Thursday, January 10, 2008

I Am No Protestant!

I have always had a certain revulsion to the word ‘Protestant’ and have even taken quiet offense when the title was assigned to me personally. “I am no Protestant,” I would protest (pun intended!), “I am an Evangelical (Reformed) Catholic!” And then I would argue that “Martin Luther did not wish to leave his beloved Mother Church, but to correct the errors with which sinful men had shackled Her.” Luther is likely rolling over in his grave to know that those influenced by him boastfully bear the name ‘Protestant’ as a badge of honor, and even more that the church of the Reformation bears his name.

The word ‘Protestant’ today is linked with countless beliefs and practices that are in blatant opposition to the principles of the Reformation, indeed, to the teachings of Scripture: the disposal of the historic liturgy, the introduction of ‘praise band’ led contemporary worship, an improper emphasis on the third person of the Holy Trinity, contempt for the Office of the Holy Ministry, disdain for the Sacraments, a confusion of the roles of men and women, a covetous acquiescence to the world and popular culture, an emphasis on works, a theology of glory aimed solely at quantitative growth in membership and finances, rampant Gospel reductionism, the teaching that the Muslim god (or any other god) is the One True God, the teaching that homosexuality and homosexual unions (civil or otherwise) are not sinful and detestable in the sight of God, the defense of abortion and of scientific research that would encourage abortion, etc., etc., ad nauseum. To this we must boldly say, “We are no Protestants!”

However, the word ‘Protestant’ has undergone a radical shift in meaning since the time of the Reformation. Luther and the Reformers did not choose this title for themselves, but it was placed upon them by the Papists. The desire of the Reformers was simply to correct the doctrinal and practical errors of the Church; the Papists indicted the Reformers as protestors set fully against Mother Church. And so, the Reformers did indeed become protestors, not against Mother Church, but protestors against the corrupt leaders who had hijacked the Church and had stolen away the Gospel. Luther plead to the Lord for assistance in “a children’s hymn, to be sung against the two arch-enemies of Christ and His holy Church, the Pope and the Turk”: Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word; curb those who fain by craft and sword would wrest the Kingdom from Thy Son and set at naught all He hath done.

The Latin proverb “Ecclesia semper reformanda”, the church is always being reformed, is certainly true today. Today our own Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod has been hijacked by those who boastfully bear the name ‘Protestant’. However, today’s ‘Protestants’ are not the Reformers of the 16th century but are more akin to the Papists.

The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod had long been viewed by other church bodies, either in reassuring hopefulness or in bitter disdain, as the last stronghold of Confessional Lutheranism. Indeed, all seemingly wait to see what will happen to Missouri. Will She remain steadfast in the Word of God and Her Confession, or will She capitulate to the popular culture and its gods and the overwhelming tide of the apostate church? This much is certain, in the end only one thing will save the Missouri Synod and make her suitable as a vehicle for the preservation of the pure Lutheran Confession – the Word. Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word.

In many ways, the challenges facing the Church today are the same as those at the time of the Reformation; indeed, Ecclesia semper reformanda. “Let us be clear. Our battle today is over the Gospel; it always is. The struggles of the church militant are always about the Gospel. And this means that our desire to see the Missouri Synod remain faithful to our historic doctrine and practice is not simply so that our own members will continue to hear God’s truth and be saved by it. Surely we wish this. But it is also so that those who do not know God’s love and grace in Christ His Son will also be able to hear it.”

“A church without a confession is no church at all and that a Lutheran church without a truly Lutheran confession has no right to call itself Lutheran. The Missouri Synod has begun to walk in the same direction as the more liberal American Lutheran churches. And what will the result be if Missouri continues in that direction? Surely those whose objective is the visible unity of world Christianity would see such a course as a good thing for it would probably lead to the eventual merger of the Missouri Synod with the rest of American Lutheranism. And that would lead to a worldwide Lutheran Church without a confession. The churches of the left and the middle are still waiting for Missouri. Everything is still waiting for the fall of Missouri. Then the way would finally be open for a Lutheran world church without a confession.”

The Church of Christ is always the Church Militant, the Church at war – at war against the world, at war against the popular culture, at war against false doctrine and heresy, at war against the devil. The Word of God is the first and foremost weapon that the Church wields and by it alone are doctrines judged and errors revealed and corrected. Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word.

