Thursday, January 19, 2006

Invidious comparisons


I am so incredibly tired of Protestant/Catholic debates. Who cares about Protestantism? Of those Protestant denominations who actually have some idea what the Reformation was about (what they think it was about) and still believe in it, they are tiny. Last I heard the OPC for example split yet again, from a vast multitude of 22,000 worldwide to 20,000. The believing reformation bodies are miniscule. The vast hordes of evangelicals, pentacostals, baptists and other assorted monstantists and manicheans are rapidly mutating into some other religion, either by pure quackadoxy or some new “movement” to “challenge” Christians yet again. The liberal denominations will probably be extinct by the end of this next century and they are pretty much just empty shells at this point. They are just as fad driven, moralistic and vaporous as their conservative counterparts.

So I say, who the hell cares about Protestantism? Why should we care about it? Sure, its loud and pervasive, but it is but a wiff of cloud. Bump it and it breaks.

Quite true, Orthodoxy doesn’t dominate the American religion scene, but neither do reformation bodies and thats the point. They did and they no longer do. While Orthodoxy has maintained ist ecclesial inegrity and identity, Protestantism while being dominant hasn’t. Princeton? Harvard? Yale? Where are the Protestant schools now? As a Christian, Catholic or not, I’d be spiritually be better off going to Notre Dame than any of those places. And Orthodoxy has a much deeper, older, richer and more stable theological and spiritual tradition than Protestantism. Protestantism had all the breaks and it is now all broken.

Orthodoxy is growing quite well in the US, among other places. More of our candidates for the priesthood now are converts than cradle. And about 1/3 of our membership are converts and growing. Sure Pentacostals gain lots of converts through the front door, but the OPC, PCA or LCMS aren’t bringing them in by the truckload. Pentacostals and other quackadox don’t count when we are talking about the Protestant estbalishment in the US.

I can easily agree also that average Orthodox aren’t as well informed as they should be (the same is true for most Protestants, classical or no who are professing Pelagians and Sabellians), particularly in the more ethnic nether regions, but the Orthodox Church as a body and as an institution isn’t floundering and constantly being redefined as Protestantism is. There simply isn’t a Protestant establishment in the English speaking world to worry about any more. There are pockets of resistence and thats about it.

As to the length of time and influence, it depends on what one means by “Protestant.” If you include Calvary Chapel and other homegrown megachurches I agree. But not longer than the presbyterians, baptists, methodists and lutherans-they are finished as insitutitions by and large. They used to own the cultural and theological lexicon but no longer. The other evangelical type homegrown bodies simply aren’t institutional and don’t have the theology to become so. Manicheanism and Montanaism don’t lend themselves to culture building.

Orthodoxy has had unique challenges. Political and military conflicts in the west over religion or that impacted religion directly were over and hence never seriously affected Protestantism in the US. Orthodoxy was for a long time the province of the Russians on the northern west coast for a very long time. For all kinds of interesting political and economic reasons when the support from that polis diminished and later outright collapsed, so did the mission. Moreover, Orthodoxy accomodated itself to the language of various cultures of the pacific northwest very well but didn’t do so with the English language at the time. That has been changing for the last 20-30 years. The institutional hegemony that Protestantism held in the US and the enculturated Protestant bias certainly didn’t help matters. And there is that little incident of supressing and exterminating Orthodox Christians by the Communists in Russia and Eastern countries from which many Orthodox communities are now emerging. I dare say, it isn’t obvious to me that give these kinds of challenges that Protestantism would have done any better.


Such is Perry Robinson’s indictment of Protestantism in general, and Calvinism in particular. By way of reply:

1.Perry’s disdain for independent churches, parachurch ministry, “homegrown bodies” and the like is simply the reflex reaction of his ecclesiastical pride and prejudice.

The NT church was a loosely aligned affiliation of house-churches, with minimal government.

Why, I’ve even read about a 1C religious sect which consisted of 120 members total. The combined membership could be squeezed into one room (Acts 1:12-15). It was miniscule compared to the state religion or Judaism.

2.Traditionally, Catholicism and Orthodoxy rack up big numbers because they have national churches that practice infant baptism. So you’re really counting national populations. That adds up in a hurry. It also says nothing about the piety of the populace.

3.It’s true that Calvinism no longer wields the cultural clout it once did before the 20C. That’s not an internal weakness of Calvinism. Rather, that’s due to mass immigration from Catholic countries, which diluted the religious balance of power.

4.What about the state of Orthodoxy in, say, modern-day Greece?

5.Again, you can blame the state of Russian Orthodoxy on the commies, but that fails to explain why the pre-revolutionary church was so weak that it could pose no effective resistance to the communist takeover and its aftermath in the first place.

6.Perry can wax as rhapsodic as he likes about the “ecclesial inegrity and identity” of the Orthodox church as well as “a much deeper, older, richer and more stable theological and spiritual tradition than Protestantism.”

But what strikes me is the total lack of church discipline. The SBC went out of its way to distance itself from Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. When Joe Lieberman ran as Al Gore’s Veep, he was excommunicated by several orthodox rabbis for his liberal social policies.

Now, in this country we’ve had such high profile Orthodox American political players as Michael Dukakis, Arianna Huffington, George Stephanopolous, and the late Paul Tsongas. All of them are aggressive social l liberals.

Where is the Greek Orthodox Church of American in all of this? Why the resounding silence? I’ll choose moral integrity over ecclesial integrity any day of the week.

7.I never knew that clouds were breakable. Or do Protestant clouds have a different chemical composition than Orthodox clouds?

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