Wednesday, January 26, 2011


At American Creation we've discussed what terms mean. "Christian," "Catholic," "Protestant," "Enlightenment," "Unitarian," etc. There are some irresolvable differences in understanding here; so it's better to clarify -- put on the table what we mean by these terms. Does "Protestantism," for instance, mean simply freedom from the Roman Catholic Church's Magesterium and the supposed "errors" of Rome? If so, those who believe in theological unitarianism, universalism, indeed even Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses could qualify as "Protestant Christians." (I'm not sure whether Mormons or JWs identify as "Protestants" as they DO identify as "Christians." I know theological unitarians and universalists, historically, have identified as "Protestant Christians.") Does Protestantism mean Sola Scriptura? Are doctrines like Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Eternal Damnation non-negotiables to the label "Protestant Christian"? (If so that would exclude our Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and theological unitarians and universalists.)

I found the following video from EWTN very informative. It discusses how many of today's evangelicals think of themselves as "born-again" Christians. In John 3, Jesus instructs Nicodemus on the necessity of being "born again" in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet the Bible is one thick ass book and there, all sorts of things are said by Jesus and OTHER "inspired" writers and speakers on requirements for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

For instance, in Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Yet, there is no "become like children-Christian" movement like there is a "born-again Christian" movement. Yet, there is the same TEXTUAL support for BOTH kinds of Christianities. In, say, the year 2500, one could imagine such a movement.

Apparently Luther and Calvin, though they were "Protestant," "Reformed," "orthodox-Trinitarian," were not "born-again Christians," at least they did not preach being "born again" as an ELEMENT for when one becomes a "real" or "regenerate" Christian. Rather, they held to infant-baptismal regeneration, like the Roman Catholics.

Update: At my home blog my friend Ron comments:

Jon, although I no longer consider myself a Christian (in any conventional sense), as a Unitarian Universalist I've always identified with the term "radical protestant." To me, it represents a shift of authority (in assessment of truth) from a "top down" model (whether an infallible Church or State or infallible scripture) to more of a "bottom-up" paradigm of ultimate self-discernment of truth and meaning.

To me, being part of this "radically left wing of the Protestant Reformation" tradition in religion means that my spiritual ancestors were so stubbornly protestant that they increasingly refused to let anyone else (in any age, no matter how highly esteemed) do their thinking for them. It means that I can draw an identifiable line from the Minor Reformed Church of Poland (Socinians) to kindred spirits of freedom-inspired religion in the present day (whatever the title).

I would suggest that, to us, the term protestant is more about methodology than theology, not so much about particular beliefs as the approach used to determining those beliefs. (As I've commented elsewhere, if the name hadn't already been taken, UU's could have been called "methodists" in reference to their stubbornly protestant attitude applied even to matters of religion.)


Angie Van De Merwe said...

From the little I know, Luther's concern was about the immoral practices of the Catholic Church in the sale of indulgences (it was a kind of "cleansing the temple"). His questioning of the religious authorities was what brought about his excommunication.

All reforms whether social or religious have happened because of some concern about universalization or "holiness". One is concerned about the inclusion of others, while the other is concerned about boundary definitions.

Universalization calls for boundary definition because "universals" dissolve the necessity of the "social group" or "religious understanding". And this is what you suggest for becoming like a child, as to "faith" for those that want to believe. But, first one must believe that God exists, and is personal, which has to be a matter of faith. No one can demand or teach "faith".

Luther's understanding of the sacraments was in opposition of the transubstantiation of the Catholic Church. Luther understood the sacraments as consubstantiation, which means that the sacraments are not literally beneficial in themselves, but are when done as a matter of faith. Faith makes the sacraments sacred.

Luther was concerned for the "common person", and not the authority of the Church. Luther became concerned for the education of those that had been "used" by the Catholic Church and he used the translation of scripture to educate.

Later in Reformed circles, scripture became sacred, not by the "teaching posiition" of the Catholic Church, but by the faith of the believer.
But, this is irrational faith and it is the faith of a child.

