Sunday, 27 April 2014

Protestant - a disappearing category

The word "Protestant" is in decline, and it's probably a good thing. I mean, what did it actually mean anyway? Inevitably it became a catch-all for anyone not Roman Catholic, apparently even confusing poor old Mr. Webster. Methodists and Presbyterians fit the original description without much challenge, but what about Anglicans, many of which - at the chinless, bells and smells high church end - sniff at the very thought.

How about Adventists? And what do we do with those pesky folk who defy the categorical duopoly completely? Orthodox, Copts, Mormons and, dare one even suggest it, the various sects of Armstrongism? And at the other end of the spectrum are those who opine that, with their traditional liturgy, Lutherans (who you'd think would be the 'gold standard') aren't Protestant enough.

You can now, unless perhaps if you live in the North of Ireland, get through months on end, even when regularly dealing with Christian literature, without tripping over the "P" word. The world is no longer split along a myopic Reformation divide, something that follows from the increasing diversity in Western societies.

So is the word, or even the concept of Protestantism, useful any longer?


  1. Gavin, despite Barr's strictures against the etymological fallacy, if we dare to cast a look at the etymology of the word, it refers to someone who protests. I humbly submit that at least a few of us are still doing that! It's like Nonconformist, since the passing of the Act of Uniformity Amendment Act 1872 the term has little real meaning, except some of us take pleasure in our refusal to conform. Otagosh is being unusually spoilsport in attempting to rationalise two of my favourite designations.
    I wish to remain, sir, your humble, yet protestant, servant.

  2. Here's one solution: Find the "Christian" church in question and ask these questions:

    1. Did it exist (in some form) more or less in the same form as today, back in the 18th Century (or, a the latest, the first third of the 19th Century)?
    2. Does it use a version of the Bible with the books Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch?
    3. Does it claim to have originally come from the Catholic Church?

    If the answer to 1 is yes and the answer to 2 is no, it is probable that it is a Protestant church.
    If it does claim to have originally come from the Catholic Church and has #1 and #2 right, it is probably cinched. Answering 3 no, is suggestive that it is not Protestant but is not a deal breaker.

    The new kids on the block, rising from the ashes of William Miller's failed Adventist movement or those starting fresh without the stogy rituals locked in for centuries need not even get a stencil.

    The combination of Scriptures and historical context should simplify the issue. It is a useful distinction, since "Protestant" is pretty traditional, sort of like a Trademark. Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists are good to go. Mormons don't even seem to be Christians (where is that darned Kolob anyway?) in spite of all their talk of Christ -- it seems like Scientology, but with a different set of books and without Tom Cruise.

    And if course, then is the problem with religions centered on British Israelism, which is sort of like Scientology with Sabbaths and Holydays -- not the sort of people you'd really want to have join with you in the venue of the rest of the Protestants: They sort of stand by themselves as Christian Pharisees (or Olde Testament Christians) with exceptionally delusionally distorted perception, holier than thou -- and not only holier than thou, but holier than the 699 thou's of shared heresy.

    Does this work for you?

    Or am I in exceptional trouble?