that came under the protection, influence and inspiration of the Church. Hence in a Christian country the entire social life was to be covered by the wings of the Church. The magistrate had to be anointed and confessionally bound; art and science had to be placed under ecclesiastical encouragement and censure; trade and commerce had to be bound to the Church by the tie of guilds; and from the cradle to the grave, family life was to be placed under ecclesiastical guardianship. This was a gigantic effort to claim the entire world for Christ, but one which of necessity brought with it the severest judgment upon every life-tendency which either as heretical or as demoniacal withdrew itself from the blessing of the Church.