Words are fluid. They slip in and out of meaning, so that a word may mean one thing in a particular generation or culture and the opposite in another. This is especially true when it comes to religion. Since the first Christian centuries, the shifting sands of meaning have created dangerous misunderstandings and even schisms among faithful Christians.
The terms "protestant" and "catholic" are notorious examples. "Protestant" originally had to do with witnessing – from the Latin: to testify for [something]. Original Protestants were those who were bearing witness to Scripture and the faith of the early church. (Today we call them Evangelicals.) But soon the meaning shifted from a positive to a negative connotation. Protesters became those who opposed something, and Protestants those who opposed the Catholic Church. This is their present meaning and there is no way we can change it.
The Rev. Chuck Collins fails to recognize this in his valiant attempt, recently published on our diocesan Web site, to defend those of us who are intending to separate from the General Convention of The Episcopal Church. When talking about the Protestant Reformation in England he slips and slides between the two meanings of "Protestant."
He rightly points out that the reformers wished to restore a purer form of biblical and patristic Christianity, though he fails to mention that this desire for purity led to Puritanism and the dictatorship of the English Commonwealth. But then he lapses into the negative and contemporary meaning of protestant when he says that the English reformers were protesting against the medieval church, even claiming that they believed it was not only in error but in schism. He fails to give any evidence for this, however; nor do I know of any. From whom did they separate, from Henry, from the new Protestants? Not very likely!
We would do better to drop any comparison between our situation and the Protestant Reformation. Their times are not ours; our situation is different; words have shifted in their meaning.
We who intend to remain faithful to the apostolic and catholic church throughout the world are dissociating ourselves from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church because it is in schism. In fundamental matters of faith and order it is not us but TEC that has separated itself from the rest of the catholic church both east and west, and from the historic faith and order of our own Anglican Communion. We are not seeking a purer church or protesting against abuses and corruption within the church. We are simply retaining our original integrity as faithful members of the historic catholic church and inheritors of our Anglican tradition.
We are not leaving The Episcopal Church; The Episcopal Church has left us.
– The Rev. Canon Dr. John Heidt
Canon Theologian of the Diocese of Fort Worth