Erasmus, on the other hand, tried to carry out a more modest reform of the Catholic Church in the humanities.

America is nominal because of such readicalizing beliefs. The Church as an institution is deemed important for various reasons, that only the individuals in America can identify.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I personally think because humans are social beings, that whenever a "social group" is comfortable and accepting, one is prone to "learn" and internalize their "doctrines". Such internalization happens first in one's family of origin. Internalization is not a matter of reason, because of human need to "belong"/identify. This is why so many cults/religions grow, as they are ingrown and protective of their doctrines. Those that "fit" and "belong" are resitant to "outside" evidence, or critical thinking, because it undermines "identification factors".

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"Self" can be identified by many factors. But, whenver these factors become a matter of "life and death", "heaven and hell", then "self" becomes not just resistant to change, but intensifies the need to defend, and protect what is deemed as matters of ultimate importance, to oneSELF and the Other! This is VERY dangerous to peace!!!

This is why democracy or a Representative Republic is important to value above and beyond the religious framing of "life" and the world.

Tom Van Dyke said...

This is a lot closer to my argument re "Protestantism," indeed that you describe it as a "method" more than a body of doctrine.

Before going to the starker examples of Mormonism and the JWs, it would be instructive to look at the noncreedal Stone-Campbell Movement of the earlier 1800s and manifestations like today's Church of Christ, which is held in a socio-historical light as quite "Christian."

It might be fair to say that the Enlightenment was a product of the Reformation, that "all things" were put on the table. However, when pegging it to the Founding, it's mostly the Scottish Enlightenment, which was friendly to Christianity, and which in this respect, we must largely exclude the putatively atheist David Hume.

[This looks interesting: Hume, Ethan Allan, Tom paine and miracles:

I'll pop it up now, and perhaps it'll inform our discussion later. Allan would be just the type that pings with the "Enlightenment" questioning of the Christian cosmological view, and that he was an outlier at the Founding lends support to my argument that this "rational" or "empirical" Enlightenment wasn't much of a factor, the majority of the "unorthodox" or "heterodox' still pegging to the Bible.]

Phil Johnson said...

Very interesting and enjoyable video.

Jason Pappas said...

I tend to use the term Protestant to mean a denomination that broke away from Catholicism or traces its history to such a denomination. Seems to be the easy way out, no?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jason, I think it can be stretched too far, as in the case of the UUs, who have rejected the Bible as divine writ.

I'll continue to argue that the sine qua non of Christianity is the Bible as Divine Writ. Revelation.

Indeed, the equation is often rendered this way, Athens and Jerusalem, reason and revelation.

I admit the Mormons in particular are problematic as well, because of their addition of an additional book of Scripture. In this way, they resemble Muslims, as both accept the Bible as Divine Writ [even if corrupted].

I guess we can at least comfortably say Mormonism is an Abrahamic religion, anyway.

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angie Van De Merwe said...

There really is no revelation, other than what one learns. Scripture is not divine. It is literature. You are trying to "ground" tradition in history, instead of philosophy. Either one understands the history of tradition via the Abrahamic faiths, or one believes that history, as to revelation is really "personal history", because one understands meaning from psychological need, and bias. This is subjective hogwash unless one wants to support some "meaning making" religious ideal, which is limiting.
UU is humanitarian, and understands political needs for liberty.

Without political liberty, I couldn't care less about "meaning making". Political liberty is an ultimate value of mine. And that is the basis of America's equality under law.

Jason Pappas said...

Of course, the UU may not even qualify as a religion but your objection is reasonable--there must be limits.

By the way, is the Anglican Church Protestant?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

How are "we" defining religion? Ritual, doctrine, belief/faith, or what? What defines religion as a social group? Government or communal norms? Is Protestantism really a religion?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Social adaptation and change is the need for reform, or revolution whenever social needs become stressed, challenged by "new information", or undermined by universalizing tendencies. These changes call for re-definition to what once met the needs of social communities.

Tom Van Dyke said...

