Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The evangelical flotilla

I recently did a post on folk Catholicism. There is, of course, such a thing as folk Protestantism. Does it have the same problems? Is it a double standard to attack folk Catholicism, but act as though folk Protestantism isn't in the same (sinking) boat? Should we put our own house in order before we presume to take aim at Catholicism? 

i) Catholicism and Protestantism share some generic problems in common, apart from problems distinctive to Catholicism (or some particular branch of Protestantism). Due to human sin and human foibles, to some degree you'd have similar problems in any human organization. Put the same people in different organizations, and the same problems will resurface. 

ii) In addition, specific theological traditions, and denominations which exemplify those traditions, can have problems distinctive to defects in their traditions. This can be true for Catholicism and Protestantism alike, although it's variable across the spectrum of Protestant belief and practice. That's not a uniform problem in Protestantism.

iii) As a blogger, I focus on the war of ideas, because that's where I can make a broader contribution. There's a sense in which what ultimately counts isn't orthodoxy, per se, but the degree to which we internalize orthodoxy. Sanctification. But that's a question of individual appropriation. I have my own life to live. I can't live your life for you. What you do with your own life and opportunities is up to you. That's between you and God. At most, I can give advice.  

iv) Because Protestants reject a Magisterium, Protestantism is inherently decentralized. As such, no one individual, or oligarchy, directs the Protestant movement in general. Likewise, church officers generally have limited ecclesiastical authority even in the local church.

So beyond the war of ideas, I don't fret over the state of Protestantism. I criticize what I think is wrong. But I'm not ultimately responsible for what other people do. I didn't create the situation. And I have no direct control over what happens. It is what it is.

v) In addition, although there are problems in the Protestant movement, I don't criticize Protestantism the same way I criticize Catholicism since I don't think Protestantism, per se, is misguided. I don't object to Protestantism in principle. After all, that's what I am!

In another sense, I care more about what happens in Protestantism than Catholicism. But because it's individualistic, the fortunes of my faith aren't tied to the fortunes of the movement in general, or any particular denomination, or independent church, or evangelical college, or whatever. We're not in the same boat. Protestantism is a flotilla, not a passenger ship. If your boat springs a leak, my boat doesn't take on water. Our boats sink or float independently. If your boat capsizes, I'll throw you a lifeline. Planks connect some boats to other boats in the flotilla. But these can be withdrawn. 

vi) By contrast, the pope is an absolute monarchy. He has tremendous authority over what happens under his roof. He can set policy. He can establish an accountability structure. He can impose discipline. In fact, the papacy use to run a tight ship.

That doesn't mean there weren't abuses in Catholicism, but that wasn't because the papacy lost control; rather, the papacy fostered or consciously allowed abuses. 


  1. Steve, thanks for a thought-provoking piece. Please don't misconstrue my previous points to have suggested Protestants having to clean up their act prior to criticizing papists; rather, I just meant to point out that papists have hardly cornered the goofiness market - in fact, the competition is getting downright Darwinian.

    To continue with your flotilla analogy, different boats may spring leaks, capsize, hit obstructions, etc, but all too many get tossed about by every new wave of doctrine and few seem to learn from the crappy seamanship of their fellow captains. While planks and lines *can* be cast off, ther always seem to be more: the continuous flirtation with feminism, catholicism, evolution, etc, affectimg one ship seems to spread to others like the plague. This characteristic of Protestantism is something I've always found both fascinating and troubling; ie a lack of sense of history, tradition, continuity, or whatever you might call "it" cum obsession with novelty.

    As for the pope, has the loss of the long arm of the State and ability to plunder Amerindians and Jews made the him more dependent upon business practices and less mindful of doctrinal niceties? IOW is he more dependent upon the faithful and therefore less willing to tick them off in order to remain solvent?

    1. When I was growing up, "The Catholic Church" was referred to as a kind of luxury liner. That comports with the notion that they have "the fullness of the faith".

      I don't think this pope is worried about money or solvency. I haven't seen much about Vatican finances except that there is the usual kinds of corruption.

    2. John, what then do you see as Bergie's goal? I was under the impression that Rome was jittery about its declining influence in Latin America; for a church obsessed with its self-sufficent "fullness," it's has revelled in all the sorts of libtard doctrines and practices which have vitiated former Protestant communities. This runs counter to his claims, no? Like with the former Protestants, pursuing relevance is increasing Rome's irrelevance. Could tolerance of folk catholicism help maintain a foothold in lands where he's losing his grip? If not, why do you think such practices described in your initial article are tolerated(if not miled)?

    3. We certainly need to guard against the temptation of thinking that if Rome is bad, that ipso facto makes Protestants good or better. Invidious comparisons are not the standard of comparison.

    4. Kirk -- re. Bergie's goal -- these two articles talk about the legacy he will leave through his various appointments (Bishops and Cardinals):

      “Those who like the direction his pontificate has taken naturally look forward to those appointments. Those who believe he’s confused matters and may be inviting heterodox developments feel some nervousness at the prospects.”

      He tends to be focusing on those who reflect his "pastoral" vision.

      I think he intends to shake things up, to push things as far as he can in a more "open" direction, while still allowing the conservatives to say "no doctrine has been changed":

      A key word in the two articles above is "decentralization" -- local bishops around the world will be given more autonomy -- and so the bishops of Germany will be allowed to come up with "pastoral" reasons why the divorced and remarried can be readmitted to communion, and nobody, not even a future pope, will have the ability to say anything about it.

      Check also his reference to "the Ravenna document".