I don't agree, and will continue to identify Friends with Protestants, even though I respect the "outside the box" thinking that the separate-movement idea can encourage. Here are some of the reasons why I think it is important for Friends to understand our Protestant grounding:
1) The "we're not Protestant" position plays on a familiar conceit shared with many other Christian movements: "We're different, original, authentic, primitive." Given Friends' abiding temptation toward spiritual elitism, I think it is important to recognize that almost every renewal movement worth its salt makes this claim. The original Protestants of the 16th century didn't say, "We are launching a new movement," they asserted that they were returning to apostolic or biblical authenticity. And almost every "innovation" we Friends like to credit ourselves with was anticipated by earlier Christian reform movements.
2) Furthermore, I've often observed that the "we're not Protestant" Friends sometimes use a simplistic comparison, viewing Protestantism simply as a Christian movement that puts the Word first (theologically, the Bible; liturgically, the sermon), in contrast to the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tendencies to prioritize the Eucharist and church tradition, and the role of the hierarchy in intrepreting the Bible. There's some value in this analysis, as long as it is applied modestly and cautiously--I've seen plenty of Protestants who emphasize the sacraments, tradition, hierarchy, mysticism, and so on. And Catholics and Orthodox congregations vary widely in the functional importance of Bible study, teaching, preaching, and lay participation.
3) The Friends movement began in the specific historical context of England in the mid-17th century, as Christians confronted their compromised leadership, the church's political enmeshments and tensions, new access to the Bible, and expectations of the impending end of history. In conducting these controversies, they drew directly from the arguments and categories of the Reformation. These were often life-and-death issues. If we spiritualize our origins and pretend that we are somehow outside history, or invent a direct historical line of descent to the apostolic era, it's only a small step to the next expression of our irrelevance--the conceit that we're a whole new religion. Of course we rightly acknowledge the inspiration of God's primordial Holy Spirit in our formation, but every Christian movement does the same!
4) Another reason that we need that historic anchor: the false accusation that we are a heretical sect or a cult. In the consumerist context of North America, this may now seem like a minor problem, but for Friends in Russia and East Africa, and elsewhere, this issue is huge. (Not so many years ago, East African Friends were confronted by a prominent source with precisely this accusation--that Friends were a cultic novelty.) In conducting our loving and worthwhile dissent from the majority Christian perspective on certain issues--including the nature of leadership and discernment, the role of social status vs spiritual gifts in leadership, the disciple's attitudes to violence and wealth, and the realities of sin and perfection--we have every right to engage with our conversation partners as peers who love the same God and live in the same stream of salvation history. Protestantism, with all its defects, is a concrete, known, honorable movement in world Christianity; in comparison, what weight and presence does a disembodied, self-mythologizing Quakerism have?
5) It's sometimes argued that Friends have evolved into a movement that would not fit into the categories of traditional Protestants. However, it's hard to think of any Protestant body that's been around for more than a couple of centuries which isn't in a similar situation.
6) My most important reason for claiming the Protestant label is that the core tenets of Protestantism are important parts of the Quaker DNA, even though in our self-absorption we may forget that we didn't manufacture that DNA ourselves. Salvation by faith is closely related to "convincement." (We get into trouble when we forget salvation by faith and begin to think that we have to reproduce every nuance of certain quakerish folkways to be truly Friends.) The doctrine of Scripture alone does not depend on a tightly calibrated understanding of authorship or inerrancy to make it clear that the Bible protects us from extrabiblical requirements, gnostic expertise, and other false authorities. The priesthood of all believers is central to Friends.
Paul Tillich proposed a "Protestant principle"--
. . . the divine and human protest against any absolute claim made for a relative reality, even if this claim is made by a Protestant church. The Protestant principle is the judge of every religious and cultural reality, including the religion and culture which calls itself "Protestant."Friends honor this principle in our radical skepticism toward presumptuous authority and, more positively, when we understand that "Christ has come to teach his people himself."
I do not believe that Protestants are better Christians than Catholic or Orthodox people. The best insights of Protestantism are not in fact owned by anyone, nor are these insights, by themselves, a sufficient basis for a whole church. The original role of Protestants may have been to confront corruption in a specific time and place; but that focus probably also led to an undervaluing of the Holy Spirit, tradition, and the role of nonverbal communication of faith, which in part are the strengths of the Catholic and Orthodox streams. I just think that we Friends will be best equipped to participate in crucial ecumenical conversations when we operate as embodied people fully aware of our public history, with all its prophetic elements as well as its deficiencies.
In the comments below, Bill Samuel refers to his own article on the same subject. Take a look.
Serge Schmemann, son of the eminent Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, writes about the Russian Orthodox Church in Russia today for National Geographic. (Thank you, NPR.) ~~ Russian deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov says that Russia would be better served by not emerging too soon from its economic difficulties. ~~ Another book for my wish list, based on this review: Kevin Roose's The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University. ~~ David Finke's Easter message. ~~ Unexpected ministry: Bart and William speak in meeting.
Speaking of roots, here is my dessert for this Thursday evening: Lucky Peterson plays a slow "Tin Pan Alley."
Lucky Peterson : Tin Pan Alley по ripa170