It is unlikely that you have heard of Philippus Jacobus Hoedemaker (1839-1910, pictured above). But you have almost certainly heard of his one-time friend and eventual foil, Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920). Hoedemaker shared many of Kuyper’s frustrations about the Dutch Reformed church of their day and, as Kuyper is famous for, wanted to honor Christ in every sphere of public and private life.
In the tumultuous world of a secularizing nineteenth century Europe, Hoedemaker and Kuyper experienced a parting of the ways. As radical as Kuyper’s “every inch” approach to the lordship of Christ may seem to us today, Hoedemaker thought that Kuyper did not sufficiently break out of the late-modern liberal frame, and proposed another way to be Reformed in the modern world.
Evidently, given Kuyper’s dominance today, Hoedemaker’s critiques and proposals fell by the wayside. And yet, as contemporary Reformed and evangelical Christians find themselves still vexed by questions of how to proceed in a post-Christendom context, and questioning longstanding strategies for navigating it, it is worthwhile to revisit figures such as Hoedemaker. Studying such “roads not taken” can illuminate both how we got here and how we might chart a new path through our own cultural tumult.
Hoedemaker was born in 1839 into a family involved in the Separated Reformed Church. However, he later ended up ministering in the National Church, starting in 1868 with his reception of a call to serve in a congregation in Veenendaal. He befriended Kuyper during that time and joined him when Kuyper launched the Free University in 1880 as Professor of Philosophy and later Dean of the Faculty of Theology. Hoedemaker shared with Kuyper a frustration regarding the moral and theological laxity of the national church in the Netherlands, which was exacerbated by the muzzling of the church in the post-Napoleonic order after the 1816 Synodal restructuring.
However, soon after joining the faculty at the Free University, Hoedemaker realized he was somewhat at odds with Kuyper and his ecclesiastical and political projects. The conflicts came to a head when Kuyper spearheaded the Doleantie exodus from the national church in 1886 (“Doleantie” coming from the Latin dolere, “to feel sorrow”). Hoedemaker virulently disapproved and was effectively pushed out of the university, teaching his last class on December 16, 1887. In the coming decade he would publicly battle Kuyper over the latter’s alteration of Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, concerning the role of the civil magistrate.
Church and State in the Netherlands
The Dutch Republic was “born in a struggle first and foremost for the rights of the gospel and the freedom of true religion.” The nation was established in a covenant with God, with the national Reformed church enjoying a privileged social standing. However, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, what is called “The Revolution” swept across the nations of Europe. Its chief aim was the marginalization of Christian religion in society, thus demanding the progressive domestication of the church, reducing it to a strictly private association—or, a “denomination”— and ordering the public sphere around the emancipated individual and the principle of neutrality.
After the Dutch nation secured independence from under Napoleon, the church was reconstructed in 1816 around a centralized board, referred to as the “synodal organization.” This allowed the church to be directed from the top down, by a collection of state-approved bureaucrats. This replaced the previous presbyterian arrangement of extended assemblies composed of church officers with equal power, through which local churches were joined and represented.
1816 created an arbitrary ecclesiastical structure that had no dogmatic or scriptural grounding and effectively robbed church overseers of their governing power. In the new arrangement, office bearers transferred their power to administrators, thus rendering church discipline and united church confession toward the civil rulers and the nation impossible. Thus, the national church had all the trappings of establishment but was prevented from being the church, and from acting in coordinated fashion as a spokesman for the truth. The church was muzzled from the top down, and subordinated to the state. A lax volkskerk resulted, which frustrated both Kuyper and Hoedemaker. What, then, were their respective solutions?
Kuyper founded the Free University in 1880 as an alternative, independent institution in which every field was submitted to the lordship of Christ. Hoedemaker originally joined him in this project. Then, Kuyper led an exodus from the national church, after being stripped of his ordination status in 1885, to launch a new, more committed, orthodox denomination in 1886.
