An Orthodox Assessment
The Rev. Peter Leithart’s The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church is more than an expanded version of his well known article “Too Catholic to be Catholic.” Leithart has brought a more nuanced and sophisticated level of analysis to his critique of Protestant denominationalism by drawing on social science literature. He has done more than criticize denominationalism; he has also provided concrete examples that exemplify his vision of a reunited Christianity. His writing style – passionate, scholarly, and eloquent – while easy to read, is not lightweight.
Leithart’s book deserves attention because he is on the forefront of a movement of Protestants seeking to reconnect with the Ancient Church while also addressing Protestantism’s tragic divisions. Another reason for an Orthodox assessment is that Leithart has included Orthodoxy in his quest for Christian unity. Indeed, Pastor Leithart even addresses part of the book to Protestants who increasingly are being drawn to Orthodoxy – curiously seeking to dissuade them from re-uniting with the historic Orthodox Church!
Breaking Ties With the Ancient Church
It is widely acknowledged that one of Protestantism’s fundamental problems is its divisions. While most Protestants agree that denominational divisions are not good – division, even divisiveness has historically been its dominant characteristic – starting from the very beginning with Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. Protestants have taken several approaches to the problem of a divided Christianity. Many Evangelicals posit an invisible Church comprised of all true believers. What unites this invisible Church is not shared doctrine but the subjective “born again” experience. Another is the Branch Theory which holds that church unity is found in the three historic branches: Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, and Anglicanism.
Being a good Protestant, Leithart rejects the claims either of Roman Catholicism or Orthodoxy to be the true Church. As a high church Protestant, Leithart rejects the unity of the invisible Church. What Leithart proposes is that there will be a visible, unified Church in the future.
The unity of the church is not an invisible reality that renders visible things irrelevant. It is a future reality that gives present actions their orientation and meaning. Things are what they are as anticipations of what they will be (p. 19, italics in original; cf. p. 26).
This future-oriented ecumenism is not new. Gabriel Fackre – Andover Newton Theological School’s Samuel Abbott Professor of Christian Theology Emeritus – in an essay written in 1990 described the United Church of Christ’s ecumenism. This essay anticipated Rev. Leithart’s future oriented vision of church unity by 25 years.
Diversity is not the foe of doctrine. It stretches those who honor it toward catholicity. May we live out the enriching unity we have and toward a larger unity to come (Fackre p. 149; italics in original, bold added).
Pastor Leithart has an evolutionary understanding of the Church in which doctrine, practice, and worship evolve over time. The danger of Pastor Leithart’s solution is that it entails a parting of ways with the Ancient Church.
One weakness of Protestantism has been its wholesale neglect of church history, especially the first 1,000 years. The ironic tragedy of Leithart’s unified church of the future is that this church would have been rejected and excluded from Holy Communion by the early Church Fathers. Mercersburg theologian John Nevin in “Early Christianity” describes the estrangement between Protestantism and the Ancient Church:
The great Athanasius, now in London or New York, would be found worshipping only at Catholic altars. Augustine would not be acknowledged by any evangelical sect. Chrysostom would feel the Puritanism of New England more inhospitable and dry than the Egyptian desert (p. 271).
And, given the many changes that have taken place in recent decades, one has reason to wonder: How many modern day Evangelicals and Protestants would be welcome at the Eucharist in Luther, Calvin, and Bucer’s church? Readers of Leithart’s book should be aware of the high cost that comes with Leithart’s proposed solution: broken fellowship with the early Church.
A Protestant Solution
For all Pastor Leithart’s sweeping ecumenical vision, his solutions are surprisingly Protestant. Leithart gives with one hand, but then takes back with the other. At first he “retracts” certain Protestant positions then he quietly reinstates the same Protestant positions.
Mary will be honored as God-bearer. Saints will be celebrated. Church buildings will be bright and colorful. But in the reformed Catholic church, there will be no prayers to Mary, no appeals to the saints, no veneration of icons. . . . . Formerly Presbyterian and Baptist churches will paint their walls and put in stained glass (p. 32; emphasis added).
Pastor Leithart remains resolutely Protestant. This is evident in his flat out refusal to subject the Protestant Reformation to critical scrutiny.
The Reformation recovered central biblical and evangelical truths and practices that Protestants ought not to sacrifice. Even after Vatican II and the ecumenical movement, even after the joint Lutheran-Catholic statement on the doctrine of justification, many of the traditional Protestant criticisms of Catholicism and Orthodoxy (of the papacy, of Marian doctrines, of icon veneration, of the cult of the saints) hold (p. 169).
While many of the criticisms the Reformers directed against Roman Catholicism were valid, Protestants like Rev. Leithart need to come to terms with the fact that the Reformation took place in the 1500s, a long time after the early Church, and that it has introduced many doctrinal and liturgical innovations not found in the early Church. The discrepancy between Protestantism and early Christianity is something that Protestants must give account for.
So What’s New?
Reading Leithart’s book brought back memories of my former denomination the United Church of Christ (UCC). The future church which Pastor Leithart described with moving eloquence in Chapter 3 sounds much like the mild liberalism of the UCC in the 1950s and the 1960s. In line with the title of his book, Rev. Leithart calls for Protestant denominations and churches to “die,” that is, to cease to exist in their present forms in order for new forms to emerge. He writes:
We are called to die to our divisions, to the institutional divisions of denominationalism, in order to become what we will be, the one body of the Son of God (p. 165; emphasis added).
Similar language of death and rebirth as a means to church unity can be found in the UCC’s 1957 “The Preamble to the Basis of Union” which reads:
Affirming our devotion to one God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our membership in the holy catholic Church, which is greater than any single Church and than all the Churches together;
Believing that denominations exist not for themselves but as parts of that Church, within which each denomination is to live and labor and, if need be, die; and
Confronting the divisions and hostilities of our world, and hearing with a deepened sense of responsibility the prayer of our Lord “that they all may be one” . . . . (Emphasis added.)
All that Rev. Leithart has done in End of Protestantism is to update the ecumenical vision of the 1950s that gave birth to the UCC. So what’s new?
The Challenge of Liberal Theology
Peter Leithart’s vision of the future church is one where church unity takes priority over doctrinal specificity. Love and inclusion takes priority over exclusivist fundamentalism. Theologically, the future church will embrace the rich multiplicity of confessions but with no one confession binding on all.
