Saturday, November 24, 2012

Why I'm Not a Protestant

Alice C. Linsley

I was raised a Protestant in the Baptist Church and over many years I found my way to catholicity. My first encounter with Anglicanism was at St. Luke’s Anglican Mission in Isfahan, Iran. Being a Christian in that country was a serious matter. Persecution of the Iranian parishioners was common and the expatriate community was aware of their hardships.

The fervency of commitment and the humility of the English missioner priest left a lasting impression on me. When I joined the Anglican Church, I believed that I was entering into the fullness of the “one holy catholic and apostolic faith.” In retrospect, I believe that I had merely entered a liturgical form of Protestantism.  

Years later, the crisis of authority in the Anglican Communion has confirmed my suspicion. The crisis clearly involves Anglo-Catholics as well, so inclinations to Rome do not constitute the kind of catholicity that makes for unity in faith and practice.

Clergy seeking refuge from the Anglican crisis through the Personal Ordinariate are likely to be disappointed. They may be able to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Roman Catholic Church, but the crisis of authority will follow them. It seems inherent in the Anglican Tradition that they hope to take with them.

As an Anglican I was never persuaded by the Protestant view of Scripture and Tradition. It simply is not possible to separate the two in the way that Protestants do. The Protestant disposition to set aside Tradition makes it easier to embrace modernist innovations such as same-sex ceremonies and women priests. The Episcopal Church exemplifies this, as well as the loss of theological sagacity.

The Protestant flavor of Anglicanism is more than a reaction to Rome and more than a product of historical events. Among some Anglicans it is the heritage of revivalism. Certainly this is the case among many East African Anglicans and among low church Evangelicals.

Among others, it is often a preference motivated by denominational pride. Some Anglicans prefer the Articles of Religion above the writings of the Church Fathers. I regard the 39 Articles as a significant historical document that reflects a specific period of Anglican theology development, but not as an Anglican confession, the way the Book of Concord is for Lutherans. 

I remember being asked to teach an adult class on the Articles of Religion because the priest considered this an essential feature of Anglican identity, but when I asked about teaching all the historical documents, I was told that Chalcedon Doctrine on the Two Natures of Christ and the Creed of Athanasius were too difficult for the laity to grasp.  I was never very interested in making better Anglicans.  In my view, the best Anglicans are thoroughly catholic. I think of figures such as Dorothy Sayers, C.S. Lewis, and Evelyn Underhill.

In my experience, thoughtful Protestants gravitate to catholicity because they sense that ultimately Protestantism lacks authority. It is removed from the fullness of holy Tradition concerning the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, and the ecumenical councils of the Church.  

St. John of Damascus wrote, "I beseech the people of God, the holy nation, to hold fast to the tradition of the Church... for the gradual erosion of what has been handed down to us will bring down the whole fabric in ruins."  St. John's warning has found fulfillment within Protestantism, especially in America where tradition is not valued.

What I experienced and learned as a "Priest"

Serving as a "priest" revealed to me the theological and hermeneutical weaknesses of Protestantism. I grasped intuitively that the full sacramental life of the Church had been lost by Protestants. I had yet to figure out how my being a priestess added to the confusion. That would come after years of research into the etiology of the priesthood among Abraham's Hebrew ancestors.

As a priest I leaned toward the high church Anglo-catholic wing, but found no acceptance there. Instead I was often confronted by harsh words, and even verbal abuse, especially from gay clergy of that persuasion. I recall a drunk Church of England cleric, who upon discovering my opposition to his homosexual agenda, launched into an embarrassing tirade at a dinner hosted by my Senior Warden and his gracious wife.

Ultimately, I am not a Protestant because Protestants are removed from catholicity, in the fullest sense of that term. They claim Scripture as a first and only authority (Sola Scriptura) but invent doctrines like Young Earth Creationism, Antinomianism, Pentecostalism, and the Rapture. They show evidence of being confused about the Gospel, the Trinity, and the two natures of Jesus Christ.

There is a rush to the Christmas and Easter seasons without periods of preparation. The Communion of Saints is a foreign concept, and the idea the justified living and the justified reposed are united in Christ and not separated by death is regarded as heretical.

The Incarnation is barely spoken of and the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary is usually misunderstood and misrepresented as idolatry. This reveals how poorly most Protestants understand the Bible. The first prophecy of Scripture (Gen. 3:15) concerns the Woman who brings forth the “Seed” of God. Through His death and Resurrection He crushes the serpent’s head and restores communion with God. Jesus claimed to be that Seed in John 12:24. The Bible and Holy Tradition are consistent in what they testify concerning the fulfillment of this first Biblical prophecy.

The "reformed and always reforming" tendency leads to continual efforts to update worship, preaching styles, and congregational structures to make them relevant. This tendency expresses itself in contemporary praise music, largely passive audiences, a consumer mindset, and self-help sermons. There are few sacred mysteries such as can be experienced only through the full sacramental life of the Church.


Anonymous said...

Ms. Linsley, it's absolutely frustrating to attempt and explanation that "Anglicanism" is not a confessional faith" when the response is a look of non-comprehension. We don't teach the Ancient Faith well. There are pockets that do, but with the emergent neo-Anglicanism in NA it's an uphill battle. I continue to enjoy your blog when I get a chance to read it. Blessings, Brent

Alice C. Linsley said...

Good to hear from you, Brent. I was thinking of you just the other day.

I share your frustration.

jdwoods76 said...

"The catholic Christian must therefore be discerning." I've noticed that you refer several times to "catholicity" or small 'c' catholic Christians. What are the criteria for catholicity? In which churches may one find it?

Alice C. Linsley said...

The first question will determine the answer to the second. It is often easier to define something by saying what it isn't and that is what I have tried to do here.

I would say that Catholicity has the following distinctive marks. It involves the full sacramental life of the Church, apostolic teaching, the all-male priesthood devoted to purity of life, the authority of Scripture and Holy Tradition, oversight of bishops who are in submission to the Gospel and to one another, the Trinity, the Creed, and reverence for holy things such as Mary and the angels. It will express itself in worship using time-honored liturgies and with music that expresses reverent adoration. It is salt for a bland world. It is beauty to restore the divine image when we become cloaked in ugliness.

Now as to where we find this? You might find it at a church near you. So much depends on the Priest's vision of what the Church at worship should be. Of one thing I am confident, we will experience the fullness and beauty when Christ returns.

Gary said...

Alice: I am a Protestant looking to be less historically myopic. Moving from the Churches of Christ (mainly Texas and Oklahoma, US. You've probably never heard of them) to Reformed Evangelicalism has not been a step forward.

I wouldn't become Anglican over the lack of cohesiveness or even basic discernment within that fold.

That leaves two options, really. I am quite tired of modern(ized) worship, but on the other hand I worry about Eastern Orthodoxy being patently rooted in another culture and language.

I've learned enough biblical and patristic Greek that I wouldn't have much trouble with it personally (or so I hope; I taught myself Buth's Restored Koine this year), but ideologically I am hesitant to accept what seems to me a case of creating a cultural barrier needlessly.

Why should modern Greek be preferred over modern English as a time-bound vehicle for timeless truth? Or, is that a loaded question?

Alice C. Linsley said...


You might explore less culturally-bounded expressions of Orthodoxy. Western rite Antiochian churches might be comfortable.

Trust the Lord's leading and remember there is no perfect church. The Church is being brought to perfection.