What Has Mercersburg To Do With Azusa

What Has Mercersburg To Do With Azusa

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PNEUMA 38 (2016) 411–435

What Has Mercersburg to Do with Azusa? A Pentecostal Consideration of Nevin and Schaff

David Bradnick

Stevenson University, Stevenson, Maryland



Pentecostalism and Mercersburg theology may appear to have little in common with one another. Pentecostalism primarily started as a grassroots movement among under- privileged Christians within the Holiness tradition, while Mercersburg theology was a cosmopolitan school of thought that emerged from within the ivory tower of Reform academia. These two movements possess strong socioeconomic, theological, and prac- tical differences, and some may answer that they have little common ground. After all, until now Pentecostalism and Mercersburg theology have existed and thrived in rela- tive seclusion from each other. This essay, however, initiates a dialogue between these two movements. I propose that numerous similarities exist between Pentecostalism and Mercersburg theology. Furthermore, a consideration of their theological distinc- tives may act as a catalyst for fruitful interaction.


Mercersburg – Nevin – Schaff – Eucharist – real presence – Pentecostalism – Reformed – Calvin

In the Prescription against Heretics early Christian theologian Tertullian (160– 225ce) posed the question, “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”1 The context of this statement wasTertullian’s refutation of Greek philosophy as a means of discerning theological truth. He staunchly advocated the indepen- dence of theology from philosophy because the latter has the ability, or even

1 Tertullian,The Prescription against Heretics, iiv.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2016 | doi: 10.1163/15700747-03804005




tendency, to corrupt truth. In Tertullian’s mind, even if philosophy contains some elements of truth, its validity often gets twisted and thus it becomes a source of heresy. Hence Tertullian’s reference to Athens represents the Greek philosophical tradition prevalent in the early Christian world, and, in short, his answer is “no”—Athens should have nothing to do with Jerusalem.

The title of this essay plays on Tertullian’s words by juxtaposing pentecostal theology with Mercersburg theology.2 At first glance, these branches of Chris- tianity may appear to be in a state of relative opposition to each other. For starters, Pentecostalism largely began as a grassroots movement among the poor and uneducated of the Holiness tradition; yet Mercersburg theology was a cosmopolitan undertaking, emerging from within the ivory tower of Reformed academia.3 Furthermore, Pentecostalism spawned from and thrived off the ecstatic and unpredictable practices of American revivalism—some of the very practices condemned by Mercersburg theology in the previous century.4 Finally, Pentecostalism is noted for harboring a strong experiential compo- nent within its theology, whereas Mercersburg theology developed out of the cerebral methods of German idealism. It is evident that these two schools of thought possess strong socioeconomic, theological, and practical differences, and some may be led to answer that Azusa has little to do with Mercersburg and vice versa. These detractors may further elucidate that these movements, to this point, have existed and thrived in relative seclusion from each other, so why even pose the question now?

But I ask, is this an accurate assessment? Is this simply reaching a hasty conclusion without deeper consideration? Have mere assumptions prevented interaction in the past and built up walls? Or, perhaps, does the lack of dia- logue stem from the relative absence of said question? I propose that Azusa

2 In this article I use the term Pentecostalism to refer collectively to Classical Pentecostalism,

the charismatic movement, and neo-Pentecostalism. For more on the distinctions of each

group see Stanley M. Burgess, New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic

Movements, ed. Stanley M. Burgess and Eduard M. van der Mass (Grand Rapids, mi: Zonder-

van, 2002), 290–291; Wolfgang Vondey,Beyond Pentecostalism: The Crisis of Global Christianity

and the Renewal of the Theological Agenda(Grand Rapids,mi: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010), 8–13. 3 For more on the socioeconomic characteristics of early Pentecostals see Grant Wacker,

Heaven Below: Early Pentecostals and American Culture (Cambridge, ma: Harvard University

Press, 2001).

4 For more on Holiness revivalistic practices, including the “mourners’ bench,” see Vinson

Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century

(Grand Rapids, mi: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1997), 19, 23. John Williamson Nevin condemned this

practice, also known as “the anxious bench,” as “quackery.” See Nevin, The Anxious Bench

(Chambersburg,pa: Office of The Weekly Messenger, 1843).

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what has mercersburg to do with azusa?


and Mercersburg may have more to say to each other than what has been considered heretofore. In this essay I not only pose my title question, but I also suggest that numerous similarities, or points of convergence, exist between these two movements. An analysis of these similarities may initiate dialogue, but I want to avoid reducing this conversation to a mere identification of common themes. A consideration of their theological distinctives may also act as a catalyst for fruitful cross-pollination.

My article seeks to initiate this conversation between Pentecostalism and Mercersburg theology, and it proceeds in the following manner. First, I pro- vide a brief history of Mercersburg theology and its founding fathers—John Williamson Nevin and Philip Schaff. Next, I examine the theology of Nevin through his book The Mystical Presence and suggest that he may offer Pente- costalism insights into a more robust eucharistic and liturgical theology. On the other hand, I propose that pentecostal theology may be able to comple- ment Nevin’s pneumatology and sacramental theology. Finally, I examine the thought of Schaff through his workThe Principle of Protestantismand contend that Schaff’s thought may encourage Pentecostals to engage further in ecu- menical dialogue. At the same time, I maintain that pentecostal thought may be able to supplement Schaff’s pneumatology and expand its implications for interreligiousdialogue.Ultimately,IhopetosuggestseveralareasinwhichMer- cersburg theology and Pentecostalism may engage in further dialogue.

Mercersburg Theology: Its History and Thought

Mercersburg at a Glance

Mercersburg theology is often regarded as one of the unique and preeminently significant movements of American Protestantism. Its roots can be traced back to the 1840s in the small Pennsylvania town from which its namesake is derived. Its two major proponents, JohnWilliamson Nevin (1803–1886) and Philip Schaff (1819–1893), became colleagues at the Theological Seminary of the German Reformed Church upon Schaff’s appointment from Germany as a professor of biblical literature and ecclesiastical history in 1884. Although the theological seeds of Mercersburg theology were planted in both men before their tenure at the seminary, together they challenged some of the great minds of nineteenth- century American theology, promulgating their ecumenical vision from the unsuspecting Pennsylvania countryside.5

5 Both Nevin and Schaff recognize their indebtedness to church historian August Nean-

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One of Nevin’s primary goals was to recover vital Reformation doctrines for the American Church, which he deemed to be in jeopardy at the hands of revivalism.6 His most significant book, The Mystical Presence (1867), focused largely upon eucharistic theology, advocating a belief in the real presence of Christ at the Lord’s Supper. To Nevin’s dismay, Reformed theology in the United States often promoted a Zwinglian view; it taught that Christ is not present in the Eucharist but remembered. For Nevin, however, the real presence is a vital doctrine that must be retrieved to continue and to complete the work of the Reformation.

