Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Significance Of Protestant Associations

In a recent thread on the New Testament Research Ministries boards, a poster commented that groups like Oneness Pentecostalism and the Word of Faith movement are part of Protestantism, even if we don't want them to be. The same poster has said, in another thread, that he's moving toward Eastern Orthodoxy, so his concern over what's happening to "our" Protestantism is dubious. As somebody moving toward Orthodoxy, he has an interest in putting Protestantism in a negative light.

Since this criticism of Protestants is common, I've decided to post part of my reply here. If we agree with the teachings of a Presbyterian or Methodist church, for example, should we refrain from joining it because of its association with Protestantism? If groups like the Word of Faith movement are associated with Protestantism (or groups like liberal Methodists, liberal Baptists, etc.), how much significance does their association with Protestantism have for other people who consider themselves Protestants? Here's what I wrote:

Since Eastern Orthodoxy claims to be the one true church, should we associate every group that claims to be Christian with Orthodoxy? Should we say that though Eastern Orthodox "may not want to claim them as their own", these groups are "theirs"? Should we put Eastern Orthodoxy together with every heretical group that ever existed in the Eastern regions of the world, then call all of them together "Eastern Christianity"?

In addition to the category of "Protestantism", we can speak of other large categories, like "Eastern Christianity", "Western Christianity", "modern Christianity", etc. We can categorize groups by the region in which they originated, some of the doctrines they hold, etc. All of us, no matter what church or denomination we attend, can be placed in a number of smaller and larger categories, and that categorizing will sometimes associate us with other people we disagree with on some issues. If followers of the Word of Faith movement are to be considered Protestants, the fact would remain that I can join a local Methodist, Presbyterian, or Lutheran church without having any close associations with the Word of Faith movement. If I think that the evidence leads to the conclusion that a Methodist church is correct in what it teaches, should I refrain from joining that Methodist church just because that church shares the broad category of "Protestant" with other groups I don't agree with? It would be difficult to live your life without having any broad associations with any group you disagree with. Protestantism is a broad movement defined in different ways by different people.

Our primary concern in deciding what church to join shouldn't be its broader associations, but rather its own teachings and behavior. The more distant an association is, the less significance it carries. Being part of the Protestant movement is too distant an association for the inclusion of something like the Word of Faith movement to make it unacceptable to be a Protestant. There's nothing inherent in being a Protestant that involves the acceptance of something like Word of Faith theology.

We should ask why it is that so many of the people who raise this objection against Protestants don't seem to apply the same reasoning to their own church (or the church they're considering joining). If you're going to refrain from becoming a Baptist because of the distant associations a Baptist church has with other groups, then why not apply the same reasoning to Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, etc.?


  1. The definition of Protestant is more than just "not Catholic." I think it's reasonable to exlude movements like Word of Faith from Protestantism because they implicitly, if not explicitly, deny sola Scriptura. That would apply to any group that believes in continuing revelation.

  2. I wish there was more stuff on Eastern Orthodoxy. I know a lot of Eastern Orthodox people. They even have put on debates with Reform people where I'm from, and to make it worse they clearly "win". It's frustrating not having anything to read from a Reformed perspective critiquing them. The Scandal of the Reformed Mind!

  3. yeah these days people are just confused what Protestantanism and Evangelicalism means, they add Oneness PCs to Protestants and Mormons to Evangelicals, wow what a confusion with words? Yeah surely protestanism means more than "not catholic" but nobody in the elite media and their fans bother about that. As for Baptist, I am just not sure what the Bible says, I used to agree but for some months the usual baptist arguments just seem pretty weak, I think Covenant theology expresses God's relationship better, but I do love the Baptists for what God has done in them they are awesome guys, in these days like uberapol James White et al. I can say some good surety Baptists are more or less in the line of Congregationalist Puritans(they lost proper Covenant understanding with the Half-Way Covenant(which was just unbiblical and was created for unbiblical inclusive purposes, which ended in horriblely absent church discipline and then God brought the wonder of the First Great Awakening) and never recovered in that aspect, but the men like Edwards esp. were still great in the faith, thank God for Awakenings)

  4. People sense the truth even when they are rejecting it. The truth is where God's remnant always are, and His remnant always exists in every era of redemptive history. That truth does not reside with Eastern Orthodox. Nor does it reside with Roman Catholics. It resides within Protestantism. Not all of Protestantism, but five solas Protestantism. This is why people who are in rebellion from the truth have different standards for E.O. and R.C as opposed to Protestantism, and specifically five solas Protestantism. They know in their heart where the truth resides, but only God's remnant can accept and hold to that truth.

  5. Many Catholics also classify Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons as "Protestants", although both deny sola Scriptura and sola fide. I once debated an ex-Reformed RC at Mark Shea's blog over whether LeFebvrists and Sedevacantists are "Protestants" (this being the lowest term of abuse for both factions of Catholics, those who rank Papacy over Tradition as well as those who rank Tradition over Papacy!). This chap argued that they are Prots, because they exalt private judgment. He then later argued that the Episcopalian Church of the USA is "Protestant" because the word is in its official full name! So, it seems, to be "Protestant", it's sufficient either (a) merely to use the label, even if you subordinate private judgment to episcopal hierarchy (the ECUSA), or else (b) to subordinate episcopal hierarchy to private judgment, even if you would angrily reject the label "Protestant" (the LeFebs and Sedevs). At that rate, that should actually make "Protestant" the largest single denomination in the world, especially if you include all those self-professed, non-excommunicated Catholics who are insufficiently "with the program", according to the Magisterium of the Comboxes.