Why I am (still) a Protestant

For the past 9.5 years I’ve been sorta planning to become Catholic, or struggling with it, or debating about it. I tried RCIA, and bailed right before Easter. I’ve read the Catechism, certain passages again and again. Went on retreats. Had big debates about Catholicism/Protestantism, with people coming from both traditions. Et cetera, etc. etc.

 

Finally last February I decided to join next Easter. I told my family, I was set.

 

And then, this summer, I realized I couldn’t. I’ve said that before, but deep down I was planning to become Catholic, someday. Some day I’d scrape up the gumption, tie my head into the right knot, convince myself just enough to swear the oaths without perjury, jump in and swim the Tiber.

 

But now I’m certain I never will ‘swim the Tiber’. I am certain with a calm, peaceful certainty. I know I am a Protestant with the same certainty that I know I am a woman. I was born a protestant, and I’ll die a protestant. That is how it will be. It is who I am, and I know it now.

It is very simple, really. You see, if I was an atheist or a Hindu, then the transition, the shift from:

Atheism –> Catholic Christianity

Hinduism –> Catholic Christianity

would not entail a rejection of Protestant Christianity. This conversion would not be a rejection of the faith of Luther or Calvin or Abraham Kuiper or John Teselle. But a “conversion” from:

Protestant Christianity –> Catholic Christianity

by its very nature, would entail precisely such a rejection.

 

And the honest truth is, I don’t think Luther was wrong. (OK, yeah, very wrong about his attitude to Jews and Peasants and the purported anti-christ and the Mass), but he was not wrong about a very fundamental thing: that the Bride of Christ, the Church, ultimately answers to God Alone. Not the upper echelons of her own administration. That an individual soul doesn’t “need” the higher administration folks to reach God, to hear His voice, to do what is right and just. Actually, sometimes (unfortunately too often) an individual soul has to ignore and disobey the upper administration folks to reach God, to hear His voice, and to do what is right and just.

And the truth of the matter is, no matter how I hem or haw around the issue, that is the truth of it. No matter how much I like papal teachings or can criticize the many errors of Calvinism… I still believe that.

 

But wait, you are thinking, most Catholics don’t believe that about the upper administration anymore. Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae and JP2’s Catechism teach that too, the importance of the individual conscience. So if they teach that now, then you can believe all that and be a good Catholic. Right? OK, that is fine, but you were born Catholic. To be a Catholic Christian, you don’t have to embrace everything some pope said in the sixteenth century, or some bull from the thirteenth century. But if I “convert” from Protestant Christian –> Catholic Christian, I am by the very fact of my “conversion”, categorically saying that that the sixteenth-century Protestant offshoot was wrong for being an offshoot. Oh, I know they were wrong about so many things, their iconoclasm, their state churches, their occasional defamation/blasphemy of sacred things, and their surrenders to rationalism and (what would become) materialist modernism and naked individualism… But they were not wrong for listening to God’s voice within their interior temple, their conscience, rather than the upper administration. Perhaps they were wrong about so many other things, ok. But they were right about that.

 

If you are a Catholic Christian nowadays, you can believe that too, and it is fine. But you aren’t making the shift from protestant–>catholic, you aren’t renouncing the protestant reformation/schism because you never had an affiliation to it.

 

But I do. And for me… I would have to “convert”. I don’t even like using that word. Going between different strands of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox) shouldn’t be called “converting” anyway. It is not. We all have the same Christ.

 

So that is the long and short of it. My blood and bones are protestant, because I believe that the interior conscience is categorically more sacred than any ecclesiastical authority, and that is just the way it is. I’ll always admire and respect Catholicism all my life. I’ll always feel that longing for their sacraments, as I kneel in the pew and watch others take and eat.

 

But we worship the same Christ, and we are more together than we admit, even now. And we will all admit our togetherness when we are finally all gathered together in Him, “up there.”

