December 14, 2017

The “Happy Enough” Protestant

happy-baby.pngI would like to invite Internet Monk readers to write a brief response to this post. I am particularly interested in what makes you a “happy enough” Protestant. (Please read the post and get the idea first.) Your response should be expressed in the spirit of this post. If they are short, put them in the comment thread. If they are longer, well written and well edited, email them to me and I may post some of them as IM posts in this series.

Because I’ve been wrestling with Protestant/Catholic issues throughout this past year, I receive a lot of email from those who have moved outside of their lifelong evangelicalism and somewhere within sight of the catholic tradition, if not the Roman Catholic church.

Some of that mail takes me to blogs and the writing of people who are in a tortured state of mind and heart. Some are ministers strongly drawn to Roman Catholicism. They have read Hahn and Howard. They are listening to The Coming Home Network on EWTN. They are tired of evangelicalism’s circus atmosphere, its deficits and its many problems.

The unity, antiquity and beauty of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy stand in stark contrast to the divisions, innovations and shallowness of evangelicalism. I have no problem understanding this attraction. It seems that Luther made a terrible mistake, and every person who “goes home” can take satisfaction in healing that historically disastrous and unnecessary rift.

When you are reading those books and thinking about the many strong suits of Catholicism, it’s hard to feel good about being a Protestant. A recent “Coming Home to the Roman Catholic” church television ad recited so many wonderful things about Roman Catholicism- without a hint of the other side of the coin- that it was difficult to see why anyone would want to remain a Protestant.

But there is a different way to approach this situation than the back and forth of pleading apologetic arguments, collections of verses or authority claims. Without insult to any Roman Catholic or criticism of anyone who has converted or will convert in the future, I want to say some things to the rest of us.

The rest of us? Yes, those of us who are Protestant and will remain Protestant for the rest of our lives. Not because we are angry, but because we are “happy enough” to be Protestant.

We have varying feelings about Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and the various divisions in Christianity, but we are not going to change our place as Protestants and evangelicals. We have deep respect and appreciation for the antiquity of these Christian traditions, and we have abandoned the idea that we are able to understand evangelicalism without them. But we are not changing churches because we believe we are part of the church.

We believe that the churches we have grown up in, the churches that we have served and that have served and nurtured us, are the churches God himself sovereignly brought us into. The debate about “what is the true church?” is not a compelling one for us, because we believe that all of us who belong to Christ are joined with him in his church.

Phrases about ecclesial bodies or less than fully communing churches are not heard by us in the same way they are heard by those who have a Roman Catholic view of the church. These are our churches and we love them. They have given Christ to us and many of us have given our lives in service and devotion to them. Unlike some of our brothers and sisters, we do not want to leave our Protestant churches behind, but we want to see the presence of Christ among his people in them more deeply manifested and demonstrated. We are “happy enough” to be embraced by imperfect Protestant churches and people as we make our pilgrim journey.

We love our Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters, and respect the godly spiritual leaders and Biblical voices within those traditions. We are embarrassed by much of the anti-Catholicism that exists in evangelicalism, though we understand it as we understand the anti-Protestantism that exists within some of the Roman Catholic community.

We are “Happy Enough” Protestants. A strange title, I know, but an important one. We are happy enough as Protestants to remain Protestants, and we are happy to be protestant. We seek to practice a kind of Protestantism that is not characterized by unrest, anxiety and anger in relations with Catholicism. Our goal, in simple terms, is to be happy to be Protestant because we are happy in Christ and the Gospel that we find in Protestantism, even with all its flaws.

We are not seeking to evangelize Roman Catholics or to sell our churches as superior. We regret the rhetoric that commodifies church and Christian experience to “mine is better than yours.” We seek, instead, to embody what Paul so often talked about in his letters: Joy in Christ in the midst of a historically imperfect church.

We regret that for many of our Protestant brothers and sisters, it has not been possible to be Protestant and be faithful to Christ or happy in the church. We may have found this difficult and discouraging at times, but we have not found it impossible. We believe our Protestant experience can be filled with Christ, the legacy of the whole church and the distinctives of both evangelicalism and catholicism.

We are “Happy Enough Protestants” because we believe that God, in his providence, called us to this part of his one, holy, catholic and apostolic body/church. We accept, even celebrate, his providence in allowing us to hear the Gospel clearly and simply in Protestantism, to be taught in its churches and schools, allowed to serve in its ministries, sit at the feel of its scholars and pastors, be inspired by its mission’s legacy, learn from its saints, be challenged by its openness to the Spirit and renewed by its ability to return, again and again, to the Bible for authority, nurture and truth.

We recognize the checkered, broken past of Protestantism, but we are happy in much of what we find in that past. We believe that though they were sinners, Luther, Calvin, Arminius, Wesley, Whitefield, Cramner, the Puritans, Spurgeon, Asbury, Ryle, The Baptists, Edwards and many other Protestant lights were called and gifted of God for the building up of his church and the equipping of his saints. We believe that within the Protestant tradition, God continues to call, equip, build, empower and demonstrate the presence of the Kingdom through his people.

