By: Lizzie Reezay
I am a Protestant, but I don’t identify as Evangelical. I grew up in Church of Christ (part of the Restoration Movement of the early 1800s) and our movement although historically linked to Protestantism, made an attempt to step away from it. We’ve been mildly successful and I’ve developed an admiration for the Orthodox Church and Catholicism in the process. While I love Protestantism’s passion in being within scripture and empowering everyone to read and understand theology, these are some things that I think we might have gotten wrong.
- The Appearance of Truth As Protestants, we love to amp up theology, argue how our church is going by the Bible and following God’s truth. We grow up thinking we hold the correct doctrines, knowing exactly which Bible verses back up our church’s beliefs, while being part of a movement composed of 30,000 other denominations each claiming they hold “the truth.” Every Church is trying to “go by the Bible” yet there are 30,000 different “truths” and versions of “going by the Bible.” It is embarrassing to me when non-Christians comment on this—when they process what it all means, confused how our God could’ve given us a Bible so extremely convoluted that no one can really know what it’s saying.
- Claiming We Don’t Interpret the Bible Protestantism was founded on sola scriptura (only going by the Bible) and my experience in America has been that a lot of Evangelicals want to read the Bible plainly, interpret it literally. In doing this, we claim that we are not going by any traditions or interpretations but just “going by the Bible.” But a literal reading is an interpretation decision! And it’s a relatively new one. Empiricism— the means of interpreting things plainly based upon an individual first person perspective— is a brand new Enlightenment concept stemming from the 1800s. For most of Christendom and most of humanity, interpretation of any text was not viewed like this.
- Rejecting Tradition Like I said with #2, there is no church that does not have a tradition. It is a myth to say you don’t go by tradition— that your church doesn’t use tradition. Tradition is just a fancy word for the history of church development that has created certain theology from interpreting and emphasizing certain passages of Scripture. Protestantism v. Catholicism and Orthodox isn’t about choosing to accept tradition or not, but which traditions to accept. As people who claim to love Scripture and want to only go by the Bible, it shocks me how passionately a lot of Evangelicals reject any context or “tradition” from the same time period as a passage of Scripture was written, which would explain exactly how the Christians at that time would’ve understood it. That seems like sola scriptura goals! There are dozens of writings from the first few centuries of Christianity from the “Church Fathers” who were leaders in the Church who personally knew, were mentored by the original Apostles! Their writings clarify the original meanings of Scripture and this type of tradition isn’t something we should automatically reject.
- Individualism I’ve made several videos critiquing interpretations of Jeremiah 29:11 “God has a plan for your life” and they have been misunderstood, garnered a lot of negativity. I understand why. It feels amazing to think God is individually planning out your future, deciding who you’ll date and marry, what college you’ll go to, your career, etc. but I think this is minimizing the power of God! God’s plan for our lives is the salvation of the world: reuniting us with Him like it was in the beginning in the Garden. God’s plan for our lives is to heal us and transform us on a spiritual level. My issue with the common Evangelical interpretation of Jeremiah 29:11 is it removes the historical context of the Babylonian Captivity, but moreso it removes the collective audience of God’s people as a whole (the original audience of the passage). This happens with a lot of Bible verses we read, because in English there is not a difference between 2nd person singular and plural. We often read Bible verses that use “you” and assume God is speaking to us as an individual, when Christianity was created to be a community. Individualism is an Enlightenment concept, not grounded in Christianity. All pre-modern societies and still a majority of countries in the world are collectivist instead of individualistic. We need to be careful to not get our culture confused with our Christianity.
- Lack of Emphasis on the Old Testament This is something I felt while at college. Pepperdine is traditionally Church of Christ, but has a heavy Evangelical influence. Our sermons and bible studies were focused mainly on the Epistles. My experience at other Evangelical Churches is the same: constant Ephesians, Philippians, 1 John on repeat with the occasional Psalm. One of my Catholic friends commented on this my junior year— how we don’t even focus on the Gospels that much. I was a Religion major at Pepperdine and only took a couple Old Testament classes, while over a dozen courses on the New Testament and the modern Church. All of this infiltrated my personal faith, in that throughout college I barely read the Old Testament. It is spiritually unhealthy and was detrimental to my faith last summer when I was struggling through my depression and processing all the evil going on in the world. The Old Testament Prophets, along with books like Job and a majority of the Psalms deal with suffering and are crucial for maintaining a healthy relationship with God. Catholic, Orthodox, and more traditional Protestant Churches (like Episcopalian and Anglican) avoid this by having liturgies, which go through all parts of the Bible equally. Catholicism and Orthodox especially stay in line with Judaism on a lot of aspects of their service and theology, part of this includes equally emphasizing the Old Testament.
- Not Taking Communion. Communion, or the taking of the Eucharist (in Greek, eucharisteo means “I thank you”) was a central part of the Early Church. In Churches historically traced all the way back to the First Century (i.e. Orthodox, Catholic, Nestorian, Coptic) it remains the central focus of their service. Evangelical Churches are instead focused around the sermon, and have watered down communion to a mere symbolic meaning. It is becoming a trend within newer forms of Protestant Churches (especially non-denominational mega church types) to rarely take communion, only a few times a year and sometimes even making it optional. Passages like John 6, 1 Corinthians 11, and Luke 22 along with writings from the Early Church Fathers make it clear that communion was taken every week and had somewhat of a mystical meaning in the Early Church. Because of this, the Early Christians were thought by the surrounding pagan world to be participating in cannibalism. I think it’s important to not be legalistic and to somewhat adapt our churches to identify with our cultures, but the Eucharist seems to be a crucial part of Jesus’ teaching, something that the Early Church latched onto and prioritized as a core part of their worship. In Luke 22:9 Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me” and earlier on in his ministry, in John 6:50-51 Jesus says, “I am the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Communion is a powerful, life-giving, richly symbolic tradition within Christianity and as Evangelicals, we should be wary about lessening its meaning.
I believe Jesus is fully present in every Christian tradition, but I am also not a relativist. I think it is important to be honest with ourselves in where our Churches came from historically and how much we’re bringing in our personal preferences regarding our interpretations. The only way to find truth is to read a diversity of different historical viewpoints, to ask questions to people who you disagree with and to be willing to be proven wrong. Change is painful, but it might turn out more beautiful in the end.
 "After Virtue" By: Alasdair MacIntyre https://www.amazon.com/After-Virtue-Study-Moral-Theory/dp/0268035040
 “The World of the New Testament” By: Joel B. Green https://www.amazon.com/World-New-Testament-Cultural-Historical/dp/0801039622