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.