Concurrently, Schaff aspired to reinterpret Christian history as a progressive movement toward refined revelation and Christian unity. Schaff’s book The Principle of Protestantism(1845) argued that the Reformation should be viewed as an advancement in church history and a product of Roman Catholicism. At this time, American Protestantism tended to interpret the Reformation as a movement distinct from the Roman Catholic Church, but Schaff sought to retain the importance of the Roman Catholic Church for ecclesiastical history, especially the development of subsequent church doctrine. For Schaff, the fourth through the sixteenth centuries should not be discarded; instead they should be embraced as a necessary progression, for without this stage the Reformation never would have occurred.7

The bold interpretations put forth by Nevin and Schaff did not go unno- ticed.Their ideas stirred controversy among esteemed colleagues at prominent institutions, including Charles Hodge at Princeton, which led to an exchange of correspondence between Nevin and his former teacher. Mercersburg teachings also spawned staunch opposition within their own denomination.8 Following his inaugural address, Schaff was formally charged with heresy and was tried before denominational officials in 1845 before being acquitted.9 As learned

der. F.C. Bauer was also very influential on Schaff at Tübingen. See James Hasting Nichols,

Romanticism in American Theology: Nevin and Schaff at Mercersburg (Chicago: University of

Chicago Press, 1961), 42, 115–120.

6 Linden DeBie writes, “But to Nevin, modern revivals not only threatened orthodox theology

by making its institutions redundant, they produced a trite and fickle faith.” See DeBie,

“Biographical Essay,” in Coena Mystica: Debating Reformed Eucharistic Theology, ed. Linden

DeBie (Eugene,or: Wipf & Stock, 2013), xxxi.

7 See Philip Schaff, The Principle of Protestantism, ed. Bard Thompson and George H. Bricker

(Philadelphia and Boston: United Church Press, 1964), 37–50.

8 One of his most outspoken opponents was Joseph F. Berg, the retiring president of the Synod

of the German Reformed Church in 1844.

9 Philip Schaff, “Dr. Schaff’s Reply and Farewell to the Synod,” in The Semi-centennial of Philip

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scholars, Nevin and Schaff were up to the challenge, but their efforts did not overcome the prevailing mindset of the time.10 Nevin and Schaff’s work was largely minimized by their contemporaries, but in spite of this, their thought has been influential within certain segments of American Reformed churches and prepared the groundwork for the modern ecumenical movement.

Nevin’s Theology of the Mystical Presence

Nevin, a native of Pennsylvania, studied at Princeton Seminary, where he also taught before transferring to Allegheny Seminary, and, subsequently, at the Theological Seminary of the German Reformed Church.11 He arrived in Mer- cersburg in the spring of 1840, ready to immerse himself in German theol- ogy and philosophy, and found himself increasingly concerned with American revivalistic Evangelicalism. In 1843 he wroteThe Anxious Bench, a small treatise opposed to the popular practice whereby preachers provided a special seat for those concerned about their spiritual state. For Nevin the anxious bench was a mere emotional appeal, devoid of true religious sentiment, and he argued for its removal from church services.12

Eucharistic theology was another area in which Nevin found himself dis- turbed by the “unsacramental pietism” of the American church.13After writing several critical articles in a denominational publication called theWeekly Mes- senger, Nevin summarized and expounded upon his view of the Eucharist in his controversial workThe Mystical Presence(1846). Here he draws deeply from the church fathers and attempts to retrieve for the Eucharist a theology concerning the real presence of Christ, and it is this work to which I turn our attention. In this section I summarize Nevin’s eucharistic theology, after which I will evalu- ate its significance from a pentecostal perspective.

In The Mystical Presence Nevin espouses his paramount belief that one encounters nothing less than the unique, real presence of Christ within the


11 12 13

Schaff (New York: privately printed, 1893), 25. Schaff was threatened with a second heresy charge in 1846, but this was resolved by a board before being formally charged (ibid., 26). Nichols maintains that Nevin outmaneuvered Hodge. He writes, “[Hodge] was beyond his depth and, whether he fully realized it or not, he had been demolished” (Nichols, Romanticism, 89). Nichols adds, “Hodge would have done better to concede the historical case from the beginning … He made the mistake of challenging a man whose command of the field was vastly greater than his own” (ibid., 91).

Ibid., 5.

See Nevin,The Anxious Bench, 18ff.

Abner Ralph Kremer, A Biographical Sketch of John Williamson Nevin(Reading,pa: Daniel Miller, 1890), 139.

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sacrament of the Eucharist.14 This is not a simple symbolic act or a mere remembrance of Christ’s deeds, such as the manner in which Zwingli viewed the Eucharist. Neither is it a formality to arouse emotion within the believer. According to Nevin, the core of the Eucharist is the experience of Christ’s real presence. He writes, “Nor is the sacrament a sign only, by which the memory and heart may be assisted in calling up what is past or absent for the purposes of devotion … Nor is it a pledge simply of our own consecration to the service of Christ, or of the faithfulness of God as engaged to make good to us in a general way the grace of the new covenant.”15 It is Christ himself who meets us in the Lord’s Supper through the Spirit, and any doctrine that teaches less performs a great disservice to the church.

For Nevin, variations in interpretation are not simply minor differences, but its proper understanding should be of utmost concern to American Christian- ity. He exclaims, “We have no right to overlook it, or to treat it as though it did not exist. We have no right to hold it unimportant, or to take it for granted with unreflecting presumption that the truth is all on the modern side. The mere fact is serious. For the doctrine of the Eucharist lies at the very heart of chris- tianity [sic] itself; and the chasm that divides the two systems here is wide and deep.”16 In short, reducing the Lord’s Supper to a mere memorial degrades the very act and the ministry of the church, and Nevin refused to sit by silently and accept this.

In addition to addressing Zwinglian views, Nevin also criticizes Roman Cath- olic and Lutheran theologies. His belief in the real presence requires Nevin to addresses the significance of the eucharistic elements. He denies the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, asserting that the presence of Christ is not within the wafer,17 and also rejects the Lutheran teaching of consub- stantiation, for the presence of Christ cannot be limited to the partaking of the bread itself.18 Nevin declares that the mode does not convey the real presence


15 16 17 18

John Williamson Nevin,The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinistic Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist (Philadelphia: S.R. Fisher, 1867), 118.

Ibid., 56.

Ibid., 126.

Ibid., 58–59, 88.

Ibid., 58–59. Many similarities exist between Mercersburg Theology and Anglican views, especially the Oxford Movement of the nineteenth century. According to W. Bradford Littlejohn, “The notion of the mystical union, mediated through the sacraments, centers around the twin poles of Incarnation and Resurrection.” See Littlejohn, The Mercersburg Theology and the Quest for Reformed Catholicity (Eugene, or: Pickwick, 2009), 102. Later he adds, “Both thus offer a similar understanding of the benefits of the sacraments, which

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of Christ. He is neither with, under, nor in the bread. Christ’s presence cannot be bound by the elements; rather, it pervades the entire eucharistic act through the Spirit. Nevin explains:

The body of Christ is in heaven, the believer on earth; but by the power of the Holy Ghost, nevertheless, the obstacle of such vast local distance is fully overcome, so that in the sacramental act, while the outward symbols are received in an outward way, the very body and blood of Christ are at the same time inwardly and supernaturally communicated to the worthy receiver, for the real nourishment of his new life. Not that the material particles of Christ’s body are supposed to be carried over, by this super- natural process, into the believer’s person. The communion is spiritual, not material.19

So while the elements are symbolic of Christ, reminding us of what we can- not see, his presence is nevertheless real, extending beyond the material con- stituents. Although mysterious, the fullness of Christ is experienced in the Eucharist, and with this Nevin asserts that his views are firmly aligned with the church fathers, Calvin, and the Heidelberg Catechism.20

Finally, at the center of Nevin’s theology is the incarnation. In the Eucharist, believers participate in the life of Christ—in both his divine and human natures.21At the Lord’s Supper the power of the incarnation is effective within the believer, meaning that the incarnation is not simply a historical event, but also a present reality. The fullness of Christ’s real presence is available to all believers, regardless of their historical distance from the incarnation.22

19 20 21 22

impart to us all the benefits of redemption, from justification to glorification, and prepare our bodies for Resurrection” (107–108). Littlejohn attributes these common themes to the fact that they both use the same sources, such as Cyprian, Chrysostom, Augustine, and the Cappadocians (121–122). It should be noted that Nevin was aware of the Oxford Movement and addressed some of its features. For his comments on this movement see Nevin, “The Anglican Crisis,”The Mercersburg Review3, no. 4 (1851): 359–397.