Confessions, however, will cease to serve as wedges to pry one set of Christians from another. Confessions will be used for edification rather than as a set of shibboleths for excluding those who mispronounce (pp. 27-28; emphasis added).
There is a subtle disparaging tone here in Pastor Leithart’s understanding of how creeds function to protect the Church against heresy. He decries what he calls “shibboleths,” but there have been instances when so-called minor differences have had tremendous consequences. Historically, the Nicene Creed functioned to protect the Church from heresy. While the Nicene Creed was being formulated, there was a debate over whether the Son was homoousios (same Being) with the Father or homoiousios (similar being) with the Father. The difference in just one letter – one iota – meant the difference between affirming Jesus’ divinity or denying it. (See Peter Brown’s article about the iota of difference.) Leithart’s inclusive approach to creeds, by relativizing the authority of the creeds, opens the door to heresy.
A striking similarity can be seen in the way Pastor Leithart and the UCC both sought to read Scripture in the context of the historic creeds. Leithart writes:
Confessions and creeds will remain in play. Churches will unite around the early creeds and will continue to use the treasures of the great confessions of the Reformation, of Trent and the Catholic Catechism, and of the hundreds of creeds and confessions that the global South will produce between now and then (p. 27).
The UCC’s Basis of Union “Section II. Faith” shows a similar inclusive approach:
The faith which unites us and to which we bear witness is that faith in God which the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments set forth, which the ancient Church expressed in the ecumenical creeds, to which our own spiritual fathers gave utterance in the evangelical confessions of the Reformation, and which we are in duty bound to express in the words of our time as God Himself gives us light. In all our expressions of that faith we seek to preserve unity of heart and spirit with those who have gone before us as well as those who now labor with us (emphases added).
Gabriel Fackre, one of the UCC’s leading theologians, described the UCC’s approach of using creeds to interpret Scripture in a similar way:
As the scriptures are the source of our understanding of Christ, the historic ecumenical and confessional tradition is a key resource in construing its meaning (p. 141; italics in original).
For those who grew up in the provincial sub-culture of Evangelicalism all this might sound daring but for those who grew up in mainline Protestantism this is familiar territory. Within a matter of a few decades the UCC’s inclusive ecumenism degenerated into radical liberalism. For those of us who had to struggle against UCC’s tragic apostasy from historic Christianity Pastor Leithart’s confessional eclecticism strikes us as naive.
Many Evangelicals are unaware of how insulated they are. They hold in high esteem teachers and pastors for their “unique” and “brilliant” insights into Scripture not knowing that much has been borrowed from others. What seem to be bold and innovative teachings are often drawn from one of the early Church Fathers or, worse yet, a revived heresy. This is why knowledge of church history is so important for sound theology.
One of the flaws of the UCC has been its susceptibility to theological liberalism. When my former home church voted to withdraw from the UCC, I was struck by two things: (1) how so many liberals were enraged at my home church’s decision to exercise congregational autonomy in order to hold to what the Bible teaches and (2) the casual disregard the liberals had towards the doctrinal issues that prompted my former home church to withdraw. Surprisingly, Peter Leithart devoted very little attention to the threat of Liberalism (p. 78, 178). This makes me suspect that Pastor Leithart seriously underestimates the danger of liberal theology. From my time in the UCC, I can say I’ve experienced Peter Leithart’s “reformed Catholic church.” It is like a delightful and colorful Indian summer before the cold grey and grim winter sets in.
I have several questions for Pastor Leithart:
- When you described the future ‘reformed Catholic church,’ are you not reiterating the mildly liberal United Church of Christ of the 1950s and 1960s?
- And given the UCC’s later apostasy, what safeguards will your ‘reformed Catholic church’ have to ensure it remains in historic orthodoxy?
The Evangelical subculture in many ways is a closed off, provincial religious ghetto. Most who grow up within this bubble are all but completely unaware of this rich heritage to be found in the two thousand years of church history. When they do discover this bigger world many become enthusiastically inclusive and eclectic in their theology and practices giving rise to what many have dubbed “post-Evangelicalism.” This post-Evangelical shift can lead to a quest for church unity. Peter Leithart’s ecumenical vision reflects this optimistic post-Evangelical eclecticism.
Former Lutherans will discover fresh insights in the writings of former Mennonites and Calvinists; former Baptists will study encyclicals from Rome with appreciation; former Methodists will deepen their insights into the liturgy by studying Eastern Christian writers. . . . . Origen and Augustine and Aquinas and Luther and Barth will be remembered and honored (p. 27)
What Pastor Leithart writes above is nothing new. In my early days, I felt stifled by the literature of popular Evangelicalism, so I was delighted to discover the theological richness of the Heidelberg Catechism and Calvin’s Institutes. Later, I began to explore Roman Catholicism, reading John Paul II’s encyclicals, the documents of the Second Vatican Council, Francis of Assisi, Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and GK Chesterton. To balance things out, I also read up on liberation theology: Gustavo Gutierrez and Leonardo Boff; and contemporary Catholic spirituality writers like Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. While I was reading up on covenant theology and Mercersburg Theology, I was also trying to keep up with the Charismatic Renewal. At first, all of this reading was exciting, but after awhile it became tiring. I was like a tourist constantly on the road, visiting new and exotic locations. I never really settled down for long, and when I did come back to my Protestant home, I found that the neighborhood had changed quite a bit. I felt at home with the people of my home church but did not really feel at home theologically. Many American Christians today likewise drift from one new and grand theological insight to the next, religious nomads looking for greener pastures.
Our theological systems are like maps. They purport to tell us where we came from, where we are at present, and they guide us to where we wish to go – to our destination. Not all maps are accurate. As a matter of fact, bad maps will take us into great danger. One could collect maps as a hobby, but when on the road, one needs to commit to one good map to reach one’s destination. Constantly switching maps does no good if one is lost and trying to find the way home. Post-Evangelicals who enthusiastically read across religious traditions are like avid map collectors. They may enjoy seeing the wide world out there but sooner or later they will have to decide where their spiritual home is. Eventually, after reading extensively across traditions, I found myself drawn to the ancient wisdom of the early Church Fathers which helped me discover the historic Orthodox Church.
