iMonk has written a great post about why he’s “happy enough” being a Protestant despite sharing a few similar beliefs and desires of fellow Catholic and Orthodox believers. He speaks for those of us who are not ignorant or closed-off, rather we have opened our hearts to learn, and while maintaining a deep respect and appreciation for those traditions, we remain unchanged in our desire to be Protestant. He has invited his readers to write their own statement of why they are “happy enough” to remain in the Protestant church, and here is my contribution.
I’ve had your typical Southern Baptist upbringing, devoid of creeds and anything resembling tradition older than 20-30 years, and full of suspicion for any church, particularly Catholic, that did not share our version of the truth. My experience with those of the Catholic church was limited to friends who had no true faith or knowledge of what their church was really about, so my assumption that Catholics probably weren’t “real” Christians appeared accurate.
My world was rocked when I studied spiritual formation and spiritual direction in seminary. Suddenly, I was reading Augustine, Julian of Norwich, Henri Nouwen, St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi…and being surprised when I noticed that they had a very vibrant faith! I spent time taking retreats in monasteries, reading their literature and watching their monks. Over time, my eyes were opened to the wealth of the history of the Church that I had never known. I was introduced to the beauty of Mass, liturgical prayers, and the richness of contemplative worship.
Over the next few years I started to feel a little alone in the evangelical church as my desires for liturgy and a greater connection with tradition were lost in the world of loud worship bands and trying to do everything new. Several of my friends converted to Orthodoxy which led me to learn more about another completely unfamiliar stream of Christianity. I’ve stayed open about hearing where God wants me to be, and for now, I am completely “happy enough” being a Protestant.
I desire and reasonate with a worship style that is quiet and contemplative, and though I have deep appreciation for the Catholic and Orthodox services, I’m “happy enough” that there is much freedom Protestant worship. I’d rather be a part of the solution in terms of opening my Protestant brothers and sisters to the riches of liturgical worship instead of abandoning ship and going where the contemplation is. The beauty of Protestant “freedom” is that we CAN have a church that worships similarly to a Catholic service…we can light candles, sing the same songs, recite liturgy, and hang a crucifix. Those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive to Catholic worship, and I think it is within the realm of possibility that Protestantism could open to that in some places. I’m appreciative that within Protestantism there is an acknowledgement that God speaks in different ways and we are free to respond to Him in more than one prescribed way. There is a potential for great balance in worship styles in the Protestant church, and I know I’d miss the celebratory nature of my church’s worship.
I’m “happy enough” being Protestant because as iMonk said, “The debate about ‘what is the true church?’ is not a compelling one for us, because we believe that all of us who belong to Christ are joined with him in his church.” I fully embrace the idea of the universal church, and I could not leave behind Protestantism’s robust theology of a personal faith that saves despite church affiliation. I love working together with different traditions of Christianity, learning from, and sharpening one another. Each stream has strengths and emphases that do not look the same in other manifestations of the Church. I see Protestantism as the place where those streams have the most potential to converge and create an ever-deepening understanding and experience of Christ as we learn from one another instead of closing our ears and looking inward.
I’m extremely grateful for the work that is being done in evangelicalism with the poor and oppressed all over the world. While of course we don’t have a corner on the market in compassion, Protestants are highly motivated to serve and evangelize. The modern missions movement has its flaws, of course, but creativity, passion, love, and worship are hallmarks of those who risk their lives every day for the love of the Savior and His people. I’m very happy to be a part of a tradition that places great emphasis on seeking-out those who are walking in darkness and showing them the Light of Christ.
Although I’m grieved over the divisions caused by the Reformation and wonder if change could have occured within the Catholic Church rather than splitting from it, I see ways God has brought good from it. I desire for Protestantism to honor historical tradition, to bring our beliefs and practices more in line with the early church, and I think that because of the nature of Protestantism as consistently changing and growing, there is real possibility of that happening. I’m happy to sit under the teaching of ancient mystics and church fathers, yet I see them as fallible humans who didn’t have all the answers either. I’m also happy to be taught by modern spiritual teachers whose faith and gifts of the Spirit I can’t deny.
I am “happy enough” to be a Protestant for many reasons other than these, mostly just theological convictions I can’t let go of. Part of me is very attracted to the Catholic and Orthodox traditions of faith, and they stir-in me a desire for greater connection and unity in the Body of Christ. I love the mysticism that I see in their worship. I think there is a lot that Protestants should learn from them. Have I considered the concept of converting? Of course. But at the end of the day, I can’t quite bring myself to agree with everything that I’m told I must agree with in order to join one of these churches, and I’m quite satisfied that Protestantism has a wide-open future full of potential for growth and change ahead of it. In the meantime, I’ll keep listening to and learning from my Catholic and Orthodox friends, my heart will remain open to the Truth found in their traditions, and I will look for opportunities of greater unity and closeness among us.