The Protestant Heresy

The theological tenets of Protestantism as a movement within Christianity are, for the most part, fairly orthodox. And while there is much room for debate, that is not my aim in writing this article. Nonetheless, there is something much more dangerous going on in this ‘Protestant’ movement. It is the danger of a forced division within an institution meant to be unified in love. The Church, from the very first centuries, was called ‘catholic’ for a reason. Ignatius of Antioch, in 107 A.D., first used the word in a letter he wrote to Christians in Smyrna on the way to his martyrdom. Catholicity: it is a sign of love for Christ and a sign of purpose in adversity. It is a unification which produces strength in contrast to the division that produces weakness.

We’ve replaced the word today, in the Protestant movement, with universal; it is a replacement brought forth by a reaction stemming from a 500 year old disagreement between Martin Luther and the Church.

But catholic means much more than universal. It means to be unified. While there is truth to the universality of the Church, it does not adequately do justice to what the Church is meant to be. It ignores the unification of Christians all over the world into one body with Christ as our leader. It subtly says that division is okay.

Division is not okay. Disagreements are okay. Conversation is okay. An argument is even okay every now and then. A willingness to listen to various theological ideas and respectfully, intelligently, and lovingly discuss them is okay. This would have been ideal for Martin Luther and the Reformers; they had legitimate concerns over the practices of their beloved Church. Nonetheless it is not what happened; division resulted. And division has been perpetuated. As a result, people are influenced to react against the word catholic in an association against Roman Catholicism.

They were called protesters. And the protesters embraced it. It was not what they were for that defined them; rather, in claiming the identity of Protestant, it was what they were against that defined them. It was a motivation of division.

Love, specifically the love of Christ, conquers division. Isn’t it time that we allowed our love to overcome an argument from half a millennium ago? Perhaps, on our path to seeking holiness, we can embrace our fellow Christians from around the world, and even those brothers and sisters who might think just a little bit differently theologically, in a true unified fashion. Maybe we can quit our ‘protesting’; by hanging on to this word – protestant – that is, in essence, what we are doing. We are clinging to a separation, a label with motivations that come out of objections, complaints, dissent, strife, disapproval, and even hate. We are embracing the negative over the positive. We are clutching onto a fear of perceived threats instead of welcoming a healing love.

This is not a Christ-like, holy love that encompasses healthy disagreements, fellowship within the body, and grace and forgiveness. It is a reaction. It is a word that states most clearly exactly what it is – a backlash and a division in the holy body of Christ.

Thankfully, the tradition of Christianity that I belong to, the Church of the Nazarene, recognizes that we are a part of the worldwide body of believers. I am grateful for that. We do not need to deny our Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic, Syriac, Anglican, Lutheran, or, yes, even Calvinist, family in Christ. We do not need to push away Pope Francis or Patriarch Bartholomew or Archbishop Welby; they too are our Christian leaders.

Yet we still bind ourselves, slavishly, to that word, as if we are still in some sort of protest! Perhaps it is better to define ourselves first as Christian, then as Reformed, or Calvinist, or Wesleyan, or Arminian, or Baptist; that would be a step forward. Maybe we can finally embrace love for one another, and as a sign of that love, remove our protesting root as an identifier, this word that promotes the dangers of division and adds, as one of my seminary professors put it, “scar tissue” to the body of Christ. Division is not orthodox; it is not a characteristic of the kingdom of love that we are supposed to proclaim.

In true medieval fashion, and indicative of practices from the period of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago, I may be burned at the stake for this article by some of my fellow protesters whom I still love. I will most likely be put on some sort of list as someone to be careful of. But these are chances I am willing to take. The healing of scar tissue is too important. The message of God’s love in a unified, worldwide, universal, catholic body of Christ is just too critical to be rendered ineffective by a heresy of division and protest.

Advertisements

Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, and Facebook

In case you haven’t noticed the people walking around with ash crosses on their foreheads, today is Ash Wednesday.   It is an important day in the Christian calendar which marks the beginning of the season of Lent.   It is a time when Christians fast from something (i.e. meat on Fridays for my Roman Catholic friends) in order to turn their attention to God, preparing their hearts for the holy days that come during the week of Easter.

Tonight I had the opportunity to attend the service at the West Chester United Methodist Church; the Methodists are Wesleyan cousins of my own denomination, the Church of the Nazarene.   It was a beautiful service; they have a great choir as well! But during the course of the service, several ideas were on my mind:

There is sorrow in repentance for the sins that we so often commit against God and one another.   There is a grieving that we have not done more in our lives to devote ourselves to God and his kingdom.   There is a yearning to prioritize God in our hearts, seek after his Spirit, and know Christ as our example.

And while there is a realization of our utter insignificance as we consider the perspective of God’s absolute power, especially with the common reading of Genesis 3:19 and the placing of ashes on our foreheads, there is the sudden and awe-inspiring awareness that comes with it – God still desires to know, love, and use each and every one of us in the expansion of his beautiful kingdom of holy love!   If that does not demonstrate the depth of God’s love for his creatures, I don’t know what does.   This understanding is made real when we take the elements of Christ’s body and blood through the bread and the wine (or grape juice for those of us in the Church of the Nazarene and other Protestant denominations); Christ died on a cross and rose again so that each one of us may be reconciled to God and become an incredibly useful part of his kingdom and the body of Christ on earth.

Last year during Lent I decided to give up cookies and other sugary sweets; I barely survived. The day after Easter I only ate cookies, cookies, and more cookies. This year I’ve decided to fast from the Western world’s most addictive social media site – Facebook.   All too often, we replace real relationships with virtual relationships. Christ tells us in several of the gospels what is most important – love God with everything that we are and love each other in the same way (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:28-34; Luke 10:25-28). In fasting from Facebook, I hope to be able to invest more time in real relationships with people rather than virtual relationships with people; it means actual phone calls, trying to get coffee with friends and talking to them face to face, and training carrier pigeons to bring small, handwritten, coded messages to various cities across the nation (it also means smoke signals!).

Tomorrow is also Valentine’s Day; pretty much every time this holiday has come around, I have thought to myself, “Ugh.”   Of course, I may also think this because I have always been single and have never quite managed to find that certain girl to love. But as we commemorate this holiday, perhaps each one of us, and whether we have someone to celebrate this day with or not, can remember the great love that God shows each and every one of us. We can dwell and meditate on the true standard-bearer of love, Jesus Christ. We can think about what it means to love one another, our friends, family, and even enemies, with Christ’s example of selfless love. Let us not dwell on the selfish love that culture and society too often try to overpower us with in greed. This might be more in tune with the season of Lent and what St. Valentine would have wanted when he was martyred in the year of our Lord, February 14, c. 270.

Let us repent during the weeks approaching Easter. Let us grieve, mourn, and be in sorrow for the sins we have committed toward God and toward one another. Let us yearn to be in communion with God’s Spirit. Let us desire, more than anything else, to prioritize our love for God as we fast from whatever it is we are fasting from. Let us seek to love God with everything that we are and love each other in the very same way. And let us rejoice that through Christ we are an integral part of God’s amazing kingdom of holy love!