In 1896, Kuyper proposed to remove portions of the Belgic Confession’s statement–to which his new church subscribed–about the role of the civil magistrate with regard to religion. Kuyper objected to the teaching that it is the state’s role to “remov[e] and destroy all idolatry and false worship of the anti-Christ … [and] to promot[e] the kingdom of Jesus Christ.” He believed rather that the state was not responsible for the first table of the law, and that false religions have to be tolerated in the context of a pluralistic society. The state should remain agnostic in terms of religion, and is unable to recognize the true church or true religion. Therefore, it must protect equality for all. In 1897, Kuyper proclaimed: “equal rights for all is the demand at which all orientations meet.”
Kuyper also famously advocated for a “free church in a free state.” This can be evidenced already in February 1874 in a letter to Groen van Prinsterer, in which Hoedemaker described this political vision as a species of “liberalism.” This new Calvinism would have nothing to do with a national church, which, in an 1873 sermon, Kuyper declared was a relic of the past. Kuyper also built his political campaign on the antithesis between reason and revelation, and he closely identified Christianity with the Anti-Revolutionary party which he led.
Hoedmaker’s Critique of Kuyper
Despite Kuyper’s status as Leader of the Anti-Revolutionary Party, Hoedmaker believed that the principle of neutrality, central to the “Revolution,” in fact lay underneath all of Kuyper’s views on church and state. In 1887 he wrote to Kuyper:
I do not believe in the neutral State. It is an impossibility … Your proposition: ‘The influence exercised by Christians on legislation, and consequently on the actions of the government, behold the only healthy connection between Church and State,’ contains for me the denial that Jesus Christ is the King of the kings of the earth, the denial of the Reformed confession as a political principle and, in principle, the announcement of the fall of the Free University.
According to Hoedemaker, Kuyper’s fundamental commitment to the principle of neutrality was evident in the latter’s acceptance of the “abnormal situation” of independence of school from church and of separation between church and state.
Hoedemaker critiqued the Separatist group for implicitly accepting the church’s reduction to a denomination. Hoedemaker argued that such a movement could be productive, provided the aim was to purify and restore the church. But even then, such a move should be a last resort. The Separatists had abandoned the national church too rashly, when there was still opportunity to revivify. To explain this, Hoedemaker employed an extended metaphor of a family suffocating from carbon monoxide, all asleep in a closed room. In this illustration, Hoedemaker imagines someone who comes in to see who can be rescued and proposes to grab only the few who seem to be moving, supposing the rest to be dead. Hoedemaker retorts that it is premature to make such a separation at that point.
Open the windows and doors instead …. Let in fresh air, let the nitrogen dissipate! Methylated spirits! and stimulants! Perhaps their life spirit will return! At least we cannot declare the unconscious to be dead until we have provided the conditions in which people can live.
Hoedemaker believed that Kuyper was too quick to abandon a church that still bore the confessional marks, and that the Doleantie separatists were impatient in their reforming zeal.
Hoedemaker also argued that the separatists abandoned Reformed ecclesiology. Yes, the synodal organization was unbiblical, but no effort was made to replace it with a scriptural church order. He further claimed that underneath this new ecclesiastical organization lay a compromise with the logic of the Revolution, because it tacitly accepted a kind of pluralism in the public domain that entails a rejection of Christ’s lordship over all by making the public realm a neutral competition between equal voices.
We mentioned above the link between Kuyper’s commitment to a “free church in a free state” and “equal rights for all” in the realm of religion. The former statement Hoedemaker regarded as “Revolutionary” in essence:
What is this babbling about a free church in a free state? It is precisely the characteristic of the Revolution that it does not allow the church to be itself. Every being on God’s earth has the right to be what God made it to be, and may demand of the state that it (the state) not hinder it from doing its duty. But in both respects the Revolution has infringed on the church.
Hoedemaker believed the latter statement—“equal rights for all”—encapsulated everything that was wrong with Kuyper’s approach. Equal rights diminishes the nation to a sum of individuals without anything that unites them, abandons the truth for the majority will, and reduces the church. Hoedemaker believed that this principle resigns the public to endorse error and keeps civil power in the dark about the truth. The magistrate, in Kuyper’s framework, is God’s servant, but this servant is unable to know the will of the Lord that he or she is supposed to implement. Neutrality leads to a privatized church, pluralized public, and tyranny of majority rule—because it rules out truth. “The Revolution has shifted the origin and the center of gravity of all power and authority. We now live under the rule of the principle: the most votes win! People no longer ask: What is right? What is true? What is God’s will? What does Scripture say?”
