Protestant vs. Cathodox

What is the main difference between Protestantism and “Cathodoxy”?

Readership: Christians;

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”.

Almost Catholic, but … not quite

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.


This entry was posted in Cathodoxy, Faith Community, Organization and Structure, Protestantism. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Protestant vs. Cathodox

  1. Scott says:

    One thing I have noticed since converting to Orthodoxy (that I love) is I stopped hearing the word “saved” in conjunction with some bolt of lightening conversion story (usually called your “testimony”) that is intended to convince the hearer that your faith is real (that you are “regenerate”)

    Its very stressful to have to do that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lexet Blog says:

      You weren’t saved upon seeing the sunset at Starbucks while listening to Mumford and sons?


    • Eh, I disagree. Nothing wrong with testimonies. The real thing is if they’re “taking up their cross and following Jesus” after being “saved” which is true most of the time from what I’ve seen at least in the circles I run. If they’re not, then you can admonish them on it.

      I find that most Christians-in-name-only typically don’t have any sort of testimony or conversion experience or anything like that when talking to them, and they’re also the ones who go to Church but live like they want to during the week.

      I also think part of it is sharing it enough that it’s not a big deal kinda like most men who are scared to ask women out on dates. I’ve done it enough that there’s no real anxiety about it. Often a good springboard to sharing the gospel at times too.


      • cameron232 says:

        In my experience, the Damascus moment that most Evangelicals will recall is saying the scripted sinner’s prayer. They often remember the moment such as when the Christian radio station got them to say it in the car driving home from work. It seems like most of them are not serious about the faith – there’s simply a presumption of God’s forgiveness regardless of what they do e.g that fornicator woman on the Batchelorette that Dalrock wrote about.

        THe ones that seem serious about it are the ones whose conversion experience involves describing their own sin – e.g. a young man at work who volunarily told me his conversion experience and described his addiction to porn as a teenager despite being a clean cut from a good family type – what he was delivered from. I don’t think these people are common in Evangelical churches – and yes their faith is very admirable and beautiful.

        IMO, Catholodoxy, when the basics are actually practiced, gives everyone a shot at salvation e.g Frank the gruff, high-T guy from Brooklyn who just can’t keep his hands off dames.


      • @ cameron

        Yeah, that sounds about right. If it’s about the sinner’s prayer they’re most not likely living in a way that shows they’re a follower of Jesus.

        If they know the gravity of their own sin and it shows them they need to repent and change their ways, that usually signals that they had a real life changing experience where they go on to serve God wholeheartedly (although the road may be rocky).

        On a whole, that’s the problem of the watered down gospel that many churches in the West are preaching. Buffet Christianity where you choose what you want and leave the rest. It’s also easily morphed into prosperity gospel too where God is your cosmic vending machine to give you stuff instead of you sacrificing everything to follow Him.


  2. Elspeth says:

    One thing I have noticed since converting to Orthodoxy (that I love) is I stopped hearing the word “saved” in conjunction with some bolt of lightening conversion story (usually called your “testimony”) that is intended to convince the hearer that your faith is real (that you are “regenerate”)

    Its very stressful to have to do that.

    Our daughters have spoken of how stressful that can feel, especially when you don’t have a debaucherous past to say you were “delivered” from. We have explained to them that their faith (and yes, their salvation) isn’t any less real or true because they have lived clean, decent, chaste lives. That’s one of the problems with the belief that everyone is supposed to have some Damascus road type story. It makes people without such a testimony question the veracity of their faith.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Scott says:

    I’m going to start a new faith tradition called ortholic

    Liked by 2 people

  4. cameron232 says:

    Yes, maybe in terms of soteriology they mostly agree (if you make their statements general enough).

    To my point quoted in the OP above. One example (not the only one) is marriage. What is marriage? Is it recognized by God or just a function of the state (as Luther is supposed to have contended)? What creates a marriage? Contract, consent, co-consent, coitus…..? Is it a holy mystery? A covenant? Can it be dissolved? Under what conditions? Can a new marriage be contracted? Can I have two wives?

    These are important questions God would want us to have answers to that I couldn’t be know the answers to if I lived for a thousand years and read the Bible every day. The way norma normans originally worked, I can see how people weren’t bothered by this but I think everyone-in-a-small-group-Bible-study-as-the-Pope was inevitable.


    • Novaseeker says:

      From a Cathodox perspective I agree, but … there are issues on “our” side as well relating to such things. When Newt Gingrich was received into the Catholic Church, for example, was married twice before he married his now third wife, Callista, and the Catholics annulled both prior marriages. Interestingly his relationship with wife 3 began during his second “marriage” (actually he didn’t divorce wife 2 for 6 years … Callista was patient). I know under Catholic praxis, Gingrich has, of course, only been married once, and that is to Callista, since his prior two marriages have been annulled canonically, but to non-Catholics (and to many Catholics as well I think) this certainly appears to be a circus primarily, and not one that reflects anything like “clarity” in terms of marital praxis, as a practical matter.

