Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What Hath Wheaton To Do With Grand Rapids?

In a passage that is sure to raise some eyebrows (which those who know him will agree he revels in doing), Hart further defends the essential difference between pietism and confessionalism by writing:
"The institutional church set confessional piety apart from revivalism's rugged spiritual individualism and low regard for clergy, liturgical rites, and creeds.... In fact, on a spectrum of Christianity that placed creeds, clergy, and rites at one end, and religious experience and personal morality at the opposite end, Protestant confessionalists would be located closer to Roman Catholics than to revivalist Protestantism." (D.G. Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism, 50, emphasis added).
At issue here is the nature of the tie that binds (or divides, as the case may be). Is ecclesiastical similarity more important than doctrinal difference? Or does doctrinal agreement transcend ecclesiastical distinctiveness? And if we affirm the latter, we must then answer the question: How much agreement do Reformed believers have with evangelicals, really? Sure, we affirm some basic essentials, but are there not striking differences with respect to soteriology, ecclesiology, eschatology, and various other loci?

Moreover, Calvin's own defense of the Reformation listed worship above justification as the primary example of the need to reform the Church, thereby seemingly giving ecclesiology the upper hand over soteriology (the latter being an outgrowth of the former).

So what say you? Is any paradigm that places Grand Rapids closer to Rome than to Wheaton de facto illegitimate? And if solidarity over "the essentials" trumps churchly concerns, does that not assume that doctrine is formulated in an ecclesiastical vacuum rather than in the context of the community of believers?