Saturday, January 13, 2007

Jonathon Bonomo has returned to posting on his Mercersburg Theology blog, and I am glad. While I disagree with Mercersburg Theology, blogs of this type and caliber are needed. He is in the middle of posting about Nevin and his view of sectarianism as the spirit of the antichrist. I do quibble with his first post as I believe that Historical Development is the foundation and driving force of Mercersburg Theology including mystical union Christology rather than vice-versa, but that is another conversation for another time. The second installment gives an overview of Nevin’s historical outlook on the subject. Mr. Bonomo admits Nevin’s view is highly dependant on Hegelianism. Yet, I wonder if Nevin himself contradicts his own Hegalianism in order to make his real point, that Puritanism is the anitchrist. Nevin had pointed to the two tendencies of antichrist materialism and supernaturalism. Every history of the church had a heresy in both directions. Bonomo explains the post Reformation heresies in Nevin’s view.

Rationalism and Sectarianism. These two heresies are yet more subtle than the previous forms of antichrist, but on this account perhaps even more dangerous. Rationalism is a naturalistic tendency while Sectarianism is supernaturalistic. Yet sectarianism, while beginning in a show of hyper-spiritualism, always without exception ends up as a base materialism:

Here we see Nevin begins by making Rationalism and Sectarianism on opposite ends of the spectrum as his Hegelianism demands, but ends up with them both on the same side leaving his Hegalianism needing a counterweight that is never produced. Sectarianism is supernaturalism that ends up in materialism. I believe this is a whole in Nevin’s own theory, but not the point of this post.

I believe Nevin has redefined the spirit of the antichrist to be not a doctrinal error concerning Christ as much as it is the act of separating oneself from the true Church. The Spirit of Antichrist for Nevin is leaving the church or at least leaving the Mercersburg principles of the church. The marks of the antichrist Nevin gives, which will be discussed in future posts by Mr. Bonomo, include things such as individual freedom, contempt for history and authority, rejecting the church as a supernatural institution, rejecting sacramentalism, rejection of mediation (by this Nevin means mediation of the Church over against subjective mediation), and other such things. It will be interesting to read his thoughts on these distinctions. However, to show what Nevin really thinks the antichrist’s spirit entails we shall let him speak.

In admitting moreover the necessity of confessional distinctions, we do not allow them to be good and desirable in their own nature. They are relatively good only, as serving to open the way to a higher form of catholicity than that which they leave behind; whilst in themselves absolutely considered, they contradict and violate the true idea of the Church, and are to be bewailed on this account as an evil of the most serious magnitude (pg. 56, Antichrist Anxious Bench/AntiChrist/Sermon on Catholic Unity. . . . We have no hesitation, then, in saying, that all redemption from the power of the Sect plague, must begin with a revival of true and hearty faith, in the ancient article of ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC CHURCH (pg. 67 caps in original).

We see a denial of confessional distinctions or doctrinal statements. These statements are evil when compared to the true nature of the church. They are something to be overcome. This makes the spirit of the antichrist something altogether different than a denier of doctrines or a contradictor of beliefs. What then does it mean to be the spirit of the antichrist? Nevin tells us in the second half of the above quote, it is splitting from the Church. It is not deviation from beliefs found in confessional distinctions that makes one an antichrist, it is separation from the Church. Less you think I overstate my case I shall give another quote.

As long as men are disposed to deny the existence of one catholic Church, or to place it in the negation and shadow as an invisible abstraction . . . it must be in vain to preach to them the evils of division and schism (Ibid., pg. 67).

Nevin here attacks the idea of the invisible church. The Church is the only objective standard by which to judge the antichrist, thus making schism not about doctrine but about church membership. This idea has profound consequences for one’s view of history, the place of confessions and doctrinal unity within a church, and one’s view of church in general. I look forward to future posts and hope for good discussion.