To better understand Hoedemaker’s points here, it is best to discuss his critique of the proposed alteration to Article 36 of the Belgic Confession. He perceived Kuyper’s whole program of church and state as rooted in his confused rejection of the controversial clause.
Before considering Hoedemaker’s allegations of confusion more closely, we should first note his issues with the Anti-Revolutionary party under Kuyper. The new denomination formed from the exodus led by Kuyper was small, but committed. It functioned as a perfect complement to Kuyper’s activist political program, and thus there was a significant degree of overlap between the new denomination and the Anti-Revolutionary party. According to Hoedemaker, this led to “true Christianity” becoming increasingly merged with a political party. Thus, separation had, counterintuitively, yielded increased politicization, with the church reduced to a competing interest group among others in a nation that had lost any sense of unity and ordering to the truth.
Hoedemaker also argued that Kuyper’s common grace politics, which left the civil magistrate only with general revelation, was analogous to the errors of Anabaptist and Roman Catholic political theology. Kuyper reasoned that civil government does not need revealed religion and only has natural knowledge of God. Hoedemaker explained that, by contrast, the classical Reformed view is that the government can learn from the Word, and that to deny this is to reject the perspicuity of Scripture. To withhold the light of the Word from civil rulers is to repeat the error of Rome by withholding the Word from the people. Scripture is the light by which persons see things rightly: “Scripture does not replace nature, but offers us the key to unravel it.” This source of clarifying knowledge is available to civil rulers, as much as to the average layman.
According to Hoedemaker, most of Kuyper’s errors were grounded in confusion on some fundamental issues. For one, Hoedemaker believed that Kuyper was confused about the idea of a national church. A national church is not the same as a state church, which Hoedemaker, Article 36, and the Belgic Reformers all rejected. All these opposed a state church to which one had to belong in order to share political and social benefits, as well as a ruling church, which directly subordinates the state to itself (as with Rome). In a national church it is not the case that anyone in the nation necessarily belongs to the church. To assume so, argued Hoedemaker, would repeat the Anabaptist misreading of the Old Covenant. Kuyper, according to Hoedemaker, was incorrect in his belief that under the Old Covenant the church had no independent existence but simply coincided with the state. This was an Anabaptist reading of the national covenant in Israel, and was rejected by the Reformers, who recognized a distinction between civil and ecclesial communities in the Old Testament. Thus, this supposed distinction between the Old and New Covenants on the relationship between civil and ecclesial bodies had no bearing on Article 36.
Additionally, Kuyper conflated freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Hoedemaker is biting but clear in correcting Kuyper on this point:
What is going on here? This man of science [i.e., Kuyper] has neglected to follow the footsteps of our divines in their distinction between the freedom to believe and the freedom to profess, between the freedom to practice religion and the freedom to propagandize, to blaspheme, to undermine the foundations of society and state, to swear allegiance to a foreign prince, to exercise rule, etc.
Because Kuyper failed to make these distinctions, he believed that Article 36 taught coercion of conscience. But, according to Hoedemaker, the Reformed had always held that there is no permissible coercion of conscience–freedom of religion is something entirely different from freedom of conscience. And here, absolute freedom of religion is impossible if one seeks to have a society. Citizens have individual freedom of religion, subject to what is required from public order, the freedom of others, and the character of the nation and its institutions, but one cannot use religion to overthrow the foundations of society. Some religion will always be recognized as the reference for truth in a given society; such a religion will be distinguished from others. Hoedemaker elaborates:
[F]reedom of religion is something entirely different from freedom of conscience. According to our Confession, the civil government is to determine
1. which religion in the state is to be accepted into the commonwealth and as such is to be protected and administered with public authority;
2. which religion will be allowed and tolerated.
This is what Article 36 is about—public life. The issue to which the controversial clause refers (to “remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship”) regards grave heretics and obstreperous blasphemers that undermine public order in a predominantly Christian society.
