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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Protestant or not?

There is an interesting discussion in Extra Nos about "Protestant" as an appellation. Some reject it, some embrace it. It is heartening to note that it binds them to the western Church somehow, and those who use it are aware of it, but it is also disheartening because it is used as a perpetually sore condemnation that, in some cases, will apply to the Catholic Church in any age, regardless of where they really stand in the issues of justification and ecclesiology. Now I must admit that it is embarassing to report on how mushy I can get on this topic, since I am sometimes rather shameless in melodrama. Today is one of those days, and I couldn't write it any other way anyway, so below was my contribution to their discussion:


I was forming a thesis in my mind recently about Evangelicals, confessional Protestants, and Roman Catholics. There seems to be a trajectory for Evangelicals towards an increasingly Roman Catholic outlook, which seems to also translate a diminishing level of hostility towards Roman Catholics. The thesis is simple, really: by identifying themselves as Evangelicals, born again, or simply Christians, these folks are not as grounded on the Reformation. Hence they are no longer steeped in the bitterness of the Reformation.

Now I would not deny that learning from the past need not be sacrificed in the name of healing. While grudges have no place in the heart of Christians, we must never forget mistakes made all around. For example, I believe that the pope should have handled Luther with more pastoral concern. Eck should not have been sicced on him. Those are some of my observations from our side. In any case, done is done, but too much bitterness remains. In my limited experience, I see this bitterness most among the Protestants who sound like they are blaming me for the corruption of the Church in the 16th century. ;-)

I just think that holding on to the bitterness of the 16th century goes against the Spirit of unity. At times, the continued jibes, barbs and accusations sound improportionately contrary to charity, so that calm, charitable criticism can be so lost in the depths of bitterness and blame.

Many Evangelicals I know today are perfectly willing to consider Catholics, on an individual basis, fellow Christians. I am thankful that Lito accords me the same concession, although it may be biased since he knows me and he considers me to be an Evangelical who remains a member of the Catholic Church. ;-)

Anyway, the Evangelicals I know seem to have shed all identification with being "Protestant" and, instead of defining themselves as being against something, are embracing the way forward as being for something else.

I do not think that a visible unity among all Christians is impossible in this age. That would seem odd when you look at John 17 and various passages of St. Pauls as in 1 Cor 12.

The crucial step which I hope all Christians would take -- and there are unwililing parties on all sides -- is to concede Christ's will for unity, the purpose of that unity, and trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about such a unity, despite some rather depressing failings of human nature, e.g., a penchant for squabbling.

I would also be so bold to say that, holding on to the bitterness and the need to be angry makes the Spirit of unity sad. I'm not at this point saying that all Protestants should consider what it would be like to become Roman Catholics. That is too specific, and no one asks the eastern Catholics to subscribe to the Roman rite, nor the Melkite, Coptic, Assyrian, etc. Simply be open to the possibilty -- and pray for it -- that the journey towards Christ should necessarily bring about a single communion within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

It isn't that we will ask the Holy Spirit to help us in our work of unity: it is more in asking the Holy Spirit to aid us so that we do not resist in His work of unity.

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