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§ 38. The Evangelical Confessions of Faith.

The Evangelical Confessions of faith date mostly from the sixteenth century (1530 to 1577), the productive period of Protestantism, and are nearly contemporaneous with the Tridentine standards of the Church of Rome. They are the work of an intensely theological and polemical age, when religious controversy absorbed the attention of all classes of society. They embody the results of the great conflict with the Papacy. A smaller class of Confessions (as the Articles of Dort and the Westminster Standards) belongs to the seventeenth century, and grew out of internal controversies among Protestants themselves. The eighteenth century witnessed a powerful revival of practical religion and missionary zeal through the labors of the Pietists and Moravians in Germany, and the Methodists in England and North America, but, in its ruling genius, it was irreligious and revolutionary, and undermined the authority of all creeds. In the nineteenth century a 210new interest in the old creeds was awakened, and several attempts were made to reduce the lengthy confessions to brief popular summaries, or to formularize the doctrinal consensus of the different evangelical denominations. The present tendency among Protestants is to diminish rather than to increase the number of articles of faith, and to follow in any new formula the simplicity of the Apostles' Creed; while Romanism pursues the opposite course.

The symbols of the Reformation are very numerous, but several of them were merely provisional, and subsequently superseded by maturer statements of doctrine. Some far exceed the proper limits of a creed, and are complete systems of theology for the use of the clergy. It was a sad mistake and a source of incalculable mischief to incorporate the results of every doctrinal controversy with the confession of faith, and to bind lengthy discussions, with all their metaphysical distinctions and subtleties, upon the conscience of every minister and teacher. There is a vast difference between theological opinions and articles of faith. The development of theology as a science must go on, and will go on in spite of all these shackles.

As to the theology of the confessions of orthodox Protestantism, we may distinguish in them three elements, the œcumenical, the Augustinian, and the evangelical proper.

1. The œcumenical element. In theology and Christology the Protestant symbols agree with the Greek and Roman Churches, and also in the other articles of the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds from the creation of the world to the resurrection of the body.

2. The Augustinian element is found in anthropology, or the doctrines of sin and grace, predestination, and perseverance. Here the Protestant confessions agree with the system of Augustine, who had more influence upon the reformers than any uninspired teacher. The Latin Church during the Middle Ages had gradually fallen into Pelagian and semi-Pelagian doctrines and practices, although these had been condemned in the fifth century. The Calvinistic confessions, however, differ from the Lutheran in the logical conclusions derived from the Augustinian premises, which they hold in common.

3. The Evangelical Protestant and strictly original element is found in soteriology, and in all that pertains to subjective Christianity, or the personal appropriation of salvation. Here belong the doctrines 211of the rule of faith, of justification by faith, of the nature and office of faith and good works, of the assurance of salvation; here also the protest against all those doctrines of Romanism which are deemed inconsistent with the Scripture principle and with justification by faith. The papacy, the sacrifice of the mass, transubstantiation, purgatory, indulgences, meritorious and hypermeritorious works, the worship of saints, images, and relics are rejected altogether, while the doctrine of the Church and the Sacraments was essentially modified.


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