First off, there is one thing that Protestants have down solid–their unswerving love and devotion to the word of God–the Bible (Jesus would be the Word of God). That is something that Catholics and Orthodox should better upon themselves. That’s not to say Catholic and Orthodox teachings are un-Biblical, it’s just that Biblical study isn’t as firmly ingrained to their lives as it is for Protestants. This can however, be a problem within the Protestant tradition. Sometimes, Protestants take the Bible too much for granted as if it fell out of Heaven and was the document that Christians ultimately put their last line of defense on. The Bible was given to us by the Church first and foremost and while Protestants have a strength in their Biblical study, they do get a little bit too carried away neglecting the Church’s role in interpreting the Bible. We must read the Bible through the Church’s eyes, not just merely with the Church’s eyes.
Now, some might say that singling out Protestantism is a little bit unfair of me and I’d agree. It is quite unfair of me. But in addition, I just don’t see very much for the Orthodox or the Catholics to improve on in regard to theological doctrines. Particularly, because these churches are older and have been around for a while longer. And further, I technically speak as a Protestant myself here. As a member of the Anglican Church in America, I am technically a Protestant albeit a very Catholic leaning Protestant as I think all Protestants should be. So without further ado, here’s some things that Protestants need to improve upon…
1. The Authority of the Church
This includes acknowledging the Church as a divine institution (not figuratively, but literally). Entrance into the Church is the beginning of a process called theosis (deification). We become by grace what we are not by nature. Hence, the Church is an extension of Christ on Earth. It is the body of Christ. It is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Because of this, when we speak of theological authority, we are ultimately speaking of a rank of procession–God, the Church, the Bible. Some Protestants might find subjecting the Bible to the Church to be erroneous because of their ideas about prima scriptura (does any one actually believe in sola scriptura?). But indeed, it is an error of the Protestants to elevate the Bible above the Church. In an homily I heard the other day, our Vicar General gave us a history of how the Bible was compiled and how his Baptist sister told him once how the Church was founded on the Bible–he responded telling her that actually, the Church wrote the Bible. Because the Church wrote the Bible, Protestants are left with a conflict–are those who wrote the Bible somehow in error about the interpretation of the Bible?
2. The Priesthood of the Baptized
Protestants erroneously affirm the priesthood of all “believers”. There is a fatal flaw in this doctrine. How do we know who actually believes? Any one can say they have the Holy Spirit living in them but that does not mean they actually do have the Spirit in them. Thus, someone who believes can claim individual authority and private interpretation over himself in contradiction to 2 Pet. 1:20-21. The doctrine of the priesthood of all “believers” comes from 1 Pet. 2:9. The only problem is that it says nothing of the sort. Most scholars acknowledge 1 Peter to be a baptismal homily. This can be explicitly seen in Peter’s view of baptism where he states “baptism now saves you” (1 Pet. 3:21). 1 Peter 1:3 echoes John 3:3-5. Very few people disagree with the notion that water baptism is what initially makes one born again. Sadly, many Protestants disagree with this idea and state their own private judgment and personal relationship makes one a Christian. One unfortunately cannot be a Christian alone so it is time for all Protestants to adopt the Catholic and Orthodox teaching of the priesthood of all the baptized.
3. The Eucharist is Really the Body and Blood
I can quote John 6:51-58 and Matthew 26:26 and Mark 14:22 and Luke 22:19 but I still cannot make one affirm the actual meaning of these texts. For Protestants, they are consubstantial with the bread and wine at best. Spiritual (whatever that means) at second best. And symbolic at worst. The idea of the symbolic interpretation must be resisted at once. Any interpretation of a spiritual meaning that does not affirm we actually physically eat the body and blood of Jesus must also be rejected. For Protestants though, it seems the problem is the idea of the eucharist as a continued sacrifice. Protestants need to adopt this language though. The eucharist is in fact Jesus pouring his body and blood out for us. If you pay attention to what he says. He says, “this is my body which was broken for you”. Jesus, at the moment he administers it, his body is broken for them. He’s died on the cross before his disciples have witnessed it in time. This is the way the texts were to be intended and only reading the Bible through the eyes of the Church gives us this meaning. What Protestants don’t understand though, is that God is timeless. If God is timeless, then the crucifixion of God is not locked to a “one time event” either.
“God became a man so that man might become god” St. Athanasius once famously stated. Theosis is the raising up of the created order back to its original intent–its fashion in the full likeness of God. Creation was created very good and God’s intent all along was to make it deified. God made man in his image. God became a man and united himself in humanity. For most Protestants who cringe at this idea of the deification of man, God’s humanness only served the purpose of allowing us to cooperate on Earth with each other or taking a punishment away from us. The real reason why God became a man though was to resurrect the dead and conquer death and bestow on us the nature of divinity (1 Pet. 1:4).
5. Sacraments Confer Deifying Grace
Many Protestants state that only one’s relationship with Jesus can save them. But a relationship is incomplete if there is no ritual involved in it. Participating in the sacraments is the surest and easiest way to Heaven. Confession helps us realize we aren’t good enough and are constantly in need of grace. Further, why would a sacrament not confer a deifying grace on someone? And should we assume that there are actually people out there who’s relationship with Jesus is so perfect that they cannot possibly use an ounce of deifying grace? Even the greatest saints acknowledged their constant need for grace. We are not any different from them. Our own individual relationship cannot be enough to sustain us and lead us to Jesus. We need to be consuming him. Ironically, one who actually accepts that sacraments confer deifying grace have a more real relationship with Jesus than those who don’t. They are constantly eating his own flesh and blood in the eucharist.
6. Iconography and the Saints
Protestants seem to have this weird vision that there is no grand communion of saints that we are in the midst of. If there is, they only serve as mere intellectuals who advise our theologies today. But the saints are living people who have gone before us in the faith and we are to seek their wisdom and become like them, not just influenced by them. Praying to them and asking them to pray for us. Icons are their living images and they are to be venerated as well. This is not idolatry. Proskuneo can be given to saints.
7. Rethinking Mary
Protestants are doing better at this but there’s still a lot of work to be done. Mary is the New Testament Ark of God. Because of this, she is affirmed by Christians as both Mother of God and Ever-Virgin. She was too holy for Joseph to touch after she gave birth to the living God. These two doctrines of Mary have always been believed by Christians. Though some Protestants have tried to sow division by pointing to contradictions in the assumption vs. dormition of Mary. However, these two doctrines do not contradict each other. It is commonly assumed the assumption teaches Mary didn’t die but went straight to Heaven but in actuality, Pope Pius XII referred to her death numerous times throughout his Defining the Dogma of the Assumption and likewise, the Orthodox leave the question of the resurrection of Mary as an open opinion as well and often assume it into the dormition of Mary. Hence, the two are the same doctrine with different emphases–one emphasizes the death, the other her ascension into Heaven. But let’s start small–Protestants need to acknowledge her Ever-Virginity and her status as the Mother of God first and foremost.
I’ll cover the holiness of the liturgy later as Catholics could also improve on this but basically what I’m getting at in this article is that Protestants need to be a little bit more Catholic and a lot less Protestant.