We are “happy enough” to not despise ourselves or torture ourselves over what is missing in our tradition. We will, in a joyous spirit, work for restoration and the strengthening of the church. We pray that the work of the Spirit will unite all churches with the riches of Christ, but we believe those riches are accessible to us all by grace through faith and in the humble reception of the word of God.

We are “happy enough” to rejoice in the many statements of gracious inclusion and respect that have been offered in the ecumenical spirit, most particularly by the Roman Catholic church in Vatican II. But we are also “happy enough” to say we view the reformation as those who have benefited from it, and feel the responsibility to treasure and protect what was good and continually necessary in it. We believe that a tragic necessity need not remove all joy and mutual affection, nor abrogate the presence of all that is of value. We are determined in generosity and charity, to not allow all that the Reformation recovered to vanish in debates about authority and antiquity. God has sovereignly and graciously been at work in Protestantism, as well as in all Christian traditions.

In a spirit of mutual respect, we intend to be “happy enough” to tell the truth. As we repent of much in our tradition and as we see what is valuable in other traditions, we are unapologetic that much in our tradition exists more robustly and helpfully in Protestantism than elsewhere. It serves no good purpose to ignore the participation of laity, the starting of new churches, the extent of theological education, the use of congregational music, the depth of rigorous scholarship, the faithfulness in persecution, the emphasis on reform, the use of innovation in ministry or the healthy focus on personal evangelism. We will be “happy enough” to say these Protestant legacies are not to be abandoned or minimized, but should be gifts to the whole church.

At the points of our greatest disagreements, over authority, sacraments and justification, it is our prayer that we will all be “happy” in our convictions, and that should we find ourselves speaking over the greatest points of our separation, we will now have no agenda beyond living in the fruit of a joyful, “happy” experience of the truth. That someone should disagree with us should not send us into a tailspin of uncertainty or an attack-mode of anxiety. We are determined to be “happy enough” to speak of our convictions positively, winsomely and certainly without embarrassment before other Christians

I believe there are likely thousands of us who are “happy enough” Protestants and will remain so throughout our lives. We are not preparing to go to Rome, nor are we asking Rome to become Protestant. Our conversations should not be dominated by such an agenda and we repent of those occasions when such has been the case. We seek the day we can recognize Christ in one another, stand in the church of Jesus on both sides of the Tiber (and elsewhere) and be grateful to God for what he has done and what we all appreciate in our varying and various traditions. May all of us grow in the grace and goodness of Jesus and the mission of his people.

Comments

  1. Yes! Yes! Yes! And there’s probably an “amen” in there somewhere, too.

    Trouble is, part of the Tiber-crossing experience seems to be a desire to make all our former pewmates see the same light we have. Just like any other convert, we get all enthusiastic and can’t imagine why anyone would want to remain in the same place we just left. I’ve been pretty bad to do that myself.

    Eventually I figured out that Protestants aren’t Protestants simply because they’ve been buffaloed into it. The same questions I asked, most of them have asked too, and come up with different conclusions. Yes, the ignoramuses (ignorami?) ye have with you always, but we’ve got our share of those, too, so that’s no measure. (I’ll see your Jack Chick and raise you a Gerry Matatics.)

    Let’s be honest – as much as we’d all like to be unified, it ain’t a-gonna happen short of the Second Coming. In the meantime, God has a flock of Protestants and needs good shepherds for them as much as for us. So it’s good that you’re where He wants you.

  2. Todd Spargo says:

    I have worshipped in the Catholic tradition as a child and young man and then in the Protestant tradition in most recent years.

    I am “happy enough” to be saved by His grace and to be called a Child of God, that is to say; I am “happy enough” not to be labeled either. The only thing I am “protesting” is all my labels.

    Enough with the silly divisions and let us be about Kingdom business. The lost are out there.

  3. I was a happy ecumenist who liked to go to five different churches a week, some with radically different traditions from others. But I came to my senses. I read Acts 2:42-47 and recollected that members of every denomination often are happy enough to fellowship together, break bread together, worship together, pray together, share possessions together, and even experience the miracle-working and healing power of Jesus Christ together. But to continue “stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (v. 42), all hell breaks loose. I ate at a Bible buffet where most teachers want to smack neighboring teachers with the serving spoons.

    Now I am happy enough to go to my house church for the foundational teaching I need to incorporate in my life. I visit other churches to meet believing friends. (But to fully disclose, I mostly stick to Baptist, Assemblies of God, and non-denominational churches that preach the basics of the Gospel. I tend to stay away from mainline churches because I got tired of rampant, extrabiblical liberalism.) I am, if I must choose a label, a charismatic. I like art, architecture, and aspects of liturgy from the Catholic Church and other mainline denominations. I like to read about Christocentric mysticism. I like some of the social gospel that mainline churches do so well outwardly.

    None of this, though, can take the place of my own, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Whenever I feel tempted to “go back,” I ask myself: Go back to what? I have full access to Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit and God’s Word. Will iconography in an ornate building with a soup kitchen run during the down times of the Divine Office help me have a better relationship with Him?

    Nah.

