Always Social, Always Public: Herman Bavinck on Religion

I will shortly be posting my own thoughts again, rather than big quotes of other people’s thoughts, but here’s a gem from Bavinck’s discussion of the church in Reformed Dogmatics IV:

We are by nature social beings, ‘political animals’; we are born out of, in, and for community and cannot for a moment exist apart from it.  The family, society, the state, associations of various kinds, and for various purposes, bind people together and cause us to live and act in concert with one another.  Even stronger than all these institutions and corporations, however, is the bond that unites people in religion.  There exists in religion a powerful social element.  The reason for this is not hard to find: religion is more deeply rooted in the human heart than anything else.  It is the immediate result of our being created in God’s image and therefore radically integral to our nature.  In religion, we regulate our relationship to God, the relationship that is central and foundational.  Our relationship to our fellow humans and to all other creatures is the outflow of our relationship to God.  Foundational to all issues is that of religion.  Those who agree with us in religion agree with us in our most basic, most sacred, and all-controlling convictions and sooner or later arrive at the same insights also in secondary matters.  But differences in religious convictions, upon serious reflection, produce ever greater divergence between people also in all subordinate matters.  That which unites people in religion is stronger than material interests, natural love, or enthusiasm for science and art.  People are prepared to sacrifice everything, even their own lives, for religion.  For if they lose it, they lose their own selves, their own identities.  In religion, as everyone believes, a person’s very soul and salvation is at stake.  For that reason, too, every religion seeks to propagate itself and engates in mission.  Religion is never merely a private matter, a subjective opinion, a matter of taste; it always implies the claim to being the true and saving religions and therefore seeks acceptance by others and expansion, if possible, throughout the human race.  It is never a matter of the individual alone but always also a matter for the immediate and extended family, the people, and the state as a whole.  Accordingly, it always produces a common dogma and a common form of worship, sustained as it were by the consciousness that not the individual but humanity as a whole is the completed image of God, his temple and body.

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