Friday, March 7, 2008

Why I am not a Protestant

I have surfed and sifted and pored over pages of thinkers and prophets, and one thing is clear to me.
I am not a Protestant.

The idea that good religion is all about bad religion is really just a bad idea.
The idea that we are defined by our protesting is an idea that protests against human nature.

And to be a Protestant, literally speaking, is to be one who protests against various doctrines and practices of some other religion that one finds to be offensive, illogical, unbiblical, or some combination thereof.

But as I surf and sift and think about what I've learned (or been unwittingly corrupted by), I see more clearly each day that my world is not composed of negations and denials, at least it should not be composed as such. May it never be so, that is a prayer and yearning of mine. But in some views, it most definitely is so, and it is an ideal for these Protestants.

If you think I am wrong, think about this-entire denominations exist because of protests moving beyond the troubles in Germany that led Martin Luther to write his theses. The Baptists emphasize their name of Baptist, though their overall group would be Protestant. But this name of Baptist is rooted in a protest against those who baptize children prior to their ability to comprehend the significance of such an act. Shortening the name Anabaptist, which means those who baptize again, as in the age of Reformation and schisms adults who grew up Roman Catholic were baptized again, as the first baptism was considered null and void.

And don't think I'm bashing some people just because I think that they deprive their children of a sacrament.

It gets even worse when you follow denominations whose ideal theologian is John Calvin. There are sets of Presbyterians who will not get along because one set thinks that Cornelius Van Til is better than Gordon Clark, and vice versa. They both agree that the detailed and systematic Westminster Confession of Faith is accurate, but one thinks that God's knowledge of the world is not discursive, whereas the other views analogous knowledge to be self-stultifying. If you made it through those phrases with no stumbling, you know what I'm talking about. If you felt like shrugging, just realize that these people are both serious scholars on epistemology but due to some technical differences seeing eye to eye was impossible.

The argument over whether any Christian should call themselves Protestants can be reduced and distilled to this-are you one who will say on your death bed, something to the effect of, "That transubstantiation nonsense is all rot!" Or will you cry out to God and your family, in thankfulness for the life you have had, thankful (or perhaps fearful) for your faith that can sustain you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death?

If someone else were to describe you in one brief paragraph, would those words be chiefly about the sins you bemoan, the vices you avoid, and the people that you cannot stand? Or would that person speak of the things that you love and hold dear, and how you are one who seeks to foster those things that you adore? As for myself, some may write of me in a negative manner, and I have given much ammunition throughout my life to support that portrayal, but as I have walked down this road of life I see how wrong that way of thinking is.

Put another way, are you a Christian because of who God is, or who He isn't?
If the former, why would you ever call yourself something based on who He isn't?
I do not want to call myself the man who has no love for the trash of this world. I am truly a father, husband and friend of people that I cherish. I am not the guy who does not want to see the bad guys stop their corruption. Who I am is a person who wants to make this world a better place.

I most definitely protest against things, but to have those things become definitive of who I am is to ruin my sight of what matters in this life most. It is to have those protests become tyrannical over who I really am.

Maybe you're sensitive about this post because of tradition, familiarity, and the like. Let's step back and think about a completely different sense in which negation is not enough. Think about something such as the philosophy of punk rock. Is it great to simply hate an establishment, a set of mores that are repugnant? Or is it more important to look at the world in terms of the better days that could be had if society was not so obsessed with triviality #x?

In the same sense, if our religious stance is simply not Roman Catholic, we are nothing but empty complaints about wrongs. I don't think anyone would disagree with this on a conceptual level, but I think some will still insist to walk the party line by defining themselves with a phrase like Protestant, which is merely negative. As for me, those days are past me, thankfully.

Just as I have argued elsewhere that Augustine got it write when he said that evil was a privation, so too do I think that calling one's self a Protestant is really coming short of what we could possibly be. It's coming short of what we were made to be, a new creation that stands for something good for the sake of something good, not to exist as demolition machines that merely rip apart what is flawed.

It is what we should be, at least.


the mumpers said...

I absolutely agree. I’m totally opposed to religious denominations based entirely on their opposition to others. You and I should get together and form our own denomination – the Anti-protestants. :)

foldreformer said...

well written, thanks

Jonathan said...

Good thoughts, brother. Of course, the kicker here is that even the first Protestants didn't want to call themselves "Protestant." They claimed to be nothing other than catholic Christians whose concern it was to reform the catholic church. I would suggest that getting back to the original catholic identity of the churches which come from the Reformation tradition is essential if that tradition is to survive at all. There are no doubt elements of protest involved in what the Reformers were trying to do, but the areas of protest were always secondary to the primary, positive concern, which was the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people.


Jonathan Bonomo