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The Possibility of a Protestant Church

“[T]he struggle regarding the church government is actually the question necessarily emerging from church history regarding the possibility of a Protestant church for us. It is the question whether, following the separation from papal and worldly authority in the church, an ecclesial authority can be erected that is grounded in word and confession alone. If such an authority is not possible, then the final possibility of a Protestant church is gone; then there truly remains only a return to Rome or a state church or the way of isolation, into the ‘protest’ of true Protestantism against false authorities.”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letter to Eberhard Bethge, 23 January 1940, in Conspiracy and Imprisonment, 1940–1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 16, trans. Lisa E. Dahill (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2006), 78.

H/T: Barry Harvey for pointing this quote out on Facebook

7 Comments

  1. Evan wrote:

    Another reason why I’m more of an early-bonhoeffer than a late-bonhoeffer kinda guy. ;)

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    True that.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 9:02 am | Permalink
  3. Nathan wrote:

    I think Father Cutie raises an important question along these lines: is any church authority possible when there is confessional promiscuity? If Cutie can jump ship for the Anglicans when censured, in what sense does the Roman Church have authority?

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 9:57 am | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    If Hill wasn’t fasting from blog comments I’m sure he’d have something to say about it.

    But I think its definitely a tough point.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 10:24 am | Permalink
  5. robert wrote:

    “If such an authority is not possible, then the final possibility of a Protestant church is gone; then there truly remains only a return to Rome or a state church or the way of isolation, into the ‘protest’ of true Protestantism against false authorities.”

    A fourth possibility, of course, is private “faith” subordinated to secularism.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 10:35 am | Permalink
  6. Skip Newby wrote:

    You Halden, of all the people I read on this blog should know “church governments” and denominations don’t mean a thing in being the gathered disciples.

    Friday, June 12, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  7. Devin Rose wrote:

    Though the Church has legitimate authority from Christ, it is and has always been possible for one of her children to leave, either to a heretical and/or schismatic community or to “jump ship” right off the Barque of St. Peter into apostasy–people can leave Christ and become atheists after all. This fact does not negate the Church’s God-given authority.

    As for, specifically, Fr. Cutie entering the Church of England, the answer to this question depends upon whether the Church of England is a valid See in full communion with Christ’s Church or whether it is a schism.

    If there is no visible Church but just a collection of “churches” belonging to varying “branches” of Christianity, with no one of them much better truth-wise than any other, then I would agree that Roman or Anglican or Orthodox or Baptist “authority” doesn’t mean much because one can always leave whatever “Church” he is in and go to a different, more-or-less equally Christian, “Church”. In this reality, Fr. Cutie can thumb his nose at the “Romans” and tell them to buzz off, because the Roman Catholic Church has no more authority than any other.

    Tuesday, June 16, 2009 at 10:02 am | Permalink

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