Jesus’ Prayer for Unity – An Exegetical History
One key premise of Rev. Leithart’s book is that God will fulfill Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for a future unified Church (pp. 13, 115, esp. 173). We read in John 17:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23, NIV; emphasis added)
Leithart made John 17 foundational to his quest for church unity:
We can know that God will keep his promise to make his people one as he is one with his Son. Somehow, someday, reunion will happen, because the Father gave his Son to make it happen (p. 26).
To achieve anything resembling this vision, every church will have to die, often to good things, often to some of the things they hold most dear. Protestant churches will have to become more catholic, and Catholic and Orthodox churches will have to become more biblical. We will all have to die in order to follow the Lord Jesus who prays that we all may be one (p. 36).
But does Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 apply to Protestantism’s divisions? To answer this question, we need to look at how historically the early Church Fathers interpreted this passage.
Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397) understood this reference to unity as an affirmation of Jesus’ divinity. In Of the Christian Faith Book 4 Chapter 3 §34 he writes:
But who can with a good conscience deny the one Godhead of the Father and the Son, when our Lord, to complete His teaching for His disciples, said: “That they may be one, even as we also are one.” The record stands for witness to the Faith, though Arians turn it aside to suit their heresy; for, inasmuch as they cannot deny the Unity so often spoken of, they endeavour to diminish it, in order that the Unity of Godhead subsisting between the Father and the Son may seem to be such as is unity of devotion and faith amongst men themselves continually of nature makes unity thereof. (NPNF Vol. X, p. 266, cf. p. 227)
Augustine of Hippo (354-430) understood Jesus’ reference to his unity with the Father as an affirmation of his role as divine Mediator. In his homilies on the Gospel of John Tractate 110 §4 Augustine notes:
And then He added: “I in them, and Thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.” Here He briefly intimated Himself as the Mediator between God and men.
But in adding, “That they may be perfect in one,” He showed that the reconciliation, which is effected by the Mediator, is carried to the very length of bringing us to the enjoyment of that perfect blessedness, which is thenceforth incapable of further addition. (Homilies on the Gospel of John; NPNF Series I, Vol. 7, §4; p. 410)
In The Trinity Augustine understood John 17:21 to be an affirmation of Jesus’ divinity and his office as mediator. He writes:
This is what he means when he says that they may be one as we are one (Jn 17:22)—that just as Father and Son are one not only by equality of substance but also by identity of will, so these men, for whom the Son is mediator with God, might be one not only by being, of the same nature, but also by being bound in the fellowship of the same love. Finally, he shows that he is the mediator by whom we are reconciled to God, when he says, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfected into one (Jn 17:23). (The Trinity Book 4, Chapter 2 §12; p. 161; Transl. Edmund Hill; italics in original, bold added; NewAdvent.org On the Holy Trinity Book 4 chapter 9)
The context for mediation here is that unity between God and sinful humanity, not a unity among rival denominations.
Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200/210-258) received a letter (date 256) from Firmilian, the Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, which contains a reference to John 17:21. Firmilian used the passage to affirm the Church’s unity in the face of geographic separation. He also understood John 17 as referring to the Christian’s union with God.
And this also which we now observe in you, that you who are separated from us by the most extensive regions, approve yourselves to be, nevertheless joined with us in mind and spirit. All which arises from the divine unity. For even as the Lord who dwells in us is one and the same, He everywhere joins and couples His own people in the bond of unity, whence their sound has gone out into the whole earth, who are sent by the Lord swiftly running in the spirit of unity; as, on the other hand, it is of no advantage that some are very near and joined together bodily, if in spirit and mind they differ, since souls cannot at all be united which divide themselves from God’s unity. “For, lo,” it says, “they that are far from Thee shall perish.” But such shall undergo judgment of God according to their desert, as depart from His words who prays to the Father for unity, and says, “Father, grant that, as Thou and I are one, so they also may be one in us.” (Epistle LXXIV §3, NPNF Series 2 Vol. V, pp. 390-391; emphases added)
The controversial Alexandrian theologian Origen (c. 185-c. 254) interpreted John 17:21 in light of Neo-Platonist philosophy. In De Principiis he describes how the end will be like the beginning. He notes that where the Fall consists of humanity and creation lapsing into complexity and diversity, the end will consist of the restoration to unity promised in John 17:21 (ANF Vol. IV, De Principiis Book I, Ch. 6 §2; pp. 260-261).
John Chrysostom (c. 344/354-407) notes in Homily 82 in the series on John’s Gospel that verse 21 refers to concord among the Christians and that verse 23 means that peace has greater ability to persuade men than miracles (NPNF Series 2 Vol. XIV, p. 304; New Advent Homily 82).
To sum up, a review of early Christian writings fails to show anyone interpreting Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23 in a manner similar to Rev. Leithart’s. This lacuna – the failure to consider other possible readings of John 17 – raises significant questions about the validity of Pastor Leithart’s exegesis. The absence of patristic precedence suggests that Leithart’s ecumenical reading of John 17:20-23 is a novelty. This in turn suggests that he has wrongly applied the Johannine passage to the Protestant predicament of division and denominationalism. The dubiety of Leithart’s exegesis turns his future-oriented ecumenism from inevitable to improbable. If the biblical basis for Rev. Leithart’s evolutionary ecumenism is flawed, then it needs to be revised or even discarded for another approach to church unity.
Is Closed Communion Divisive?
Pastor Leithart laments the “divisiveness” of closed communion (p. 170), but he should take into consideration the benefits of closed communion. Historically, closed communion, by protecting the Church against heresies, upheld the unity of the Church. Interestingly, Protestant churches have overwhelmingly (until recently) taken their cue from Calvin, Luther, and other Reformers who practiced closed communion. It was not until the 1970s that open communion became widely accepted in Protestant circles. In other words, Leithart’s call for open communion is a novelty at odds with historic Protestantism and ancient Christianity.
Receiving Communion in the Orthodox Church is a sign of one’s sharing the same faith with the Ancient Church as well as with fellow Orthodox believers today. What makes this possible is that every local Eucharistic celebration is carried out under the bishop who is part of the chain of succession going back to the Apostles. For example, the local Greek Orthodox parish through its bishop has a direct historical link to John Chrysostom and the Ecumenical Councils. The local Antiochian Orthodox parish through its bishop has a direct historical connection to John of Damascus and Ignatius of Antioch. This historic connection is something no Protestant church can claim due to the schism underlying the Reformation.
