16 January 2004

Calvinism and politics

In researching an essay I am writing for an anthology on religious freedom, I have been undertaking a survey of the Reformed confessional documents of the 16th and 17th centuries, including the French Confession (1559), the Scots Confession (1560), the Belgic Confession (1561), the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647). I was reminded of three things in reading these: (1) each of these confessions finds a place of honour for the civil magistrate, uniquely regarding his role as a confessional matter, while ignoring a whole range of other human cultural and social activities; (2) all are united in ascribing to the magistrate responsibility for upholding the so-called first table of the law, viz., defending the true religion and even suppressing heresies; and (3) virtually all Reformed Christians have effectively abandoned their own confessions' commitment to what might be called the confessional state in favour of a full measure of religious freedom. In only two cases that I am aware of, viz., in the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland and the Christian Reformed Church in North America, has a confessional document (Belgic Confession, article 36) been explicitly altered to adjust to the changed attitudes of the members. These changes were made largely under the influence of Abraham Kuyper's principle of sphere sovereignty.

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