“Happy enough” being a Protestant

   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.

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8 responses to ““Happy enough” being a Protestant

  1. I don’t understand any of this. I find your philosophies mind boggling. Wouldn’t simple meditation get you farther in your life? With less stress? Do you not grow weary of being made uncomfortable by the un-Christian world around you?

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  2. finally read imonk’s blog post, and thought it was really excellent. still composing my thoughts on this one. i could probably write a book of thoughts on this subject, so i’ll probably skip an attempt to fill up your comment box with all of them!

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  3. Well, either comment or email me b/c I’d love to hear what you think!

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  4. Great post, Emily. I love reading your thoughts on topics such as these and find that I agree very earnestly with what you have to say.

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  5. I appreciate your comments. We in the church too often look at a stand of Christianity, and if there is something we disagree with, we run as far in the other direction as we can. I believe a happy medium can always be found. Conversation and seeking truth is always favorable to blindly running the other way. Most of the excesses I see in church history and today fit the mold of “I don’t want to be associated with that, so I will look as different as possible.”

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  6. Michael, I completely agree with you. I’ve noticed that Protestants have this innate fear of being in any way similar to anything Catholic, so there is a great tendency to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead of keeping wonderful traditions and even incorporating great theological truths into our own tradition, we distance ourselves and miss out on SO much. I wish there were more conversation and blending of tradition… you’re so right that so much excess comes from running from something else.

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  7. Are you…me? In female form? You’ve reiterated pretty much every significant struggle I’ve had on the matter, in the same order. 🙂 I stumbled upon your post whilst searching the great big internet for “contemplative protestant spirituality” and lamenting the near-total lack of a protestant monastic tradition (though Anglicanism comes pretty darn close). I too love the grassroots simplicity of my protestant upbringing and I feel that it should, by that fact, be compatable with the sort of simple, dedicated life of prayer found in a monastery. It’s a pity it’s so hard to find. Lord only knows, perhaps this is a good thing – keeps us on our toes and looking.

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  8. Ben, hahaha! It’s good to hear I’m not the only crazy person who thinks this way! =) I don’t know if you’re familiar with Richard Foster’s book of Spiritual Disciplines, but he does a good job in going over historical disciplines in a Protestant context. Thanks for your comment! =)

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