Pastor Leithart is more than welcome to partake of Eucharist at an Orthodox church providing he is willing to accept Apostolic Tradition and come under the teaching authority of the Orthodox bishops, the successors to the Apostles. But if he wishes to hold on to the doctrinal innovations of the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s then he should accept the fact that he has chosen to walk in a different tradition. Protestantism and Orthodoxy are not theologically compatible. Where many Protestants view theology as negotiable, for the Orthodox Apostolic Tradition is a treasure to be safeguarded for future generations until the Second Coming.
Leithart’s Questions for Inquirers
The solutions put forward by Pastor Leithart seem to be intended for the divisions within Protestantism. He does not devote much attention to Protestantism’s differences with Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. However, he looks askance at Protestants who are interested in Orthodoxy. To Protestants contemplating conversion to Orthodoxy, Leithart posed two questions:
- “What are you saying about your past Christian experience by moving to Rome or Constantinople?” and
- “Are you willing to start eating at a eucharistic table where your Protestant friends are no longer welcome?” (p. 170)
My answers to Rev. Leithart’s questions are as follow:
- With respect to the first question, I would say: “I am deeply indebted to Protestantism for introducing me to the Bible. I am looking forward to joining the Church that gave us the Bible.”
- With respect to the second question, I would say: “To be Protestant is to be cut off from eucharistic fellowship with the Ancient Church. It is regrettable that Reformers have rejected certain key doctrines that were affirmed by the Seven Ecumenical Councils. Your proposed solution is intrinsically schismatic, even if that is not the intent.”
What Defines Orthodoxy
Pastor Leithart is under the mistaken impression that Orthodoxy defines itself on the basis of differences with Roman Catholicism and Protestantism (p. 38). The starting point for his paradigm of church history is the Church being broken into many pieces – while we all have different pieces of the puzzle; no one has the whole picture. This forms the basis for his evolutionary approach to ecumenism which assumes that the various parties should come together and negotiate theology. Implicit to this view is theological relativism; in this paradigm there is no doctrinal orthodoxy that holds across time and space.
. . . all disputants must acknowledge that we see through a glass darkly, now only in part. We should all be ready to be corrected by brothers and sisters, whatever tradition they inhabit. We should all do theology with a prayer for brighter, more comprehensive light (p. 173).
Orthodoxy, on the other hand, has a different starting point. What defines Orthodoxy is fidelity to Apostolic Tradition. This is the Tradition of the Apostle spoken of repeatedly within Scripture (2 Thessalonians 2:15, 2 Timothy 1:13-14). This is THE Faith once and for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 3). The phrase “once and for all” means a one-time only giving of Apostolic Tradition, not a progressive, gradually evolving of the Christian Faith. Athanasius the Great summarized the importance of Holy Tradition for Orthodox identity:
But, beyond these sayings, let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached, and the Fathers kept. Upon this the Church is founded, and he who should fall away from it would not be a Christian, and should no longer be so called. (Epistle 1 to Serapion §28)
Orthodoxy insists on keeping the Apostolic Faith intact – unlike Roman Catholicism which has added to Holy Tradition and Protestantism which has rejected parts of Holy Tradition. This can be ascertained through a comparison of the Orthodox Church today with the Ancient Church. Leithart’s evolutionary approach is radically at odds with Orthodoxy’s two thousand years of safeguarding Apostolic Tradition.
To readers who find Pastor Leithart’s vision of a reunified church that includes Orthodoxy appealing, I want to say in all charity and truthfulness: “That’s not going to happen. We’re Orthodox; we don’t change.” This means that those who wish to remain Protestant should realize this means walking on a separate path from Orthodoxy. We can have friendly relations, but we will not share in the Eucharist. I am not opposed to what Leithart referred to as “strategic alliances” (p. 64). This is very much needed as we move into a post-Christian American culture.
Despite his commendable intentions, Peter Leithart’s End of Protestantism suffers from several serious flaws.
First, Leithart’s evolutionary approach to church history creates a division between present day Protestantism and the Ancient Church. The notion of an embryonic Apostolic Faith is nowhere to be found in Scripture or in church history. The Faith, once and for all delivered by the Apostles to the Church, was never assumed to be an infant or immature Faith that continually morphs and evolves throughout history. They understood it to be a mature Faith from the start. Many Protestants are unaware that their doctrines and worship would bar them from receiving Communion in the Ancient Church.
Second, Leithart’s book provides a dubious Protestant solution to a Protestant problem. His refusal to even consider relinquishing Protestant beliefs serves only to reinforce the schism with the Ancient Church. For example, none of the Church Fathers taught the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura. While the early Church Fathers did affirm the authority of Scripture, they taught Scripture IN Tradition. With sola scriptura the Protestant Reformers introduced the novel notion of Scripture OVER Tradition. By jettisoning Holy Tradition, sola scripura opened the door to Protestantism’s hermeneutical chaos and the unprecedented proliferation of denominations. It is only with the repudiation of sola scriptura and the return to Apostolic Tradition that Protestantism can find healing for its divisions. Protestants longing for the one holy catholic and apostolic Church need to break out of the Protestant paradigm of sola scriptura and embrace the paradigm of Apostolic Tradition.
Third, Leithart’s proposed Reformational Catholicism sounds very much like a repeat of the ecumenical approach taken by the United Church of Christ which has since succumbed to theological liberalism. Church history contains many valuable lessons. It behooves Pastor Leithart and readers of his book to heed the warning from the tragedy of the UCC lest they repeat the UCC’s ecumenical disaster.
Fourth, the premise underlying Leithart’s ecumenical vision – John 17:21-23, is based on a novel reading at odds with historic exegesis. Because Protestants revere Scripture as the divinely inspired Word of God, they value the right interpretation of Scripture. The questionable exegesis underlying Pastor Leithart’s ecumenical vision should give thoughtful Protestants pause.
Fifth, with respect to Protestantism’s schism with Orthodoxy Rev. Leithart’s greatly underestimates how his Protestantism sabotages any attempt to reconcile the two traditions. Protestants need to realize that they are walking in a tradition separated from Ancient Christianity. In 1672, the Orthodox Church in the Confession of Dositheus formally condemned Reformed theology. The formal conciliar nature of this rejection of Protestantism is something ecumenists like Leithart cannot avoid. Peter Leithart’s optimistic future oriented ecumenism holds that the two paths will one day meet up but this review has raised issues that call this into question. Leithart has not taken seriously the difficulty of merging Protestantism with Orthodoxy.
