Friday, February 3, 2017

Catholics and/or Protestants

By Larry Beane

There is a discussion on a Lutheran Facebook group about whether we Lutherans are Protestant or Catholic.

Maybe we should let our confessions have the final say:

"This is about the Sum of our Doctrine, in which, as can be seen, there is nothing that varies from the Scriptures, or from the Church Catholic, or from the Church of Rome as known by its writers."


"...our churches dissent in no article of the faith from the Church Catholic, but only omit some abuses which are new, and which have been erroneously accepted by the corruption of the times, contrary to the intent of the Canons."

The Book of Concord is filled with this kind of language.

Not counting the creeds, the word "Catholic" occurs 13 times in our Book of Concord, including the description of our confession explicitly as "the belief of the true and genuine catholic Church."

The word "Protestant" is not found even once in our confessional writings, although it was in common usage for decades by the time the Smalcald Articles and the Formula of Concord were written.

To call ourselves "Protestant" lumps us in with the Reformed, the Anabaptists, and their heirs of today - which are all quite different from each other. When we confess as Protestant, we unite with those who ordain women, refuse to baptize babies, speak in "tongues," and deny the physical presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This does not describe our confession.

The word Protestant is a useless catch-all word that cannot be defined positively for anyone.
However, when we confess as Catholic, we confess exactly as our confessional documents do, as orthodox Christians in continuity with Scripture, with the apostles, and with the fathers; not innovators, not heretics.

We should return to the font of our Book of Concord and not yield to others who wish to define us as something we aren't.


  1. Perhaps the greatest tactical mistake of the Lutheran Reformation was to accept the moniker "Lutheran" to refer to the Churches of the Augsburg Confession, and allow Rome to retain the descriptor "Catholic". And among the greatest substantive mistakes was to omit "Catholic" from the Creeds as they are confessed in our public worship.

    Given those mistakes, it is little wonder that people regard the evangelical Lutheran Church as a Protestant rather than a Catholic body.

  2. In the German Book of Concord of 1580, the word, katholischen (or katholische), is used only five times in the Apology, all but one time combined with the German words for "Christian Church." The one other use is in the AC.VII/VIII (IV).9 phrase, "Und der Artikel von der katholischen oder gemeinen Kirche, welche von aller Nation unter der Sonne zusammen sich schickt, ist gar tröstlich und hochnötig," (The article of the Church Catholic or Universal, which is gathered together from every nation under the sun, is very comforting and highly necessary.) The German language Creeds, AC, LC, SC, SA, Ep, and SD do not contain the phrase, katholischen (or katholische).

    It is a stretch, at best, to claim that "The Book of Concord is filled with this kind of [katholische] language."

  3. The Book of Concord is not only written in German. The Latin often uses the word Catholic. You are being very naughty and misleading. Tsk tsk.

    Moreover, the creeds (which I did not count in the tabulation) were not originally written in German (as shocking as this might be for some people...). They are Greek and Latin, and the fact that German and American Lutherans mistranslated the word "Christian" in their vernaculars is an unfortunate accident of the German lack of the word "katholisch" in the century prior to the reformation when the creeds were translated.

    As far as the ubiquity of the language of catholicity goes, it runs like a common scarlet thread throughout the confessions - unless you believe our confessions advocate novelty and innovation.

    They most certainly don't.

    Nor does the word "Protestant" ever once appear in any of our confessional documents.

  4. "When we confess as Protestant, we unite with those who ordain women"

    Lutherans ordain women. Faithful Lutherans don't. Other Protestants ordain women. Other faithful Protestants don't.

    Just as many other Protestants baptize infants. Most Protestants don't speak in tongues.

    Cheap shot.

    1. Cheap shot? Not at all. The issue is that there is no "Protestant" theology of anything. "Protestants" include everything from high church Anglicans to Assemblies of God, Lutherans, Reformed, Seventh Day Adventists, non-denominational Christians, the Salvation Army, and the Lutheran churches of Russia and the Baltics. This is a huge problem.

      Do Protestants have priests? Yes and no.
      Believe in Transubstantiation? Yes and no.
      Speak in Tongues? Yes and no.
      Bishops with Apostolic succession? Yes and no.
      Handle snakes? Yes and no.
      Use incense? Yes and no.
      Confuse justification and sanctification? Yes and no.
      Baptize infants? Yes and no.
      Confess the Real Presence? Yes and no.

      Et cetera.

      It's like calling amoebas "non mammals." It is an entirely unhelpful generalization that conveys zero information.

      The only universal belief among "Protestants" is that they deny that the bishop of Rome is the head of the church - but even the Eastern (and Western) Orthodox churches share that confession.

      "Protestant" is nothing more than "none of the above" and it contributes exactly zero to theological discussion.

  5. A real curiosity, why, in the new service books, hasn't the word "catholic" been restored to the creeds? I feel a bit silly every time I substitute "Christian" for "catholic." And lots of other Protestants confess the creeds using the word "catholic." Are they more catholic than we are?

    1. My understanding was that the word "catholic" was initially proposed, but shot down by an opposing faction on the committee. I would use the term "politics." The word "Christian" certainly existed in the Greek and Latin languages - and in fact, appears in addition to the word "catholic" in the Athanasian Creed) - but "Christian" was inserted into the creeds by German translators.

      The irony is that only English speaking Lutherans have this translation of the creed - an un-catholic translation of the word "catholic." At least we have "catholic" in the footnote - which I interpret as a rubric permitting its usage.

  6. Are you suggesting trying to take the term "catholic" away from Rome, or are you looking to soften up resistance to some sort of ecumenism with Rome?

    1. Neither. The term 'catholic' - by its very definition - doesn't belong to Rome. It's not about Rome, it's about our own confessions that are gathering dust as a doorstop in most of our homes, schools, and churches.

  7. The question in the group wasn't whether we call ourselves "Protestants" in our Confessions, or whether "Protestant" is a useful term. It was just, "Are Lutherans Protestants." And yes, we are. It may be a stupid word, but the definition makes it pretty obvious.

  8. You're free to embrace the term if you'd like. It's a free country. Of course, the same people who call us Protestants also call us Sectarians and Heretics.

    I'll stick with the BOC: the collection of documents that are definitional of our faith.

    Catholic 13
    Protestant 0

  9. I realize that I'm late adding comments to this discussion but I just wanted to say that I agree with some of the comments that the ecumenical creeds should be changed back to the original ''Catholic'' church. It bothers me when we use Christian because it has too broad of a meaning and the word Christian is misused way too often even Mormons and Jehovas Witnesses consider themselves ''Christians''. For me the word Catholic is a little more distinguishable for it denotes something of the past going back to the roots of the apostolic era with St.Ignatius giving instruction of what the Universal Church is and how to identify it. As it was pointed out earlier the word Catholic does not belong to Rome for that would be a contradiction as to what it implies as Universal. I think St. Vincent of Lerins describes it best when he describes the Catholic Church as, ''Believed and practised everywhere, always, and by all.'' As Lutherans, we too share in the Catholic and Apostolic Church we're not trying to be innovators and making up things as we go along as what the romanist accuse us of doing. I hear rumors that the Lutheran Church is considering of making another worship book I hope and pray that they would reconsider of remitting the original word Catholic back into the creeds just as the Athenasian creed was left in tacked.


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