Monday, February 26, 2024

To cease to be Protestant. . .

There is a line penned by St. John Henry Newman which is often quoted against Protestants: “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”  It might seem a no brainer.  After all who wants to belong to a church that is not deep in history but invented sometime much later along the way?  I don't.  Therein lies the fallacies that make this quote less than a deal breaker.

The first fallacy is the presumption that the Roman Catholic Church has existed continuously in time since the first days of the Church.  Indeed, it is the conflation of the Roman Church with the Catholic Church that is both the contention of Rome but the refusal of Lutheranism.  Only a fool would insist that the Roman Church as we know it now and have known it since the Council of Trent is exactly the same Church as the Church in Rome of the early Church era or even well into early medieval times.  Certainly the Eastern Church refuses this arrogant presumption that Rome today is the Catholic Church.  Lutherans are also those who refuse and refute this erroneous claim.  In fact, the claim of the Lutheran Confessions is that those who subscribe are holding to the Catholic doctrine and practice which, except you believe, teach, and confess, you will not be saved.  Rome claims to be the Catholic Church as an institution and this is an unprovable claim but Lutheranism claims to be the Catholic Church in doctrine and practice which is provable.  Every claim of Lutheranism against Rome refers to later practices and doctrines which developed and were insisted upon later in time and not early in the history of the Church.

The second fallacy is the term Protestant itself.  The Lutherans are not Protestants in the sense that this term is used by Newman and most others.  We may have once been labeled as such but the label no longer fits.  Protestants are of the insistence that they were established and begun at a moment in time corresponding to the Reformation or some time in the wake of that pivotal movement.  That is not the Lutheran claim.  Protestant has become synonymous with a time or origin in the 16th century of later but Lutheranism refuses this date.  We do so because it was never the intent nor the outcome to depart from that which has always been believed and always been practiced but to challenge those things which had been written back in time from a later era to distort the clear teaching of Scripture and the plain witness of the apostles.

I will certainly agree with Newman.  Protestants do not and cannot make the claim that Lutheranism does.  They are shallow in history and happy to do so.  Think of it this way.  To the Protestants which do not baptize infants and children, when was the first credible challenge to the catholic practice and theology of baptism?  After the Reformation is when these churches began.  To the Protestants who receive only a sip of juice and a piece of cracker as they piously recall Jesus, when was the first credible challenge to the words of Jesus and their plain meaning?  After the Reformation is when these churches began.  I could go on but two significant examples are enough for now.  All I am saying is this.  Newman did not either know of or pay any attention to the claims of Lutheranism when he wrote his famous words and, if he had, he would have had to clarify what the word Protestant means because it does not mean Lutheran.

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