  4. Something bothers me about those words “happy enough”.

  5. I grew up Catholic, converted to fundamental Baptist in my teens, went back to Catholicism (with my sanity still in place!), and now go to an evangelical/emerging church. I see benefits in both traditions and I feel I can serve God better as an evangelical, there is more freedom and more opportunities to use my gifts. Christian is enough for me, I go anywhere as long as Christ is there.

  6. I am with Todd on this one… I was raised Catholic and ventured out into the Protestant world and have been a part of quite a variety of churches and the bottom line that we can all come back to is that it is all about Jesus. No matter what we call ourselves, we are first Christians – that is what is important.
    God is in the soul business – He is more concerned about expanding His kingdom than us coming up with labels for ourselves… My 2 cents…

  7. What Todd said (except I was never a Catholic – just a believer in one catholic Church).

  8. Rob Rumfelt says:

    Growng up, one side of my family was Catholic and the other Methodist. I spent many Sundays in both churches. I’m not sure if that makes me a Metholic or a Cathodist, but I have a deep appreciation of both views.

    While I enjoy a liturgical service, it can seem a bit like it’s done by rote. On the other hand, some Protestant services seem more like meetings or presentations rather than an occasion to worship our God. They many times lack a sense of the sacred.

    Currently Baptist, but having been Episcopal and Non-D, I would say that I am a “happy enough” Protestant, but far from content. I feel that is a good thing. I will stay a Protestant.

    But I’ll still slip into a Catholic service from time to time.

  9. I’m probably not the kind of person you’re looking to answer this question. The answer for me is that I became the kind of Protestant that doesn’t see the Christian heritage from 30 to 1521 AD as inherently the property of Rome. The best part was discovering how Rome doesn’t own Christian liturgy. So I don’t look at Rome and see a bunch of awesome stuff I would gain, although there are a few things (lots more people my age, for one thing). I do see a lot of stuff I would lose. I’m not reluctantly Lutheran–though perhaps reluctantly LCMS–I love being Lutheran. I do things, teach things, hear things, and participate in things that I couldn’t do (or at least couldn’t do with a clear conscience) were I a Catholic. And besides, I’d have to leave my congregation.

  10. As a former Roman Catholic who then became an Evangelical and then became a Lutheran, I’d say now I am not just “happy enough”, but better yet…”free enough”.

    I discovered in my rounds that Roman Catholic and Evangelical theologies are very similar inasmuch as they both rquire something of the believer for faith to be valid.
    Roman Catholicism requires your serious efforts and obedience to the Church, and Evangelicalism requires your serious efforts and personal decision for Christ.

    In the Lutheran theolgy, nothing is required of you since Christ has done everything for us. Luther’s theology realizes that our serious efforts are not really serious, and that deep down we really don’t want God. It is Christ who wants us. He has made His decision for us and so places His imprimatur on us in our baptism and then proceeds to conform us to His likeness.

    “When the Son of man makes you free, you are free indeed.”

    I’ve found that the middle ground (Confessional Lutheranism) makes me quite “happy enough”, indeed.

    – Steve M.

  11. I hope I am not gate-crashing by being a Catholic posting on this, but not worried enough about it to keep me from posting some observations.

    “let us be about Kingdom business” Right on! I couldn’t agree more, it sounds good. Yet, what is the business of the Kingdom? It is bringing about God’s Kingdom, which is both already and not yet. Okay, how?

    The problem with slogans, like “no creed but Christ,” is that they sound great, but they do not answer the question, like who is Christ? I think the Creed answers this question in a fairly comprehensive manner. What about the label Christian, the name we all received in baptism, which is something we all share, be we Catholic or Protestant? Well, again, what does it mean to be a Christian, to follow Christ, to be his disciple?

    I would submit that the business of the Kingdom is summarized quite well in Deus Caritas Est, paragraph 25(a): “The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.”

    SO, I think being able to clearly articulate what things lke “the business of the Kingdom” mean without unduly narrowing it. This gets back to something Michael often points to, the inevitablity of theology. Mutual enrichment is the key- Catholics and our theology and Protestants and praxis, a bit of a stereotype, but true enough to make my point.

  12. Dear Micheal
    I am definitely one who is not happy enough to be Protestant. I grew up a nominal catholic never really grasping the gospel message (probably not really wanting to either). When I did hear the gospel message I was overjoyed to hear of God’s grace, but then dismayed at the moral demands placed upon me (much to my shame) and consequently fell from the Church scene, all this in a FBC Church setting. After getting married to my wife (Wesleyan background)we started attending a FBC Church. I started to actually put some effort into living for Christ and enjoyed much of my stay there. But then the vehement anti-catholic anti-every other denomination rhetoric struck a strange cord with me,plus the fact that they weren’t any more holy than most catholics I knew (except they didn’t smoke cigarettes or drink or play Lotto) . I started looking at other denominations and that led to the study of different theological positions.I visited and drifted from one church to another for quite some time. All the differing views of everything from baptism to what translation of scripture to use to anything you can think of wore me out.I’ve studied theology and Church Stuff to the point where I just couldn’t take it any more. I’m tired of discussing what this means and what that means. I’m tired of hearing the varying interpretations of this verse and that verse and of wondering if I can smoke a damn cigar or drink a mixed drink without being doomed to perdition, I’m also tired of Sunday morning church being a nonstop rock concert or some kind of hoakey Hee-Haw clapathon.I have gone back to where I first started from.Had I put the effort into following Christ from my youth I would not have travelled this big circle.I guess now I’m just happy enough to be catholic