There really is no revelation, other than what one learns. Scripture is not divine. It is literature.

Angie, you are interfering with the discussion here. As historians, we do not judge theological "truth claims." That is above our pay grade, and is contrary to American religious pluralism and freedom of religious conscience. For all we know, and for all you know, the Quran or Book of Mormon is gospel truth.

You really must get into the American spirit of things.


By the way, is the Anglican Church Protestant?

Well, yes. It's been my proposition that the Church of England is [was!] Roman Catholicism with a change of management. But I must admit, after further review, that Calvinism/Presbyterianism crept in there a bit. Rev. Richard Hooker, Anglican cleric, theologian and philosopher, called "the father of Anglicanism," sought a "third way" between the Roman church and Calvinism.

If that helps.

I have a story about how my Canadian-Anglican grandfather refused to set foot in the Catholic church when and where his first grandchild was baptized, Roman Catholicism being quite toejam per his upbringing.

He did creep into the back of the church for the baptism of his second grandchild, and noted, The prayers are all the same! He sort of mellowed about Catholicism thereafter.

If that helps.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Sorry to have 'interrupted' the train of thought.

I thought that you were trying to get at how human come to understand their bias. You speak in multi-cultural terms, which undermines the nation-state's pragmatism by talking about things "above the pay grade".

I like what was said above about the UU and Protestantism. Critical thinking does lend itself to destroying any claims on faith's truth claims.

America should still embrace "the rule of law" above the right of religious liberty. Collectives could undermine the structure of American government, which values the individual above the collective State, or religious identifier.

Jason Pappas said...

When Henry the VIII broke away, it was little more than a managerial change. It is still common to call it Protestant merely because of the break with the Catholic Church. I agree, however, that one wants a more substantial definition of Protestant--a core definition--that goes beyond mere structural or nominal definitions. Theologically it is between Reformed and Catholic but the church is torn by internal differences.

The newly formed Anglican Catholics claim to be Catholic (but not Roman Catholic) and Orthodox (but not Eastern Orthodox) ... and not Protestant. From their description it makes sense.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

England had a State Church, not so in America. We believed that individual conscience would determine where the individual "laid his hat".

I recognize that Leo Strauss wanted to affirm two "castes" in society, reason, and revelation. Isn't this is separation of Church and State? Is there reason to believe that America has "gone too far" as to individual liberties? Why? Who says?

I recognize that our society has many problems, but these problems are social, not spiritual. Does a social fix help, or not? What and how do we fix these problems?

History has brought about technological advances that change the way the young people understand themselves and the world. Instant gratification and a lack of understanding a greater world has come about through our instant messaging and our GPS. One cannot know where one is in relationship to others when one is told where to turn to get to a certain point. You might arrive at that point, but where in the "World" are you?
Has this disconnected the "young" from a sense of history, YES! And that is where history and civics should be taught and appreciated early on.

Spirituality, or church doctrine only hinders one's connections to the 'real world' and living in it!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jason, these are some VERY tall theological weeds, and Protestantism is not my first language.

I was thinking of Anglicanism's 39 Articles

which have Calvinistic overtones and several departures from Catholicism.

However, I saw some complaints from the more Calvinist-minded that Anglicanism has drifted back toward Catholicism in the last century or two. What we do know is that Anglican priests bailing from the new liberalism of the Anglican church are being accepted as full priests by the Vatican, even if they're married.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I have seen a lot of news about Anglicans converting to RCism. I wonder whether it really is the liberalism. They could always, other Anglicans have (for instance in America) break away from the more liberal churches and seek communion with the more conservative ones.

As I see it, the ONLY reason -- or at least the BEST reason -- to join Rome is because 1. they have the proper interpretation of Matthew 16:18 (which I think they do) and 2. you want to be in communion with a church that traces its apostolic succession to Jesus (the Anglican and Protestant Churches do not).

And of course, you have no other good reason to NOT want to be in communion with said Church.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I read the "Anglican Catholic" response to the Pope's offer. Mostly, they declined over the role of the Pope!

