Is Santorum Right? How to Revive American Protestantism (and Why It is So Important)
By Michael D. Peabody
Protestantism has indeed fallen on hard times as many American churchgoers have grown tired of theology and moral standards that are as wishy-washy as pop culture and look for churches that emphasize a clear moral standard and upright living. And it is true that no church has produced as monolithic a structure along these lines as the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic leaders long ago learned that the best way to address moral issues is to state a moral standard and stick with it regardless of whether people agree with it or live by it. Protestants continue to swim around in Laodicean tap water and are in danger of circling the drain as they are afraid to espouse standards even within their own congregations.
While Protestant churches tend to see themselves as democracies, there is no such thing in Catholic thought. In the Catholic Church there is God, the saints, the Church hierarchy which handles the spiritual welfare, then the Government which serves the civic functions of life, then you. In Protestantism, there is God and then there is you. In Protestant thought, you could assemble with other people and make a church, or not.
As an American, you could benefit from unprecedented individual civil and religious freedom brought about by two keeping the sphere of church distinct from the sphere of state. What happened between you and God was your business, and the state didn’t get involved in what your church taught and your church was not allowed to set the agenda for the state. It was this combination of the Protestant ethic and the republican form of government that made America a free country and set the standard for true freedom of religion. This reality was preserved through the rule, not of politicians or prelates, but of law, specifically the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights which kept government from being involved in affairs of the church and vice versa. This environment gave religion, faith, property rights, and entrepreneurship the room to thrive. The only times of challenge were when people tried to use force to rob other people of their God-given freedom and inherent human worth.
While Christianity in Europe has struggled with dying national churches, and where birthright determined the likelihood of individual success, the American form of government has proved a blessing to generations of America.
If Protestantism is, as Santorum suggests, on life support, then it desperately needs revival as a belief system that recognizes the value of the unfiltered grace of God. Protestantism, indeed Christianity in general, is here to tell the world that there is something more than what we see around us and to point to transcendent truths. If the American church wants to really reach its Divine potential, it needs to elevate humanity, not by confirming itself to the secular society or forcing secular society conform to its religion, but by pointing the world to a better alternative.
If the faith community can truly embrace this calling, and it is a calling, not a prodding, it will achieve the transformation that it seeks to achieve in the hearts of Americans and people around the world.