Doug Wilson has been at the forefront of arguing for what he calls “Mere Christendom” of late, and I’m grateful to him for it.  Even though we disagree on some important particulars, there’s nothing objectionable about this bit:

The mistake we made was this. If we want and need a “mere Christendom,” then we need to keep that Christendom from becoming sectarian. But when you pour a diluting agent into your theology willy nilly, unless you take care, the dilution will affect the essential aspects of the Christian faith, like the death and resurrection of Jesus, and not just the relative unimportance of the debate between supralapsarians and infralapsarians.

Mere Christendom needs to be thin when it comes to the differences between Lutherans and Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists, and so on. But it needs to manage to do this without thinning out the contents of the Apostles Creed. It needs to be thick there.

This is largely why I can get along better with some Catholics than I can with some postmoderns.  Even though the latter might affirm everything I say doctrinally, by revising the nature of propositions and their relationship to reality, they undercut the possibility of christendom (re)-covering the United States and reshape what we’re doing when we say the creed.  Christendom was a possibility for the early church precisely because the creeds expressed truths that corresponded to reality in such a way that there were binding on all people, regardless of which language game they inhabited.  As O’Donovan points out, the early church was sympathetic to one-world government precisely for this reason.

Which is to say, it’s hard to swallow some of the epistemological aspects of postmodernism and keep the mere Christendom around and running.  Your nearest option is to head into the anabaptist notion of the church as a counter-polis, but then that tends to have a nasty gnostic streak that may make it untenable.

Better to sign up for mere orthodoxy of the classical variety and work to revive the mere Christendom that goes along with it.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Matt,

    I only recently found this blog and have been enjoying it so far. I was wondering if you hold to a correspondence theory of truth.




    1. Wayne,

      Unabashedly. : )

      And thanks for reading. It means more than you know! : )




  2. “Mere Christendom needs to be thin when it comes to the differences between Lutherans and Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists, and so on.”

    This should more accurately be called “Mere Protestantism” because only an ecclesiology founded on the notion of an invisible, or merely spiritual, Church would entertain such speculation.

    “If we want and need a “mere Christendom,” then we need to keep that Christendom from becoming sectarian.”

    The essence of Protestantism is, precisely, sectarianism and as such it is systemic and cannot admit of being overcome. The formal principle of Protestantism absolutely guarantees it.

    I would recommend Doug engage the case made by Louis Bouyer in The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism.


  3. IJR –

    Protestants didn’t invent sects or sectarianism in the church. There was already a massive split in Christendom at the time of the Reformation. You could argue that the situation was made worse by Protestantism, but the issue is as alive for Protestants as it is for Catholics and Orthodox.


  4. casey,

    I can’t see that I ever stated or implied that Protestantism invented sectarianism.

    My point is that the essence of Protestantism is sectarianism (and I don’t critique Protestantism as a mere outsider). One must of course deal with the claims of the Orthodox and Catholic Church. And of course Catholics and Orthodox of good faith long for the unity of the Church, but they do so upon completely different ground and with a radically different set of first principles than Protestants do.

    When one examines Protestantism from a paradigm that is not conditioned by purely Protestant categories (which by the way is the only possible way to actually judge Protestantism) the ground upon which their ecclesiology is built seems to melt away as a mist.

    Where in the Scriptures am I to find justification for the notion of an invisible church? There are a host of passages and implications otherwise.

    Where do you find one Father understand the Church to be anything other than the Church of the Creed, that is, One Visible society in the earth?

    When I studied the Fathers, the Councils, and the history of the development of doctrine it seemed impossible to escape the conclusion that the Protestant communities are built upon a deeply unbiblical ecclesiology. Am I to really believe that this notion of an “invisible church” (proposed as a novelty in the Revolution of the 16th century) escaped the perception of the Fathers, of Augustine, Aquinas, et al? This seems credulous to me even upon close examination (the same can be said by the way for sola scriptura, only ignorance of the great perception of the combined witness of the Fathers can lead one to accept that it took Martin Luther to “discover” this clear teaching of Scripture, which can be found nowhere in Scripture!)

    I hold it as a general rule that if Augustine and Aquinas agree in some matter then one is safe to follow their lead. Both of them would violently attack the notion of a merely invisible church. But without this notion Protestantism soon finds that it has little warrant to have broken away to follow its own lights.

    I only point this out to challenge readers to examine, with indifference and quietness, the case to be made for the Catholic Claim, and its implicit critique of Protestantism. The literature of those who have abandoned Protestantism for the Catholic Faith is formidable.

    Understanding precedes judgment. The great failure of Protestants is their deeply deficient understanding of Catholicism (or Orthodoxy). And this failure leaves their Protestantism a mere prejudice.


  5. Welcome back, I.J. Wasn’t sure if our last exchange had scared you off altogether. : )




  6. Hi Matt,

    Nah, been swamped with work and moving in to live with my wife’s mom who needs some family to watch out for her. Hope all is well with you and your family.



  7. […] too much focus on the civil religion will dilute and harm one’s deeply held faith.  Others share the concern.  The concern is real, the problem is where to deal with it – more on that in a […]


  8. […] know my own preferred answer to the question.  (It’s a project, I think, that would keep the best elements of classical political […]


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