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6 thoughts on “Why I am (still) a Protestant

  1. Consider this also: When God created your soul to enliven the cells your parents brought together, He knew full well that you would be raised in a Protestant home and spiritually nurtured in a certain Protestant tradition. If that was okay with Him, should it not be okay with you and every other believer as well? God bless!

  2. I am a catholic. I believe in the holy catholic Church. (That is, the Church Universal, the body composed of all true believers in Jesus throughout history.) In contrast, I could never join the Roman Catholic Church. With apologies to my RCC friends, there are just waaaaaaaay too many gross errors that have crept in over the centuries, and waaaaaay too much history to show the horrific effects of those errors. Just for starters, study the 14th century.
    Since I am a non-RCC, I suppose I am a protestant. I strongly believe In the principles of Christ alone, faith alone, and Scripture alone. But I am not a Protestant. As you say, the Reformers had errors of their own. Our primary loyalty must not be to any man, any system, any creed, or any organization — though we can learn from them, benefit from them, and work for God within them.
    And as I’m giving my primary loyalty to God the Father through God the Son, Jesus the Christ, by the power of God the Holy Spirit, I must refrain from being like the foolish boasting Corinthians, who said “You are for Paul, and you are for Peter, but I am for Christ!” (Well, lah-di-dah!) Because we must join SOME local body of believers, and most of them are associated somehow in some sort of organization for mutual benefit, and that organization is likely to have faults. Sometimes you have to hold your nose and eat what’s available, or starve.

  3. While your point about the conversion terminology is interesting, as a Catholic, I have to say that rather than such a “conversion” being a rejection of your faith, this “conversion” is a fulfillment of your faith and your relationship with Christ. The ecclesial hierarchy provides the guide for the Church, which in turn can guide the heart and mind of the individual member of the body. I can’t imagine trying to deepen my personal relationship with the Lord without the sacraments and the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit evidenced in the Church.

  4. Hi. A mutual friend referred me to your piece, after I asked a question seeking what particular hangups my Protestant friends had with the Catholic Church. I am a Catholic and a convert from Protestantism (from the Pentecostal wing of Evangelicalism, to be exact). I am very sorry for the turmoil you’ve had; it seems tragic to me to come so far only to be halted, and to stand outside the gates for the rest of one’s life hungry and longing for the True Bread. I wanted to offer the conclusions I came to, the reasoning that dispelled for me the obstacles you are facing.

    I never saw my conversion to be in any way, sense, of form a rejection of the faith I had always held. True, I had to modify some views about particular theological points; but as a rule, I saw these to be evolutions rather than refutations, a growing in depth and understanding rather than a leaving behind of what I held before. The one and only thing that gave me any pause at all about my conversion, with regard to my Protestant heritage, was wondering what my ancestors would think, all the Baptist and Methodist ministers — if I was turning my back on them. But I decided that on the other side of eternity, we will all be one faith, one Body of Christ anyway, and whatever their views on earth, they surely have perfect knowledge now. I found my pursuit of the truth to be more important than my loyalty to them.

    Because what, in the end, was I actually rejecting? Was I rejecting faith in Christ? Was I giving up one identify and “converting” to something different, something other than a Christian, what I had always been? That terminology troubled me, too, and I chafed at it for the longest time. I never considered my identify to be “Protestant” but “Christian”: I never felt any personal loyalty to Luther or the Reformers or to the Protestant Reformation qua Reformation. And that seems to be what it is stopping you. You readily admit that the Protestants were indeed wrong about many things: their iconoclasm, their rejection of the sacred, their individualism and progressively compounding factionalism. But you are unable to admit that the Protestants were wrong for their schism in the first place, for their even being Protestants.