  13. Well, you could say I compromised. I became anglican/episcopal—neither protestant nor Roman Catholic. What I like about it is that it has the best of both worlds. I am in a conservative diocese. …I love the traditions and the God centered worship-and–the involvement of the entire congregation and the weekly searching of our hearts and Lord’s Supper. I love the daily readings and how they tie into the church calander–I love the focus on different times of the year such as Lent, Holy week, Pentecost, etc. It has been a blessing focusing on the different aspects of the gospel in a lengthly manner. I also have found the visible symbols to be a real means of touch my heart—ie on the Thursday before Easter the altar was stripped, covered in black, all the candles were blown out, the church was darkened , the music was somber and it really made me focus on what Christ did for us and brought to us! It was like putting the word of God in a visual form. I have been blessed!

  14. I am S.B.C.
    I like being S.B.C., even though to read many of those blogs we seem to be blamed for everything from high gas prices to making the moon go dark once a month.

    I have no ill-feeling towards the Catholic church, I do see how someone could be content there, but that just isn’t me. It would take pages and pages to describe all of the good that Baptists have done in this area, every single time tradegy strikes, the S.B.C. has been the first (and usually only) religious organization to come in, usually ahead of even government help.

    I guess what I am saying is, that I am “happy enough” because I feel this is where God placed me. If God places you in the Catholic church, then serve him there!
    The way I see it, we are all family, the main struggle is deciding which side is the “weird uncle”. j/k!!

  15. I am “happy enough” with the Southern Baptist denomination to stay in it. I love my church. It has a large and healthy youth program, brings in kids on buses that would not be there otherwise, has contemporary music and hymns in what I believe to be a healthy balance, preaches what I believe to be the whole Word of God from the Bible, etc. A person of any language, skin color, ethnicity would be welcome there, and where we live that’s not always the case. It annoys me when someone in the church refers to our religion as Southern Baptist (and for some it is, but not me). Missions stats present how many SBC missionaries are in a country, just like no other denomination sends out missionaries into the world. I am happy in my denomination, but unhappy with people that make it the be all and end all in Christianity. I believe in the “holy catholic church” of the Apostles’ Creed; but I don’t go around saying that in my home church.

  16. I was raised RC and joined an evangelical church at age 21. Been there ever since (27 years) and happy to be so. I cannot imagine going back to the RC Church, but I do admit throwing the baby out with the bath water when I left. Now, I am reconnecting with the Churche’s rich history as reflected in much of the RC and EO Church. The liturgy is indeed beautiful and I am learning to appreciate it anew. As Protestants we can “protest”, but it seems unwise and indeed unnecessary to rebel.

  17. I’m with keh. Isn’t one of the nagging problems with evangelicalism is that everyone is supposed to be happy..all the time? Evangelicalism’s perverse rationalism solves every problem, meets every need, and answers every question. Sad Christians (along with the sick, struggling, and poor) are cast as sinners.

    There is no room for mystery in evangelicalism. Mystery doesn’t make one happy; in the words of Chesterton, it makes one sane. Happiness is meaningless if your religion is making you sick.

    I honestly don’t think Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, etc. are at fault for what is wrong with protestantism. In any age when the gospel is abandoned, evil flurishes. These men opposed the enemies of the cross in their generation. Others, like Augustine and Chrysostom, did the same over a thousand years before the reformers. We are misguided when we keep fighting the same individuals or institutions that they did rather than those in our own generation. We can learn a lot from the enemies of the past, because the same heresies keep being reinvented in our time.

    I’m am definitely a protestant, but not against Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox, or Baptists. I protest against the same brood of vipers and blind guides which Jesus and Paul did: anyone who substitutes the gospel of the cross and the empty tomb for legalism, gnosticism, sensualism, materialism, moralism, nationalism, or ten-step narcissism. There are men currently in church pulpits and evangelical media who are far more dangerous than Pope Leo ever was.

  18. I’m just “skeptical enough” to know that any monolithic expression of the body of Christ is as fallen as its members. Institutions don’t bring me joy but Christ does.

    The body of Christ, however, is what Christ died for. Therefore, I love God’s people wherever I find them, with whatever propensities and quirky theologies they may have. Because there’s enough quirky theology in and out of Rome to keep us quibbling for a lifetime I think the best thing I can do is keep loving the Church that Jesus died for. Somehow.

  19. The reason I’m happy being a Protestant is because I am a Catholic. Like Josh, I’m reluctant to cede the heritage of western catholic Christianity to the Roman Catholic Church. I once read a remark by an Anglo-Catholic to the effect that they could never swim the Tiber, because it would mean they had to stop being Catholic 🙂 – and that is how I feel (albeit for different reasons).