The fundamental issues in the debate, according to Hoedemaker, surrounded the denial of the reality of the church—which is the body of Christ—and of ordering the nation to truth. What Kuyper’s project leads to is a little Christian group, ecclesiastically isolated, while society becomes more secularized.
What, then, were Hoedemaker’s positive proposals?
We can explicate these by considering some of his key slogans, starting with his contrasts with Kuyper: Instead of “free church in a free state,” Hoedemaker proposed “the state with the Bible.” Instead of “equal rights for all,” “all the church for all the people.”
Hoedemaker sought a restoration of the church and revision of the national constitution so that the church could take its proper place in public life—not as an instrument of the state, but also not separated from the life of the nation. The church should occupy a position reflecting her status as the body of Christ in the nation that publicly confesses Christ’s lordship. Hoedemaker consistently clarified that what must be enshrined in all public institutions is not a particular church form, but the Reformed religion and the true body of Christ–which is not simply identified with any contemporary ecclesiastical institution. If Christians fail to do this, then what will take its place, according to Hoedemaker, is either a false civil religion, an aggressive secularism, or positivist majoritarianism—which is what he saw Kuyper’s program endorsing.
For Hoedemaker, the state must recognize the church as the body of Christ and as his representative on earth. The problem is that the modern state is unable to properly recognize the church:
[T]he modern state … forc[es] the church into the framework of the denomination, thus denying that it is something different and something more than an expression of religion in man …; and in this form, i.e., that of a denomination, in fact silences it, preventing it from fulfilling its first calling, to know and to make known the truth.
[T]he modern state knows nothing except associations, foundations, and clubs; it does not recognize the divine-human body called the church … The church is a body of a completely different nature.
The church, according to classical Protestant theology,, holds the keys to the kingdom of God, but it does not rule over society, violate consciences, or proscribe the religious exercise of those who do not adhere to the recognized church. What Hoedemaker proposed was a vision that placed the church at the center of national life, but did not impose membership on all those in the nation.
In keeping with this vision, he was committed to remaining in the national church in order to revivify it. In Hoedemaker’s perspective, and in the words of Monty Python, it was not dead yet. Yes, the 1816 synodal arrangement was a major problem, but this did not qualify the national church as a false one. One has to be able to conceive of a true yet imperfect church, or of the distinction between the being of the church and the well-being of the church, between a body and the body properly clothed. Sectarianism, for Hoedemaker, too quickly declares a body dead.
Hoedemaker’s vision was grounded in the classical Reformed interpretation of the Old Covenant which maintained the distinction between church and state in Israel. And because, according to this classical interpretation, the church existed from the beginning, the same principles apply in the New Covenant. Therefore, a nation can be Christian without conflating the nation with the church.
This relates to Hoedemaker’s slogan “the state with the Bible.” With this phrase Hoedemaker opposed majoritarianism and naturalism in politics. Majoritarianism, or absolute popular sovereignty, abandons truth as a public matter. Hoedemaker wanted public institutions not to be ruled by the majority opinion, but by truth: “I stick to the formula: not the majority but the truth!” Related to this, Hoedemaker made important arguments about special revelation. Special revelation, not just general revelation, is relevant for the state. To separate revelation and reason, Hoedemaker argued, is Roman Catholic,. And to keep Scripture out of the hands of civil leaders mimics Rome. The magistrates need to be freed to listen to the Word.
But the magistrate is not entrusted with the authoritative interpretation of the Word–this is why the church is key. The state is accountable to the Word, which the church interprets. The state is enlightened by the church to fulfill its duties. The Reformed teaching is that the church is to instruct magistrates, and to perform public interpretation of the Word: “[T]he civil government ought to accept the truth which the church confesses and the light which it kindles for the proper understanding of the Word, to the degree necessary to fulfill its vocation.” This is why Hoedemaker employed the slogan, “all the church for all the people.”
Central to this project would be to revise constitutional law to recognize the church as well as reorganizing the national Reformed church. The church must rise up again as church and the state must cease to violate the law with regard to her. It must recognize her as a continuous visible body, of a completely unique nature, gifted by God to help the state fulfill the tasks which accord with its nature.
