One of the biggest challenges to Protestantism is the awkward suggestion by Jesus himself that we should judge a tree by its fruit. For people who claim to worship one Christ, with one Church as his body, united by one Holy Spirit, it’s problematic that Protestantism, from its very beginning, has been characterized by division. It isn’t less problematic that Protestants have also readily, almost eagerly, embraced a truly staggering number of heresies.
We are a fickle lot, and God help us.
Granted, there are other sides to this discussion. Too many for me to bring in here. One of the most crippling and obvious is this: any authority to rebuke us is undermined by its use, or rather its lack of use. By which I mean current and historic use.
When the two other branches of the Church, the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic communions, both argue that they are the single correct branch, and both have compelling reasons for so arguing, and those arguments become mutually exclusive… They cancel. The choice becomes one of either stubborn faith, which must necessarily be arbitrary, or personal preference and conviction, which both groups would dismiss as heretical (i.e. Immanentism, in case you’re curious).
They are like petty brothers, each arguing for superiority, and each waiting for the other to apologize, and each ignoring the desperate cries of their younger brother that they stop fighting.
For this they will be held accountable, that they have not labored, though it take centuries, to reconcile, or that they have labored half-heartedly. That they have allowed to continue what must be an abomination to the Lord and a stumbling block to their younger brothers.
It seems that one of the following must be true. Perhaps they don’t believe it is possible to convince each other on each other’s own grounds–which is simply polite rhetoric–in which case they are de facto declaring that the only evidence for them must be accepted before its effective, that belief in either is a matter of arbitrary faith. This ignores the fact that they both make the same claim, and that both claim the Holy Spirit guides people to faith in one over the other. It is simply impossible to test the spirits in this case. They undermine their own ability to reach anyone. They have rendered Christ futile.
Or they believe it’s possible to convince each other on each other’s grounds, and they have refused to put forth the effort to do so. And shame on them if this is the case, because they have humiliated Christ in their arrogance.
Now it seems to me that if there are two authorities, each claiming a unique authority, each providing reasons for that claim, and each denying the authority of the other, by so doing they render it possible (and perhaps likely) that neither is the authority it believes.
And in that gap, in the tension which they have themselves created, we find the Protestants, clinging (fitfully and weakly) to something else, since neither of them will let us cling to them. Trying, as younger brothers, to do what the older brothers have forsaken. It is perhaps a task for which we are unfit, and our unfitness is daily manifest, but I suspect none of us would say that we chose it.
Of course, in emulation of our elders, Protestants triumphantly declared ourselves the only authority, and entered into the same sick cycle of refusing to solve the problem we perpetuate.
We are a sick people, and a sad people. And I suppose by this post I have made myself anathema to all three groups. I am happily willing, I am in fact eager, to recant and embrace that Church which emerges unified from whatever council heals the schisms of the last two thousand years. Or at least from the first to pursue that vision with anything like the humble zeal demanded by the situation.
Until then I’ll live in silent terror as three brothers, larger and stronger than I, fight around me. I will hope in Christ to save me in spite of that fighting, and in spite of my own ignorance and inability, and in spite of the constant reminders from each brother that I must choose it alone or risk rejection from Christ.
May the grace of God–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–be with me, now and forever. What else can I say?