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Why Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Aren’t Good Christian Categories

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In school, I learned that there are three major branches of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christianity. I haven’t questioned this until recently: why aren’t Orthodoxs called protestants, since they’ve rebelled against the Catholic church just as we have (or perhaps, from their perspective, Rome rebelled against them during the great schism)?

An argument against that is that the Orthodox church(es) claim, just like the Roman Catholic church, to be the uncorrupted church with direct historic lineage to the holy community of the Biblical apostles. Protestant churches, however, recognize that these churches are not that uncorrupted, but that false doctrines and practices has developed during the millennia.

In fact, many Catholics and Orthodoxs will admit that they believe in things that there is no evidence that the Biblical church believed in, but they will argue that when the church(es) introduced these things it was because it (they) had matured, and got to think about more fundamental things than how to survive persecution.

So basically, we have two streams of thought here: those who think that the church changed in a good way (which we, for simplicity’s sake, can call evolutionism) and those who think it changed in a bad way. Those who think the church changed in a bad way, usually propose that we should go back to the good way. This is commonly called restorationism or Christian primitivism, the idea that we should restore Christianity to its Biblical, primitive form. As many of you know, I am a restorationist Christian.

Now, there are different opinions on what the Biblical church looks like – both Anabaptism and Mormonism, Seventh-Day Adventism and Pentecostalism, have restorationist ambitions even though they reach differnt conclusions (early Anabaptism and early Pentecostalism however were very similar). But likewise, there are many different evolutionist opinions on what the matured, historic church looks like – we have conservative and liberal Catholics, Eastern and Oriental Orthodoxs, etc.

As if this wasn’t complicated enough, one other thing is important to point out: all Protestants are not restorationist. There are Christians that both reject the Catholic/Orthodox claim that their church is the true one, while they still don’t want to restore the Biblical church. And some may be surprised to hear that most big Protestant movements are included in this category: Lutheranism, Calvinism and Anglicanism for example.

These “hybrid” churches are either cessationist, meaning that some things that characterised the Biblical church has ceased and thus can/should not be restored (such as miraculous Spiritual gifts or community of goods), or they adapt some form of “maturity” theology just like Catholics and Orthodoxs, while they still don’t want to be Catholic or Orthodox.

As you can tell, I’m not a big fan of “hybrid” Protestant theology, I don’t think it makes much sense. And this is why I want to highlight this difference. I constantly see fellow restorationist brothers and sisters who think that Martin Luther is some kind of hero who had good theology, since so many call him the father of Protestantism. But I would say that his cessationist theology is the basis of a totally different branch of Christianity than the one Pentecostals or Anabaptists are part of, that actually wants to restore the Biblical church.

So, instead of using the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant labels, I propose three new ones:

Restorationist Christianity – Back to the basics!

Evolutionist Christianity – Don’t be immature!

Cessationist Christianity – We’re not Catholic or Orthodox or Anabaptist or Biblical – wait, what? We’re not Biblical? Oops, I guess we aren’t. Ehm. This was embarrassing.

1 Comment

  1. Luc says:

    As Bill Johnson puts it, “Jesus is perfect theology”.

    I would add that when Jesus said to John, the one that He loved, ‘here is your mother’, it was directed to every believer.
    Mary is the mother of the whole Church, and what unites Christianity is far more powerful than what divides it. We have differences, but in the Father’s house there are many mansions…

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The author

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

Micael Grenholm, a Swedish charismactivist, apologist and author.

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