I haven't had much experience interacting with Catholics, but I have had a lot of interactions with the Orthodox and have been exposed to many of their writings and teachings. Whenever I would talk to them about what they think about the Protestants, these three main points would always stand out:

  1. Protestants are not on the line of Apostolic succession;

  2. Protestants don't recognize the sacraments as the ways specially ordained by God for conveying the Holy Spirit;

  3. (A kind of summary to the first two points) although only God knows whether or not the Protestants are saved or have the Holy Spirit, it must be considered as the fact that the Protestants are spiritually in the way more disadvantageous position than the Orthodox Church.

I am sure Protestants are familiar with this kind of thinking of the Orthodox Christians regarding Protestantism. Is it possible to describe in general what Protestants usually say in response to that?


By "Protestants" I mean here those Christians who don't belong to the Oriental Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Eastern Orthodoxy, yet still pray to Jesus in their prayers (that is, they address Jesus by His name – not just say "I am praying in the name of Jesus" in the end of the prayer), or at least don't consider this practice to be wrong.

  • 2
    Protestant is too broad here. As for what is better term, I have seen pastor leave an evangelical setting as take his church to one that practices real presence, and he described the change as becoming sacramental". The question is also a little too much red-baiting: you are so different from us-- stop rejecting God's word!
    – pterandon
    Jul 13, 2013 at 17:40
  • In fact, I think my question will be close very soon. However, I think some general ideas can still be written out here.
    – brilliant
    Jul 13, 2013 at 17:43
  • 1
    @brilliant I agree with pteranadon about protestant being very broad here. What are you actually trying to learn?
    – wax eagle
    Jul 13, 2013 at 18:11
  • 2
    @brilliant your question relies on an ideal that protestants are monolithic, and they aren't their beliefs vary widely on the sacriments and even on apostolic succession.
    – wax eagle
    Jul 13, 2013 at 18:32
  • 1
    Why is praying to Jesus rather than the Father so important to you?
    – user4060
    Jul 14, 2013 at 23:29

3 Answers 3


Preface, this is a Protestant response. I'm not arguing the validity of it, or any claims here, just answering the question.

the short Protestant response would be "Meh".

A general Protestant response to each point would be:

1) Where in Scripture does it say there would be any such thing as Apostolic succession? The New Testament speaks of several Churches, planted by various Apostles. Not one central Church descended from Peter. The idea of Apostolic succession is an invention of Churches added on after-the-fact.

2) That's right, too. Show me in Scripture, not in some Church's teaching where these man-made ordinances are meant for that purpose? I seem to remember the indwelling if the Holy Spirit in Acts as being in response to faith and repentance, not to a ritual.

3) Since the first two questions are based on arguably false assumptions, the conclusion in the third is equally questionable.

If you expand this to include the LDS the answer is very different. They believe the Apostolic line was broken, and was restored with Joseph Smith, so the Catholics and Orthodox recognize an invalid Apostolic line. And they'd say the Catholics and Orthodox hve the ordinances wrong, and are missing the critical Temple Ordinances.

  • Ooops! Thanks for your answer and for reminding me to exclude LDS and JW from my question. I will edit my question.
    – brilliant
    Jul 13, 2013 at 18:07
  • 1
    @LDS That's quite unnecessary: LDS don't consider themselves Protestant nor are they generally categorized as such. Pretty much same story for JW. Your question scope already excluded them.
    – Caleb
    Jul 13, 2013 at 19:09
  • Exactly what I was thinking. "Big whoop" they would say.
    – user3961
    Jul 13, 2013 at 19:41
  • @Caleb - I've met a lot of people considering LDS to be protestants, even though, they themselves, as you have rightly said, don't consider themselves to be as such. As the matter of fact, in the Orthodoxy there is a tendency to count LDS and JW as Protestants - often with a view to clearly show "the fallacy of all Protestantism". David's words ("If you expand this to include the LDS") show that the chance of making this inclusion is still there. Therefore, I will roll-back your edit on this point.
    – brilliant
    Jul 13, 2013 at 19:41

Full Disclaimer: I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian who is a former Protestant Christian. I have addressed how Protestants might respond to these points, with the understanding that Protestants are a very broad group with many differing beliefs on these issues. With that said, these responses must necessarily be broad and somewhat varied.

According to Whom/What?

First we need to have a brief discussion on authority. For Protestants, sola scriptura is a central tenet of the faith, i.e. scripture alone. Different groups understand this differently, however.

