03 January 2009

"I am a Protestant who..."

Over at his blog, Pr. William Weedon talks about the word 'Protestant' as it applies to him. He says, in part, "I am an original Protestant. That means, I am one who believes that Baptism is for infants and adults and through it the Blessed Trinity saves us; I am a Protestant who believes that in the Eucharist Christ gives me to eat and drink His most holy body and blood beneath the appearance of bread and wine; I am a Protestant who believes that the words of Christ's called servants release me from sin, forgive me, and open wide the gates of heaven; I am a Protestant who believes that the Eucharist is the beating heart of the Church's life; I am a Protestant who rejoices in the liturgy of the Mass and the Daily Office; I am a Protestant who acknowledges the Office of the Holy Ministry as divinely established and ordained for the salvation of our souls. Please don't call me 'high church' or 'hyper confessional.' Just call me Lutheran. For that's what I am."

It is worth reflecting on these words. Here the term "Protestant" functions as a genus-term (like homo in homo sapiens), and the clauses beginning with "who believes..." set forth the differences (like sapiens in homo sapiens) that mark his sort of Protestant (as he says, Lutheran).

What makes him as Protestant as the most ardent Baptist, or the most 'Spirit-filled' Pentecostal? "Lutherans most certainly ARE Protestants vis a vis the papal claims." In other words, for Pr. Weedon the term "Protestant" is, at its heart, a negative description--it tells what he and the Baptist and Pentecostal are not.

The list of what makes Pr. Weedon the kind of Protestant he is, serves to distinguish him from other Protestants--even some who use the term "Lutheran" to describe themselves (including Luther himself--didn't he give thanks somewhere that people were free from the "vain babbling" of the daily hours?)

Pr. Weedon's statement is an excellent example of what Florensky calls the confessional formula as guarantor of ecclesiality, which I cited in my previous post. But there is no oneness of mind in Protestantism--only a shared revulsion of papal claims. And there is no oneness of mind in Lutheran bodies--only a likeminded holding to certain positions and tendencies, while allowing freedom to understand those positions in vastly different ways. The vastly different practices and beliefs concerning lay absolution, grape juice and disposable cups all serve to demonstrate that we are dealing on the level of abstract concepts, not on the level of flesh-and-blood concrete reality.

As a thought-experiment, imagine someone saying "I am an Orthodox who...", in order to distingish himself from some other Orthodox. Some may argue that there are a few differences within contemporary Orthdoxy--e.g. old vs. new calendar--but none of these rise to the level of a doctrinal dispute. "Orthodox" is not a genus-term, like "Protestant." It's a corporate term, an organic term describing a living reality: the bride and body of Christ.

Let it be noted: in no way do I mean these words as a personal attack or criticism of Pr. Weedon, whom I consider to be one of the best representatives of contemporary Lutheranism in its attempt to be catholic. My argument is, rather, that if Florensky's analysis captures so refined a statement as Pr. Weedon's, how much more does it capture more generic protestant views!


orrologion said...

I think it would be worthwhile considering how we all deal with the fact "I am a Christian who...". Unfortunately, the term has become broad enough that anyone who makes an special appeal to the person or teaching of Jesus is a Christian - from Roman Catholic and Orthodox to Adventists, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

I've always thought the "Lutherans aren't Protestants" proclamation to be lacking in simple common sense. Pr. Lehmann hit the nail on the head in his comment on Bill's post when he mentions that fact that there were non-Lutherans among the original protesters ('Protestants') at the 2nd Diet of Speyer.

The term Protestant is a catch-all defining that which these groups have in common, regardless of everything else they may disagree on: the deny the power and authority of the Papacy and the teachings seen to have been innovated in the name of this office.

I'd say that is a pretty good criteria for defining the broad basis of belief in the West, while allowing for great diversity within the camp that denies the Pope and 'his' traditions.

To try and make Protestant equal to 'Lutheran' or 'Reformed' is silly; to try and carve out for oneself room outside of the term 'Protestant' when your confession lies at the terms very genesis is also silly. At best it is a useful rhetorical device to trot out and use as a springboard to meatier discussion/preaching of the differences between Christians.

It's like people I have known who, when asked 'what they are', say "Christian". 'What denomination?' one asks so as to clarify. 'Just Christian'. This is simply refusing to recognize the common sense, practical, every day fact that there are all sorts of people that believe they are the 'real' Christians, but teach quite differently than the other 'real' Christians in town.

When sin and delusion and schism and heresy are as easy to fall into as they are, well, the world needs genus qualification - even though the Orthodox Christians are the real Christian Church.

Fr. Gregory Hogg said...

Thanks, Rdr. Christopher. Perhaps my experience is a bit different than yours. I wouldn't say "I am a Christian who...", even for things like the perpetual virginity of Mary. I would speak in terms like these: "I am a Christian, and so I believe..." even for things like the Theotokos' perpetual virginity. If someone said, "Can I be a Christian and deny x," where x is a teaching of the Church, I'd answer, "I don't know."

Blessed Theophany to you and your family!

orrologion said...

Blessed Theophany to you and yours, too.

I think the experience of a minister is different in this regard, and perhaps that is where the talk comes from in Lutheran circles, too. When someone is speaking to a minister, it is assumed that they believe their confession is 'right' and all others are somewhere along the spectrum of 'mostly right' to 'wrong'.

As a layman I have spent my adult life being the odd man out in just about every surrounding I have found myself in. Often I am the only actively religious person, but if there are others they are not often (ever) my faith - whether that was WELS or Orthodox. They are Buddhists, RCs, and Protestants of various sorts - without even getting into 'how' much they believe or understand of what they religion or denomination believes. When there are Orthodox they tend to be either 'ethnic Orthodox' with little to no understanding of Orthodoxy beyond some family traditions surrounding Pascha, or they have been Copts. My brother-in-law's fiance is Bulgarian and always grills me on why I am or am not doing something that she 'knows' the Orthodox do or don't based on her experience of Bulgarian Orthodoxy - she isn't pious and may not be baptized.

So, I have often been in conversations where people want to know what I believe relative to something they are already familiar with. If I say "I am a Christian so I believe..." they will likely have questions because they have other Christian friends that don't believe or do that, e.g., fasting, saints, bishops, no pope, lots of services, etc. I get the questions and have tried hard to boil down answers to a pretty basic level so as not to be caught providing a treatise in response to an off the cuff question - or to comments that were dismissive because the speaker simply assumed no one was religious or Christian or did whatever they were disparaging.

Fr John W Fenton said...

Fr Gregory,

Personally, I think the repetition of "I am" is both most troublesome and most revealing in the definition of "Protestant."

Now I'm sure that my friend, Pr Weedon, used the first person merely to answer a first person question. But it seems to me that the "I am" should be eschewed because it suggests the individualism that lies beneath all protestantism of whatever form.

Let me suggest, if I may, that, in the final analysis, "prostestant" means exactly what it says: in protest for or against. And what is protest? Isn't it a form of disobedience? Now, of course, there are instances when "disobedience" is necessary for the sake of Truth. However, nearly all protestants have taken the lack of obedience as their chief mode of being. The ascendancy of adiaphron (whether liturgical or doctrinal) in protestantism, I think, testifies of this.