By way of accelerating the forum that seems to have gotten a flu, I’d like to anticipate a Protestant point which I think is quite valid, even though it is not dispositive of the question.
The valid point is that similarly how the Catholic flakes are excommunicated by their stated beliefs and actions, the Protestant flakes render themselves outside of the Protestant pale by their de-facto rejection of the Bible.
I think there is a true analogy here. We ask for certain beliefs and actions (or refrain from actions) in order to be Catholic, and we wait for no formal excommunication (always slow in coming) before we say that the flake is excommunicated by her very actions. The Protestants ask for certain concepts that they firmly hold as biblical, and once those are breached, the flake is Protestant In Name Only.
So we both believe in the idea that the flakes excommunicate themselves rather than the given community of faith excommunicates them administratively; the latter, if it happens at all, merely confirms the loss.
Having acknowledged this, I think we still have a crisis of authority in the Protestant Ecumen, in a way in which we don’t have it in the Catholic Church. That is because the criteria of what is and what is not permissible can be drawn in the Catholic Church with infinite precision, if that’s the mind of the Church; or they can be left vague, again if that is the mind of the Church. For example, permissible family planning is defined in the Catholic Church with great precision (certain methods are OK in some circumstances and certain methods are never OK). Abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, gay “marriage”, destructive embryonic research are clearly defined (never OK). Just war is deliberately left on a case-by-case basis. Liturgical innovation is not fully excluded but a firm boundary exists. Etc.
This is where the crisis of authority really is: the Protestant flake can plausibly insist on her scriptural interpretation. No magisterium exists to arbitrate that — it cannot exist in Protestantism in principle because the scripture is supposed to self-interpret. So, while in principle both the Catholics and the Protestants have the mechanism of self-inflicted excommunication, the Catholic boundary can be drawn with infinite precision when needed; a Protestant is left to wonder for herself and usually ends up in a likeminded community that confirms and reinforces the heresy.
Exactly. The problem is that there is no “Protestant authority” that can say somebody is interpreting the Bible correctly, incorrectly, or just making up his own religion out of whole cloth. Protestants keep trying to form a central authority (the original intention of the folks at 475 Riverside Drive), but Protestantism by its nature is too polymorphous and centrifugal to be able to create such a thing.
In addition, the Bible is a written work - assembled by the Catholic Church, may I add - and thus requires interpretation. But if there’s no standard for interpretation, how is the Protestant to say what’s right and what’s wrong? In addition, Protestantism is a 500 year old phenomenon that has now shattered into hundreds of “protestantisms,” while the one Church, including the Orthodox, who are only administratively separate, relies on 2000 years of doctrine. That’s a significant difference.
As I understand it, this differs somewhat from other Protestant denominations; but, then again, Lutherans don't consider themselves Protestant any more than they consider themselves Roman Catholic.