The most basic argument against Protestantism

The most basic argument against Protestantism May 7, 2016

Dave Armstrong at Patheos Catholic has pointed out that early Protestants “detested divisions” and were very concerned to maintain unity.

He’s right. The most basic argument against Protestantism, which does not require any particular theological premises about authority, is

1. The Protestants expected and claimed that all Christians of good will (“endowed with the Spirit” as my dissertation subject Martin Bucer would put it) would be able to see that their interpretation of Scripture was correct, and that by unleashing Scripture a renewed and reunified Church would emerge. (It’s important to bear in mind that early sixteenth-century Christians saw the Church as divided and fractious, and were looking for _greater_ unity, not less).

2. This didn’t happen.

3. Therefore, by the standards of the early Reformers themselves, Protestantism is a failure.

Instead of admitting this, Protestants have spent 500 years arguing either that [visible] unity really doesn’t matter or that it will happen if we only get one more bit of light out of Scripture or throw off one more unbiblical tradition.

Of course this is painting with a huge brush. Many Protestants do recognize this. But as a whole, Protestantism tends to take the Reformers as a model either substantively (by trying to follow their doctrines) or methodologically (“ecclesia semper reformanda”/”God hath yet more light to break forth out of His Holy Word”) or both. And both of these approaches have proven disastrous.

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2 responses to “The most basic argument against Protestantism”

  1. It seems that it is the striving for unity that creates disunity to begin with.

    Many people want unity — except that each of them wants it on their own terms.

    The question is whether (religious) unity can be brought about, how and by whom.

    If God exists and if God has any say in people's religosity, then, surely, religious unity is not something humans would be able to bring about (on their own).

    If God exists but has no say in people's religosity, then religosity is a worldly matter with no spiritual efficacy.

    Why do people want religious unity — if not for some worldly purpose, or even a sinful one?

    If God wants religious unity, surely He can make it happen; so as far as God is concerned, religious unity or disunity is not a problem.

    Complete the following sentence: "If all people would be of the same religion, then I would …"

    Can you come up with a completion of this sentence that does not in some way reflect distrust in God?

  2. I'm one of those Protestants who thinks that institutional unity is overrated (an argument for another time), but I was struck by this quotation from Luther that Scott Hendrix quotes in the Epilogue to his new bio:

    "The world is the world. If I had to start over with the gospel, I would do it differently. I would let the vulgar crowd stay under the pope and privately give relief to those who are anxious and full of despair. It behooves a preacher to know the world better than I did when I was a monk. Back then I thought the world was so upright that people would rush forward as soon as they heard the gospel. What happened, however, was the contrary."

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