Nevin,The Mystical Presence, 60.

Ibid., 119. Here he referencesq.76 &q.79. See also ibid., 87–88.

Ibid., 88–89.

For more on Nevin’s incarnational theology see Timothy Hessel-Robinson, “Calvin’s Doc- trine of the Lord’s Supper: Modern Reception and Contemporary Possibilities,” inCalvin’s Theology and Its Reception: Disputes, Developments, and New Possibilities, ed. J. Todd Billings and I. John Hesselink (Louisville,ky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 178–181; Nichols, Romanticism, 140.

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Pentecostal Eucharistic Theology in Dialogue with Nevin’s Mystical Presence

Pentecostal views on the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, are multi- faceted and difficult to summarize. Extending back to the earliest days of the movement, beliefs ranging from high sacramentalism to memorialism can be found in pentecostal thought. Thus Pentecostals are not unified in their under- standing of the Lord’s Supper. Another feature that adds to its complexity is the fact that few Pentecostals have attempted to develop fully a sacramental theol- ogy. Richard Bicknell observes, “It is precisely because Pentecostals have failed to achieve a distinct understanding of the supper that it has become a mere shadow of what it should be.”23Several contemporary pentecostal theologians, consequently, have criticized their own tradition for lacking a robust theology of the sacraments and have called for a move toward filling this lacuna.24Con- sidering these challenges, I maintain that Nevin’s eucharistic theology can pro- vide Pentecostals with a number of constructive insights. Conversely, I believe that pentecostal thought can contribute useful concepts to Nevin’s theology. Here I summarize pentecostal eucharistic theology and address both of these issues.25




Richard Bicknell, “The Ordinances:The Marginalised Aspects of Pentecostalism,” inPente- costalPerspectives, ed. KeithWarrington(Carlisle,uk: Paternoster,1998), 220.This does not meanthatPentecostalshaveuniversallyneglectedtheimportanceof theEucharist.Walter J. Hollenweger, for instance, argues that the Eucharist is “the central point of Pentecostal worship. It is as it were the holy of holies.” See Hollenweger,The Pentecostals: The Charis- matic Movement in the Churches (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972), 385. Frank D. Macchia, however, claims that Hollenweger may have exaggerated on this point. He adds, though, that “when the meal is observed, it tends to hold a central place in that particular ser- vice because of its healing or transformative significance.” Frank D. Macchia, “Eucharist: Pentecostal,” inThe NewscmDictionary of Liturgy andWorship, ed. Paul F. Bradshaw (Lon- don:scmPress, 2013), 190. My experience does not align with Hollenweger’s and Macchia’s descriptions of the Eucharist. Within my background it took a a subordinate role to the rest of worship.

See Hollenweger, The Pentecostals, 385; Chris E.W. Green, Toward a Pentecostal Theology of the Lord’s Supper: Foretasting the Kingdom (Cleveland, tn: cpt Press, 2012), 1; John Christopher Thomas, “Pentecostal Theology in the Twenty-First Century,” Pneuma 20, no. 1 (1998): 18; Wesley Scott Biddy, “Re-envisioning the Pentecostal Understanding of the Eucharist: An Ecumenical Proposal,”Pneuma28, no. 2 (2006): 228.

Some Pentecostals may object to the use of the term Eucharist, due to their anti-sacra- mentalist views. Many prefer to use the term communion, as they consider baptism and the Lord’s Supper as ordinances. I, however, use these terms synonymously.

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A large percentage of Pentecostals advocate a nonsacramental theology and in so doing maintain a memorial view of communion, and while some Pen- tecostals, especially the laity, do not explicitly advocate a Zwinglian-inspired view, the similarities are present.26 In many pentecostal communion services the life, death, and resurrection of Christ are recounted as a means of moti- vating believers to model their lives in service to God, but there is little, if any, recognition of the real presence of Christ. Communion is seen as an inspira- tional remembering of Jesus’s actions, and Christians outwardly express their commitment to their faith.

One such advocate is Raymond M. Pruitt, an ordained minister in the Church of God of Prophecy, who writes, “The experiences of the soul and spirit are best expressed in the universal language of signs and symbols. The Lord has given the Church such a means of expression in the ordinances, or sacraments, which He has instituted. The signs and symbols themselves do not impart spir- itual grace but are expressions of what has been imparted through our rela- tionship with Christ.”27 Throughout Pruitt’s discussion of the ordinances he intentionally uses memorial language (for example, conveys, commemorates, portrays, demonstrates) to reinforce this idea. Pentecostal theologians Stanley M. Horton and William W. Menzies hold to a similar view. They write that the Lord’s Supper “is commemorative, instructive, and inspirational.”28 According to these theologians, the bread and the cup are symbols and representations of the body and bread of Christ. Through these objects we are “reminded” of what Christ has done; they are nothing more than “occasions of memorial” and




For more on Pentecostals and their identification with Zwinglian eucharistic theology see Walter Hollenweger,The Pentecostals, 385; Michael Dusing, “The New Testament Church,” in Systematic Theology, ed. Stanley M. Horton (Springfield, mo: Logion Press, 2007), 563– 565; Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, “The Pentecostal View,” in The Lord’s Supper: Five Views, ed. Gordon T. Smith (Downers Grove, il: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 122–123; Richard Bick- nell, “In Memory of Christ’s Sacrifice: Roots and Shoots of Elim’s Eucharistic Expression,” Journal of the European Pentecostal Theological Association 17, no. 1 (1997): 81. Pentecostal theologian Keith Warrington suggests that pentecostal eucharistic theology has roots in Zwinglian views, although he argues that Zwingli went beyond a memorial view and rec- ognized the real presence of Christ at the communion table. See Warrington, Pentecostal Theology: A Theology of Encounter (London:t&tClark, 2008), 166.

Raymond M. Pruitt, Fundamentals of the Faith (Cleveland, tn: Wing Wing, 1981), 356. It should be noted that Pruitt, like many other Pentecostals, includes foot washing among the ordinances along with water baptism and the Lord’s Supper (369–370).

William W. Menzies and Stanley M. Horton, Bible Doctrines: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springfield, mo: Logion Press, 2012), 113. For memorial views within Elim churches see Bicknell, “In Memory of Christ’s Sacrifice,” 66–67.

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“metaphors.”29With these opinions Pruitt, Menzies, and Horton are represen- tative of a substantial segment of Pentecostals.

