Today, it is common for traditionally-minded Protestants to try to seek out some earlier Christianity that has not been tainted by the modern world. This has become increasingly necessary as many of the mainstream denominations have started to embrace homosexuality and such. This is not an easy journey, however, since fundamentalist American Protestantism is also extremely anti-Catholic. It is easy to see why seeking out the historical Church is difficult when you reject the Latin Church, which was obviously The Church for most of Christianity’s history. Now, at least some Protestants reading this just said something impolite or threw something, but they can be excused since they have been taught—likely from a young age—to replace objective history with their own doctrine.
First, let’s begin with the Church of England since so much of American Protestantism stems directly from the same origins. In 1534, Henry VIII famously separated the Church of England from Rome. That was followed by the Dissolution of Lesser Monasteries Act and the Act for the Dissolution of the Greater Monasteries to disband all religious houses in 1535 and 1539, respectively. England and Scotland also came into conflict shortly thereafter, and the English used the opportunity to spread their Protestant message in the Scottish Lowlands. This is not to say that the English were united, however, as there were radicals who did not think the reforms had gone far enough. These would come to be known as Puritans, and they enacted many of their reforms following the English Civil War. Many would become Separatists after the restoration of Charles II and the subsequent Act of Uniformity in 1662, which required episcopal ordination to be restored (against Puritan wishes). Funnily enough, that was a century after the Scottish Reformation resulted in the rise of Presbyterianism, at least partially attributable to the earlier efforts of the English Protestants.
The complex history of the Church of England is important because it provides a basis for 3 of the 5 largest (non-Anglican) Protestant denominations in the United States today. These include Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and the various denominations that have split off from those. For example, all Baptists today can be traced back to John Smyth, an Anglican priest who broke from the Church of England before founding the first Baptist church in Amsterdam in 1609. Adventist churches can then be traced to William Miller, a 19th century Baptist minister. Likewise, Methodism is directly traceable to John Wesley, an Anglican priest who started the movement as a revival within the Church of England. It was only after Wesley’s death that his followers separated fully, and his writings would also give rise to Pentecostalism/Holiness movements. All told, more than 40% of Americans today belong to denominations that trace back to the Church of England, which accounts for the vast majority of American Protestants.
Secondly, at this point, it should be obvious why so many Protestants in the United States belong to so-called “low church” denominations. This means they have largely (or entirely) abandoned the rituals and episcopal structure of the Church prior to the Reformation. In essence, they are descendants of the Puritans, at least in the sense of rejecting anything they saw as needless, and it is that puritanism that at least begins to explain anti-Catholic sentiments among these Protestants. They may not know their own collective history, or actively preach puritanism, but it is in the DNA of these denominations to reject the “unreformed” because the “reformed” is all that they know. They have never lived in a time where everyone was under the one and only Church, but they have been taught the past was horrible and thus justified their forefathers’ reforms.
We can see from this that the vast majority of American Protestants are severely limited in being able to seek out a more traditional form of Christianity. After all, the Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Adventists, and so on only have a non-Roman history back to 1534, and most of them would not be content with the Church of England as it is still episcopal and catholic. What then are reactionary Protestants to do? There have been two answers to this conundrum: namely, Protestant successionism and Christian Zionism. Each has its own problems, but they both ultimately result in division and serve to subvert actual traditionalism.
In the case of Protestant successionism, the claim is that Protestants—and specifically Baptists—are not Protestant at all and are instead descendants of an unbroken line of non-Catholic Christian movements including the Montanists, Novatians, Donatists, Patarenes, Paulicians, Arnoldists, Henricians, Albigenses, and Waldenses. This claim largely stems from “The Trail of Blood” (1931), a booklet by a Baptist minister by the name of James Milton Carroll. The most obvious problem with this “theory” is that none of the listed movements were connected to each other, and they certainly did not survive hidden among Catholics and then the Church of England before separating yet again. In fact, the supposed “unbroken line” includes isolated movements ranging from Europe to North Africa to the Near East, spread over a millennium of history. The various heretical sects also did not share the same views, and Protestants today would roundly reject many, if not most, of their beliefs. The objective of successionism is to assert that the reactionary Protestants are already the most ancient and traditional form of Christianity, but they have to ignore their own history as well as the collective history of Christendom to make the claim. It allows them to keep the denomination(s) and anti-Catholicism they are used to, but cognitive dissonance is hardly a solid foundation for a movement. It becomes particularly odd when rabid anti-Catholics nonetheless use iconography and language from the Crusades, which were intrinsically Catholic and even targeted some of the heretical movements that the Protestants are now trying to claim as their direct ancestors.
