Saturday, September 10, 2011

Unity and Purity 2: Attempts at Reunion

Following the Reformation were the children of the Reformation. English Puritan pastor Richard Baxter, a child of the Reformed movement of the Reformation "labored for years to devise a basis for a comprehensive national church which would avoid sectarian division and yet permit a wide diversity of practice anchored to a base of radical orthodoxy." Lovelace writes that Baxter spent a great deal of time and energy seeking a "core doctrine around which all English Christians could unite, according to the formula of Rupert Meldenius: 'Unity in essentials, liberty in incidentals, and in all things charity'" (Dynamics, p. 296). American Puritan Cotton Mather "reasoned that an outpouring of the Holy Spirit which would create genuine godliness among Christians of differing minor persuasions might enable all of these to detect Christ in one another and attain unity" (Cotton Mather, The Stone Cut Out of the Mountain, p. 6).

The Pietists who were children of the Lutheran movement of the Reformation were generally more committed to the established church structure; their most well-known advocates, Philip Jacob Spener and August Hermann Francke were less optimistic for "structural reunification" between the various Protestant movements; however, within the Lutheran church were desirous of "the vision of the ultimate transformation of world culture through the impact of a revived and unified Christendom cherished..." (Dynamics, p. 297).

One of the students who fell off the Spener and Francke tree was Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf who took the vision of Spener and Francke beyond Lutheranism and sought to bring about revival and spiritual unity within "every sector of Christendom." Describing the town in which Zinzendorf ministered, Lovelace writes:

Herrnhut was ecumenist from the start, since it was composed not only of Moravian refuges but also of fragments from Reformed and Catholic backgrounds. Zinzendorf proceeded as if the experience of Herrnhut were a paradigm for the future of the whole church. His theological basis for renewal and union was remarkably brief; it embraced all as Christians who professed allegiance to the Lamb of God and ‘had experienced the death of Christ upon the heart.’…

Zinzendorf was not aiming at organizational unity and uniformity among Christians, however, since he believed that each denomination represented a tropos paideia (training ground), a unique cultural and traditional incarnation of the gospel with its own particular genius and expression of the Christian essence. He did not desire the dissolution of the tropoi, but only their binding together in fraternal charity, mutual respect, communication and communion within a sort of loose federation. He entertained the possibility that even a renewed and reformed Roman Catholicism might be a part of this structure. In this and other respects his vision moved far beyond the comprehension and agreement of the other great leaders of the Great Awakening (think George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley). But from our perspective he appears as one of the major architects of the interdenominational, pan-denominational renewal movement which today we call Evangelicalism.  Dynamics, p. 297-98

Even among the leaders of the Great Awakening, Lovelace notes the strong unity between Whitefield (the Calvinist) and Wesley (the Arminian) as well as Edwards writings attacking sectarian division and commending the unitive vision of leaders like Spener (Dynamics, p. 298).

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