Pentecostals who advocate a memorial view have been cautious about asserting the real presence of Christ because they fear advocating transub- stantiation. Steven J. Land notes that, for early Pentecostals, even using the term sacrament was seen as “a non-biblical word of Roman Catholic deriva- tion which was associated with mechanical ritual.”30Frank D. Macchia echoes a similar opinion, expounding that Pentecostals fear institutionalizing the Spirit or, in other words, “formalizing the free Spirit.”31 Historically, they have been unable to separate transubstantiation from a theology of real presence. Some may find this stance to be surprising because, as Bicknell rightly observes, for many Pentecostals “Christ’s presence is expected to be manifested at other times, not just in the supper.”32 They acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit in worship and recognize that the Spirit makes Christ present to the Church, yet many do not embrace the real presence of Christ at the commu- nion table.

Although Pentecostals are commonly identified as Zwinglian in their approach to communion, it is not uncommon to find those who advocate for divine presence at the table.33 These Pentecostals typically embrace a memo- rial understanding of the Eucharist, but they also go beyond this view to main- tain that Christ is somehow present within the Eucharist.34 Guy P. Duffield

29 30


32 33


Menzies and Horton, Bible Doctrines, 111; ibid., 119, n. 9.

Steven J. Land, Pentecostal Spirituality: A Passion for the Kingdom (London and New York: Sheffield Academic, 2003), 117.

Frank D. Macchia, “Tongues as a Sign: Towards a Sacramental Understanding of Pente- costal Experience,” inPentecostal Ecclesiology: A Reader, ed. Chris E.W. Green (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2016), 127–128.

Bicknell, “The Ordinances,” 220.

For this reason one should avoid sweeping generalizations when categorizing Pente- costals. Macchia correctly writes, “Many Pentecostals may state that they support a memo- rial (Zwinglian) understanding of the eucharist, but their actual eucharistic devotion is more complex.” See Macchia, “Eucharist,” 190.

Both Land and Macchia argue that early Pentecostals primarily held this position. Mac- chia points to the report of the first General Council of the Assemblies of God, which states, “The feast points back and is a memorial of the death of our Lord, and it points forward to his return, but there is also a distinct present aspect.” See Macchia, “Eucharist,” 190. Addressing early pentecostal understandings, Land writes, “The Lord’s Supper was the sign of ongoing nurture and fellowship. The real presence of God was never an issue. Through the Spirit God the Father and the Son met them in the Lord’s Supper … Christ was made effectively present by virtue of the Holy Spirit.” See Land,Pentecostal Spirituality, 115.

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and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave propose, “The elements in themselves are only tokens, but when received by faith, real communion with the Lord is experi- enced and the benefits of that communion may be mediated.”35 Wesley Scott Biddy suggests that “divine-human encounters take place in, with, and under signs,” yet he is hesitant to affirm a personal presence of Jesus in the eucharis- tic event.36 For him the elements can be understood to dispense God’s grace, but to say anything more is tenuous. Wolfgang Vondey, on the other hand, goes further and proposes, “The breaking of bread on this side of history points to and participates in the continuing presence of Christ. More precisely, in the here and now of the Christian community, the presence of Christ in the break- ing of bread is the divine reality breaking into the present companionship.”37 From this brief survey it is evident that a number of contemporary pentecostal theologians understand the Lord’s Supper as an event that cannot be reduced to a memorial-based theology. Many of them want to say more than their col- leagues without advocating the real presence of Christ at the table, and those who do advocate real presence have not fully developed this approach.

Some Pentecostals suggest a pneumatological approach to the Eucharist. Pentecostal theologian Amos Yong, for instance, argues that pneumatology may affirm the real presence of Christ within the Lord’s Supper. He writes, “The supper now becomes a mysterious interpersonal encounter wherein Christ and his body are brought into real relationship by the Spirit.”38 For Yong, the present church communes with the living Christ, but it is not an either/or scenario whereby Christ is either present or remembered. Rather, Christ is both remembered and present in the Eucharist, and this is made possible by the Spirit. Kenneth Archer makes a similar case and argues that Christ is made present to those dining at the table through the Spirit.39 According to him, memorial-based eucharistic theologies only offer “cognitive reflection devoid of the Spirit’s presence and power.”40 Communion is a sacrament that offers “mystical significance” to those who partake in the elements. Thus Yong and


36 37




Guy P. Duffield and Nathaniel M. Van Cleave, Foundations of Pentecostal Theology (Los Angeles:l.i.f.e. Bible College, 1983), 437.

Wesley Scott Biddy, “Re-envisioning the Pentecostal Understanding of the Eucharist,” 250. Wolfgang Vondey, People of the Bread: Rediscovering Ecclesiology(New York and Mahwah, nj: Paulist Press, 2008), 172.

Yong, The Spirit Poured Out Upon All Flesh: Pentecostalism and the Possibility of Global Theology(Grand Rapids,mi: Baker Academic, 2005), 164.

Kenneth J. Archer, “Nourishment for Our Journey: The Pentecostal Via Salutis and Sacra- mental Ordinances,” Journal of Pentecostal Theology13, no. 1 (2004): 79–96.

Ibid., 84.

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Archer represent a growing number of Pentecostals who believe that Christ’s presence is mediated by the Spirit.41

Given the undeveloped character of pentecostal sacramentology, Mercers- burg may accommodate Pentecostals toward developing a more robust eucha- ristic theology. Nevin’s insistence upon locating the real presence of Christ at the table may challenge, and yet assist, Pentecostals to develop more fully a theology of the Lord’s Supper. I make several points on this. First, pente- costal concerns regarding transubstantiation may be assuaged through Nevin’s explication of Christ’s real presence and his explicit rejection of transubstan- tiation. His resolve that Christ’s presence cannot be bound by the elements may help some Pentecostals to differentiate between transubstantiation and a Calvinistic theology of real presence. This carefulness to avoid transubstan- tiation, while going beyond memorializing, may serve as a model to relieve Pentecostals of their apprehensions. In so doing a new appreciation for the sig- nificance of the Eucharist could be acquired.

Second, Nevin’s theology may be beneficial to Pentecostals who go beyond a eucharistic theology grounded in remembrance. Nevin may provide Pente- costals with an advantageous dialogue partner to deepen their understanding of the Eucharist. Although Yong and Archer do not fully develop a theology of the Lord’s Supper, their preliminary proposals appear to align with compo- nents of Nevin’s theology. For Nevin, Christ’s presence is not in the mode, such as the bread and wine, but merely symbolized by it. Instead, Christ’s presence pervades the entire eucharistic act, and the Spirit is the mediator of his pres- ence.42Yong says something similar:

The invocation (epiclēsis) of the Spirit becomes essential to the church’s memory (anamnēsis) of Christ, both in the sense of enabling the recol- lection of the historical Jesus in the present remembering of the body of Christ and in the sense of making present the living Christ in the “mem- bered” elements of the bread and cup and in the “members” of the con- gregation as the living body of Christ.43


42 43

For more on pentecostal views concerning divine presence see Green, Toward a Pente- costalTheology of the Lord’s Supper, 280–285; Simon Chan,LiturgicalTheology:The Church as Worshipping Community (Downers Grove, il: InterVarsity, 2006), 36–37; Christopher A. Stevenson,Types of Pentecostal Theology: Method, System, Spirit (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 125–127.

Nevin, Mystical Presence, 120.

Yong,The Spirit Poured Out, 162–163.

