Essay / Misc.

Proud to be Protestant

In the few years that I have been an Anglican, I have met a number of people who identify themselves as Anglo-Catholics. What these particular Anglo-Catholics mean by this, of course, is that they are Anglicans who see themselves in unbroken communion with the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.” What they do not mean is that they are Protestants. In fact, for some of these persons, to be called Protestant is tantamount to being called a non-Christian or worse — a theological liberal! At first, I was startled by such a claim. I would ask, “You’re an Anglican but you’re not a Protestant? How is that so?” Their answer, so I learned, was to adopt an ecclesia anglicana position. That is, sometime way back when (perhaps even with Joseph of Arimathea!) Christians arrived on the shores of the English isles, bringing Christianity with them. How else do we explain the presence of Christians in England and Ireland upon the arrival of Augustine of Canterbury and his companions in 598, having been sent by Pope Gregory the Great to evangelize these fair-skinned folks? Or was Gregory’s real motivation simply to force these ancient, non-Roman Christians into observing Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the spring equinox and to have their monks tonsure their hair appropriately? Regardless, for some modern Anglicans this whole sixth century mission was some misguided expedition for, don’t you know, the British Isles were already Christian. In short, the Anglican church is not Protestant because they were not protesting anything in the 16th century, rather, they were simply restoring English Christianity back to its original glory and splendor. If only Henry’s wives had understood.

My purpose here is not only to suggest that this (re-)reading of history is perhaps deeply flawed (more an item of faith than fact), but rather to glory in the fact that I’m both Anglican and Protestant. For today, October 31, is Reformation Day! That most holy of days when we remember how a portly monk with a hammer and a radical soteriology changed the world. That day when an apparently neurotic friar with an itch to argue and a lack of appreciation for the grandiosity of a church being raised in Rome stood up and said, “Stop taking my flock’s money! Stop selling salvation!” Radical? Absolutely. Dangerous? For the late medieval church. Necessary? You betcha. You see, Martin Luther, for all his flaws (and there were many) had re-discovered one very simple truth: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

The way I see it, to be Protestant is merely to be Pauline, to be biblical. Do you have to be Protestant to be Pauline and biblical? No. But to be Protestant in the 16th century was to be both of these things. What I don’t get is why anyone would want to distance himself or herself from the biblical truism that salvation only comes through faith by grace. If someone wants to distance himself or herself from the historical event of the Reformation because it is a cause of disunion in the church, then so be it. But to reject being a Protestant is to reject a theology that is just plain biblical. You see, Martin Luther was protesting against a church that officially taught that you could buy your way to heaven. Luther knew that nothing so costly could cost so little. So he spoke up and many listened. In my opinion, to say “I’m Anglican but not Protestant” is the same as saying, “I’m Anglican and I do not fully understand the Pauline doctrine of justification” or “I’m Anglican but I think you can be saved apart from personal faith.” Perhaps you’re thinking this is too strong of a statement, making black and white what is, in reality, shades of grey. Perhaps you think I’m flat out wrong about justification or what it means to be an Anglican. Perhaps some of you think I’m a naive, non-ecumenical and clueless Protestant and are just itching to tell me so. If that’s the case then I think I’m in good company — with a man by the name of Martin Luther! Of course, given that we’re both Protestants means that I’m in good company. Semper reformanda!

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