"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"The End of Protestantism" turns out to be...Protestant

When it came out last week, I had intended to write a lengthy rebuttal of Peter Leithart's First Things piece "The End of Protestantism." But if you know much about church history, reading it for yourself makes that unnecessary. For what Leithart is advocating, which he calls "reformational Catholicism," has been around since the 16th century. It's called "Anglicanism"--or more precisely, what used to be called "broad-church Anglicanism." C.S. Lewis would have been quite comfortable with it. Leithart's brand doesn't require England, but it's just the sort of via media of which traditional Anglicans are so uniquely proud.

The thing is, broad-church Anglicanism, whether English or not, is essentially Protestant--as Queen Elizabeth I rightly insisted. Like confessional Lutheranism and Calvinism, to be sure, it considers itself Catholic in the only sense that matters. In that sense of 'Catholic', Roman and Eastern Catholicism do not together constitute the Catholic Church, but are at most branches thereof, if not sects. But the belief that the communion of churches calling itself "the Catholic Church" is not, in fact, the Catholic Church is what makes Anglicanism in all its forms Protestant. Thus the terminus at which Leithart's "end of Protestantism" arrives is--well, Protestant.

It should be evident that all Protestant attempts to transcend the thing that used to be called Protestantism--such as "non-denominational" Christianity, or pentecostalism--end by coming similarly full circle. That is inevitable so long as those making the attempt fail to see that the Church Christ founded perdures as a visible and unitary whole, from which all other self-described "churches" are in varying degrees of schism--even as those degrees mark, inversely, the degrees of "imperfect communion" with the Church Christ founded.

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