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Therefore pentecostal theology does not seem to be at odds with Nevin, as some may initially assume, and pneumatology provides a gateway for recogniz- ing compatibility between the two. With this starting point Nevin may assist Pentecostals in considering and further embracing the real presence of Christ at the communion table. Furthermore, Nevin may provide historical assistance, aligning Pentecostals with eucharistic views outside of their typical dialogue partners. This may provide Pentecostals a means to interact with the eucharis- tic theology of Irenaeus, the Alexandrian Fathers, Augustine, and, of course, Calvin.44

The experiential nature of Nevin’s theology is another point where Pente- costals may engage in fruitful dialogue with Mercersburg theology. Due to his critique of the anxious bench, some tend to downplay the role of experience in Nevin’s thought. It is not the experiential dynamic for which he has disdain, but emotional appeals that lack theological substance. Nevin’s insistence on the fullness of Christ’s real presence within the Eucharist demonstrates the sig- nificance that he ascribes to the experiential nature of the sacraments. Pente- costal historical theologian Dale M. Coulter recognizes and identifies with the experiential characteristics of Nevin’s theology: “I find Mercersburg attractive because of the focus on a mystical union that is experiential … the sacramental and the charismatic need each other. Expressing as they do the different ways in which the Triune life of God flows into the soul, they both facilitate the mys- tical union with Christ in the power of the Spirit.”45 This offers another point of dialogue that deserves to be explored.

There is no doubt that pentecostal worship stresses experience, and much has been written on this topic. Keith Warrington, for example, argues that experience is the “sine qua non” of Pentecostalism.46 James K.A. Smith sug- gests that pentecostal praxis contains an epistemological dynamic, providing a nonrational means of knowing.47 Yet, in spite of the experiential nature of pentecostal worship, Pentecostals tend to downplay or even “marginalize” the





Biddy argues that Pentecostals should interact with a broader pool of dialogue partners, but he neglects Nevin and Mercersburg Theology. Engaging with Nevin could further expand these conversations. See Biddy, “Toward an Ecumenical Understanding of the Eucharist: A Proposal for Pentecostals” (Master’s thesis, Duke Divinity School, 2005). http://firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2014/01/a-mercersburg-moment/, accessed October 22, 2016.

See Keith Warrington, Pentecostal Theology: A Theology of Encounter (London:t&tClark, 2008), 20–21.

James K.A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Cambridge,uk: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010), 48–85.

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celebration of the Lord’s Supper.48 They are quick to point out the experien- tial value of the charismata while simultaneously overlooking the value of the Lord’s Supper. Often Pentecostals rush through the Eucharist in order to get to the “good stuff,” such as speaking in tongues, laying on of hands, and falling- out in the Spirit. In addition to being quasi-sacramental, Pentecostals are often quasi-liturgical. Consequently, they tend to overlook that God can be met in the formalities of the church.

On this point Nevin’s theology may help Pentecostals to expand their under- standing of God’s presence. For Nevin, the Eucharist is not simply a lifeless ritual but a dynamic encounter with the living triune God. Where the Spirit is present, Christ is also present, and where they operate, the Father is in the midst of them. This is especially true of the Eucharist, and such an understand- ing could enrich pentecostal worship. Furthermore, Pentecostals would benefit from recognizing that the triune life of God overflows from every aspect of Christian worship, not just the charismata. God can be encountered in ecstatic as well as quiet ways; God meets us in the spontaneous as well as the structured. Many Pentecostals have often regarded the Lord’s Supper as an addendum, but Nevin’s focus upon the Eucharist could provide a model for Pentecostals to make it a central feature of their theology.

While Pentecostals have much to glean from Nevin, I suggest that Pente- costals have much to offer Mercersburg theology, and pneumatology is a natu- ral point of intersection to explore. On one hand, my pentecostal sensibilities take delight in the attention that Nevin gives to the Spirit, but on the other hand, I think Nevin falls short of developing a robust pneumatology. As noted above, Nevin explicitly asserts that in the Eucharist the real presence of Christ comes through the Spirit alone, but Nevin’s pneumatology extends beyond this sacrament.49Nevin suggests that the Spirit actively engages every aspect of the ordo salutis. He writes, “The new birth is from the Spirit. It is by the Spirit that the divine life is sustained and advanced in us, at every point, from its com- mencement to its close. There is no other medium, by which it is possible for us to be in Christ, or to have Christ in ourselves. The new creation holds abso- lutely and entirely, in the powerful presence of the Holy Ghost.”50 Ultimately, Nevin believes that all three articles of the Trinity engage the believer.51He fur- ther solidifies this by writing, “The persons of the adorable Trinity are indeed

48 49 50 51

Bicknell, “The Ordinances,” 219.

Nevin, Mystical Presence, 57.

Ibid., 175.

There is a strong parallel between Nevin’s trinitarian theology and that of Irenaeus. Both recognize the reciprocity between Christ and the Spirit. Their roles are complimentary,

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distinct. But we must beware of sundering them into abstract subsistences, one without the other. They subsist in the way of the most perfect mutual inbeing and intercommunication.”52 In this statement Nevin acknowledges the peri- choretic nature of the Godhead.

ThroughoutThe Mystical PresenceNevin explicates an orthodox view of the Trinity, but simultaneously, he often subordinates the Spirit to the Son. Nevin does this by invoking a type of dispensationalism in relation to the Holy Spirit. He writes:

It is by the incarnation properly, that the way has been opened for a true descent of the Spirit into the sphere of the human existence as such. John goes so far as to say there was no Holy Spirit till Jesus was glorified (John vii.39). This does not mean of course that he did not exist; but it limits the proper effusion of the Spirit …. The Holy Ghost accordingly, as the Spirit of Christ, is, in the first place, active simply in the Savior himself. In this view, however, he cannot be separated from the person of Christ. He constitutes rather the form, in which the higher nature of Christ reveals its force.53

According to Nevin, the fullness of the Spirit is not achieved until the incar- nation, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But, by focusing upon this event, he is inattentive to the work of the Spirit preceding and following the incarna- tion of Christ. From a pentecostal perspective, Christ prepares the way for the Spirit, but the Spirit also prepares the way for Christ. There is complete reci- procity between these two articles. From my reading of Nevin it seems that he makes the Spirit’s work secondary to Christ’s. True reciprocity (or circumins- essio) between Christ and the Spirit is missing in The Mystical Presence, and perhaps pneumatology should play a greater role in Mercersburg liturgy.

Next, because Nevin’s work is largely focused upon the event of the Eucha- rist, he neglects a primary purpose of this sacrament: mission. At the Lord’s Supper Pentecostals not only look back to the incarnation, death, and resur- rection of Christ, but also to the present and the future.54 We recognize and anticipate the work that Christ does in us and through us. This work is not

52 53 54

and Irenaeus depicts this in the image of Christ and the Spirit as the two hands of God. See Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bookiv, preface.

Nevin, Mystical Presence, 225.

Ibid., 222.

See Simon Chan, “Mother Church: Toward a Pentecostal Ecclesiology,”Pneuma 22, no. 2 (2000): 177–208.

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only an individual regeneration, but also an ecclesial and cosmic regeneration. Pentecostal ecclesiology demands that the church resist individualistic or iso- lationist tendencies. The Spirit is to be poured out upon all people, and the communion table exhorts us to divine service. Therefore eucharistic theology must have a strong missiological emphasis, and perhaps these pentecostal ide- als can supplement Mercersburg theology. Ecumenism simply for its own sake is lacking. Ecumenism must also have an evangelical thrust that begins at the Lord’s Table.

