Evangelical Catholics

Posted: February 28, 2014 by J in Bible, Church, Church history, Theology

I always laugh when I hear Protestants reacting against new ideas or interpretations of Scripture by saying, “So the whole church had it wrong all these thousands of years!” or “Lucky us to live just at the time the real truth was discovered.” It happens pretty often here at The Grit!

These sort of cynical reactions are ridiculous because they are impossible to justify. From us that is. Isn’t it the very essence of Protestantism to think that the whole church had it wrong for thousands of years?

That’s why we exist, right? Why we’re not ‘Catholic’? We had to break away from the church because it had things badly wrong. No?

Friends, we can’t have our cake and eat it. Either it’s ridiculous for us to think we can stand over against the ancient Catholic church and its centuries-old traditions, and its ridiculous for the latest scholar to suggest a new understanding of atonement – OR they’re both OK.  Both versions can’t be true.

The reality is, we prefer to switch between the two positions as suits us. When it’s a favourite doctrine or practice of ours being questioned or revised, we reach for the protection of ‘centuries of Christian belief and tradition’. Surely God would not let his people go astray on this for so many centuries. Scandalous hubris for some young punk to think he knows better than anyone else.

But when someone else’s tradition is on the chopping block, that young punk is suddenly transformed into a champion of Sola Scriptura, bravely standing against a sea of religiosity and man-made religion. We love to watch, as the young Reformer does his godly best. We love to watch it happen to the Vatican in particular. Or to Arminians. Or Pentecostals.

In other words, we are Protestants with regard to other traditions. But when it comes to the doctrines of the Reformation, the common practices and emphases of evangelical ministry etc -when it comes to our own tradition, we are firm Catholics. We will tolerate no dissent. We certainly don’t welcome any theses nailed to our church door. There can be no further Reformation.

So I suggest we embrace this about ourselves. Let’s get honest about who we now are. Over the centuries we have settled down. We have institutionalised. We have encrusted around us a tradition that by now is non-negotiable. We need a new name. I don’t like Protholic or Cathestant. From now on why shouldn’t we call ourselves Evangelical Catholics?

Sound OK?

  1. misterdan01 says:

    Thanks for your blog on this. I think one of the main issues in Protestant churches today (especially low-church ones) is that they are so quick to want nothing to do with Catholics or church traditions or the church fathers. After all, when I was in Israel with a church group, most of the people hated the Church of the Holy Sepulcher because it was “too Catholic.” We as Protestants have a lengthy heritage which includes Catholic traditions. I think Protestants need to study this heritage as well as enter into dialogue with the Catholic Church today.

    • J says:

      Thanks for your comment, Dan. You make some good points, and Protestant antagonism towards brothers from other Christian traditions is a sad thing to see.

      The reflections in my post were actually inspired by N T Wright’s latest publication on Paul, and the hostility aimed at him over the years (Wright not Paul!). Yet Wright has really reshaped how we all read the NT.

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