Where Protestant successionism is a matter of historical revisionism, Protestant Zionism is a matter of religious revisionism. It is not difficult to understand how American Protestantism has come to be consumed with a zeal for Zion since many of the denominations were still growing and developing in the 19th century, a time marked by the development of Zionism in the United Kingdom. Indeed, the Church of England, Baptists, Methodists, and others all produced notable Zionists at the time, and the common argument was that Israel must exist as a state in the hands of the Jews to fit with Protestant readings of the New Testament. This went hand-in-hand with “The Rapture” teachings of John Nelson Darby, an Anglican priest, albeit he was not the first to claim a “rapture”-like event would occur. In essence, the belief became that the End Times were near, and that the Jews must control Israel as a prerequisite for Jesus to return to the Earth. This simultaneously taught Christians to place their focus on helping Jews while also encouraging them to ignore their own future as the world could end soon. This belief is still common among many denominations of American Protestants, and many rabidly support Israel and the Jewish diaspora.
Interestingly, Christian Zionism mixed with a desire for traditionalism has spawned American Protestants who now assert that they are “Jewish Christians,” “Christian Jews,” “Messianic Jews,” and so on. In essence, they skipped the mental gymnastics of Protestant successionism and declared that mimicking Judaism is the closest they can get to the original Christianity. The most obvious problem with this is that Judaism as we know it today did not exist in the time of Jesus, and the closest thing to Rabbinic Judaism was the Pharisaic sect. Indeed, the Pharisees would ultimately provide the basis for modern Judaism following the destruction of the Temple. In John 8:42-47, however, Jesus told the Pharisees that they were children of Satan and did not know Him because they did not know God. It is quite odd then that Christians seeking a more traditional Christianity would try to find it among the Pharisees. Regardless, one will find these “Messianic Jews” wearing yarmulkes, Israeli prayer shawls, and observing Jewish holidays that often celebrate Jews killing gentiles. Their hatred of the Church runs so deeply that they would rather embrace those Jesus condemned as satanic than Catholic crusaders; those who helped kill Jesus rather than those who spent centuries developing and defending Christianity against infidels.
The puritanism of “low church” Protestantism has ingrained anti-Catholicism into so many, and that has helped to give rise to disjointed and misguided movements that only further divide Christendom and actively promote others over our own. Where these Protestants could be taking up the sword in the name of a new Crusade, they are instead ranting that Catholics are their real enemies, some going so far as to mimic the rituals and rites of the modern Pharisees. Some of them even claim that the Church created Islam as a tool to kill Jews and “real Christians,” never mind that Islam rose at a time where there were only Catholics and that Islam spent centuries invading Catholic lands, most of which are still being defiled by Muslims to this very day. These Protestants are quick to blame Catholics and the Church for anything and everything, and they often gleefully join with Jews, Muslims, and atheists to condemn the Church for the Crusades, Inquisition, and so on. They peddle all manner of conspiracy theories about Catholics working to divide and destroy Christianity, and it never occurs to them that it is they who align with our enemies and divide Christendom.
Once, the Church did not have a single liturgy, and national churches often had their own ways of doing things while everyone was still a part of the whole of Christendom. There were bishops and priests and some sense of central authority, but there was room for differences. Even today there are the 23 independent Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with Rome, and the Orthodox Church could just as easily rejoin with its other half. There are also Old Catholics such as myself, who are considered valid yet “illicit” for being outside of Rome’s purview. Rather than embracing the chance of Christendom standing united against our enemies, many Protestants cannot step outside of their puritanical, anti-Catholic worldview and realize that it is far better to be a crusader than a traitor.