    Here is what decided it for me. Yes, it’s true, as I always held, and as I have no problem accepting now as a Catholic, that there were many, real, and deep needs and reasons for reform in the Catholic Church of the sixteenth century: widespread corruption, clerical ignorance, a distancing of the common people from the reality of the Gospel and a relationship with Christ. But over years of study, of being drawn and led by God, I came to realize that the Catholic Church was the Church of Christ, the Church Jesus founded and gave to us; that all the traditions and sacraments were not just beautiful, they were real and God-given gifts of grace. I feel after reading your piece that you, in at least some capacity, were also drawn to this and coming to realize the same. And — this is the key — If the Catholic Church is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church Jesus gave to us, then the Protestant Reformers were guilty of schism in separating from her. You even use that word, schism, yourself. It has a formal and technical meaning. Acknowleding that the Reformers were schismatics — that they were wrong for splitting from the Church — does not necessarily invalidate everything else they believed and taught. It merely admits that they took their rebellion to an unfortunate and unwarranted extreme: they rent the Body of Christ into two, three, countless many other pieces.

    In conversations with Protestants, it’s an almost ubiquitous claim that “Luther never meant to found a new church; he meant to reform the Catholic Church he was a part of.” Whether that was true or not — what he did, what Calvin did, what many others did was in fact to found new churches. Very quickly, even before he was excommunicated, Luther tired of working to reform the Church from within and turned to calling out the pope as the Antichrist and the Church as a synagogue of Satan (this is in fact why he was excommunicated). The Reformers, in founding their own churches, turned to this same rhetoric to justify their actions: Because it is only if, as they claimed, the Catholic Church was completely apostate, devoid of grace, stripped of the Holy Spirit and removed from God’s hand on her, such that she as no longer the Church of Christ, that they could be justified at all in founding their own churches. They realized this and based their stand on this, as even a persual of their writings bears out. This is what adhering to Protestantism, when one begins to realize the errors of the Reformers, actually entails: in order to justify the Protestant schism as valid, we must affirm that they were right in judging the Catholic Church hopelessly fallen and apostate. We cannot look back. We cannot admire the Catholic Church, because if the Reformers were right, what we are admiring is a lifeless corpse if not an instrument of Satan (as very many Protestants do in fact continue to affirm to this day).

    Because I could not believe that was true — because I could not believe all the beauty, all the grace, all the ages-hold history and tradition, were false or evil — I had to conclude that the Reformers were wrong. The Reformers may have been right in many aspects — and their revelations and their reforms have in many ways been reintroduced into the Catholic Church and continue to reform her to this day — but they were ultimately wrong in their decision to despair of God’s ability and promise to reform His One Church, and to separate and begin again (and again, and again) without the grace of that Church’s foundation. Choosing to be Catholic is not a rejection of all the Reformers believed and taught: it is a recognition that their schism, and the complete disintegration of unity within the Church that ensued as a result, was a tragic mistake (one that, yes, Catholics alive then were partly responsible for also).

    1. Hello Joseph Richardson,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’ll respond more later, but I just wanted to explain a point–I have noticed that Protestants who are from more fundamentalist/baptist/extremist-Protestant/anti-Catholic backgrounds tend to be able to convert more easily than those who aren’t.

      Scott Hahn for example–he went through a Catholicism-is-evil phase or, as you put it “instrument of Satan” (though I would contest that many Protestants do not “continue to affirm to this day”, though I guess I would be quibbling with you about what “many” means). Anyways, Scott was so anti-Catholic that his Protestant friends thought it was too much. Then he dramatically converted. That is precisely the point. The type of people who believe one extreme are likely to swing to the other extreme.

      I never saw the Catholic Church as an “instrument of Satan”. The people who do tend to realize it’s not, and then convert, because they go from one absolute to another absolute. Some people see it that way, and try to fit people into either of those camps.

      But there are plenty of us who belong in neither camp. For us it doesn’t have to be this all-or-nothing. What if the Catholic Church is a human-yet-sacred institution ordained by Jesus Christ, with plenty of divine assistance and divine help, guided by his Holy Spirit, but still subject to the errors of men? What if God wants 0.8 billion people to obey the Holy Spirit via their conscience interpreting the Bible, and another 1.2 billion people to obey the Holy Spirit via the Pope? Maybe we are all taking orders from the same Commander, just via different lines of communication.

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