Several articles back, I wrote something (here) listing views that have changed for me over the years. It wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive list or a debate. The purpose of the article was to conclude a four-part series on change in the Church, specifically the Church of Christ (here). I was raised Church of Christ and still attend one. Many enjoyed the post even if they didn’t make the same changes, but many from my heritage saw it as an attack. Instead of taking the article down, I chose to write a follow-up post talking about the things I love about my heritage.
I do love my heritage. They are my family. All people are my family in a sense (our original ancestors, the image of God, and our common humanity make us family). All Christians are my family in a more specific way (blood family by the sacrifice of Jesus, power of the Spirit, and love of God). However, the movements, religious affiliations, and especially our particular congregations have a special sense in which they are family. Even when there are fights, heartaches, and disagreements, even where there is distance, we have that close family. We share a culture with them. We have a common history, language, and “DNA.” I love my Church of Christ heritage, and I consider them family, regardless of if they feel the same.
I feel the same way about my Protestant heritage. This article and the last one are similar to the articles I wrote a while back regarding the CofC. However, I wrote the article concerning what I love about my Protestant heritage first. And now, following that, I am writing about how some of my views have changed over the years. It is not meant to be exhaustive or a debate. I have written articles on several of these subjects in the past, and I am sure I will again in the future. This post is simply a list of changes that I have personally made.
One more thing before I give you the list of things I love about my Protestant heritage, I will be speaking very generally. Just because I say that I love “this” or “that” about Protestants does not mean that every person, congregation, or denomination shares those views. Furthermore, just because I mention “this” or “that” about Protestants doesn’t mean that non-Protestants don’t share those views as well. The list is intended to speak about broadly accepted views in Protestantism at large. You should know, if you don’t already, that Protestantism is generally categorized as “mainline” (UMC, Episcopal, Lutheran, etc.) and “evangelicals” (Baptist, Church of God, etc.). Evangelicals tend to read the Bible more literally but are usually less particular about the role of sacraments and formality. Mainline churches are generally particular about sacraments and formality and more open to cultural and linguistic nuance in the Bible. Remember that ultimately, this is all my opinion and experience. If you don’t share my perspective, you are free to write your own article. I mean that! I’d love the diversity. With all of that said, let’s talk about what I find unhelpful concerning Protestantism.
Ten Unhelpful Things About Protestant Churches
- I find it unhelpful that Protestant churches tend to be apathetic in America.
There are certain people in Christianity that believe that all they need to do is show up almost every Sunday morning, give a little money, show up for church directory pictures, and that makes them Christian. The Gospel is a paradox. Salvation is free, yet it costs everything. It doesn’t cost us everything as a work of merit like we “owe it to God” (though we do owe everything to God). It costs us everything because God is love. And God’s love is so big that there is no room for ANYTHING else unless it is an instrument of His love. I think most Protestant ministers understand this in principle. However, I think that most Protestant church members in America unwittingly believe that Christianity is about a point of salvation that starts when we believe. Apathy is one of the biggest diseases in our churches. Protestants (including myself) need to learn how to pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus. We must allow Him to live through us.
2. I find it unhelpful that Protestant churches tend to be overly political in America.
Along similar lines as the previous point, Protestant churches tend to be too political. Now, one could argue that Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Old Testament prophets were the biggest “social justice warriors” there have ever been. But I want to politely suggest two things. First, the Jews were in a theocracy for a good portion of the OT. Second, most of the time, the conversations were only political by implication, not explicitly. I have no problem with seeing something morally wrong and talking about it strictly from a moral standpoint. But when there is a grey area or nuance (and there usually is), talk about the moral issue separate from the political character or party itself. I see churches that might as well have a donkey or an elephant outside of their buildings. That is uncalled for. It polarizes people unnecessarily.
3. I find it unhelpful that Protestant churches tend to have too much red tape (control).
It is crazy to me that a movement that wanted to step away from man-made creeds and popes is often filled with microcosms of Roman Catholic popes and the creeds of Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholics. That has gotten much better in the last 50 years, but it is still an issue. The sectarianism isn’t quite as bad, but congregational autonomy usually has some degree of red tape in many denominations when it comes to policy, staff, and doctrine. For example, the average Church in America has less than 75 people, and the average full-time minister makes 52,000 a year regardless of his (or occasionally “her) education and experience. However, in many protestant churches, the minister has to have 200 accredited hours in Bible (including an MDiv) just to be considered for a position. In a post-Christian culture, what sense does that make? But there is so much red tape that there has to be a nationwide conference just to paint the nursery (not to mention anything more serious).
4. I find it unhelpful that Protestant churches tend to have too many parts.
I love the intentions of modern nondenominational churches. Some end up having multiple sites, which technically makes them a denomination that calls itself nondenominational. Others are essentially a hybrid of a toned-down Pentecostal congregation and an enthusiastic Baptist congregation. They have their own creeds (called covenants) on their website, and they have a name on a sign. So again, they are just a denomination that calls itself a nondenominational congregation. Then there are the places like the Church of Christ or the Independent Christian Churches that follow the same pattern. All of that said, I love the intentions of these churches. The Restoration Movement is, in my biased opinion, the best framework for such a nondenominational movement. However, we see how that turned out in the three branches of that movement. The CofC became sectarian as a whole, the Independent CC generally became a typical evangelical nondenominational sect, and the Disciples of Christ decided to call it what it was and claimed they are a denomination. I don’t think denominations are inherently wrong. But I don’t think they are ideal either. I don’t think they are what God intended, so in that sense, I do think they are wrong. We don’t have any great alternatives at the moment other than house churches. We need to find a way for Protestants, and all Christians, to be a unified body, regardless of non-Gospel-related disagreements.
