End the Ref: Protestants Should Get Over The Reformation

As somewhat of a disclaimer, I would like to say this post comes from someone who remains very happy within the Protestant tradition. Additionally, do not mistake this as a call for us to stop celebrating Reformation Sunday; I do believe that it as a complementary holiday to All Saints’ Day as well as a valid alternative to the “secular” Halloween and all the junk that entails.

There are several problems with Protestantism today, and people like to pick and prod at each and every one of them. I think the overwhelming concern should be the lack of knowledge the average Protestant layperson has about Christian history. In part, this is the failure of Christian educators, but that would implicate all Protestants, since we are all teachers in our own way, whether it be as members in the choir, nursery directors, Sunday School teachers, or members of the board of trustees. I feel partially responsible myself; in an email exchange with a close friend, because I had failed to explain what the Nestorian controversy was, he was confused by my reference to it. Should it not be up the Protestant churches to distinguish what was once considered heresy from what we consider orthodoxy, and why?

This failure to educate, to teach proper doctrinal differences is due in large part because of Protestants’ tendency to solely venerate Christian history post-Reformation. If a pastor were to consistently go back before, to talk about Augustine and Jerome and Clement of Alexandria in any mainline or evangelical setting, any Sunday or Wednesday out of the year, she would get the most bewildered of faces. What does that have to do with us, laypeople would ask? I would say, “a whole lot!”

In the minds of many Protestants, the Christological and Trinitarian controversies are settled; if that is so, how come Nestorianism, Arianism, Marcionism, and Docetism still appear in popular forms, i.e., inspirational writing sections at Barnes & Noble and Half-Priced Books? The Reformation hero-worship endemic in evangelical and mainline Protestantism today presents for us a three-fold problem: first, it means a lack of knowledge of our own history, and therefore ourselves; second, it means a lack of discernment in the area of teaching–that is why people continue confuse the prosperity gospel with the Good News of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah–so they are ill-equipped to battle heresies. Thirdly, in trying to mimic the approaches to culture as the Reformers, things like the “Culture Wars,” play out much in the same way that Luther found protection under his princes and Calvin, his city councils. We end up being dependent on fixed and absolute political power structures to justify our positiosn rather than the Prince of Peace. It is not a matter of withdrawal versus separation, but a preference for faithfulness over infidelity to the Good News.

For this reason, we should End the Ref.

0 thoughts on “End the Ref: Protestants Should Get Over The Reformation

  1. Phil Wood

    Whether there is any longer a point to the Reformation should be a live debate in Protestant communities. I would say ‘yes’ but not for the wrong reasons. That Catholicism remains reactionary and unreformed smacks of a negative route to identity. The lack of a Pre-Reformation historical perspective is, as you say a grave deficiency. I suspect our historical poverty is felt at least as much in terms of spirituality as theology. The case of Neo-Anabaptism is a curious one. We have a lot to thank John Howard Yoder for, not least patristic literacy that focuses around the Constantinian shift. In other words there are ‘outcrops’ of historical awareness in Protestantism.

    Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria Post author

      I would agree, and part of my problem with the Protestant approaches to the reformation is that it has largely been anti-Catholic. Erasmus is just ignored, but many christians are closer to his version of Christianity if anything.

      Reply
  2. Ryan

    Thanks for this. I am in agreement w/Hauerwas that Protestantism has become the ends in itself, rather than true catholicity and the desire to make the universal church more faithful. Protestants (like Americans) mark a time in their history when they became free and when all truth was settled for all time. We miss a vast heritage of formative theology between the Bible and Luther, and the fact that justification by faith and penal atonement have come to be the supposed stock message of an inerrant text makes this all the more painful.

    Your points about doctrine are particularly apt, and I’ve only come to realize this more recently in doing some serious study of Chalcedon. If we had any basic idea about what those councils were about, versus the liberal narrative about those ideas being mere superstitionism, we probably could spot the heresy of the Superman-style Jesus a mile away. Theosis instead FTW!

    On the other topic, I still hear brutal anti-Catholic statements even from the most educated “interfaith” and “open-minded” liberal Protestants. I am unsure how they still buy the canard that Catholics worship Mary and not Jesus. The most ironic one I hear is about how the Catholic Church is a brutal, mind-controlling totalitarian gang of old white men from people who work as low-level cogs in large corporations (aka brutal, mind-controlling totalitarian gangs of old white men). Reminds me of Americans claiming that they live in the freest country in the world for the fact that they are Americans.

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      1. Ryan

        And don’t get me started on the “the Old Testament God is angry and the NT God is love” supercessionist Marcionite bullshit, either.

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  3. Phil Wood

    I don’t thing I’m quite a ready as Ryan to absolve Catholicism (or at least the magisterium) of clerical thuggery. Anna and I are a Roman Catholic/Mennonite couple, plus I’m divorced. I won’t go into detail about the Eucharist, etc, etc. The ecumenical climate prior to Dominus Ieusus feels like Eden now.

    Whether Protestantism has run its course is another question. There is also a narrower question about the future of Nonconformity. The atmosphere in North America and the UK is different but some of what I’ve been fretting about would be relevant to Liberal Protestantism on both sides of the pond. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: http://radref.blogspot.com/2009/11/nonconformist-spirituality.html

    Reply
    1. Rod of Alexandria Post author

      I do not think Ryan or I would be absolving Catholicism of anything, we just have a heightened awareness of liberal Protestantism in North America and its allergy to tradition and structure, ala the episcopal traditions you discuss in your post.

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    2. Ryan

      Yeah, I wasn’t suggesting to let the Vatican off the hook. I am more suggesting that Catholicism is scapegoated in a way that prevents many Protestants from self examination or from mining the depths of the whole of the Christian tradition.

      Thanks for linking the post too. I am all to aware of the lack of unity that comes with congregationalism, as my church is a Presbytery model with no episcopate as such. Another anti-Catholic bias congregational Protestants have…

      Reply

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