Can Protestants be “too Catholic?”

I posted a comment on my Facebook Page and Twitter Page recently about how it seems ironic to me that so many churches who focus on atonement theology (the idea that Jesus died for your sins as central to what they believe) seems to jump right past Holy Week and on to Easter.

It seems to me that someone who preaches about and studies the death and suffering of Christ so much the rest of the year would have a field day emphasizing this central tenet of their beliefs on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. But most of the churches in town that I know focus on this kind of image of Jesus have had slogans like ‘Christ is Risen!” on their signs for a couple of weeks already.

But can we really celebrate the resurrection, whatever meaning that takes on for your and your church, if we skip over the crucifixion? Moreover, aren’t we missing something if we don’t participate in the Passover Seder meal on the Thursday before Easter? Yes, this is traditionally a Jewish ritual, but it is, after all the meal that took place at the Last Supper.

(Side note: I know this is shocking stuff for some, but Jesus wasn’t a Christian; he was a Jew.)

Some of the responses I got to this comment were more lighthearted, pointing out that those who emphasize death and suffering so much year-round may see Easter as a time to take a little break, albeit maybe poorly timed. But Liesl, another friend of mine, pointed out that, in the church of her childhood, the reason Holy Week was not observed is because it “is too Papist.”

Basically, what she’s saying is that, since Protestants broke away from the Catholic Church thanks to Martin Luther (the root meaning of “Protestant” is “protest” against many teachings of the Catholic church at the time), it’s in our theological DNA to reject all things Catholic. Since the Reformation, lost of us have defined ourselves more by what we’re not like in the Catholic tradition than by what we are though. And frankly, I think we’ve missed out on a lot of good things the Catholic church does really well.

As for Disciples in particular (the denomination of my wife and me, who co-founded Milagro Christian Church together six years ago), we have a real opportunity to connect with people who have some historical connection with Catholicism, but who do not actively participate in that church tradition any more. For one, we observe communion every week, much like the Catholic church, but rather than placing the church in a position of arbiter over who is fit to receive it or not, most Disciples churches observe an “Open Table,” which means that it’s not up to us as leaders to determine your fitness to take communion. We offer it to all people; whether you choose to take it is between you and God.

The fact that some of us also observe the liturgical calendar (observation of holy Week and following the Lectionary, among others) also appeals to a lot of people who are Catholic, and yet they find an openness in our lack of creeds or dogma that gets them past whatever alienated them from church in the past. As for Milagro, nearly half of our congregation is made up of these kinds of folks. so for us, the connection to Catholicism is not only valuable to enrich our sense of connectedness to deeper tradition; it’s a part of who we are today, as a faith community.

We do, however, have a couple of folks who respectfully decline to participate in thins like out Maundy Thursday, Passover Seder and Good Friday services namely because they feel “too Catholic” or “too not-Christian.” Here, we just agree to disagree, though I can’t help but think they’re missing out on a broader perspective on their faiths of origin.

(Another side note: it’s common practice here in Pueblo to ask folks, ‘Are you Catholic or Christian?” is if the two are mutually exclusive. Weird.”

So I’m curious what others think. Do you feel like we may have gone a little too far with the Reformation, losing out on things like images and theology of the Divine Feminine, Holy Week and the like? Or is it important to maintain a cleaner break, setting ourselves apart from the faiths of Judaism and Catholicism that we came from? For that matter, is there value in digging deeper, looking into even things like Gnosticism, Zoroastrianism and other Pagan beliefs that informed many sacred practices we still embrace today?

Let me know what you think.

About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

  • Doulos

    I think that Protestants have absolutely gone too far with the Reformation. In rejecting certain monarchical institutions of Catholicism, they have in turn rejected many many of the core beliefs of Christianity. Have you heard of Eastern Orthodoxy? If you haven’t I would highly suggest you look in to it. Eastern Orthodoxy is what is left of the original Church after Catholicism split away because the rest of the Church wouldn’t accept innovations they introduced. If you want to know what the original Church believed, what the Christians of the first 1,000 years after the Resurrection believed, then look at Eastern Orthodoxy. This isn’t just opinion, but traceable, documented, historical fact.


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