The Christian-Historical Movement
Over time Hoedemaker became increasingly involved with the “Christian-Historical” movement. In 1902 he became chairman of the Association for the Maintenance of the Christian-Historical Character of the Nation. Their broader platform was similar to an earlier association within the broader movement to which Hoedemaker paid close attention: the League of Caucuses on Christian-Historical Foundation in the Province of Friesland (informally referred to as the “Frisian League”). Articles Articles 2 and 8 of the foundational document of this league are most relevant to the aspects of Hoedemaker’s thought discussed in this essay:
The Dutch nation, according to its origin and history, is a baptized, Protestant reformed nation; this Christian, Protestant, Reformed character of the nation should be respected and maintained.
The church should be recognized by the government as a divine institution which in its origin and existence is independent of the state. The government should protect the church in acting in accordance with Scripture and respect it in fulfilling the vocation assigned to it in Scripture. The government has the right to apply the truth, which the church professes, in its own field as it sees fit.
At its basis, this is a fundamental rejection of the neutrality of government with regard to religion. This group sought to restore the nation and the national institutions as Christian. Hoedemaker had already expressed similar ideas in his own words in 1901 in his “Agenda for Constitutional Reformed Based on Article 36.”
Hoedemaker acknowledged how improbable this all seemed. Yes, it is important to recognize “abnormal conditions” and the ways in which these complicate matters, and Scripture takes all this into account. However, Hoedemaker argued that we must always keep before us “the truth, the ideal, the requirement of God’s holy will, the goal and destination. Everyone always has to take reality into account, otherwise he is a dreamer and becomes false. But he who yields the truth in favor of reality, chooses opportunity as his guide.”
We might conclude this outline of Hoedemaker’s positive proposals with a quote that conveys his passionate appeal that his audience not limit their imagination to what seems possible within the contemporary arrangement:
Do you believe that God can once again make the Netherlands a Christian nation, the government of the Netherlands a Christian government, the Dutch Reformed church a properly ordered church? Do you believe that He in His own time shall do it? Do you wish that He would do this; would you consider it a blessing if He did do this; are you convinced that we are lost if He does not do this?
Hoedemaker believed that people must be persuaded of this goal, and thus it was incumbent upon Christian leaders to speak boldly and clearly to persuade them.
How then should we assess Hoedemaker’s critique of Kuyper, as well as his constructive proposals? It is a curious question to ask since he was largely ignored by most of his contemporaries who sided with Kuyper, and has been subsequently ignored by posterity.
For a long time, even after Hoedemaker and Kuyper died in the early twentieth century, Western nations lived off of the fumes of Christendom, and their cultures remained largely stamped by Christian moral norms and values.The Kuyperian free church/free state model seemed fruitful. But as we continue to see Western societies move into increasing hostility toward Christian moral norms, and against even basic conceptions of nature, it is worth revisiting paths not taken. Thus, I think there is a need to investigate the wisdom of Hoedemaker’s vision for nations that have a Christian history. He is emphatic that we must know the ideal toward which we must march if we are to meaningfully act according to truth.
However, there remain some puzzling aspects to Hoedemaker’s project. Hoedemaker is somewhat confusing with his constant statements about how the state does not recognize any particular ecclesiastical institution, but that it must recognize a visible church. It is also unclear in his schema how an established religion relates to a recognized body. Clarity was certainly needed regarding the new conciliarism he proposed. How would this new group that constitutes the council not form a type of institution? It seems also that he could expand on the role that natural law plays in his framework. He briefly mentions it in a few places, but in most other places he sounds like a Van Tillian theonomist, to speak anachronistically.
Lastly, why stop at a national church? This remains unclear to me. This is most likely due to assuming the Westphalian political order of a world of independent nations and an implicit embrace of cuius regio, eius religio. But if one starts from a robust understanding of the church, as the divine institution, the continuous visible body, it is difficult to understand why we should limit the church’s nature or assemblies to the national level.