It was to the Word that Luther turned in the Church’s dark hour of the soul: The righteous shall live by faith (Romans 1:17). It is to the Word that the Church must turn and cling in these dark times. “Let us hope and pray that God will deliver our Synod from doctrinal confusion and contradiction and will restore to us the undeserved gift of His truth and of true unity in it. Only He can!"

Quotes from: Marquart, Kurt, “The Future of Confessional Lutheranism: A Summary”, delivered at Confession and Christ’s Mission: Challenges to the Future of the LCMS, October 21, 2004, Melrose Park, IL.


Augustinian Successor said...

Then, you are either a very confused person or wilfully rejecting the ethos and identity of the LCMS which is Protestant!

Augustinian Successor said...

Let us be clear, if the battle is over the Gospel which indeed is the case, then Rome is the FALSE Church and has forfeited any claim to true catholicity and catholicism. The PROTESTANT Reformation is the authentic continuation of the Catholic Church. Mother Church is no longer Rome but the Churches of the Protestant Reformation.

I am a catholic, I'm a reformed catholic, I'm an evangelical catholic, I'm a traditionalist catholic, I'm a PROTESTANT!

Fr. Jon M. Ellingworth said...

Dear AS, that I willfully reject the ethos and identity of the LCMS is probably true. However, in my ordination vows I subscribed myself neither to the LCMS ethos nor an LCMS identity, but to the Holy Scriptures and the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which transcend the LCMS, and are in their very nature catholic, not protestant.

As to my being confused, I concede.

The Gospel is still proclaimed and administered, though in clouded and confused ways, in the RCC. But the same can be said of all protestant and/or catholic churches and/or congregations. As I believe you know, Augustana 7 says "The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments rightly administered. [ ] is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments." Now, either the RCC is Church (though in an imperfect way), or no communion is Church, for no communion always, and in all ways, teaches the Gospel rightly and always and in all ways administers the Sacraments rightly in accord with the right teaching of the Gospel.

We are the Church by grace and by grace alone, not because we are more faithful or less. The Church, however, is marked by humility and repentance, loving submission to the Lord and reception of His gifts.

The term catholic, for me, transcends denominationalism. Catholic is the one true doctrine handed down though the Apostles. Personally, I am always striving to be catholic, but in humility and repentance. The Bride of Christ is holy and pure in the Blood of the Lamb, but She is a whore according to the flesh (simul justus et peccator). She is declared righteous, perfect, and holy by grace for Christ's sake, despite her fornications with worldly idolatry. This is true for the LCMS as well as for the RCC and all other communions.

True catholicity is objective just like the Truth Himself, Jesus Christ. Some communions will necessarily be close to true catholicity than others, but to claim "We are the Church, and you're not!" is off the mark, misinformed, and uncharitable.

Your final statement seems to treat the terms catholic and protestant as homonyms. Your logic seems circumlocutory. I hate it when people I disagree with tell me "It's just semantics." But, in this case, the meaning of words and how you use them seems to be at the core of the disagreement.

In the words of the great catholic theologian David Scaer, "I'll pray for you."

orrologion said...

When I was a Lutheran I never quite understood this stance against being labeled Protestant. Thanks for sharing your reasoning. I still don't necessarily agree since the term was "Originally used of German princes and free cities who declared their dissent from the decision of the Diet of Speyer (1529) denouncing the Reformation. The word was taken up by the Lutherans in Germany (Swiss and French preferred Reformed). It became the general word for 'adherents of the Reformation in Germany,' then 'member of any Western church outside the Roman communion;' a sense first attested in Eng. in 1553." This was always my understanding of the term (similar to Wesley's followers co-opting the originally derogatory label of 'Methodist'), with the caveat that there within these western churches outside the Roman communion there could be a wide variety of beliefs from Anglo-Catholic to Amish, Calvinists and Lutherans, pietists and gnesio-Lutherans.

Fr. J. Sollberger said...

Semantics, word choices, word usage, colloquialisms - they (sadly) all evolve and melt into different meanings and contexts, often becoming quite opposite to their origins. Perhaps it's best, then, to use words that scandalize the un-thinking and reactionary, perhaps forcing them to look more closely and objectively. "Catholic" (capitalized or not) is one of those words in our current cultural context. On the other hand, it seems both "Protestant" and "Reofrmed" (capitalized or not), though once favored, are no longer desirous to those who look for the truly evangleical in the Church. Oops, "evangelical" is no longer any good either. Let's say "apostolic doctrine that looks to the cross of Christ's shed Blood." Words do mean things, just not as universally as they once may have...