...are the ones that make the biggest difference

6.20.2006

What makes a Protestant Protestant?

Via an email exchange with a Lutheran blogger (I haven't asked if its ok to quote him, so I won't link his blog), he made the rather startling comment that he does not consider Lutheranism to be Protestant. Rather, he considered it be a "kind of Catholic." I heard a similar point on a Lutheran radio show while the host was *reviewing a taped testimony of a Lutheran convert to Orthodoxy. He took issue with the convert lumping Lutherans in with Protestants and later described Lutherans as "evangelical catholics" and "a confessing movement within the church catholic". He explained those statements like this: "we hold to the 3 ecumenical creeds, to the confessions, to the fathers, to everything that has been taught since the very beginning - that's catholic. The centrality of Christ's atoning sacrifice - that's evangelical."

Which, of course, makes me wonder - what makes a Protestant Protestant? How is that really defined? There is obviously the element of protesting-against or dissenting-from that is necessarily a part of the definition. But that doesn't fully encapsulate the movement, either, because there are a great many Protestant bodies that are positively for something and not just against the Catholic church. Is Protestantism defined more as a set of beliefs in and of themselves? Or is it more accurately defined in relation to (or opposition to) some other Christian entity? The latter clearly seems to have been much more accurate during the early years of the Reformation, although it must be granted that the Reformers did not just see themselves acting against the abuses of the Catholic Church, but as searchers after the original faith (their success is arguable, obviously). But now that many groups seem either to not care much about Catholicism one way or the other, and other groups are actively engaging the Church for areas of commonality with an eye to potential unity, the latter definition doesn't seem to apply.

Its an interesting claim, and one I will have to think much more about.

*If you're interested, it was the June 6th program during the 2nd hour. He addresses the convert's story at about 38:00, and speaks more about Lutheranism as catholic around 51:00+.

4 comments:

Chase Vaughn said...

I listen to Issue ETC all the time. Great Lutheran radio show. But, I also, as a Reformed Christian, was a little confused when Todd Wilken said that as well.

By his explanation, I wouldn't be protestant either. I believe in the big three(ec. creeds). Calvin saw himself not as starting a new church but instead as reforming the catholic church. He professed that he was catholic and the visible unity was very important. He hated the radical reformers(anabaptists) because they threw off all tradition(evangelicalism's view of sola scriptura).

So, according to Todd Wilken, historic Calvinists would also not be protestants.

Really, I think all the Todd Wilken is doing is separating himself from modern evangelicalism(just as historic Reformed Christians would do, who I might add are guests on his show-Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger,etc).

Nathan said...

I don't know that Wilken would include historic Calvinists in the "kind of Catholic" description given the differences Luther and Calvin had over the Eucharist. Is belief in or commitment to the historic church enough if you depart from them significantly on key points of doctrine? I know Calvin would say he was returning to the original doctrine, but I think the difference is still there.

Chase Vaughn said...

Actually, Calvin was more sympathetic with Luther than he was with Zwingli. Calvin does believe that we receive Christ in his body and blood by faith. But, the body and blood are not in the bread and wine(ubiquity of Christ), but instead is at the right hand of the Father. But by faith we really do partake of Christ.

Todd Wilken obviously would not consider himself the same as a Calvinist; there are differences. But Todd does work very close with Calvinists and very much identifies the the substance of historic Calvinism. This is why he has many close friends that are Reformed on the show(from the White Horse Inn). He also was a guest host for a month in the place of Rod Rosenbladt(another lutheran on White Horse Inn) So, while there are major differences on the Supper and the extent of the atonement, they are very much united in agreement on the substance of Christianity.

DebD said...

Hi, just found your site through "orthodorks".

I've also heard it said (said rather emphatically by a Lutheran pastor) that Lutherans are not Protestants. I was, briefly, a Lutheran myself and always found that sentiment rather curious.

Apparently Episcopalians also don't consider themselves Protestants either. I guess they don't want to associate themselves with Fallwell, Robertson and company???? I dunno.