My final point on Nevin relates to his sacramental theology, and I suggest that a pentecostal assessment may expand upon his view of what constitutes the nature of a sacrament. Nevin argues that the outward signs do not con- stitute the sacraments, but more importantly, it is the “invisible grace” that separates the sacraments from everything else.55In the Eucharist this invisible grace becomes visible through the bread and wine. What is typically unseen is manifest for all to see. Furthermore, Nevin insists that the Eucharist joins the believer with Christ’s life.56Therefore, one’s relationship with Christ is renewed in the sacrament.

Given this understanding, is it not possible for God to convey invisible grace by other means? Some Pentecostals have suggested this very notion in rela- tion to Spirit baptism. Charismata, such as glossolalia, may be outward signs through which God’s invisible grace is given. Macchia argues, “Spiritual gifts sig- nify and facilitate graced relationships. They expand our capacities to receive and further impart the grace … Spiritual gifts open the church to God’s grace and show forth signs of this grace in a graceless world.”57 According to him, Spirit baptism begins with Christian initiation, but it also includes a subse- quent work of the Spirit—a third work of grace. This is what Pentecostals traditionally call Spirit baptism. From a pentecostal perspective, Christ, as the Spirit baptizer, joins himself in a real way to the believer when they are filled with the Holy Spirit. This relationship is renewed through the manifestation of spiritual gifts.This means that Christ’s mystical presence becomes fully realized through the Spirit, not only at the communion table, but also in ecstatic charis- matic expressions.This understanding draws a deeper connection between the sacraments and missions, since Pentecostals traditionally understand that the very purpose of the spiritual gifts is for missional activities.

55 56 57

Nevin, Mystical Presence, 178.

Ibid., 180.

Frank Macchia, Baptized in the Spirit: A Global Pentecostal Theology (Grand Rapids, mi: Zondervan, 2006), 242. See also Frank Macchia, “Tongues as a Sign:Towards a Sacramental Understanding of Sacramental Experience,”Pneuma15, no. 1 (1993): 61–76.

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This preliminary look at Nevin’s eucharistic theology from a pentecostal perspective suggests several points of agreement, as well as areas for pos- sible cross-pollination. Drawing from their own wells in addition to Nevin’s theology, Pentecostals may be able to develop a deeper appreciation for the Eucharist. Contemporary pentecostal approaches, such as those advocated by Yong, Vondey, and Archer, may help Pentecostals to accept the real presence of Christ, while Nevin’s Mystical Presencecould provide further traction to pente- costal eucharistic theology. Furthermore, I believe there are insights that Pen- tecostals may be able to offer to Mercersburg theology. None of these issues could be explored to their fullest extent in this article, but this essay may serve as a starting point for future dialogue. I turn our attention now to another pillar of Mercersburg theology—Philip Schaff.

Philip Schaff and Pentecostalism

Philip Schaff was born in Chur, Switzerland and educated in several presti- gious German universities, including the universities at Tübingen, Halle, and Berlin.58 Schaff was well versed in several philosophical traditions, including Hegelian Idealism, and he was able to weave these prominent contemporary strands of thought into a pragmatic Christian historiography. He was invited to Mercersburg in order to keep the denomination’s educational system in touch with its German roots, but, unbeknownst to the seminary, this would create a significant controversy on the national stage. Schaff partnered with Nevin to spawn a school of thought that was unique to American soil. About half a century later, another distinctive movement, Pentecostalism, would begin in the United States. Despite their common heritage, little interaction between Schaff’s thought and pentecostal theology has occurred. The following section initiates this conversation.

Schaff’s Historical and Ecumenical Vision

Philip Schaff envisioned Christian history as a progressive movement, refin- ing revelation and cultivating Christian unity. InThe Principle of Protestantism, Schaff argues that Roman Catholicism was a necessary precursor to the Ref- ormation, but at this time American Protestantism tended to interpret the Reformation as a movement distinct from the Roman Catholic Church. Schaff,


Bard Thompson and George H. Bricker, “Editor’s Notes,” inThe Principle of Protestantism, ed. BardThompson and George H. Bricker (Philadelphia and Boston: United Church Press, 1964), 235.

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on the other hand, desired to retain the importance of the Roman Catholic Church for ecclesiastical history, especially the development of subsequent church doctrine. He writes, “Genuine Protestantism is no such sudden growth, springing up like a mushroom of the night, as the papist, and certain narrow minded Ultra-Protestants, would fain have us believe. Its roots reach back to the day of Pentecost.”59 He adds, “The Reformation is the legitimate offspring, the greatest act of the Catholic Church.”60 For Schaff, the fourth through the sixteenth centuries were not to be discarded, but embraced as a necessary progression, for without this stage the Reformation never would have occurred.

In spite of this esteem for the Roman Catholic Church, Schaff does not believe that it is above criticism. In fact, he argues that Catholicism must revise several of its practices. Above all, he contends, the Catholic Church needs to reform its self-recognized authority because to place this above the Scriptures is misguided; every member can obtain knowledge of salvation through the Scriptures and apart from the church.61 Likewise, Schaff argues that the authority of the pope is in error because Christ alone is the head of the church.62 This does not mean, however, that we should fall prey to the other extreme of “loose subjectivity.”63 There needs to be church authority, but not to the extreme of Roman Catholicism. According to Schaff, both ends of the spectrum are dangerous. He noted that, while Catholicism is guilty of errors, the church was never entirely devoid of Christian truth.

Ultimately, Schaff desired a “Reformed Catholic” faith. For him, this was true Protestant orthodoxy.64 The Reformation was not to overtake and rebuild the work of the church, but it was to fulfill that which was already started.65Many of his time viewed centuries of Christianity dominated by Roman Catholic influences as the dark ages of the church that should be forgotten, but Schaff sees this as overly pessimistic. He understands the church as a movement in continual process that should not stop with the Reformation. For Schaff the Reformation is unfinished.66 One must discard the idea that the church is a “complete form” that should remain the same forever.67 The Swiss-born

59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67

Schaff,The Principle of Protestantism, 60. Ibid., 75.

Ibid., 108–109.

Ibid., 210.

Ibid., 169.

Ibid., 56.

Ibid., 78.

Ibid., 225–226.

Ibid., 160.

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historian condemns the idea that the Spirit of God is to be bound to a particular church structure. He contends that the Spirit’s “very nature … is to be free.”68 The Church must continue to strive for more knowledge about God’s truths.69 Schaff argues that looking to the past does not hold us hostage to history, but it guides us to the future—one that is pregnant with potential.70

As evidence of his ecumenical vision, Schaff points to cooperation between Lutheran and Reformed Churches in his contemporary Germany, and he is hopeful that this is just the first-fruits of a worldwide ecumenical movement.71 He argues that no sect is entirely correct, but all sects have something to con- tribute; after all, even heresies are beneficial for clarifying the true teachings of the church.72According to Schaff, focusing upon theology, specifically German theology, can bring about this movement, and he envisions the United States as the ideal flowerbed for this growth due to its struggles with denomination- alism.73

Schaff’s ecumenical-mindedness is best illustrated when he exclaims, “Away with human denominations, down with religious sects! Let our watchword be: One spirit and one body! One Shepherd and one flock! All conventicles and chapels must perish, that from their ashes may rise the One Church of God, phoenixlike and resplendent with glory, as a bride adorned for her bride- groom.”74This vision does not necessarily mean that the Church will be ruled by a single administrative body. Schaff is not sure what form it will take. But the Church should be one body, and this body includes Roman Catholicism.75 He is hopeful that the future ecumenical church will overcome the errors of both the Protestants and the Roman Catholics.76 For these reasons Schaff is often regarded as a forefather of modern ecumenism. His work exudes a disdain for the many divisions within the church, yet he offers hope for a future unified church.77

68 69 70

71 72 73 74 75 76 77

Ibid., 161.