Indeed, Protestants must come to terms with their duplicity toward the early Church, particularly the Church Fathers and Ecumenical Councils. One cannot at one and the same time mine gems of theological truth and wisdom from the Church Fathers then later scorn and vilify them as idolaters or immature theologians.
As a theological map Peter Leithart’s The End of Protestantism is flawed. It will likely take its users into dangerous territory and cause them to waste valuable time that could be used more productively. There are two alternative paths to the future for the reader. One is to exclude Orthodoxy from Leithart’s ecumenical vision. This is the path if one wishes to hold on to one’s Protestant identity. The other is to be willing to measure Protestantism against the Ancient Church and being open to making changes in light of Ancient Christianity. In addition to the example of Peter Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox, there is the more recent example of Joseph Gleason in the article “A Calvinist Anglican Converts to Orthodoxy.”
A Thought Experiment
Imagine that Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons appear at Pastor Leithart’s church in Birmingham, Alabama, one Sunday morning. Ignatius was the third bishop of Antioch, Apostle Paul’s home church (see Acts 13:1-3). He authored several letters just before his martyrdom around 98/117. Irenaeus was the bishop of Lyons, a city on the western edge of the Roman Empire. He was the disciple of Polycarp, who was the disciple of Apostle John, and wrote Against Heresies prior to his martyrdom circa 195. Both men lived in the second century shortly after the Apostles had passed on and were known for their zeal in defending the Christian Faith. What would they say to Leithart over coffee after worship?
Likely, Ignatius’ question would be, “Who is your bishop?” As a good Calvinist, Leithart’s answer would be: “We don’t have bishops. We’re Reformed Presbyterians.” Ignatius’ follow-up question would likely be: “But you do know that without a bishop’s approval you don’t have a valid Eucharist? You would know this if you read my letter to the Smyrnaeans.” Irenaeus would then chime in, “Reformed Protestants? I never heard of these words. Is this part of Tradition received from the Apostles? I was talking with one of your parishioners and he told me that the Protestant Reformation began in the 1500s!”
Let us say that a little later bishops Ignatius and Irenaeus were to sit down for lunch with the local Orthodox priest with Pastor Leithart joining them. In the course of the meal Ignatius would ask the Orthodox priest: “Who is your bishop?” The priest would quickly answer: “His Grace Bishop Alexander of the Diocese of the South of the Orthodox Church in America.” Irenaeus would follow up with, “Do you teach the Tradition of the Apostles?” The priest would answer: “Our church home page has this statement of purpose: ‘The community is committed to keeping the Faith as transmitted by the Apostles to the first Fathers of the Church and preserved in the Holy Orthodox Church.’” At some point Pastor Leithart must reckon with the reality. First, the saints of old would find the innovations of Protestantism strange and at odds with Apostolic Tradition. Second, they would recognize the historic Tradition of the Apostles preserved and guarded in the local Orthodox parish. A sobering reality indeed for Protestants.
We are thankful for Protestant men like Pastor Leithart who seriously seek Church unity and wonder if the title of his book tells us more than he intended? If Protestants are truly sincere about uniting with Orthodoxy, they would need to embrace the Orthodox Church in all its fullness and historicity. This, to play on the title of Leithart’s book, would mean the end of Protestantism. It can be done. Peter Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox tells how a group of Evangelicals transitioned from Protestantism to Orthodoxy. The transition was not easy. Returning to the Faith of the Ancient Church required their relinquishing certain Protestant beliefs, but in 1987 some 2000 Evangelicals were received into the Orthodox Church. Readers who wish to know more about what is involved in transitioning from Protestantism to Orthodox will find the article “Crossing the Bosphorus” helpful on the theological and practical levels.
Robert Arakaki. 2012. “Unintended Schism: A Response to Peter Leithart’s ‘Too Catholic to be Catholic.’” OrthodoxBridge (12 June).
Robert Arakaki. 2013. “Crossing the Bosphorus.” OrthodoxBridge (15 January).
Athanasius the Great. 1951. The Letters of Saint Athanasius Concerning the Holy Spirit to Bishop Serapion. Trans. and ed., C.R.B. Shapland. Uploaded by Mark Walley 2014.
Augustine. 1991. The Trinity. Translator, Edmund Hill, OP. New City Press.
Peter Brown. 2014. “The Homoousios Controversy and Semi-Arianism.” Jesus Christ God, Man and Savior Week Six: God the Son at Nicea and Constantinople. (Version 7 updated 5 October).
Fr. Stephen Andrew Damick. 2013. “‘A Premodern Sacramental Eclectic?’: Evangelicals Reaching for Tradition.” OrthodoxyAndHeterodoxy (25 June).
Gabriel Fackre. 1990. “Christian Doctrine in the United Church of Christ.” In Theology and Identity: Traditions, Movements, and Polity in the United Church of Christ. Edited by Daniel L. Johnson and Charles Hambrick-Stowe. Pilgrim Press.
Peter Gillquist. 2010. Becoming Orthodox. Conciliar Press, 3rd edition.
Joseph Gleason. 2013. “A Calvinist Anglican Converts to Orthodoxy.” JourneyToOrthodoxy (24 October).
Peter Leithart. 2016. End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church. Brazos Press (a division of Baker Publishing Group).
Peter Leithart. 2012. “Too Catholic to be Catholic.” First Things (21 May).
John Williamson Nevin. 1978. “Early Christianity.” Catholic and Reformed, pp. 177-310. Editors, Charles Yrigoyen and George Bricker. The Pickwick Press.
Andrew Tooley. 2007. “Emerging Church: Evangelical or Post-Evangelical Pioneer?” Catalyst ( 1 November).
United Church of Christ. “Basis of Union.”
Brian Zahnd. 2013. “A Premodern Sacramental Eclectic.” BrianZahnd.com (24 June)
David George Moore. 2016. “End of Protestantism (a review of Peter Leithart).” Jesus Creed (22 October).
Kris Song. 2016. “Is This the ‘End of Protestantism?’ A Review of Peter Leithart’s Latest Book on Church Unity.” The Two Cities (27 October).
Fred Sanders. 2016. “Does Protestantism Need to Die?” Christianity Today (21 October).