For more traditional Protestants, who for lack of a better term are more "historically rooted" (most Lutherans, some Anglicans, some Reformed, etc.), sola scriptura does not mean following the Bible subjectively in such a way that completely ignores the voices of the past (e.g. early Church Fathers, the decisions of Church councils, etc.). Indeed, the initial intention of the Protestant Reformers did not preclude ignoring patristic consensus and the traditions of the historic catholic Church. James C. Payton, Jr., a Protestant scholar, addresses this in his book Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings.

For most non-traditional Protestants, who for lack of a better term I will refer to as "historically disconnected" (those who reject most or all historic traditions, e.g. Baptists, mainstream evangelicals, most 'non-denominational' churches, Pentecostals, etc.), they claim to live by the guidance of scripture alone under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit (despite the fact that there is no Protestant consensus on much anything other than the fact that scripture is the only authority, which I personally find somewhat ironic). This is a purely subjective understanding of authority that gives little to no authority to traditions or voices outside of one's denominational organization, sometimes even ignoring the teachings of previous generations of leaders within the same organization and/or local church.

Many Protestants will fall in between these two extremes, but I had to create some categories for the sake of making a point about authority. In contrast, Eastern Orthodox Christians believe that Holy Tradition is the source of authority, in which scripture plays the preeminent role. It should also be noted that Roman Catholics also believe the Pope has the authority to interpret scripture and they include the deuterocanonical works in their canon (and in some cases consider the Latin Vulgate to have more authority than other manuscripts), and Eastern Orthodox Christians have several other apocryphal writings and are much looser on their definition of the canon (and believe the Septuagint is the authoritative Old Testament and apocryphal text).

This fundamental disagreement on authority is an important factor in all subsequent theological discussion, since the two have very different beliefs about authority and who/what can be appealed to in defense or refutation of a practice or belief.

Apostolic Succession

There actually are Protestants who believe that apostolic succession is important, such as some conservative Anglican groups. But the vast majority do not. Of those who reject apostolic succession, they generally attack it from one of three angles:

  1. Historical fallacy - Things got pretty convoluted in the early Church and it is pretty hard to back up the claim that there is a clear, delineated succession from the apostles through the present time. Protestants who take this approach will attempt to use historical evidence (or the lack thereof) to suggest that the succession was broken at some point in history, often by claiming that this process became corrupt through later practices (e.g. the Investiture Controversy and similar historical corruptions), or by claiming that there never was valid succession in the first place and it was only invented by corrupt leaders to establish power and control (Anabaptists are particularly fond of this stance).
  2. No longer relevant - Some "historically connected" Protestants actually will acknowledge the value of apostolic succession in early Church history, specifically the role it played in the defeat of Gnosticism and formation of the New Testament canon within the Christian Church. These Protestants may combine this perspective with the first, claiming that it was originally valid but later corrupted. Others will grant that the Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic Church are still in apostolic succession but it is no longer important since Protestants believe that these churches have departed from the teachings of scripture.
  3. Irrelevant - This is the general stance of "historically disconnected" traditions. Since apostolic succession is not explicitly taught in the bible, it is therefore irrelevant (this is actually the refutation of most traditions for "historically disconnected" Protestants, due largely in part to the many individualistic biases that they hold thanks to the Enlightenment and the French and American revolutionary wars).

The Sacraments as Means of Grace

As an Orthodox Christian, I have to take issue with your statement that the sacraments are "the ways specially ordained by God for conveying the Holy Spirit." The statement is not entirely wrong, but it depends largely upon which of the sacraments is being referenced. I would reword that to say that they convey grace. I will proceed by operating under this revised definition.

This is really not a fair charge: Protestants are divided on this issue. Most of the "historically connected" Protestants do indeed view the sacraments as means of grace. Conversely, the "historically disconnected" Protestants do not. Those that do are divided on the number of sacraments and how they believe the sacraments convey grace (using Aristotelian metaphysical philosophical terms to explain their differences, thanks to the influence of Scholasticism in Western Christianity), but they agree that grace is conveyed nonetheless.

Those that disagree (not just the "historically disconnected," some "historically connected" Protestants are also in this camp) will usually take one of three approaches:

  1. Philosophical/Pagan-influenced - Some Protestants recognize that most sacramental controversies center on the language of Aristotelian metaphysics and reject the sacraments as an altogether philosophical argument that has no bearing on the reality of their substance/essence. Others further argue that the philosophical concept of sacraments existed in paganism and thus the entire notion is pagan.
  2. Rationalism - Using Holy Communion (i.e. the "Eucharist") as an example, these Protestants would argue that since the elements clearly do not change from an empirical/scientific standpoint, the entire notion of sacraments is absurd (again we can see the influence of the Enlightenment).
  3. Irrelevant - It's not explicitly mentioned in the bible, therefore it's wrong (often commingled with rationalism on this issue).