Ibid., 201–202.

Ibid., 185. In his introduction to The Principle of Protestantism Nevin reinforces this in writing, “Protestantism is itself a process” (49). He adds, “In its very constitution the church involves a process, which will be complete only when the ‘new heavens’ shall reflect in the full image the ‘new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness’” (45). Ibid., 194–195.

Ibid., 231–232.

Ibid., 196; 218.

Ibid., 155.

Ibid., 210–211.

Ibid., 215–216.

At that time Schaff noted that there were forty-one sects or denominations in operation

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A Pentecostal Assessment of Schaff’s Ecclesiology and Historicism Schaff’s ecclesiology and historicism may also serve as a point of intersection for Mercersburg and Azusa. This is because Pentecostals, generally speaking, have been slow to engage in ecumenical conversations, if not resistant to doing so. Mercersburg theology and the broader ecumenical movement may chal- lenge some Pentecostals to put aside their sectarian strongholds. On the other hand, Schaff’s thought touches on the role of the Holy Spirit, and Pentecostals may be able to offer a more robust pneumatology to Mercersburg ecclesiology and historicism.

Throughout the twentieth century many Pentecostals displayed skepticism or even contempt for Roman Catholicism and ecumenical organizations, including the World Council of Churches (wcc). Part of this prevailing attitude stemmed from their belief that mainline denominations lacked the power of the Spirit and attempted to replace this with human structures. Pentecostals, however, did not segregate themselves entirely. They rejected certain ecumeni- cal movements that were deemed to be human attempts to do the work of God, but simultaneously, Pentecostals involved themselves in other ecumeni- cal organizations, such as the National Association of Evangelicals (nae).78 Here they found a home over and against Fundamentalists and Liberals, but to be fair, these groups did not always welcome Pentecostals to the fullest extent.79 Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. believes that several factors, such as “social and politi- cal agendas, cultural conflicts, and independent historical development” are equally responsible, if not more so, for the reluctance of Pentecostals to engage in ecumenical movements.80Some of these attitudes continue to prevail across pentecostal denominations today.81

Pentecostal impressions of ecumenism began to shift ever so slightly in the middle of the twentieth century. This change was due in large part to the





(ibid.,149).HerehewascitingI.D.Rupp,AnOriginalHistoryof theReligiousDenominations at Present Existing in the United States(Philadelphia: J.Y. Humphreys, 1844).

Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., “TakingStock of Pentecostalism:The Personal Reflectionsof a Retiring Editor,”Pneuma15, no. 1 (1993): 44.

For more on this see Kenneth J. Archer, A Pentecostal Hermeneutic for the Twenty-First Century: Spirit, Scripture and Community(London and New York:t&tClark International, 2004), 35–64.

Robeck, “Taking Stock of Pentecostalism,” 44. See also Cecil M. Robeck, Jr., “Name and Glory: The Ecumenical Challenge,” in Pastoral Problems in the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement, ed. Harold D. Hunter (Cleveland,tn: Society for Pentecostal Theology, 1983). At the time of writing this article, the Assemblies of God and Church of God (Cleve- land, tn) were not members of the wcc. See https://oikoumene.org/en/member -churches.

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work of Assemblies of God ministers Donald Gee (1891–1966) and David du Plessis (1905–1987). Gee, independently of his denomination, began attending thewccin 1948 as an observer. Afterward, he spoke positively of his experience and was invited to subsequent conferences. Later Gee was censured by the Assemblies of God (ag) and forbidden to attend the New Dehli Assembly of the wccin 1961.82Du Plessis, also independently of theag, initiated conversations with Roman Catholics, and the denomination demanded that he “cease and desist” from this project.83 Du Plessis refused, which caused him to lose his ministerial credentials, but he continued his ecumenical work.

Despite being reprimanded, Gee and du Plessis inspired an up-and-coming generation of pentecostal academics to engage in ecumenical dialogue. Du Plessis’s actions led to the creation of the Joint International Commission for Catholic-Pentecostal Dialogue in 1972, which has met on numerous occasions and has published several documents on their interactions.84 Additionally, the Society for Pentecostal Theology annually conducts symposia on Roman Catholic–Pentecostal Dialogue. While attitudes have largely grown more sym- pathetic within academia, the general populace of Pentecostals today contin- ues to be skeptical of ecumenical projects.

Another contribution to the shift in pentecostal views toward ecumenism comes at the hands of contemporary pentecostal historians who have begun to recover the ecumenical views of its movement’s founders. They have discov- ered that early Pentecostals were quite ecumenical in their ministries. Walter J. Hollenweger, for example, notes the ecumenical disposition of William Sey- mour at Azusa Street, Jonathan Paul in Germany, Louis Dallière in France and Belgium, and Alexander Boddy in England.85Robeck makes a similar argument about early Classical Pentecostals. He writes, “It may come as a very big surprise





See D.D. Bundy, “Donald Gee,” in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. Stanley M. Burgess and Eduard M. van der Mass (Grand Rapids,mi: Zondervan, 2002), 662–663.

See R.P. Spittler, “David Johannes du Plessis,” in The New International Dictionary of Pen- tecostal and Charismatic Movements, ed. Stanley M. Burgess and Eduard M. van der Mass (Grand Rapids,mi: Zondervan, 2002), 589–593. For more on du Plessis see Joshua R. Ziefle, David du Plessis and the Assemblies of God:The Struggle for the Soul of a Movement(Leiden: Brill, 2013).

For more on the Joint International Commission see L. William Oliverio, Jr., Theological Hermeneutics in the Classical Pentecostal Tradition: A Typological Account (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 279–292; Calvin L. Smith, Pentecostal Power: Expressions, Impact and Faith of Latin American Pentecostalism(Leiden: Brill, 2011), 255–272.

See Hollenweger,Pentecostalism:OriginsandDevelopmentsWorldwide(Peabody,ma: Hen- drickson, 1997).

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to most Pentecostals, but I have reached the conclusion that wePentecostalsare ecumenical, we just don’t know it.”86

Finally, Pentecostals, in one sense, have had no choice but to become ecu- menical. At the outset of the charismatic movement, Classical Pentecostals expected Roman Catholics who had received the gift of speaking in tongues to leave their church and join pentecostal denominations.To the surprise of many Pentecostals, this did not occur; Charismatics, by and large, desired to remain within the Roman Catholic tradition.87 This facilitated some bridge-building between these two groups. Moreover, the diversity and size of the pentecostal movement was further increased with the addition of the Third Wave move- ment and neo-Pentecostalism in the latter part of the previous century. Conse- quently, Pentecostals have become quasi-ecumenical without trying.88

Certainly Pentecostals should celebrate these achievements, but there is still significant room for future advancements. Schaff’s ecclesiology and historicism may be beneficial in this respect. First, using Schaff’s understanding of progres- sive revelation, Pentecostals should avoid satisfaction to the point of becoming lethargic about initiating other ecumenical endeavors. While conversations have been opened with Roman Catholics, Pentecostals should actively pursue dialogue with other branches of the church to further understanding, mutual respect, and cooperation. This essay is one such attempt to enter into dialogue with the Mercersburg stream of Reformed thought. Second, Schaff’s critique of Roman Catholicism also seems relevant here. Pentecostals cannot assume to possess exclusive or sole authority on ecclesiological and pneuamatological issues. We must nurture an attitude of humility, as there is much to learn from mainline denominations. Pentecostals must banish any attitude that dimin- ishes those who do not understand or practice the charismata in a pentecostal way. Third, Pentecostals also need to avoid overemphasizing their own efforts and embrace open-armed invitations by mainline church leaders, as well as the wcc, to participate in ecumenical affairs.89 As a Pentecostal, I am thankful for

86 87



Robeck, “Taking Stock of Pentecostalism,” 39.

