In my opinion, those who nod their head in agreement with evangelical Dr. Ben Witherton’s post today are three steps away from becoming Catholic. Here’s an excerpt, followed by the steps.
It is certainly true that in my lifetime brand name denominational loyalty has declined in Protestantism (less so in Catholic or Orthodox circles). Some of this is caused by the weak ecclesiology of Protestant theology to begin with. By this I mean that Protestants tend to emphasize one’s individual walk with Christ, individual piety, individual commitment, and so on, at the expense of the group identity and unity. And when you throw in a hyper-active sensitivity about this or that view of truth or orthodoxy, it is no wonder that it seems that Protestants are better at fulfilling the Genesis commandment to be fruitful and multiple (by church splits) than at fulfilling the Great Commission. Put another way, when you stress your vision of Truth with a capital T, rather than the need for unity (with a little ‘u’), dividing and sub-dividing is inevitable it seems. There are literally hundreds of Protestant denominations…and frankly this is an all too modern phenomenon. Denominationalism did not exist in say the fourth century A.D. It is a decidedly Protestant development, or subplot.
Thus, when one gets to the emerging church folks, and you hear a lot of their anti-ecclesial rhetoric, it has a long precedent in Protestantism, whether it is Luther railing against the Pope, or Calvin complaining about the situation in Switzerland, or Wesley struggling with the Anglican Church, or the Free Methodists splitting off from the Methodist Episcopal Church or various Baptist groups splitting and multiplying prodigiously. And in all of this, few have stopped to ask—Is all this disputatiousness a good witness to the world? Put another way—Why should the world listen to any church group when we can’t even agree among ourselves, as we speak with forked tongues?
You’ve already acknowledged the consistent history of schisms/ splits/”protests” within Protestantism dating back to Luther. There was no golden age.
1. Realize the doctrine of sola scriptura (Bible alone) inherently produces such splits and is unbiblical, unhistorical, and unworkable.
2. Replace the authority of sola scriptura with the authority given to God’s Church through apostolic succession. This results in Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium.
3. Decide the papacy is legitimate and choose Roman Catholicism over Eastern Orthodoxy (and maybe Anglicanism?)
Certainly an oversimplification, but I’m struck by how many evangelical blogs discuss issues like “church unity” without mentioning Catholicism as the elephant in the room.