I have been involved in and listening to conversations about the Church, its holiness, unity, catholicity, and apostolicity in relation to the Reformers and Protestantism, recent examples are here, here,and here some of my own posts are here, here, here, here, and here. I have been attempting to form a perspective in my posts on this blog in response. My struggle with this conversation is multiple but at the moment I wonder about the Roman Catholic and Orthodox I have conversed with especially if they are converts who seem to engage those Protestants who are quite content with an exclusively Protestant perspective: that is those who in one way or another have the attitude, if not the explicit belief that this is fact, that at some point between the writing of the New testament (and/or the death of the Apostles) that things went terribly wrong and the Gospel was at best covered over and at worst lost until Luther came along 1000 to 1300 years later and rediscovered the Gospel. Focusing on this way of understanding Protestantism hides the other side of the Reformation. The understanding I was raised with was not that one could at some date find the loss of the Gospel, nor the loss of the Church, but that one finds at any one point in the history fo the Church distortions creep into the church through individuals and a general laxity among the faithful. Luther then was attempting to in the name of the Church and Tradition(historic Christian teaching, was the phrase, We are still squeamish about the term Tradition) affirm what had allwasy been tought by the Church. Granted Augustine loomed large in this reading of Tradition but there was no sense that the faith once deliveredto the Saints had been lost, and that it was Luther who rediscovered the True faith. Now, these are two very different forms of Protestantism, and they will lead one to very different places. Granted neither of these are exactly palatable to either Rome or Orthodoxy. However, one is more catholic than the other, one is more concerned with continuity of the passing on of the depositof faith than the other. Also, I would think that for those whose attitude is in someway that Protestantism (what ever stripe the person holds to) is simply the Gospel that at some pointwas lost, that there is very little point of common conversation. Most anything one brings upas an Orthodox or Roman Catholci would be nullified by the presuppositions.
What I don't see happening in these conversations is the encouragement of catholic thinking in Protestants of whatever stripe, through holding us to the fire in our acceptance of the Creeds and the teachings of the Fathers. I personally know few but the fringe liberals and fringe fundamentalists and Pentecostalsthat who ignore completely the first four Ecumenical councils. Even if they never reference those councils their understanding of Christianity (even if they may disagree with portions of what they believe to be the Christian faith) at least assumes those councils, and in some instances assumes in some way all of the councils.
A brief asside: now for you Episcopalians and former Episcopalians, I know Spong has a bit of a following in mainline churches here in the States, but I also know plenty of mainline Christians that do not truck with Spong and find his reduction of Christianity to be fundamentally flawed, though a number of us my self included have found Spong useful in clearing away the clutterof American Fundamentalism, which may on the surface seem to adhere to the faith but really has an attitude foreign to the church, for the most part in my experience of it at least. For example claiming an infallible Scripture without allowing for the levels of meaning of Scripture and without any care for how the church has historically interpreted the texts may look orthodox to some but really doesn't have a clue.
But I digress. What I find my interlocutors doing in this conversation is treating me as if there is only one sort of Protestantism and that Luther was intent on forming a new church, called the Protestant Church, or the Lutheran Church. As if Sola Scriptura is an interpretive principle rather than an affirmation of the continuity of the depositof faith in the Church! I am puzzled by the apparent ignorance (or deliberate ignoring) of Lutheran Scholars such as Carl Braaten and Robe Jenson, and their claims of Catholicityfor the Reformation! (especially since I refernece them in my posts) They may be wrong, you Orthodox and Roman Catholics may believe them to be wrong, but those who have engaged me have interestingly enough avoided any direct engagement with the line of argument I present from my reading of Braaten. This is fishy to me and in effect leads me to think that my interlocutors want to engage the easy targets, those who either are so liberal as to be questionable whether they even care about the deposit of faith let alone Protestantism in any meaningful sense except as a summer home they like to visit because it belonged to their grandparents, or so Protestant as to act ,if they don't explicitly believe, as if they are Protestant because the Apostles were Protestant. This also seems to be an unwillingness to deal with the complexity and possible sin of all parties in the Protestant Schism. The failure to deal with the possibility that the desire and intent of many of the Reformers and of those Protestants who came after was to be the Church to carry on the faith that was once delivered to the Saints and passed on in Scripture and through history form generation to generation, in its clearest and most true form. Protestants with this attitude even though there was the immediate rejection of Monasticism, continued to look to the monastic tradition of the Church to inform its spirituality and continue just as Lutherand Calvin did to read the Church Fathers. Now we can then begin to argue about whether or not the tradition has been properly understood, and whether or not these desires and intents have ever found any form of fulfillment among Protestants but it is a very different argument than the one I have been encountering. I am not the Protestant you are trying to convince, and so I find you unconvincing. I also think it is a bit futile for you to attempt to convince the type of Protestant you are trying to convince.
Deal with Braaten and Jenson and the Protestantism that shares the perspective of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology and I might find you a bit more convincing. And for some of you I know you are familiar with Braaten and Jenson some of you have written for the journal Pro Ecclesia, so why are you wasting your time with the obvious targets?
I guess I really am uninterested in Roman and Orthodox arguments if they can't deal with Braaten and Jenson. I read and have read most of the theologians people have suggested Roman and Orthodox and find that as a Protestant I share the same faith as these largely because I share the perspective on the Reformation of Braaten, namely that the schism was unwanted and unfortunate event that does at times introduce certain distortions into Protestantism unless it is remembered that the Reformers weren't starting a church but attempting to be fully the Church.
PS. There is also this little monastic community of Taize that comes from the Protestant Churches and seeks catholicity, that may also need to be dealt with as well.