    This is not “go, team!” partisanship. I’ve had several bouts of “Roman fever” in the past, and what has kept me from crossing the Tiber on those occasions has been the discovery (or recollection) that catholic Christianity exists outside the Roman Catholic Church, and indeed exists more fully outside the RCC than within it (not least because true catholic Christianity is inherently evangelical, in the Reformational sense of that word).

    So first, going back some years, it was growing to love the church’s liturgy, in particular the daily office. The daily office (in particular, Celebrating Common Prayer) introduced a “catholic” element into my spiritual life that has been hugely valuable to me.

    And then, more recently, it was becoming a member of the Lutheran church, and thus finding that I was “allowed” to be both evangelical (again, in the Reformation sense) and at the same time to believe in baptismal regeneration and the real presence, make the sign of the cross, participate in what some would see as a relatively “high church” liturgy (even though my congregation is very “low church” by Lutheran standards) and so on.

    The biggest draw the Roman Catholic Church has is its claim to be the one repository of catholic Christianity, as against the “make it up as you go along” non-traditions of evangelical Christianity. Sadly, evangelicals all too often make Rome’s own case for it in that regard, but for any evangelicals who find themselves drawn to Rome I would urge them first to dig back into their own traditions – in particular the various streams of Reformation, Anglican, Continental and Lutheran – to rediscover the catholicism that lies at the heart of true evangelical Christianity.

  20. Dumb Ox: the post has nothing to do with individual Christians being happy all the time. It is about being happy to remain a Protestant, not about the emotion of happiness, etc. It’s a special definition, so to speak.

    I’ve written essays on the weirdness of insisting all Christians be emotionally happy all the time. This essay is about ecumenical attitudes.

  21. Michael,

    Put 30 Christians in a room, hold a service and at least 29 will have something to be dissatisfied with.

    Put 30 Christians in an oppressed country, hold a service, under threat of being invaded, its members arrested, imprisoned and tortured, and they will treasure each minute of that time together, regardless.

    I think alot of what we consider dissatisfaction may be more fleshly. I’ve never been persecuted like that, but I bet if that were the case, I would look forward to those times of worship and savor each hymn, song, prayer, and message, regardless of style–resting in the presence of Jesus.

    We won’t find the perfect church until we’re united in heaven. Mark me down as happy enough

    My 2cts

    Mark

  22. It occurs to me that “happy enough” doesn’t really have a totally victorious Osteen-ish ring to it, so it’s probably a good thing. 😉

    More seriously, is not “happy enough” another way to say “content” (which also doesn’t have an Osteen-ish ring), we which are commanded to be by Scripture?

  23. Why are you merely “happy enough”? Shouldn’t one be Thrilled or Glad or Completely Satisfied about their church or denomination. The phrase “happy enough” seems to imply that even still something is lacking… Being “happy enough” as a protestant doesn’t strike me as something worth proclaiming from the house tops; to me, it sounds like mere contentment.

  24. I’m “happy enough” to be a Protestant because, right now, all the alternatives are worse.

    I grew up Episcopalian, dove into evangelicalism, slowly surfaced from that, and now simply call myself “Christian.” (More honestly, a searching or journeyman Christian, as I’m still asking a lot of questions.)

    The greatest appeal the RCC has for someone like me is that the “sameness” of the mass and liturgy can be a refreshing antidote for the cult of personality that fundamentalism and evangelicalism so often end up being. When the focus remains on the teaching and doctrine and God, the personality of whomever is leading the service matters a lot less. I strongly dislike how much a church service has become a performance in many growing evangelical churches; I don’t want to be entertained, I want to focus on God and get out of myself. So many of the choruses and contemporary songs used in evangelical churches focus on what God does for _me_, rather than on God Himself (or, more radically, what _I_ can do for God).

    However, I simply have too many doctrinal disagreements with the RCC to consider joining. The treatment of Mary alone, not to mention the veneration of saints, is grounds enough for me to stay out. I’ve done a fair amount of reading on the subject, and have been wonderfully challenged in my thinking about Mary from Catholic writers. I agree that Protestants are often guilty of not esteeming her enough. But the confusion and, yes, dangers inherent in official teachings are too worrisome for me to overlook when it comes to making a commitment to a church body.

    And without meaning to choose an easy target, the RCC’s handling of abusive priests has been sickening and disheartening. Pretty much a dealbreaker for me, with regards to committing to a church body.

    I’m “happy enough” to be Protestant for the old authority canard: while I see a lot of beauty, value, and goodness in an “absolute” heirarchy and structure, I also see the inescapable problems and dangers. I have found more value in cutting out the theological middle men in my spiritual life than simply falling in step with official teaching.

    This post may come across as far more anti-Catholic than its meant to be. I’ve found great fellowship with Catholic brothers and sisters, and wouldn’t dream of excluding them or myself from any kind of spiritual work or friendship based on the address of their church. But I can’t ignore the problems or disagreements I have with the RCC itself, and so happily remain Protestant.

  25. Joseph:

    >Shouldn’t one be Thrilled or Glad or Completely Satisfied about their church or denomination…

    Uh…No. That’s the kind of problem that makes for worse problems. Be thrilled with Jesus. Be Happy Enough to be a Protestant or whatever.