Douglas Wilson. 2016. “The Purported End of Protestantism.” Blog and Mablog (2 November).
As I’ve thought about my own continuing journey, I would respond to Leithart’s first questions this way:
My past experience is not invalid because I’m not connected to the Church. In fact, the Spirit blows where it will. But I do not deny that as a Protestant I am a child of the Prodigal (Rome) and long to see and join my long-lost family with whom I have been estranged for so many years. I am thankful I have a home to return to.
Leithart does seem a bit optimistic and perhaps paradoxical in his approach. Thanks for your assessment.
Dear Mr. Arakaki,
Thank you for this post and for sharing your thoughts and insights concerning Leithart’s The End of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church. As someone who’s experienced and lived both the Protestant and Roman Catholic worldviews, and now someone who is unashamedly Orthodox, I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. I couldn’t help but think that Leithart’s vision, if it were to ever come to pass, and I highly doubt that it will, would resemble something like Anglicanism, an ecclesial community now bearing an uncanny resemblance to the UCC to which you once belonged.
Leithart’s “future church” would be so diverse that, like today’s Anglicanism, there would room for high-church, low-church, and non-church “believers” of all sorts, each one pretty much believing and confessing whatever symbol of faith (creed) – or no creed at all – that simply suits their personal tastes, and this despite so many clearly obvious contradictions, along with a complete disdain for history and even Sacred Scripture itself. Funny, isn’t that what majority of mainstream Protestant communities has already become? It seems that Liethart is attempting to reform the ever self-warping/reforming wheel of Protestantism without realizing it.
As you’ve pointed out, the main problem with Leithart’s vision is that it ends up producing a kind of doctrinal liberalism that no longer believes in anything, be it sola scriptura, papism, or the unchangeable Apostolic Tradition of Orthodoxy itself. Isn’t that the destiny of Protestantism after all? Couldn’t we take it a step further and ask, “Isn’t that the destiny, the outcome, and the fruit of every heresy the Church has encountered since the ancient times when the Apostles themselves walked among us?” I am left with the feeling that Protestantism, and even now Roman Catholicism under the aegis of Pope Francis, is a slowly sinking ship that’s following poorly drawn-up, perhaps purposefully deceptive maps, to use your analogy.
Overall, I liked the assessment, and I thought you summed up what our holy and God-bearing Fathers have been saying all along concerning both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism alike. Thanks again for posting!
Good Job Robert!
Without a good immersion (triple?) in the substance and content of Church History, most protestants will read past (miss) Leithart’s overwhelming bias and Protestant assumption. This is why Protestant so desperately need to carefully read men like Jaraslov Pelikan…multi-doctorate in ancient/patristic Church History & Doctrinal development.
Otherwise our modern arrogance easily gets the best of us, and we think we understand what we are mostly completely ignorant of. Since becoming Orthodox (twice a PCA Elder), I cannot begin to say how much I appreciate the practical effects of “the communion of the Saints”…knowing, reading and living with the early Saints…who knew and understood Far more than I ever will. Here again, Protestantism’s impoverishing Minimalism robbed me of the riches to be learned and deeply imbibed here. Lord have mercy.
[robert…add this as a PS to the above if you will, or just leave it here.
PS…it just so happens that Saint Ignatius is honored before our scheduled reading of Holy Scripture today!
“Ignatius the God-Bearer, Bishop of Antioch
Reading from the Synaxarion:
Saint Ignatius was a disciple of Saint John the Theologian, and a successor of the Apostles, and he became the second Bishop of Antioch, after Evodus. He wrote many epistles to the faithful, strengthening them in their confession, and preserving for us the teachings of the holy Apostles. Brought to Rome under Trajan, he was surrendered to lions to be eaten, and so finished the course of martyrdom about the year 107. The remnants of his bones were carefully gathered by the faithful and brought to Antioch. He is called God-bearer, as one who bare God within himself and was aflame in heart with love for Him. Therefore, in his Epistle to the Romans (ch. 4), imploring their love not to attempt to deliver him from his longed-for martyrdom, he said, “I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found to be the pure bread of God.”
Apolytikion of Ignatius the God-Bearer in the Fourth Tone
As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Ignatius. Intercede with Christ our God that our souls be saved.
Kontakion of Ignatius the God-Bearer in the Third Tone
The divine and brilliant day of thine illustrious contests doth proclaim to all mankind Him that was born of a Virgin; for it was for Him that thou didst thirst to delight in, and didst haste to be devoured by beasts in thy longing. Hence, O glorious Ignatius, the name God-bearer was rightly given to thee.”
I appreciate this fine analysis.
The admonition that Protestants, tout court, join Orthodoxy is a bit absurd in the present moment. And this is from someone in the process of making that decision himself. This has nothing to do with theological opinions, whether over icons, the mysteries, sovereignty of God etc etc. These are important, but not at issue.
Leithart is trying to grapple with the historical reality. Whether anyone likes it or not, the Reformation happened, the Catholic Reformation happened (with the solidification of certain doctrinal trends at Trent). Orthodoxy was either not in the West or remotely present for centuries after. Then when it shows up, it appears to pastor the ethnic groups residing (Russians, Greeks, Arabs etc.) There is nothing wrong with this, but it has continued and remained.
The fact that the Pan-Orthodox council failed to resolve the American situation ought to raise some concerns. It’s also clear there are fractures within Orthodoxy, with backroom concerns between Constantinople’s Patriarch and Moscow’s. Politics is a live wire issue.
Rome’s unity is not only false and innovative, but deceptive, coerced, and create through the Imperial Papacies beginning in the 10th and 11th centuries. There has always been ethnic variations in the diverse churches of Western Europe, and this reality was cemented in the Reformation’s final rejection of Roman hegemony. Despite propaganda, this was not merely a break with apostolic Rome. This has continued, and developed, into the American context. So the real question is, and ought to be, how does Orthodoxy work with this historic reality in order to work towards a true catholicity?
Protestants are not heretics or schismatics because they did not leave anything. If anything, they are disconnected brethren. And they have no where to go. As it is right now, there is no American Orthodox church, but churches, many times with distinct and harsh ethnic offerings (not everywhere). So the real mission is to educate theologically, have compassion, and engage in a slow process of dialog and confluence. Is this not the work of Christ reconciling all brothers?