The Protestant Disadvantage

The argument here seems to be that since many Protestants reject apostolic succession and the belief that sacraments convey grace, they are at a disadvantage compared to Eastern Orthodox Christians (and presumably also Roman Catholic Christians).

Since I've demonstrated that not all Protestants reject these beliefs, this syllogism is actually false. However, for the sake of providing a satisfactory answer, let me address this argument as it applies to those Protestants who do reject both practices (for whatever reason).

These Protestants would not consider themselves to be at a disadvantage, in fact they would assert that the opposite is true. Since they do not believe these practices are scriptural nor relevant in the contemporary Church, they would argue that they actually lead people away from God. There's not much more I can say on this one, especially since by and large it is a false syllogism.

From an Orthodox perspective, Protestants are not at a disadvantage for the rejection of any specific beliefs or practices, but rather their attitude towards the historic Christian faith in general. The "family tree" of Christianity has been around a lot longer than Protestants have, but this branch came along and now claims it's the whole tree! Claiming to be the entire tree while cutting off its trunk and roots is a recipe for disaster, and it's also very arrogant. Few Orthodox Christians would ever make a sweeping statement about the eternal destiny of all Protestants, yet many Protestants routinely claim that all Catholics (and Orthodox) are going to hell. So when we seem a little snarky, please understand that we're often responding to the arrogance inherent in Protestantism. Even so, this is a failure on our part to continue to model true humility to Protestants, and for that I apologize. Please pray for me.

In conclusion, I've addressed each of the three points as well as the nature of authority, which I believe is an important underlying issue in the discussion of any belief or practice within Christianity.

  • 2
    With respect to the sacraments, "grace" need not mean the same thing to Protestants as it does to Catholics.
    – user3331
    Jul 15, 2013 at 11:55
  • 1
    (1) Among 5 'solas' 'sola scriptura' is the most misunderstood and misinterpreted one - not only by non-protestants, but even often by Protestants themselves. Does 'sola scriptura' mean that the Scripture is a kind of intelligent living being that can interpret itself? Does it mean that because “the Scripture interprets itself” no other writings should be accepted or considered as inspired by the Holy Spirit?! Of course not! If that were the case then Protestants should've not written anything and had to read only the Bible. However, we have a great bulk of
    – brilliant
    Jul 15, 2013 at 12:52
  • (2) protestant writings and who would dare to say that none of that has the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Besides, it is a very well-known fact that the very author of ‘sola scriptura’, Martin Luther, treated the book of James as an “epistle of straw” and even wanted it to be dropped from the Bible! How does this go along with ‘sola scriptura’? The very essence of ‘sola scriptura’ is the proposition that a believer for his salvation must believe and accept as true all the stories and all the interpretations that are already existing in the Bible, however, he is free to
    – brilliant
    Jul 15, 2013 at 12:53
  • (3) choose whether or not to believe and accept any story and any interpretation that is not contained in the Bible. For example, one can’t disbelieve the account of the resurrection of Jesus Christ or the story of how Apostle Paul was called, however, a believer is free not to believe the story of Assumption of Mary or the story of how Apostle Luke painted the very first icon. Also, a believer, can’t disbelieve the interpretation holding that the field in the parable of
    – brilliant
    Jul 15, 2013 at 12:54
  • (4) the Sower in Matthew 13 signifies the world as this interpretation is already found there in the Bible, however, a believer can choose whether or not to believe that Woman of the Apocalypse in Revelation 12 is the Church, or Mary, or Israel, as none of these interpretations are put forth in the Bible. I kind of detected the lack of this understanding in the first part of your answer. Apart from that, it’s a great answer. Thank you.
    – brilliant
    Jul 15, 2013 at 12:54

The Protestant movement at least began as a turning to the scriptures to define belief; I think that Bible-believing Protestants would start there. The leaders of the Protestant movements all saw conflict between traditional Orthodox/Catholic teachings and the plain teachings of scripture. I'll address the 2nd issue first:

Jesus instituted the sacrament of communion in the upper room at the last supper before His death (Luke 22:19-20 and elsewhere). Yet after the resurrection, in John 20:22-23, He breathed on them and told them to receive the Holy Ghost. If the sacrament of communion given by Jesus Himself had conveyed the Holy Spirit to the disciples, He would not have had to breathe on them and tell them to receive the Holy Ghost later. After that, He tells them in Luke 24:49 to wait in Jerusalem until they are endued with power by the Holy Spirit. They receive the Holy Spirit in John apart from any sacrament, and they are later endued with power from the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 apart from any sacrament.

In Acts 10:44-48, the household of Cornelius received the empowering of the Holy Spirit before they were given the sacrament of baptism. In Acts 8:12-19 the people of Samaria believed the gospel and were given the sacrament of baptism. Later, they received the Holy Ghost. In both cases the Holy Ghost was given independently of any sacrament.