  26. Cardinal Newman is often quoted (perhaps paraphrased): “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” For a time I took that to heart and approached the Tiber. In fact I splashed my toes in it. However, the more I prayed and thought about it, I realized that I am a Protestant precisely because I am deep in history. Too much has occurred theologically, historically, and personally for me to “return” to Rome. Therefore, I am a happy inheritor of such legacies as those of the Church Fathers, the Creeds, the Reformation, Revivalism, early 20th-Century Fundamentalism, and mid-to-late 20th-Century evangelicalism. Thus, I will remain a “happy Protestant.” Thanks, Michael, for the post.

  27. So true. If I were deep in history, he’d be right. But this isn’t history. It’s the living experience of Jesus and his Kingdom, and it includes us HEPs.

  28. Bror Erickson says:

    Happy Enough? No, I am happy, in ways I couldn’t be if I were Catholic. But then I’m Lutheran,and seriously would not be happy being anything else, “not quite protestant.”
    I’m happy. I have the gospel, that’s why, and it trumps everything. I am free to live life under the cross, in a shower of blood, and at a divine banquet of the forgiveness of sins. I don’t have any extra rules to live by, or too make me more sanctified, or more saintly. I can smoke a cigarret with my neighbor while sharing the gospel with them when their down, and I can have a steak on Friday night too. Best of both worlds if you ask me.
    I don’t have a Pope. I like not having a pope. I don’t need my doctrine to change tommorrow. It’s not that I have much of a problem with the persons in the papal office. I have a problem with the concept of the papal office. Tell you the truth I like the current guy, baptizing muslims and all that is powerful. Holy Spirit seems to work through anyone at times. But I feel sorry for those people who lived their whole lives eating nothing but fish on Friday, and woke up one day in 1962 to find that that was all bologney.
    I like knowing my sins are forgiven, and that forgiveness of sins are always there for me if I get a little weak. And I am a married pastor with a son. Being able to shepeherd the sheep of my congregation, and to have a family is one h”ll of a blessing. Like I said don’t think I could be this happy being anything else.

  29. Greg Mazunik says:

    I am happy enough to be a Protestant simply for the views on grace. I know, many are now saying “We’re just talking past each other…our differences were just in terminology…”, while many Godly men and women have fought with all of their lives to defend the views of their “side” (making me think that it wasn’t just a to-MAY-to, to-MAH-to semantic issue). But I believe the emphasis on imputed righteousness in the Protestant sphere of God’s Kingdom keeps my spiritual ego in check, wholly dependent on Christ to be my righteousness.

  30. rick broomell says:

    This post is interesting enough. Ha ha. I am a protestant. I grew up in a charasmatic-type setting and am now doing some serious examination of what I believe and why (thanks white horse inn). You know, I’ve experienced the us vs. them feeling of different beliefs. I’d like to think that most of that comes from believing something so strongly and not wanting others to miss what you’ve “discovered”. I believe that thinking that way is really a symptom of a problem whose root is a lack of trust or understanding of just how great God’s grace is to the believer.

    Thinking that we have the “one true belief” is akin to trying to create heaven on earth. Perfection will come for us all, completely, soon enough. But, until then, I, too, am happy enough with where I find myself: getting closer to Christ, trusting His word to be true and powerful enough to do what He says it will do.

    Thanks for this thoughtful, helpful post.

  31. Even though I go to a Southern Baptist church, I’ve been learning a lot about Eastern Orthodoxy.

    Historically, it appears that Roman Catholics were the first “protestants” by breaking from the communion of historical churches in 1054. I think that break needs to be healed, too, in order to have real unity in the worldwide church.

    Many Protestants act as if there are only two branches of Christianity — Catholics and the Protestant circus. Let’s not forget about the third leg of the stool (forgive my metaphor) — the Orthodox church. They are the primary example of ancient conciliar harmony, because they base their doctrine and practice in the first seven ecumenical councils.

    Whatever happens, Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox need to root their understanding of the church in the foundations laid by the early fathers.

    Thomas Oden, Robert Webber and D.H. Williams have greatly helped to map out what this looks like from a Protestant perspective.

    I’m excited by the future….. As Robert Webber loved to say, “The road to the future runs through the past”.

  32. Michael,
    This is a great article, as many of yours are. Like you said in response to someone a few places back, I am thrilled about Jesus but live in a state of barely “happy enough” to be anything Christian with a label attached. As a student at an ELCA seminary, I find much that attracts me to the Lutheran tight-rope act between grace, liturgy and history. And as a long-time Congregationalist (except for the 14 year detour into gnosticism, New Age, communal living and atheism), I have found myself often saying, “If it weren’t for the allegiance to a human authority (the Pope), the hierarchical understanding of church structure, the policy of celibacy and the elevation of the institution to an equal of the Gospel and Scripture, I would become an RCC tomorrow.” But I realize how judgmental that attitude is. As a Protestant who flirts dangerously with Anabaptist theologies, I see myself as being in a position of being able to look at tradition from the bottom up, as much as that is possible. I read Catholic and Orthodox theologians and find much there to be in alignment and much that satisfies me. I can also reach into other traditions (Pentecostal, Baptist, Quaker) and find much there as well. And I recognize the need for a sense of authority with regard to how we think about things Christian. The RCC does this and I do not fault them for it. I have a fantasy that one day a two-way realization will occur – 1) that we, as Protestants, are not nearly as distant from Catholicism as we think we are and 2) Catholicism will realize that radical ideas (salvation through grace, not works, for one – affirmed in the last few years by a joint stmt from the Vatican and the ELCA)are not a threat to its history, hierarchy or tradition. Somehow, in the eschaton all this will disappear, it seems to me, and we will all see one another as a sister and brotherhood of Christ. Then, in some untold miracle, we will worship together without all these arguments about who is part of the “true church”, as you so eloquently put it in your statement. There is a future sense to the question that I think influences my “happy enough” status as a Protestant, based on the vision I just offered.
    Peace!
    Seth

