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?