In fact, only Jesus had the Holy Ghost descend on Him during a sacrament (John's baptism) to empower him for ministry as a human. No passage throughout the book of Acts describes the conveying of the Holy Spirit through any sacrament. Galatians 3:2 states in a question form that we receive the Holy Spirit by the hearing of faith. When we hear God's Word and believe in Jesus Christ, we receive the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and regenerates us, as the disciples did in John 20 after the resurrection. When we believe in Christ and are ready, we can also be endued with power for ministry as the disciples were in Acts 2 and Acts 10.

In John 6:51 Jesus states that "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." This would seem to imply that the sacrament of communion is necessary for regeneration. But to site this scripture as proof of that idea is to ignore the words of Jesus just prior to it in John 6:35, in the same conversation. Jesus sets this up by saying, "He that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst." So we satisfy our spiritual hunger and partake of the sacrifice of His body and blood by coming to Jesus and believing on Him. The whole analogy of eating and drinking in John 6 isn't even speaking about the sacrament of communion. It is speaking of obtaining the benefit of His sacrifice through coming to Him and believing in Him.

As to the line of Apostolic succession: In James 5:14 he tells believers to call for the "elders" (plural) of the church (singular). In the days when each city had one church (Acts 20:17), plural elders were appointed to run them; but not to "lord it over" the congregation (1 Peter 5:3). "Elders" and "Bishops" are equated in Titus 1:5-7. If the churches of history and of today were in harmony with scripture, they would be run by all the qualified older married people willing to do the job (see 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1); not run by a singular pastor or singular priest or singular bishop. The apostolic succession was to appoint plural "elders" who were all "apt to teach" in every singular "church" in every singular "city".

Paul warned in 1 Corinthians 1 against favoring one leader over another; we are to be led by Christ while working together, submitted to the plural elders in the local church who also follow Christ. The word "pastor" in the NT is always plural unless it is referring to Christ Himself. The church has lapsed by hiring one man to do the work that the elders are all supposed to share, while the congregation turns church into a spectator sport. If elders, assisted by deacons, together took responsibility to raise others to grow and do the work of the ministry, then the church would be following what the apostles were putting into place in scripture. When a church claims that they are in the line of Peter, they are saying "I am of Cephas (Peter)", just like 1 Corinthians 1 tells them not to do.

As to whether or not certain groups are saved: The gospel is spelled out in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. Saved groups are those who believe in Jesus Christ and what the Bible says about Him. Some church organizations believe in Jesus Christ, God the Son, who died for us and rose again bodily. But they may teach other things that contradict the Bible. They are to be likened to the church of Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29; a true church in their core belief about Christ, but a church that also taught false doctrine.

Believers are a priesthood (1 Peter 2:9); we are the priests that bring God and His love to the unbelievers. The unbelievers are our congregation; we need to go care for them. Avoid strifes (2 Cor 12:20) with other churches, but encourage them in the things they believe which are correct; and be an example bringing God's care and advice to the unbelievers. :)

  • 1
    I do not agree with your idea that churches should be run by multiple married people as that is in practice a disaster; timothy wasn't married and marriage is not a requirement for any thing else. This is not what the scripture intended but other than that well done :)
    – user4060
    Jul 14, 2013 at 23:26
  • Unger's Bible dictionary "synagogue" entry: Biblical idea of elders + deacons reflects known setup of synagogues of that time. General direction of affairs was committed to elders (see Timothy + Titus), + officers (deacons) were appointed for special purposes. But the reading of scripture, preaching, and prayer were freely performed in turn by qualified members of the congregation. One able to pray chosen to pray, one able to read chosen to read, and one able chosen to expound on the reading. They took turns; everyone's input was valued. Old taught young like a family. Worked great for yrs.
    – rguy
    Jul 15, 2013 at 1:24
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    Timothy wasn't listed as an elder or a bishop or even a pastor but he was called an evangelist 2 Tim 4:5 who was to return to Paul when his job was done 2 Tim 4:13 like Titus. 1 Tim 3:1-5 tells the qual's of a bishop as does Titus 1:6. I submit to you that they are to be married because overseeing a church should be like overseeing a family, so for the elder/bishop position you need good experience overseeing a family. Singles not precluded from being apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers etc... but hey- I didn't write Tim or Titus, just reporting what it says.
    – rguy
    Jul 15, 2013 at 1:46
  • you are reporting your view of the scripture based on your flavor of tradition I'm not going to argue with you about the validity or historacle acuracy of your view i'm just going to tell you your model based on your interpretation for the church is unworkable
    – user4060
    Jul 15, 2013 at 2:37

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