Thursday, January 18, 2007

Antichrist and Nevin one more time

Mr. Bonomo has offered a response to my last post. In it he says that I have built a straw man in my caricature of Nevin. He offers two places where I am wrong in my thinking on Nevin. Let us look at them.

First, he argues that Nevin accepts religious denominations and confessional distinctions, and argues that confessional distinctions are only ‘evil’ when used by sects. He provides quotes from Nevin to back up his claim. I agree with Nevin that the distinction he draws between sect and denomination is "difficult to explain it clearly in theory, and still more so to apply it practically to existing religious bodies. (pg. 55 found in one of the ellipse of the quote provided by Mr. Bonomo.)" Nevin’s distinctions are fine and perhaps not really existent. Mr. Bonomo provides another quote showing that denominations are justified "in the present state of the world" and that they are "relatively necessary". This is because in the end Nevin holds they will all merge back into one church. Yet, how is this different than what I quoted Nevin as saying about confessional distinctions? Nevin there says they are "relatively good only" because they aid a higher catholicity. This is the same thing he just said about denominations. Is it not logical to assume then that denominations are also "an evil of the most serious magnitude" when considered in their own nature because they "violate the true idea of the Church"? It seems to me that Nevin’s theory is cloudy, which he himself admits, and that in practice he has not drawn a difference between sects and denominations. Further evidence can be found in his identifying markers of sects. For a denomination not to be a sect it must accept the church has the "same divine life . . . originally introduced in the incarnation of Jesus Christ" (pg. 43), which Nevin makes sure includes the idea of divine authority. This basically rules out every Protestant church that holds the Church itself is not the divine authority, but the Bible. He also goes on to endorse a sacramentalism and mediating role rejected by most Protestant churches, including his own during that time period. So while Nevin does give lip service to Mr. Bonomo’s point, even he admits it is fuzzy and even worse in practice. He uses the same terminology for confessional distinctions that he uses for sects, and he uses for denominations. Using then Nevin’s words, his presuppositions it seems impossible to conclude he thought denominations were anything but evil in their very nature and only serving a "relative good" as they open the way to history’s final stage of a reunified church.

Second, he argues that I have misunderstood Nevin when claiming that the spirit of antichrist is a separation from the church rather than a denial of doctrine. Mr. Bonomo tells us that it is ‘not either/or’ but rather ‘both/and’ for Nevin. In some sense I am willing to concede this point in as much as doctrine is involved in all things including a rejection of the church. Perhaps, I should make myself clearer. For Nevin the spirit of the antichrist is not a denial of the incarnation of Jesus, but a rejection and denial of the doctrine about the church being the continuation of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is where Nevin’s mystical union theory comes into play. As quoted eariler, Nevin holds that the "if we do not recognize in it [the Church] the continued presence of the same divine life, or new creation, that was originally introduced into the world by the incarnation of Jesus Christ" then we do not believe in "a real Church at all"(pg. 43). Thus, if one does not hold that the church is a continued divine incarnation with an objective efficacy to its sacraments, its worship, its pronouncements, then we are of the spirit of the antichrist. It is a denial of this doctrine about the church and a separation of that church that constitutes antichrist. This is not what John is speaking about when he speaks of denying that Jesus came in the flesh. The doctrine of Christ is not in view in Nevin’s spirit of the antichrist. Instead, it is the doctrine of the Church that makes one of the antichrist. So I do not think it a stretch to say for Nevin and for Mercersburg the spirit of the antichr should really be called antichurch.