There is a clear distinction which has been made on this site between individuals and the groups they belong to. There are many Protestants who are clearly on a spiritual journey towards Orthodoxy, the True Faith. I was such a one. I would not accept that I was not a Christian until I became Orthodox. But I do believe that everything distinctively protestant which I learned and taught myself in that time was error, was heresy, was damaging to the spiritual lives of those who embraced it.
I believe that I was in a situation of being a catechumen. Not yet properly received into the Church, but in a state of being made prepared. Yet everything I was taught by dear people who loved Christ was entirely wrong. I might well have been some sort of a Christian, certainly a believer in Christ and a seeker, but the community I belonged to was heretical. It was erroneous in most of the things it taught and did.
I know many other believers and seekers. I deal with many enquirers as a priest. They do not lack faith. They know Christ. But they have not yet been united to His Church. They are not yet entirely and completely Christian. They are still on a journey into the Body of Christ, at which point a new phase of the journey will begin as members of Christ. It is not my place to judge any such a one. I receive all who come into contact with me as those who are seeking after a deeper and more complete experience of God. I have yet to find someone who has not found the experience of becoming Orthodox to be a transition to a different experience of being Christian. I am sure that the Lord will have mercy on a very great many who are born into situations where they grow up as Christians and do the best they can. But doing the best they can where they find themselves is for God to judge, not for us to emulate. We are called to a higher standard because we ARE members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Completely undeservedly so.
In this post I wanted to briefly consider the first contacts of Protestants with Orthodoxy. It took place in the 16th century between the Lutheran theologians of Tubingen and the Greek Patriarch Jeremias II of Constantinople. This is an interesting encounter because it represents the classical and 'serious' Protestantism of the past, rather than the modern Pentecostal Protestantism which some Orthodox find attractive. Therefore it seems to me that what is being considered at the beginning is not confused by issues of culture and modernity, but is a matter of faith and doctrine.
I will not go into the whole history. But it is enough to say that the Lutherans wrote to the Greeks, hoping both to find in them an ally against Rome, and also to bring about a 'reformation' in the thinking of the Eastern Churches based on the Lutheran view of what was accurate doctrine. Several letters were exchanged in which it became clear that the Protestants were more interested in changing the Orthodox than learning from them. This seems to me to be a constant danger whenever engaging in anything with Protestants.
The Lutherans presented a copy of the Augsburg Confession to the Patriarch, and in due course he responded with a point by point consideration from the Orthodox point of view. It seems to me that this is a very important witness to the Orthodox opinion of Protestantism. The most important reply was sent in 1579.
I won't go through every issue in this post. But let me quote some of the comments of Patriarch Jeremias. We must remember that he had carefully considered the documents sent to him by the Lutheran Protestants, and after considering them and comparing them to the Orthodox Faith he says:
Therefore, brethren, let us stand on the rock of faith and on the tradition of the Church, and not remove the boundaries which our Holy Fathers have set. Thus, we will not give the opportunity to those who wish to innovate and destroy the edifice of the holy, catholic and apostolic Church of God. For if permission is granted to everyone who wants it, little by little the whole body of the Church will be destroyed.
Let us accept, then, the tradition of the Church with a sincere heart and not a multitude of rationalizations. For God created man to be [morally] upright; instead they [humans] sought after diverse ways of rationalizing. Let us not allow ourselves to learn a new kind of faith which is condemned by the tradition of the Holy Fathers. For the Divine Apostle says, "if anyone is preaching to you a Gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed" [Gal 1:9].
Patriarch Jeremias was very clear, and his three letters are available to be studied in detail. The very foundation of Protestantism was a deviation from the Orthodox Truth. He did not speak unkindly to those who wrote to him. He did not lack love towards them. But he was insistent. We must not allow a New Gospel to be preached, and we must not allow the Orthodox Tradition to be corrupted.
In the centuries since this correspondence the Protestant movement has divided and become even more distant from the Orthodox Faith. We may speak with the same loving charity as Patriarch Jeremias did of those who hold these false beliefs. But we must also stand with him in the defence of the Orthodox Faith which is contrary to that of Protestantism in all its forms.
We will not give the opportunity to those who wish to innovate and destroy the edifice of the holy, catholic and apostolic Church of God.