Their argument is that the C of E itself has genuine apostolic succession, and they do recognize the theological authority of church councils [of bishops, cardinals, etc.]. But the Pope's claim to infallibility and therefore "magisterial" authority is unacceptable.

They do give the pope a "first among equals" role, but no overarching authority. Therefore "English" Catholic is on an equal footing with "Roman" Catholic [or "Eastern Orthodox" Catholic].

Tom Van Dyke said...

Angie, you may find this of help:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Here's a quick capsule:

The king [Henry VII] followed a course of expediency; he married Anne Boleyn in 1533, and two months later he had the archbishop of Canterbury pronounce his divorce from Catherine. Henry was then excommunicated by the pope, but retaliated in 1534 by having Parliament pass an act appointing the king and his successors supreme head of the Church of England, thus establishing an independent national Anglican church. Further legislation cut off the pope's English revenues and ended his political and religious authority in England. Between 1536 and 1539 the monasteries were suppressed and their property seized by the king.

Henry had no interest in going beyond these changes, which were motivated principally by political rather than doctrinal considerations. Indeed, to prevent the spread of Lutheranism, he secured from Parliament in 1539 the severe body of edicts called the Act of Six Articles, which made it heretical to deny the main theological tenets of medieval Roman Catholicism. Obedience to the papacy remained a criminal offense. Consequently, many Lutherans were burned as heretics, and Roman Catholics who refused to recognize the ecclesiastical supremacy of the king were executed.

Under King Edward VI, the Protestant doctrines and practices abhorred by Henry VIII were introduced into the Anglican church. The Act of Six Articles was repealed in 1547, and continental reformers, such as the German Martin Bucer, were invited to preach in England. In 1549 a complete vernacular Book of Common Prayer was issued to provide uniformity of service in the Anglican church, and its use was enforced by law. A second Prayer Book was published in 1552, and a new creed in 42 articles was adopted. Mary I attempted, however, to restore Roman Catholicism as the state religion, and during her reign many Protestants were burned at the stake. Others fled to continental countries, where their religious opinions often became more radical by contact with Calvinism. A final settlement was reached under Queen Elizabeth I in 1563. Protestantism was restored, and Roman Catholics were often persecuted. The 42 articles of the Anglican creed adopted under Edward VI were reduced to the present 39 Articles. This creed is Protestant and closer to Lutheranism than to Calvinism, but the episcopal organization and ritual of the Anglican church is substantially the same as that of the Roman Catholic church.

Large numbers of people in Elizabeth's time did not consider the Church of England sufficiently reformed and non­Roman. They were known as dissenters or nonconformists and eventually formed or became members of numerous Calvinist sects such as the Brownists, Presbyterians, Puritans, Separatists, and Quakers.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Catching up on Protestantism in England.

The one thing that jumps out at me, the forcible dismantling of the Roman church in England, is that re "separation of church and state," the church had a lot more to fear from the state than vice-versa.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Anglican communions have had a disagreement and talk of a split over "gay marriage". The conservative branch are more fundmentalists in their understanidng of "the bible" (African), while the liberal are not (European).

It seems if one unites the Orthodox and Anglican one appeases both the scientific and peistic branches of Anglicalism. Then, "works" as penance can be useful for experimental understandings of "the human" and "theology" (self-control, virtue ethics, 'Paul studies" "perfection of man"), and at the same time meet the understandings of the more simple minded....theologically, as "logos" incarnate.

I guess in the experimental view, the value of a human life is insignificant when it comes to the utility of it....

Virtue ethics must be mutual friendship, not a one-sided affair. Mutuality assumes that there is respect for personal boundaries. The value of human life is not utility in my understanding, because such a view makes life (another human being) a commodity.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

You might be interested in a post I posted on;

A Cause Greater Than Yourself....

bpabbott said... ?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Yes, bpabbott. The post is by the CATO Institute...and the Fallacy of a Cause Greater Than Oneself...