Regardless of these questions, our brief survey of Hoedemaker’s disagreements with Kuyper suggest that, at least historically, Hoedemaker was largely proven right. This, of course, has no bearing on whether he was right theologically. Yet if wisdom is proved right by her children, further examination of Hoedemaker’s thought may well be a worthwhile endeavor for Reformed thinkers seeking, as he did, to chart a course through a secular age.
James R. Wood is Assistant Professor of Ministry at Redeemer University in Ancaster, ON. He is also a teaching elder in the PCA and former associate editor at First Things.
Much of the basic background information on Hoedemaker’s life is informed by Ruben Alvarado’s overview in “Preface,” in P. J. Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession Vindicated against Dr. Abraham Kuyper: A Critique of His Series on Church and State in Common Grace; translated by Ruben Alvarado (Aalten, Netherlands: Wordbridge, 2019). Alvarado has performed a tremendous service in translating Hoedemaker’s major works into English over the past few years. ↑
This is Ruben Alvarado’s summary. See Alvarado, “Kuyper versus Hoedemaker,” Common Law Review (2014). http://188.8.131.52/commonlawreview/theological/alvarado/kuyper-ii/. Accessed May 16, 2023. ↑
Quoted in Alvarado, “The Kuyper Option: Kuyper’s Concept of the Church in the Context of Strategic Christian Action,” in For Law and Liberty: Essays on the Trans-Atlantic Legacy of Protestant Political Thought, ed. Brad Littlejohn (Lincoln, NE: 2016), 157. ↑
Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1931 ), 99. ↑
See Alvarado, “Preface,” in Hoedemaker, The Politics of Antithesis: The Antirevolutionary Government of Abraham Kuyper 1901-1905; translated by Ruben Alvarado (Aalten, Netherlands: Wordbridge, 2021), 6. ↑
Quoted in G. Ph. Scheers, Philippus Jacobus Hoedemaker (Waneningen, Netherlands: H. Veenman & Zonen, 1939), 234. ↑
See Hoedemaker’s remarks upon his exit from the Free University in 1887, reproduced in Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, 14-16. ↑
P.J. Hoedemaker, Reformed Ecclesiology in an Age of Confessionalism, trans. Ruben Alvarado (Aalten, Netherlands: Wordbridge, 2019), 156. ↑
See Scheers, Hoedemaker, 209. ↑
P.J. Hoedemaker, Reformed Ecclesiology in an Age of Confessionalism, trans. Ruben Alvarado (Aalten, Netherlands: Wordbridge, 2019), 129. ↑
Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, 23. ↑
Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, 83. ↑
See Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, 37f. ↑
See Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, 43ff; 99ff; Reformed Ecclesiology in an Age of Denominationalism, 45ff. ↑
Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, 40. ↑
Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, 121. Hoedemaker makes a similar point in Reformed Ecclesiology in an Age of Denominationalism, 194: “The state has the right and duty to establish that one religion will be recognized while another will be tolerated.” See also the discussion in Scheers, Hoedemaker, 258ff. ↑
See Alvarado, “Kuyper versus Hoedemaker.” ↑
Hoedemaker, Reformed Ecclesiology in an Age of Denominationalism, 191. ↑
Hoedemaker, “The State with the Bible” in Politics of Antithesis, 92. ↑
Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, 92. ↑
See, among others, P. J. Hoedemaker, “A Preliminary Word,” in P. J. Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession Vindicated against Dr. Abraham Kuyper: A Critique of His Series on Church and State in Common Grace; translated by Ruben Alvarado (Aalten, Netherlands: Wordbridge, 2019). ↑
Quoted in Scheers, Hoedemaker, 152. ↑
See Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, 61-66. In this document, Hoedemaker outlines strong statements about the sovereignty of God, the church’s role in providing public interpretation of Scripture to inform the civil magistrate, the “Christian, Protestant, Reformed” character of the Dutch nation and national institutions, etc. ↑
Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, 74; cf, 43. ↑
P. J. Hoedemaker, All the Church for All the People, reproduced in Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, 119. ↑
See Hoedemaker, Article 36 of the Belgic Confession, 74, 95. Hoedemaker argues that Kuyper’s rejection of Article 36 is driven by practical, rather than principled, concerns, and that he lacks an ideal. See also the discussion in Scheers, Hoedemaker, 248ff. ↑