  33. I think it’s largely a matter of being pleased with where God places you. I became Catholic (from Protestant) partly because I wanted to be Orthodox, but the nearest parish was too far away. The local Catholic parish was as close to Eastern Orthodoxy as I could get. Now I can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else, despite bland liturgies, lack of socialization and the stereotype of perverted priests. God put me here, and I’m content with that.

  34. Jeanette M. says:

    Jesus Himself answered the delema of the Catholic/Protestant issue by saying in John 17:11 “…Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” I have had several “close to death” experiences and know because I know that there are no labels in heaven. His Kingdom is within. “…thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Those that are part of the Body of Christ, born again has His kingdom within. This makes me a joyful overcomer!

  35. I am disallowing any comment that is simply purely critical of the RCC. That’s not the direction of this essay.

  36. Count me as happy enough, too. I can see the appeal more of Orthodoxy than Rome, which is little more than personal preference on my part. Like others have implied, the Reformation took place for a reason, actually many reasons. Of course, as others have also implied, we live in constant need of reformation as individuals and as churches.

    If “Coming Home” on ETWN has an appeal to some, do they feel the same about Bob and Penny’s tours and comments, not to mention the “beloved” Mother herself? We all have our strengths and weaknesses, and we all need to let the Holy Spirit make us more Christlike.

  37. HEP? Michael, did you just create another acronym? 😉

  38. Micheal:

    My apologies. “Happy” is a word with a lot of weird conotations. It gets me humming “Shiny Happy People”.

    I would say that I am a content protestant, but it hasn’t been easy. Writers, such as Gary Thomas, Mike Mason, Eugene Peterson, J. Neville Ward, and Os Guinness have helped me find my place within protestantism. Luther definitely helps, because he didn’t throw the catholic (lower ‘c’) baby out with the papist bathwater. John Wesley helps, because he was well read in the early church fathers, but also remained protestant – perhaps not “reformed” enough for many of his peers.

    But finding any of these resources at my corner Christian bookstore is next to impossible. Finding a Lutheran interested in Luther or a Wesleyan in John Wesley is also difficult. There are no mentors out there to help navigate protestantism or help find resources. It takes a lot of personal searching and trial and error. But that’s why I would say I am content rather than happy. Happiness tends to be a passive verb; contentment requires personal involvement and discipline.

  39. I’m ordained Disciples of Christ, serving Methodist ministries mostly these days, doing the occasional retreat at and for Catholic locations.

    Amy Welborn’s locution “Remember, I am the worst abuse at any Mass which I attend” has stuck with me in all my Protestantness, while cheerfully affirming that ol’ “one, holy, catholic, apostolic church” which gets claimed in some of my ministry settings.

    When i don’t get communion for a few weeks in a row, i understand the appeal of Catholic Christianity, but i’ve tried to be a good sport and not receive communion attending a Catholic mass and just about been ordered to the table by nuns, priests, even the stray abbot. Which, if they know what i’m not, is fine with me. Real Presence? Shucks, i believe in the Real Presence at rural Methodist parishes that have communion twice a year whether they need it or not, but the disposition of the post-service elements doesn’t lose me much sleep.

    Luther had his faults, snowballing as most of our own will towards the end of his life — thank God for grace! — but he was clear about where he saw God leading the Body of Christ, and it wasn’t towards the pledge boxes for the new St. Peter’s Basilica, which i will make a beeline for if i ever visit Rome, even if i know no priest will try to encourage me to Protestantly receive communion there. I always took happy pleasure in seeing how Pope John Paul II took pains to head his writings with “and to all people of good will.” I’m happy to join in communion observances presided over by lay leaders elected by their congregations, even when their prayers for the emblems include “and we just remember that rascal up there on the cross, who died so we could get together and do this in your name.”

    There’s no rubric for that invocation, but hearing it makes me obscurely happy, and it all points me to God’s work transforming the world, too slowly it seems, but then i think that faster would probably leave me out.

    So it’s all grace, and i am more than happy enough.

  40. I am a very happy…Jesus follower.

    Ok, maybe somebody will say that’s a copout. But this is a world of astonishing and never ending variety of every imaginable type of species.

    And just as I try to appreciate and learn from the many different varieties of life here, I try to learn from and appreciate the many viewpoints and expressions of Christian faith.

