What is the main difference between Protestantism and “Cathodoxy”?
Under my post, What is the Authority of the Bible, and why is this Important? (2020 November 12), Cameron wrote,
“There are important things that the Bible doesn’t address directly, not things like fine points on abstract Christological doctrines – I mean things that affect people in real life. Things that, if I could live for a thousand years and study the Bible every day, I could never decide on. Things that God would want us to know. I think if God intended the Bible to be used as Protestants use it, He would have written it like a catechism.”
As someone who isn’t a Protestant but has studied various kinds of Protestantism, I think this issue is often misunderstood by those of us on the “Cathodox” (my own neologism for Catholicism and Orthodoxy as a shorthand, since these two traditions, despite their differences, do share many of the same differences with Protestant Christianity) side of things. The reason is that Protestants, on the one hand, and Cathodox, on the other, view salvation and the Christian life differently.
Most Protestants share a common belief in salvation by grace through faith/trust in Christ and his promises to forgive sins and grant eternal life by the power of his cross and resurrection. There are important differences between Protestants on the details of this core issue (Calvinists as compared with non-Calvinists being the most important), but as among non-Calvinist Protestants, or even Calvinists who are not “strict” Calvinists, there is broad agreement about these “doctrines of grace”, such that they share a common prototype. Beyond this soteriology (again, leaving aside orthodox Calvinists), the rest is typically considered “details”. Perhaps any of these minor points might be important to the personal belief systems of individual Christians, or even groups of Christians, but are not strictly “necessary for salvation”. This is because what is necessary for salvation is the response to the grace that gives rise to saving faith, which is trust in Christ’s promises of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life. So Protestants tend to be much more comfortable with “disagreements” about any number of things, which are deemed to be “non-essential”, since most everything outside of that saving faith which is a gift of grace is seen as non-essential.
This is the case for most Protestant Christians today in 2020 in the U.S. It isn’t that they see their differences as completely unimportant, but it’s that they don’t see them as leading, one way or the other, to being saved or not being saved, whereas a strict Cathodox understanding teaches that all Church teachings must be firmly believed, also intellectually, in order to be saved. Protestants don’t generally believe that, and that’s also the case for more “confessional” Protestants, like the Missouri Synod Lutherans who hold to the Book of Concord or the confessional Presbyterians who hold to the “Westminster Standards”.
So this is why Protestants are, in general, much more comfortable than Cathodox with “all of the differences in scriptural interpretation OMG!” — because at the end of the day, despite these, most of them (again, leaving aside the strict Calvinists) agree that salvation comes about by grace through faith/trust in Christ and his promises of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Everything else is details.
Now on the internet of course the world is different, because the internet magnifies differences, sharpens disagreements, and creates opposing camps very efficiently. And so on the internet one often comes across maximalist Protestants who seem to approach things from an almost Cathodox perspective in terms of what must be believed in order to be saved. In addition, the Protestants with particularly quirky views about any number of things tend to be much more prominent online than in churches, because their quirky views aren’t that welcome in churches to the extent that these views are not consistent with the common soteriology that I described above.
Finally, one thing I have learned when looking at Protestantism is that it is quite varied and dynamic. There are, for example, Protestants that place very high value on catechisms and confessional statements, like the confessional Lutherans (Missouri and Wisconsin Synods in the U.S.), the confessional Calvinists (PCA, OPC and others), and some of the Dutch Reformed with their adherence to the “Three Forms of Unity”, and require their clergy to adhere to these statements of faith and catechisms, which are intended to “rein in” incongruent interpretations as a serious undertaking.
In the U.S., Protestantism tends to be stereotyped as being either non-denominational megachurch evangelicalism (because this is the most politically visible), which is the least doctrinal form of Christianity that has ever existed, on the one hand, or blue-haired post-Christian mainline formalism, which is mostly not even Christian at this point and is probably best seen as “Post-Christian”, at least in many parishes. But there are other forms of Protestantism, who use and revere catechisms and binding faith statements — they’re just outnumbered here by those who do not (and that isn’t necessarily good for either Protestantism or Christianity in the U.S.).
From the Cathodox viewpoint, the Protestant approach seems on its face to be impossible. It lacks the “unity of faith” that Cathodoxy requires, at least in theory, for communion to be a lived reality. But Protestants view the entirety of the faith through a different lens, and view much less as being “essential to salvation” than Cathodox do, which is why all of the many splits and differences are typically much less troubling and concerning to Protestants than they are to Cathodox, who by comparison have a much more comprehensive and monolithic understanding of what is “essential” to the faith, and therefore require a much higher standard of doctrinal and liturgical “unity” than what Protestants have. Although, it has to be said, that in the current setting today, the practices of both Catholicism and Orthodoxy in many places are very much like Protestantism, with ten people in the same pew having ten different versions of the faith, but agreeing on a few essentials, despite what the “official teachings” of the Church are.
I think in the U.S. in particular, due to the pervasive influence of individualism on the culture in general, including the spiritual culture, we are all kind of Protestant in this regard, even if we are not actually Protestants.