While I don’t think you’re fair to Leithart, nor do you fully understand this book in the context of his other work, I think you are right to say that his thesis is a kind of fantasy. Appeals to eschatology can mask glaring problems and impossibilities, which you point out (e.g. how will doctrinal problems and ecclesiastical arrangements be settled?). But he is at least trying to not condemn or throw under the bus a thousand years of development among peoples who were devoted to Christ and trying to work out problems.
I think of how Tom Torrance was received both as Protopresbyter and as patriarch of Scotland (the latter being a friendly gesture, not official) in his role as moderator of the Church of Scotland’s GA. I think this generosity needs to be a wider attitude when dealing with the historical contingencies of Orthodoxy in the West. Otherwise the growth of Orthodoxy will only be the cannibalism of disaffected Protestants, which has been many times confused for genuine evangelism. The Reformation freed up the Bible for Christians to read in the vernacular (something Cyril and Methodios, the Byzantine church’s greatest missionaries, did) and has had real efforts and success at spreading the Gospel.
Leithart’s lopsided attempt ought to spur a more discerning attempt to make sense of things, rather than an ideological high-handed, high horse, position, which smacks of arrogance and triumphalism. Things are not so in the world today, nor ever were. At the very least, Leithart is trying to take everything into consideration.
Thank you for your frank and spirited comment on my review of Peter Leithart’s book. As I read your opening paragraph I was puzzled by your claim that the admonition that Protestants embrace Orthodoxy is “absurd.” In recent years there have been a number of Protestants who have embraced Orthodoxy. While the numbers are small, this trend has raised concerns among denominational leaders. And perhaps you could expand upon the phrase “tout court”? I’m not sure what you had in mind here.
As I read your comment I began to wonder whether you agree with Orthodoxy’s claim to be the one true visible Church. If you do not, that would explain why you took issue with my review of Leithart’s book. Could you do me the favor of letting me know how you understand the unity of the Church?
As I read further in your opening paragraph I was puzzled by your referring to icons and mysteries (sacraments?) as “theological opinions” and “not an issue.” I would have to disagree with that. Icons are not “theological opinions” but a dogma affirmed by an Ecumenical Council. Icons are an integral part of Orthodoxy. Acceptance of icons is part of one’s submission to the teaching authority of the Orthodox Church. The same thing can said with respect to the “mysteries” also known as “sacraments.” While Orthodoxy may not hold to a precise definition as in Roman Catholicism, there are certain positions that all Orthodox Christians share, indeed must share to be Orthodox.
You lamented the failure of the recent Orthodox gathering in Crete to resolve the jurisdictional issue in the US. I think you overstated the issue. I attend the local Greek Orthodox parish in Honolulu, Hawaii, and from time to time I visit the nearby ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia) parish and even receive Holy Communion there. My website administrator is an OCA priest. If I were to visit his church on the Big Island I would be able to receive the Eucharist. My journey to Orthodoxy began with a tiny Bulgarian Orthodox parish in Berkeley. What I saw of the faith and worship then continued to be reinforced no matter which jurisdiction the church belonged to. So, Eucharistic unity is very much a working reality in Orthodoxy even with overlapping jurisdictions. Eucharistic unity is supplemented by shared practices like fasting, liturgical calendar, lives of the saints, the Church Fathers, etc. As a former Protestant I am amazed at how the various ethnic jurisdictions confess the same doctrine and use the same liturgies. So I think your choice of the word “fracture” is too strong. Yes, Orthodox Christians should grieve the lack of administrative unity, but at the same time Orthodox Christians appreciate the shared Faith and Liturgy that unites us even as we implore our bishops for one American Orthodox Church.
I’m puzzled by your statement that Protestants have nowhere to go. If there is an ethnic Greek parish in one’s area then that is where you should go. If there is an OCA, or Antiochian, or Bulgarian Orthodox parish in my area that is where I should go. The key question is where the Apostolic Faith is taught, not the ethnic makeup of the congregation. I would like that there be an all-English liturgy but I try to be understanding that many of the parishes were founded by immigrants who treasured the Faith of their fathers. I believe that in time there will be an administratively united Orthodoxy in America that reflects America’s incredible ethnic and cultural diversity. In the meantime I rejoice that there is Eucharistic unity among the various jurisdictions.
I did my best to be fair to Pastor Leithart in my review. I hope you noted all the page references I made at the end of my quotes. I have read other reviews of Leithart’s book and have been frustrated by the absence of references which would have allowed me to verify their statements. I agree with you that the Protestant Reformation freed up the Bible for the laity to read and understand but I am also cognizant of the multitude of competing interpretations arising from the same Reformation. Broad access to Scripture with broken ecclesial authority has huge costs. This freedom has a very high price tag attached wouldn’t you agree?
I would be interested in knowing how I failed to understand Pastor Leithart’s book apart from the context of his other works. My understanding is that each book stands on its own merit unless it is part of series of works.
While Protestants for the most part are not intentional schismatics or heretics, the fact is they are not in Eucharistic Communion with Orthodoxy. Nor do they share in the same Faith. In my article I try hard to be diplomatic but frank about the distance separating Protestantism from Ancient Christianity and present day Orthodoxy.
With respect to there being a tone of high-handedness, arrogance, and triumphalism in the article, I wonder if you are confusing that with my being open and honest in my assessment of Pastor Leithart’s optimistic ecumenism. If I came down hard on Peter Leithart’s ecumenical vision, it is because is very much like the ecumenical vision of Mercersburg Theology in the 1800s and of the UCC in the 1950s and 60s. I would encourage you read my critique of Mercersburg Theology. I very much appreciate Mercersburg Theology (indeed, I am deeply indebted to Mercersburg Theology) but I came to the conclusion it is a dead end. As I noted: “It can’t get you there.” In any event, I would hope that you will ignore any indication of high-handedness in my article and look for errors in fact or reasoning. I have tried to make my blog articles evidence driven, not feelings driven.
Let’s say you and a friend are driving cross country to make it in time to an important event. At a certain point you’re pretty sure the car is heading in the wrong direction. What do you do if you are in the passenger seat? Murmur quietly: “Perhaps we might have made a wrong turn somewhere possibly back there?” Or, “Wait! Stop! I think you’re going the wrong way.” In the beginning a gentle suggestion might suffice but after several attempts stronger tone might be needed.