5. I find it unhelpful that Protestant churches have a short history.
I love how the Protestant Church began. The bravery in the face of persecution is inspiring. The intellectual honesty is profound. But Our history is short. Not only that, but it is shaped by our Roman Catholic heritage, our anti-Catholic/anti-Orthodox bias, and our western/American principles. For example, we make fun of the Roman Catholics because we don’t see “pope” in the Bible, but we don’t see “Bible” in the Bible either. We make fun of our Eastern Orthodox friends for their iconography because we say it’s not explicitly in the Bible, but neither is the principle of inerrancy or the trinity. I admit that I’m highly skeptical of post-Nicene church history because of its pagan and political influence. And I also admit that I don’t give the ante-Nicene writers as much authority and weight as the Bible. But the ante-Nicene writers were the most closely connected to the Apostles and other witnesses. We should take them very seriously. I have more to say about our history in later articles, but for now, I am just suggesting that we need to be humble about what influences us and what we don’t know.
6. I find it unhelpful that Protestant churches tend to focus so much on a “worship service.”
This is not primarily a Protestant issue. But I think the Protestants deserve some blame for not getting past this already because we are much closer to this reality than anyone else. And yet we see the most negative outcomes for not correcting this error. We worship God 24/7, including when we gather. It is good to worship when we gather. We know that the ancient Christians did worship when they gathered. However, if we are asking about the PURPOSE of the weekly gathering, it is not a “worship service.” That phrase isn’t even used in Scripture. Yet we find ourselves dividing over what we do or don’t do during one hour a week. If we realized that the purpose of gathering is to edify one another in Christ, use our gifts for our spiritual family, and stir up one another in love and good works, so many walls would fall down.
7. I find what most Protestants believe about atonement theory unhelpful (PSA).
I’m going to eventually write an entire article on this sometime this year. The majority of Protestantism believes in what’s called Penal Substitutionary Atonement. The idea is that Jesus died to pay for God’s wrath. There are some ways that this idea is metaphorically true. But it is not actually true in reality. Jesus died as the ultimate manifestation of God’s love, humility, and grace. So many implications come from PSA that suggest all sorts of untrue ideas about God’s character. The Eastern Orthodox have been around since 325 AD (sooner, depending on the bias of the one you ask), and they have never held to the PSA view. It is a very Roman Catholic view of God’s character. We will address the problem passages in a future article. We Protestants need to reexamine this.
8. I find it unhelpful that Protestant churches tend to be inconsistent with biblical authority.
To be fair, this one is mostly geared towards the Evangelicals and some of the Methodists. Evangelicals tend to say they read the Bible literally. It means what it says and says what it means. My response is that actually, it says what it says, and it means what it means. The Bible was written for us, but not to us. The context determines the meaning. It is full of nuance, divinity, humanity, culture, narrative, personal letters, law, prophecy, poems, songs, metaphors, analogies, parables, and so on. The idea that “the default reading is literal” is nonsense. We don’t even talk like that! The Bible is inerrant and “actual” from an Easterners understanding of literature and linguistics. But it is not inerrant or literal from a western point of view. Not to mention that Evangelicals don’t even realize their own inconsistencies here. I see few people letting the dead bury the dead or only going to the elders when they are sick, or only greeting with a holy kiss. The list goes on and on. We have to stop being lazy. We are blessed to have the Bible. (see here for a little more)
9. I find it unhelpful that Protestant churches tend to be obsessed with a particular version of Hell.
I don’t have a problem with someone believing what is called ECT (Eternal Conscious Torment). There are ways of making a biblical, justifiable, and philosophical case for it. ECT is the idea that people are separated from God for eternal and never-ending torment if they do not accept Jesus while they are living. My problem is when we act like that is the only view. It isn’t even the only view in ancient history. For the first 400 years, Christian Universalism (ultimately, all are saved eventually) was the major view in Christianity. Also, something called Conditionalism (nonbelievers are annihilated) was present. There were six Christian schools in the first 400 years. Four taught CU, one taught Conditionalism, and the other taught ECT. None of those views were ever considered heresy. It wasn’t until 553 that some things that people thought Origen (a big defender of CU in the 200s) taught were condemned, but he wasn’t actually condemned, and neither was CU. Not to mention he didn’t really teach the things he was accused of and the council that met was a political move. One could make a good historical, philosophical, and biblical case for any of the views (I think that UC makes a better philosophical and historical case, and Conditionalism makes a better biblical case). But that’s the point. There are other legitimate views. ECT did not start to gain any kind of popularity until Augustine. We should allow other views without division.
10. I find it unhelpful that Protestant churches tend to be unloving towards the LGBTQ+ community.
I wrote a good bit on this (here) already. I don’t wish to persuade anyone here. I personally don’t see the “affirming” view taking the main stage in my lifetime. However, I do think that the “accepting” view will become the main view in most Protestant churches in the next 30 years (Terms defined in link above). I understand that people can disagree with affirmation and still be loving and caring, and supportive of people. My main plea is that we AT LEAST study this topic humbly and openly so that, even if we think the lifestyle is sinful (I personally don’t go that far myself), we treat it no differently than any other sin. We need to love everyone. Simultaneously, I wish for us to be able to agree to disagree with people who use the same Bible, and the same prayers, and the same humility but arrive at a different conclusion just like we do with interpretations of other subjects regarding cultural contexts. I just want an honest conversation.
CONCLUSION: Again, these things can apply to non-Protestant “tribes” of Christianity as well. And again, these things don’t apply to every person, denomination, or congregation within Protestantism. However, I find that the ten items I listed are generally true about the beliefs of Protestant brothers and sisters. I was a little more critical here and likely struck a nerve or two. I’m not trying to bash or have a debate here. There will be time for helpful discourse in the future. This article is simply a way for me to be transparent about where I am. I love you all! – Jesse