Quo Vadis? Mercersburg, he replies

My friend Joseph posted recently about finding a theological home with John Nevin and the Mercersburg “movement.” I confess I knew nothing about it before his post, but it’s very interesting, particularly in light of the recent controversies in the Reformed alphabet churches (OPC, RPC, PCA, and so on)—Federal Vision, New Perspectives, N.T. Wright, etc. While the post itself is worth reading, I was most interested in a follow-up comment, in which he explained his reasons for not going the whole way to Canterbury. He mentions that the early church’s episcopal form of government was “probably a mistake.”


While I realize I’m perhaps more sympathetic to Anglicanism (and episcopal government) than you are, I wonder if calling it a mistake is going too far. It’s possible instead to consider that that hybrid 2nd century government (presbycopal? episcoterian?) was a cultural/geographical creature, born of necessity and the fundamentally disconnected world of the time. After all, if you’re separated from the other groups of churches by more than 50 miles, we’re talking about a two-week journey. So having a seasoned Christian leader who can both make decisions and connect with other groups of churches (via church councils) might make sense.

On a (loosely) related note, I do find it interesting that early churches likely didn’t have full-time pastors per se, but we’ve made that shift with little dissent, recognizing it for what it is: more cultural construct than biblical mandate. (Following either the biblical or historical model without discernment means we adopt a Quaker or Brethren approach to teaching/preaching.) We owe that development, to some degree, to the recent (last two centuries) elevation of Word and proclamation above the church’s incarnational identity. And that is a grave error.

When we lived in Wheaton, we used to joke that the evangelical trinity was Father, Son, and Holy Scripture. Should idolatry (even bibliolatry) be funny?


2 thoughts on “Quo Vadis? Mercersburg, he replies”

  1. James,

    My how I have missed our conversations over the years. I had forgotten how you had a way of catching an angle on things that with my narrow-focus, I simply failed to see. I agree that it was a matter of necessity. However, I read an Anglican defense of the episcopacy called “Elders in Every City,” in which the author admits that the early church departed from the clear presbyterian government laid down in the NT. I was shocked. He says that because of tradition, he didn’t see a problem with this departure as the consensus of the early church also seemed to favor some form of baptismal regeneration 🙂 (I believe that is the analogy). Anyway, I agree with your observation of the Zwinglian tendency to elevate Word above Sacrament and that is unfortunate, but alas, we live in a day in which Sacramental efficacy (not sacerdotalism) and union with Christ are hot discussions once again. It is ironic though that a few years back as the CREC was getting more organized that there was a motion at presbytery to change the title of the moderator to Bishop because they wanted the moderator to have a more personal and pastoral role in the life of the presbytery. Hmmm.

  2. I’m not sure if you read my reflective post “I Digress,” but alas, after some musings over Nevin and clamoring over his Lutheranism despite his defense of Calvin’s “Mystical Presence” view of the Eucharist, I have, with much due respect to Nevin and Schaff, left Mercersburg and returned to Geneva, not by way of the Puritans, but by way of Canterbury. While eschewing fixed prayers, I still am sypathetic though to the prayerbook–and perhaps the regional bishop is not such a bad idea either (shhh . . . don’t tell Knox . . .)

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