    In fact, I think God intended it that way, that the collective we (represented by Catholics, Orthodox, and X to the power of infinity various Protestant groups) should be one in the Spirit and one body, each with their unique contributions. So that when we look at each other we see a different facet of God’s grace looking back that we can contemplate and learn from.

    As for me, I fellowship with people from a non denominational charity, and from a home based Vineyard, and occassionally I go to Mass, just because…

  41. I’m not Roman Catholic or Orthodox. You can be certain whether you are or are not either of those even if (as both freely acknowledge) the label itself does not mean you are being saved by the grace of our Lord.

    However, since Protestants seem to primarily define themselves by belief, I’m not sure I can truthfully call myself a Protestant. As the years since that point in my long journey of conversion when I realized my identity was reshaped around Jesus of Nazareth have passed and I’ve learned more about the varied Protestant beliefs within the larger context of the Christian church, I’ve watched many of them collapse. I’m hard-pressed to find any specifically Protestant distinctives with which I agree. And after two years of some fairly broad digging, I’m hard-pressed to find anything to protest in Orthodoxy.

    I’m a member and attend (and volunteer in) an SBC church. But at this juncture I don’t actually feel like I’m a part of any of the three Christian traditions.

  42. Scott M:

    Here’s Your Sign: BIG TIME PROTESTANT 🙂

  43. If I may, all this rhetoric about “happy Enough” Protestants, Catholicism, Liberalism, etc., is in my humble opinion a moot point.
    It is also a clear example of how people, wanting to be right, can “Over-Evaluate” their situation.
    1 Corinthians 12 explains this fully.
    As far as the Protestant vs Catholic issue, 1 Corinthians 12:5 “And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.”
    As far as the “happy enough” issue, we should always be content in whatever situation we are in, but never forgetting that we are pushing toward the mark, to be more like Christ. So we should never be “happy enough” with our current relationship with God.

    This can all be summed up in an anecdote:

    There was this Protestant, a Baptist, who was more than “Happy Enough” to be a Baptist..In fact, he was very proud of the fact. He knew that his was the right religion and that all others were bound for hell.
    One day this man died and was met at the Pearly Gates by Our Lord Jesus.
    The man was confused, he didn’t see any of his friends there, so he asked the Lord, “Where are all the Baptists?”
    The Lord answered, “There are none.”
    The man was totally confused now, “Then, where are all the Methodists?”
    The Lord answered, “There are none.”
    “Lutherans?”
    The Lord answered, “There are none.”
    “Well, what about the Catholics?”
    The Lord answered, “There are none.”
    The man was very upset, “If there are no Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, or Catholics, then who are all these people?
    The Lord answered, “Christians.”

    May God in His Infinite Mercy Bless us All.

  44. “It seems that Luther made a terrible mistake”.

    ‘Seems’- perhaps used here in a similar manner to that expressed by Hamlet to Ophelia (concerning his madness)…?

    (opps, is that to naked a confession?)

    I think most of us know (whatever side of a the river) that tyranny over the soul of any kind is a form of murder we can all reject. Any teaching or teacher that works to detach us from the life which is ours ONLY in Christ is just such a tyrant (however ‘happy’ the circumstances – I’ve been in enough ‘happy’ congregations to know that crime!).
    Being outside of any camp so marked is certainly better than being within.

  45. “It seems that Luther made a terrible mistake”.

    ‘Seems’- perhaps used here in a similar manner to that expressed by Hamlet to Ophelia (concerning his madness)…?

    (opps, is that too naked a confession?)

    I think most of us know (whatever side of a the river) that tyranny over the soul of any kind is a form of murder we can all reject. Any teaching or teacher that works to detach us from the life which is ours ONLY in Christ is just such a tyrant (however ‘happy’ the circumstances – I’ve been in enough ‘happy’ congregations to know that crime!).
    Being outside of any camp so marked is certainly better than being within.

  46. last year i watched “luther” with a few friends on october 31st (i.e. reformation day). the movie hit me in a totally way than it had the previous times i had seen due to my dabblings in catholicism and orthodoxy the last couple years. there is a scene toward the end of the movie where luther is alone with his spiritual father talking and getting cleaned up before the diet of worms. luther’s spiritual father warned luther that his actions would make the people like orphans or homeless if they are cut off from the church. for the first time i looked at the reformation as a tragedy rather than a glorious revolution. i still believe there was much good out of the reformation but the division it caused seems almost irrevocable and the source of fractured nature of protestantism.

  47. If you’re not baptized under the authority of the Bishop of Rome or one of the 13 Bishops of the Eastern Orthodox Communion………

    you’re still a Protestant.

    Even if you agree wholeheartedly with all of their theology.

  48. At this point in time, I’m really a HEP-cat. (Thanks, we’ll be here all week. Tip your waitress.)

    I’ve been in the SBC all my life, but I’ve learned more about the RCC, Orthodoxy and other Protestant denominations, and I know there are children of God in each of those areas. For lack of a better term, being a Protestant “works” for me better than anything else. I have faith it is where God wants me to be. If He changes his mind, I’m sure he’ll let me know somehow. 😀

  49. @jeuby:

    I saw that movie. Luther needed more facial-fat and antisemitism to be historically accurate.