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But leaving aside for the moment the question of the Bible, the preacher has no innate authority. He, or more recently she, is a 'minister', that is to say a servant, someone who is fulfilling a necessary role. He (or she) is not a 'priest', endowed with magisterial authority independent of his or her own merits. If individuals are dissatisfied with the service the minister is providing, they can leave and go elsewhere. It may be a matter of regret (Kuyper's 'Sorrowing Church') and of course it may be done for all the wrong reasons but they have a perfect right to do it. In this respect Kuyper would argue that Calvinism's 'fissiparous' nature - its tendency to split into different sects and factions - is a strength rather than a weakness:

'all being equal under Him, there can be no distinctions of rank among believers; there are only ministers, who serve, lead and regulate; a thoroughly Presbyterian form of government; the Church power descending directly from Christ Himself, into the congregation, concentrated from the congregation in the ministers, and by them being administered unto the brethren ...

'if the Church consists in the congregation of believers, if the churches are formed by the union of confessors, and are united only in the way of confederation, then the differences of climate and of nation, of historical past, and of disposition of mind come in to exercise a widely variegating influence, and multiformity in ecclesiastical matters must be the result. A result, therefore, of very far-reaching importance, because it annihilates the absolute character of every visible church, and places them all side by side, as differing in degrees of purity, but always remaining in some way or other a manifestation of one holy and catholic Church of Christ in Heaven ...

'National differences of morals, differences of disposition and of emotions, different degrees in depth of life and insight, necessarily resulted in emphasising first one, and then another side of the same truth. Hence the numerous sects and denominations into which the external church-life has fallen by virtue of this principle.'

Kuyper would admit that this was not Calvin's original idea. Calvin's Institutes envisages  that all members of the civil society would be members of a single institutional church. Calvin though was working with an already existing church in a small independent city state. John Knox, one of his closest disciples, was also working in Scotland to reform an already existing church. But as Kuyper says: 'It is an entirely different matter whether one puts up a new building on a free lot or whether one must restore a house which is standing.' Calvinism initially inherited many of the characteristics of the old order, including, Kuyper observes, the persecuting tendency that produced the burning in Geneva of Michael Servetus. But the natural genius of Calvinism favoured toleration and religious variety:

'break that one Church into fragments, admit that the Church of Christ can reveal itself in many forms, in different countries; nay, even in the same country, in a multiplicity of institutions; and immediately everything which was deduced from this unity of the visible church drops out of sight. And therefore, if it cannot be denied that Calvinism itself has ruptured the unity of the Church, and that in Calvinistic countries a rich variety of all manner of church-formations revealed itself, then it follows that we must not seek the true Calvinistic characteristic in what, for a time, it has retained of the old system, but rather in that, which, new and fresh, has sprung up from its own root.'(11)

(11)  From the third lecture: 'Calvinism and politics'.

The argument was given in the mid-seventeenth century by one of the theorists of the Independent, or Congregationalist, system of church government, John Owen, Cromwell's chaplain while he was destroying Ireland and subsequently, at Cromwell's insistence, Vice Chancellor of Oxford. In 1657, towards the end of the protectorate, he wrote Of Schism - the true nature of it discovered and considered - in which he argued that:

'The departure of any man or men from the society or communion of any church whatsoever - so it be done without strife, variance, judging and condemning of others - because, according to the light of their consciences, they cannot in all things in them worship God according to his mind, cannot be rendered evil but from circumstances taken from the persons so doing, or the way and manner whereby and wherein they do it.'(12)

(12) William H.Goold (ed): The Works of John Owen, Vol 13, Ministry and Fellowship, Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1983 (first printing 1967), p.151. Owen's career in Peter Toon: God's Statesman - the life and work of John Owen, Exeter, The Paternoster Press, 1971.

Which leads almost seamlessly to John Locke's statement in his Letter concerning Toleration, possibly one of the most revolutionary sentences ever penned: 'A church, then, I take to be a voluntary society of men joining themselves together of their own accord in order to the public worshipping of God in such a manner as they judge acceptable to him and effectual to the salvation of their souls.'(13)

(13) John Locke: Letters on Toleration, Bombay 1867, p.14 (first published 1689).

If this developed in Calvinism rather than Lutheranism it was largely because of the historical accident that while Calvinist churches tended to come into existence in revolt against the civil authority, Lutheran churches were usually established by and subject to the civil authority. The Prince was the 'first bishop' of the Church. That of course brings to mind the Church of England, with the King as its supreme head. But in relation to the Protestant tradition the Church of England was in an anomalous position. Insofar as it had a system of church government that resembles Luther's it is called 'Erastian'. Insofar as it had a theology that rather resembles Luther's it is called 'Arminian'. Both Thomas Erastus in Heidelberg and Jacobus Arminius in Holland emerged from within the Calvinist tradition. The tension between 'Calvinist' content and 'Lutheran' mould was to be big with consequences for the future.

Kuyper is full of praise for the American constitution and its principle of freedom of religion and separation of church and state which he attributes to North America's Calvinist origins. It has of course been pointed out that there was a strong deist influence among the founders of the constitution. But, as mentioned earlier, there was within the Calvinist impulse a tendency towards the dissolution of its own principles, largely through the emphasis on the authority of the Bible - open as it is to different interpretations - and on the importance of rational dispute, hence the tendency toward Unitarianism. This is certainly an argument that was used by Catholic critics of Calvinism. but because of it the deist influence on the American constitution can itself be regarded as a development of Calvinism.