That’s one of the arguments given by revered Orthodox priest Father Josiah Trenham in his book Rock and Sand, which gives a history of Christendom through an Orthodox lens, focusing primarily on the Protestant Reformation and the “fruits” of their dizzying array of denominations. He points out that Catholics are looking more and more like the Protestants, especially after Vatican II.
Catholic-Protestant relations have morphed yet again since Vatican II (1962-1965) when the Catholic Church refashioned its ecclesiology to find a place for Protestantism, and adopted, at least in practice, many things that the Protestants of the 16th century were calling for. Today, especially in the West, the divide between Catholicism and Protestantism is thinner than ever, the traditional Tridentine Mass is virtually non-existent, and the Catholic services have been radically Protestantized, degraded, and denuded of their traditional liturgical, aesthetic, and linguistic grandeur. Centuries of traditional Gregorian chant and ecclesiastical architecture have often given way to banjos and guitars and architectural monstrosities, all of which bear witness to a radical break from tradition. The teaching on penance, so emphasized at the Council of Trent, has vanished together with long confessional lines and numerous priests. Now, in the local Catholic diocese here in the Inland Empire (Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA), there are 5000 parishioners for every priest, and so few Catholics confessing their sins and living a normal sacramental life that there is often but one published confessional hour per week. Monasteries have closed throughout the West, and there has been a reduction in the number of Roman Catholic monks, nuns, and members of religious orders in our land by some 95%. Parochial schools which were education some 6 million children before Vatican II are now educating about 25% that number.
In many ways both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are close to each other than either is to Holy Orthodox. They often give diametrically opposite answers, but they are asking the same questions. Orthodox Christianity maintains the patristic mind, and asks different questions.
Would the original Protestant reformers even accept modern Protestantism?
Would modern Protestants even recognize Luther as one of their number? Would Luther be comfortable in the Lutheran Church of the 21st century? I think the answer to both questions is no.
Luther taught the importance of making the sign of the Cross. He advocated for a yearly auricular confession in the Church sanctuary. He employed written prayers and a structured liturgy. He believed in and taught the perpetual virginity of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, the Theotokos. He completed rejected the idea of an invisible church as it is so commonly embraced by Protestants today. He considered those who reject the miraculous nature of baptism and the real presence of Christ in the eucharist to be utter fanatics. He had no tolerance for Anabaptism, and castigated those who refused to baptize infants. He argued strongly against the so-called “Constantinopolitan fall” of the church. He had no affinity for Jews, and rejected any reading of scripture that suggested that a return of Jewish people to the Holy Land was prophesied. He was deeply convinced of martyrdom as a mark of the church, and disavowed Christian triumphalism. Luther himself wished sincerely to be a martyr. He severely criticized the Protestant iconoclasts who broke up holy images, and defended Christian art as “sermons for the eyes.”
[Megachurch pastors] became fundamentally Bible-teachers detached from any essential interaction with their flocks. They have built mega-churches around their charisma, and multiplied their pastoral ministries on the business franchise model. They have connected intimately to the penchant of modern suburbanites for fast-food religion—quick, casual, often anonymous, unfettered by traditional customs, personal obligations of sacred community, denominational associations, and often even parish membership.
What exactly is an evangelical?
There is no evangelical consensus of what it means to be an evangelical, nor is there any official or authoritative definition of the word “evangelical.” Evangelicals come from all the branches of traditional Protestantism, and from many traditions that have only the faintest association with traditional Protestantism. The evangelical movement has grown out of Protestant soil, and was fashioned out of the great American revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries. As such, the movement is defined more by a form of spiritual experience than by a confessional commitment or a sacramental participation.
…the majority of evangelicals today have found the historical Protestant denominational structures wanting, and, in a vain effort, have sought to identify themselves as post-denominational. These “non-denominational” congregations, or independent “fellowships” as they are often called, are, in fact, the very worst form of denominationalism itself, being in essence denominations of one congregation. It is precisely these non-denominational evangelicals who are most active in missionary labors today. Many of these missionary labors are directed explicitly at traditionally Orthodox lands, and these evangelicals are zealously committed to “saving the Orthodox.”
In the area of dogma, evangelicals radically reject traditional Christian reliance on the modest of Holy Tradition including patristic teachings, canon law, the lives of the saints, liturgics, iconography and the sacred arts, and the Creed in order to adhere exclusively to the authority of Scripture. In the area of spiritual life, evangelicals radically reject traditional Christian emphasis on the holy mysteries, ascetical practices, and liturgical centricity in order to embrace and reproduce an individualistic and revivalist understanding of conversion (the “born-again” experience) detached with a Gnostic zeal from any sacrament. (Gnostic forms of religion have as one of their primary characteristics a disdain for the spiritual potentiality of physical things. Gnosticism is expressed in many forms of Evangelical Christianity by the latter’s rejection of the normative bestowal of grace through sacraments.)
Evangelicalism is a populist religion, and as such, being disconnected from tradition, casts itself in whatever forms are acceptable to the populace. To justify the cult of novelty as it is expressed in evangelical worship, many evangelicals simply believe that God has given no clear direction about worship form to His people and thus has left them free to innovate.
From the beginning, Protestants disagreed with each other
Incredibly, the Reformers, following the principles of sola scriptura, could not come to an agreement about the significance of the most important sacrament in the Christian faith and the traditional center of divine worship. This irreconcilable theological difference on the very nature of the Eucharist, a subject the Reformers themselves considered of utmost importance, would be the very headwaters of a river of Protestant disagreement and theological disunity that would only morph into a dizzying number of Protestant denominations and conflicting confessions of faith right up until the present day.
Protestants have distorted the Bible to suit their beliefs
[William] Tyndale used his [Bible] translation to further Protestant ideas, and upset the Catholic establishment in England by translating the Greek word presbyter as “elder” rather than “priest” or “presbyter”, and the word ecclesia as “congregation” or “community” rather than “church.” By Tyndale’s crafty translation, the New Testament existed for the first time in Church history without the words “church” or “priest.”
What is the true faith?
St. Raphael of Brooklyn: “The Holy Orthodox Church has never perceptibly changed from Apostolic times, and, therefore, no one can go astray in finding out what She teaches. Like Her Lord and Master, though at times surrounded with human malaria—which He in His mercy pardons—She is the same yesterday, and today, and forever the mother and safe deposit of the truth as it is in Jesus.
Rock and Sand is an excellent book for the Orthodox to guard their faith while living in a Protestant or Catholic milieu. It is also suited for Protestants who have lapsed from their original confession and are seeking to know why the Orthodox Church is the New Testament Church as built by Lord Jesus Christ.
Learn More: Rock & Sand on Amazon