Catholic or Protestant?


I confuse people. I don’t do it deliberately, but I guess I can understand why to a degree. I wear what looks like to most Americans a “Catholic priest shirt” and yet I attend the Protestant service on our military post. So what am I? My answer to that question depends on the inquirer. Some people don’t want the in-depth answer; they want to know which box I check in their mental categories. My usual answer is, “Anglican,” but this doesn’t really answer the question for most people.

It leads to the bigger question of: “What is Anglican? Catholic or Protestant?” Both. Neither. It depends who you ask. If you ask a Roman Catholic, they will say that we are Protestant. If you ask at least some Protestants, they will say that we are wannabe Catholics.

Why am I not Catholic? I reflected on this question a few months ago and boiled it down to a one-word answer: women—my wife and Jesus’ mother. If I was to “swim the Tiber” over to Rome (which is possible as an Anglican) I would be an oddity as a married priest. I think married clergy are possible and permissible under the teaching of Scripture, but Catholic teaching requires celibacy. I respect that position and see its merits, so I don’t want to become an exception to the rule. Our culture wouldn’t handle that well. (I’m already an aberration as a North American Anglican.)

Then there is Mary. I cannot embrace her as a perpetual virgin, immaculately conceived and assumed into heaven after her death. The case for these three cornerstones of Catholic Mariology is too speculative and tenuous to me. It would be one thing if veneration of Mary was a side issue to Catholicism, restricted to some religious order, but it is not. From what I have seen and read, Mary is a big part of the liturgy and life of the Roman Catholic Church. I respect that, but I cannot in good conscience embrace it.

So, that makes me a Protestant, though I am uncomfortable with that title as well. I have no admiration for Martin Luther or John Calvin as I believe both corrupted the “faith once delivered” in their own ways. I tend to read far more Catholic (and Orthodox) authors than Protestant and I have a predisposition for those before the Great Schism that divided the church east and west.

Maybe I’m a “primitive Catholic”? I haven’t searched Google for that one. I’m sure there is a group out there somewhere already claiming that title. What I really am, as near as I can tell, is a Christian who wishes our ecclesiastical landscape was different. I wish there was one visible church throughout the world. We managed that for about a millennia before the Schism, but the “Reformation” has probably destroyed any hope of that until the return of Christ.

I am a Christian who is not afraid to cross Protestant/Orthodox/Catholic boundaries in my pursuit of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’m saddened by the divisions in the church and I’m grieved by those who uphold them as good and necessary. Mostly, I’m a stranger and an alien longing for home.


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