I know that you and I don’t see eye to eye on a number of points but I do hope you will continue to voice your concerns to us. There is a Chinese saying: “He who flatters me is my enemy, who blames me is my teacher.”
Like a boat adrift without steerage and therefore without the means to point toward safe harbor, the so-called Church of Dr. Leithart’s imagination can never find unity in the embrace of our Lord. The unity of the Church is primarily a vertical unity with Christ, the Head of the Church, built upon the work of the apostles and prophets down through the ages, long before any Protestants were a gleam in their fathers’ eyes. The horizontal unity that one suspects that Leithart longs to bring about is the deceptive syncretism that is the spawn of the nihilistic spirit of the ongoing revolution. It is this revolution that has tread stealthily through Western institutions, lulling its vanquished into complicity, and which now seeks to seduce the Church herself. The armchair idealism of Leithart’s sort of Protestant theologian is just another expression of this damnable syncretism. I haven’t read Dr. Leithart’s book; nor am I going to read it, now that I have read Dr. Arakaki’s critique of it. It wouldn’t be worth the effort.
If you ever find yourself in Birmingham, know that you’ll receive warm, “Southern Orthodox” hospitality at our parish! I hope that while you were at our parish website you had time to look at the photos of our new temple and the beautiful adornment underway inside, thanks to our Romanian iconographers.
I want to make a couple of observations about Dr. Leithart’s project, based on your review of “The End of Protestantism” and my exposure to the Federal Vision (‘FV’) party within Reformed Presbyterianism over the years.
First, this project does seem to have an historical antecedent; and that is classical Anglicanism, understood as an attempt at a via media between Puritanism and Roman Catholicism. A prescription like “Mary will be honored as God-bearer. Saints will be celebrated. Church buildings will be bright and colorful. But in the reformed Catholic church, there will be no prayers to Mary, no appeals to the saints, no veneration of icons,” puts me in mind of the ethos of The Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles. What you call Post-Evangelical Eclecticism was (and obviously is) also very much a part of this ethos, given its doctrinal and spiritual comprehensiveness, in which each congregation otherwise “chooses its own adventure” on an ad hoc journey of theological discovery, driven largely by what the pastor happens to be reading. The question that comes to mind is simply: rather than reinventing the wheel of Reformed Catholicism, why not join a continuing Anglican denomination, or start your own, one with a dose of Calvinism, moderately High in churchmanship, but not Anglo-Catholic?
Second, FV Presbyterians hold to a postmillennial eschatology. This seems ironic for a group coming from the inerrantist wing of Presbyterianism when one recalls that postmillennialism was the eschatology of 20th century liberal Protestantism—but perhaps not so much, given the fact that denominations like the United Church of Christ share Calvinist roots with FV Presbyterians. I have long suspected that postmillenialism is one of the foundational pillars supporting what you rightly characterize as Dr. Leithart’s “evolutionary approach to church history.”
This evolutionary approach includes the idea that no Christian group has so far come close to getting matters 100% correct, or stated positively, the “Church” is a work-in-progress, one that will only be consummated in doctrinal and praxological terms in something like Dr. Leithart’s Reformed Catholic Church of The Future. These ideas are licensed by a postmillennial timetable, which, if not stated overtly, still suggests that we are facing many more centuries, if not millennia, of church history. This is in spite of the two millennia we have completed, including the Constantinian settlement (about which Dr. Leithart wrote an excellent book) that inaugurated a Christian civilization that is now largely vanquished. It is this mindset that has led some FVers to allegedly refer to The Church Fathers as the “Church Babies.” (Needless to say, a blasphemous notion to Orthodox Christians.)
Such a time frame is counterintuitive to historically-conscious believers, especially Catholics and Orthodox who view Christendom as The Millennium of Christ’s reign, and Orthodox who experience this reign every Lord’s Day during the Anaphora when they hear the priest pray in the past tense that “Thou..didst not cease to do all things until Thou hadst brought us up to Heaven, and hadst bestowed upon us Thy Kingdom which is to come.” But it is also counter-intuitive for historically-unconscious believers, such as Dispensationalists, albeit for different reasons!
Postmillennialism may play an indispensable doctrinal and apologetic role in Dr. Leithart’s project, in the rejection of the Orthodox Churches conviction of being the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Thank you for visiting the OrthodoxBridge! And, God willing I hope to see your church’s beautiful icons.
I think you are right that there is considerable overlap between Peter Leithart’s Reformed Catholicism and Anglicanism’s Via Media (Middle Way). Your comment about the possible link between postmillennialism and Leithart’s optimistic ecumenism is insightful.
Despite certain differences with Rev. Leithart with respect to his ecclesiology, I do think he wrote a fine book on Constantine. Please see my review of Defending Constantine..
I think your point that the Constantinian settlement has been “vanquished” is for the most part accurate, but I would like to note that post-Soviet Russia has been undergoing something of a religious revival. An estimated 29,000 churches have been built in Russia over the past 28 years.
I like the notion that Dr. Leithart is “reinventing Anglicanism.” “Anglicanism” itself was an “invention,” not of the 1559 “Elizabethan Settlement” (which created an ambiguously Reformed – but not “Calvinist” – church retaining, probably for pragmatic reasons, a number of Catholic-ish or Lutheran-ish features) but of the early 17th Century. Those interested in pursuing the matter might find this book of interest:
*Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English Protestant Thought, 1600-1640* by Anthony Milton (Cambridge, 1995), a book which I reviewed here in 1998:
Your review pretty much sums up my impressions of the book. It is very naive. I didn’t even make it through the whole book. It reminded me of so many of the well-intentioned, but ultimately trivial, books I read as a youth searching for some element of serious Christianity within Evangelical circles. It wasn’t till I was in a pastoral apprenticeship program at a Baptist church a few years ago that I realized the problem was Evangelicalism itself. It was a hard thing to admit to myself that I had been barking up the wrong tree for 10+ years, but when one is willing to examine the issues of authority that haunt Protestantism the problems become obvious and irreconcilable. So, what does one do when he reaches a dead end? Try and surmount the wall, or return to the fork which led you to the dead end?
Thank you for sharing your story. I suggest you start with the book of Acts then see what happened to the Church after the New Testament was written. You could read the Didache or Ignatius of Antioch’s letters. Starting from the book of Acts then the second century and working your way forward to the twenty first century should help you where the Church is today.