Vinson Synan,In the Latter Days:The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit in theTwentieth Century (Fairfax,va: Xulon Press, 2001), 97–118.

At times, however, this may have more pragmatic value than anything. Some Pentecostals are quick to cite the immense diversity of their movement if for no other reason than to demonstrate their vast numbers and growing influence.

As president of Princeton Theological Seminary John Alexander Mackay recognized the potential contribution of Pentecostalism to the church, stating, “The Christian future may lie with a reformed Catholicism and a matured Pentecostalism.” Quoted in Synan, Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, 297. As president of the International Missionary Council,

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the openness of these groups in including Pentecostals, and I pray that these invitations continue.

On the other hand, I maintain that Pentecostals also have much to offer Mercersburg via Schaff’s thought, and given their strikingly congruent pneu- matologies, a theology of the third article may be a natural place to start. Schaff views ecumenism as a work of God’s Spirit. He writes, “What we most need now is … to go forward joyfully at the same time in the way in which God’s Spirit by providential signs may lead.”90 He adds, “… the Church is ‘founded by Christ’ and ‘animated’ and ‘pervaded’ by the Spirit.”91 Furthermore, Schaff remarks, “No form of existence can withstand the renovating power of God’s Spirit.”92 For Schaff, the Spirit is indispensable to ecumenism, and many Pentecostals would wholeheartedly agree with this. Pentecostal historian Stanley Burgess, for example, argues that Christian historicism has largely overlooked the work of the Spirit. In his trilogy The Holy Spirit, Burgess seeks to recover the pneu- matology of major Christian figures throughout the history of the Church.93 I think he would agree with Schaff’s statement that “[t]he moving of God’s Spirit is discerned in all periods of the church.”94Therefore a number of Pentecostals embrace a similar methodology to that of Schaff. They no longer see Pente- costalism as a movement distinct from the history of the rest of the church, but they see it as a contributing factor within the progression of the church.95

Even with this congruence I suggest that a pentecostal perspective can complement Schaff’s pneumatology. Despite Schaff’s recognition of the Spirit’s ongoing activity in the Church, he lacks a robust pneumatology because he does not fully explicate how the Spirit operates. Schaff does not introduce his pneumatology until near the end of his volume, wherein he makes some cursory statements. On this point Pentecostals may be able to provide some

90 91 92 93

94 95

Mackay invited du Plessis to the 1952 meeting and to address the two hundred and ten delegates. See “David Johannes du Plessis,” in The New International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, 591.

Schaff,The Principle of Protestantism, 233–234.

Ibid., 220.

Ibid., 173.

Stanley Burgess,The Holy Spirit: Ancient Christian Traditions (Peabody, ma: Hendrickson, 1984); The Holy Spirit: Eastern Christian Traditions (Grand Rapids, mi: Baker Academic, 1989);The Holy Spirit: Medieval Roman Catholic and ReformationTraditions(Grand Rapids, mi: Baker Academic, 994).

Schaff,The Principle of Protestantism, 230.

See Vondey, Beyond Pentecostalism: The Crisis of Global Christianity and the Renewal of the Theological Agenda(Grand Rapids,mi: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010): 1–15.

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insights to fill out Schaff’s proposal. Pentecostal theologian Simon Chan argues for a pneumatological ecclesiology in which “traditioning,” or the embrace of tradition, is recognized as an ongoing work of the Spirit. He writes, “The popular notion that the Spirit is opposed to tradition could not have been further from the truth … it is by the Spirit given by Christ to the church and indwelling the church that the church becomes a traditioning body …. The church, therefore, is the locus of the Spirit’s ongoing work which could be called the living tradition.”96With this Chan distances himself from stances of isolationism and attempts to invigorate Pentecostalism back to its ecumenical roots. Pentecostals, and the church universal, must look to the past while also moving toward the future and a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.97

From a pentecostal perspective, I also want to suggest that Schaff’s eccle- siology and pneumatology may have implications for a theology of religions. Some Pentecostals argue that discerning the work of the Spirit should not be limited to the church, but we should seek to recognize the activity of the Spirit in other religions.Yong suggests a pneumatological approach to the theology of religions. He argues that christological approaches often inhibit interreligious dialogue, but bracketing Christology in favor of pneumatology may open up heretofore unexplored avenues of discussion.98Consequently, we may be able to discern means by which the Spirit operates outside the Christian tradition. Applying Yong’s proposal here, I would like to engage Mercersburg theology in conversations beyond Christian ecumenism to explore interreligious endeav- ors.




Simon Chan, Pentecostal Theology and the Christian Spiritual Tradition (Sheffield, uk: Sheffield Academic, 2000), 35. See also Peter D. Neumann, Pentecostal Experience: An Ecumenical Encounter (Eugene,or: Pickwick Publications, 2012).

On this point Wolfgang Vondey’s theology of play may offer valuable contributions. See Vondey, Beyond Pentecostalism.

See Yong, Discerning the Spirits(s): A Pentecostal-Charismatic Contribution to Christian Theologyof Religions(NewYork: Bloomsbury Academic, 2000), 171-201; AmosYong,Beyond the Impasse: Toward a Pneumatological Theology of Religions (Grand Rapids, mi: Baker Academic, 2003).

PNEUMA 38 (2016) 411–435


what has mercersburg to do with azusa?



At the start of this essay I suggested that many may be surprised to see an article that engages both Mercersburg and pentecostal theologies. In many ways I have painted each movement with broad brush strokes; thus I have not done either of them full justice. My point, however, was not to draw an exhaustive compar- ison, but to initiate the conversation. I have argued throughout this paper that these movements share a number of theological beliefs and that these inter- sections can act as catalysts for further dialogue. Additionally, these points of convergence may allow each theological tradition to offer new insights to the other. My sentiments on this issue mirror Yong when he writes, “Many of these projects will never be accomplished by individual churches or single denom- inations working alone. Instead the resources and cumulative power of the entire range of the church of Jesus Christ in all its diversity will need to be mobi- lized toward action …”99 For too long Pentecostals have ignored Mercersburg as a viable resource, but it is a deep well from which Pentecostals can draw. My hope is that those in the Mercersburg tradition will also find this to be a beneficial conversation and will be open to meeting Pentecostals at the ecu- menical table. I am interested to hear their answer to the question: What has Mercersburg to do with Azusa?100

99 100

Yong,Spirit Poured Out, 176.

A version of this paper was presented at the 2015 Mercersburg Society Convocation held at Lancaster Theological Seminary in Lancaster,pa.

PNEUMA 38 (2016) 411–435


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