      Orthodoxy also has oddities. When I was received by the Orthodox Church I had been married in the Catholic Church for several years. The Orthodox received me by chrismation, and the priest told me that this “accepted” my Catholic marriage, in terms of “filling it with any grace that may have been lacking in the Catholic performance of the putative sacrament”. Fair enough. However, when I was discussing with another priest, several years later after my divorce, about how I had felt called earlier in life to possibly become a deacon and how this was foreclosed by my being divorced at this point, he corrected me, noting that “Orthodoxy accepted your marriage when you were chrismated, but it was never an “Orthodox marriage”, in terms that a divorce of that marriage would be a bar to ordination in the Orthodox Church”. Uh-huh.

      In general, my own view is that the Churches are all over the place when it comes to marriage praxis, regardless of what the rules on the paper are. The overall rule is pragmatism, what the church wants to do, what the circumstances are, and who is involved. The processes may differ, but it’s rarely due to “clarity”, in truth.

      Liked by 3 people

      • cameron232 says:

        The Catholic practice in America is awful – although as Zippy pointed out most Catholic marriages these days probably aren’t sacramental.

        THe real scandal is why the Church doesn’t fix this. Don’t marry people unless they have a clear understanding (both parties) of what marriage is.

        At least I get answers even if no one follows them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Elspeth says:

        Yes to all of this. Despite being Protestant, most of my Protestant friends (mostly within our tight knit educational community of the last several years) take a harder stand in practice when it comes to marriage and family than most Catholics we know. We have been married longer with no divorces, we’ve reproduced more kids, etc.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Novaseeker says:

        THe real scandal is why the Church doesn’t fix this. Don’t marry people unless they have a clear understanding (both parties) of what marriage is.

        Yes, although I think we know the answer as to why that isn’t the praxis.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Scott says:

    The marriage one is a good one. Canonical form answers all those questions with no ambiguity.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lexet Blog says:

    You obviously haven’t read the portions of the New Testament that clearly outline which teachings are primary, secondary, and tertiary. If only you did, you would understand. 🤣

    Oh wait, no such passages exist.

    The tolerance of deviations of teachings is a big problem and is a byproduct of celebrity Christianity (starting way back with spurgeon, and then with billy Graham)


  7. Ed Hurst says:

    I’m pretty sure the common Protestant expression “getting saved” does not mean the same thing it did in the New Testament. I agree that spiritual regeneration takes place outside the time-space continuum, and that the defining moment for us as individuals is when we become aware of it. It’s not a transaction. Thus, my group emphasizes the image of feudal commitment from the heart, which is what faith meant in the Bible, and that it is its own reward.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Adam says:

    Where did the term Cathodox originate? This is the first time I have encountered it and I find it quite unacceptable.


    • cameron232 says:

      I think it was supposed to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek as a shorthand for Catholic/Orthodox our common term for the Western/Eastern ancient Church. Catholics consider themselves “orthodox” and Eastern (and Oriental?) Orthodox consider themselves “catholic.” I think maybe the word catholic appears in the formal titles of the EO churches.


  9. Sharkly says:

    John 4:20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. 21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. 24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

    Marriage is God’s institution and joined together by God. Its a two step process for humans, with betrothal/covenant/assent and sexual consummation. Don’t fret or argue. If you want the answers just ask. I didn’t have to read the Bible for a thousand years to figure that out, either.

    Wherever followers of Jesus Christ gather in His name, you have “church” or “the assembly”. So you are all in Sharkly’s church right now, Jack’s church too, and yours as well, since you are here and claim to be of Christ’s family. And looking around, I’m not seeing the pope here. LOL So let’s just make Christ the head of every man, and the head of the body, since it really is Christ’s church. And without a pope, I don’t believe you can have the sacrament of Bingo, but we can provide brotherhood instead. And since I’ve got satellite internet service out here, our assembly has slipped the surly bonds of earth and escaped the space time continuum. You are meeting with me even though you don’t know where I’m at, and I might be asleep when you actually read my words. FWIW this happens to be the Sabbath as I write you this truth. Wooooo Gettin’ pretty churchy up in here. The funny thing is though, despite our lack of a building and stained glass and taking an offering from you, you’re probably able to get more authentic godly interaction and sharpening here than with the phonies down at your regular church. The Father’s worshippers assemble here in Spirit and in Truth … Prove me wrong! You may think you’re Cathodogs or whatever, but y’all belong to Sharkly’s church which is headed by Christ. The pope gonna hafta be yo side-bitch!

    Liked by 1 person

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