ProtestantismFR. JOHN HARDON, S.J.
There is a legitimate sense in which Protestantism refers to all Christian movements, other than the Roman Catholic Church, that share the heritage of Western Christianity.
Lutheran and evangelical churches Calvinist and reformed tradition
Free church movement
Anglican heritage Methodism
Spirit of Protestantism
The great Luther monument at Worms, unveiled in 1868, includes a number of statues of men who are popularly considered heralds of the Reformation. Luther's central figure is encircled by statues of Savonarola, Huss, Wyclif, Reuchlin and Peter Waldo. By implication these men were precursors of the principal doctrines of Luther and of Protestantism, whereas their contribution was definitely minor and often tenuous, with only the single thread of unity that all had somehow come into conflict with the papacy.
More recent historians admit the disparity of ways which led the Reformers away from Rome, and consider it superfluous to find any forerunners of the original Luther whose genius alone, they feel, produced the Reformation and laid the foundations of Protestantism. However, one exception is admitted, namely, the influence of contemporary Nominalism, particularly in the form in which it was taught by William of Ockham (1300-1349). "I am a member of Ockham's school," Luther boasted. Time and again he referred to the debt he owed the fourteenth century philosopher for the ideas he used in his contest with Rome. Ockham's teaching was so much that of the schools through which Luther passed that the latter simply described him as "Magister meus."1
Ockham questioned the power of reason to prove the existence of God, the immortality of the soul, and human freedom. He held that these truths can be known with certainty only through faith. A proposition may be true in philosophy and false in theology. The ultimate cause of the eternal law he placed in the divine will. Absolutely speaking, an unworthy person might be found worthy of heaven if God so willed it. According to his theory of acceptation, everything depends on the will of God; and no supernatural virtue is necessary in the justified. Repression of reason and opposition to ecclesiastical authority were characteristic of Ockham. His political theories played an important part in the development of the conciliar movement, which placed a general council above the pope; and his radical separation of the Church from the world became tinder for the reforming zeal of Luther who looked with horror at the immorality of churchmen in high places and decided the only remedy was to sever relations with this "Babylon of iniquity."
Yet Ockham's influence on Luther must not be overstated. Too often the Reformation is conceived as only the end of a long line of lesser reforms, from the Lollards in England, through the Hussites and Waldenses on the continent, to the final conflagration. There were preludes, of course, of a practical type, as with Wyclif, and more theoretical ones, as in Ockham. But no precursors explain the changes which the Reformers introduced into Christian thought, or the revolutionary positions they adopted in theology.
The birthday of Protestantism is commonly dated October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the church door of the castle at Wittenberg. Within ten years, every major difference from the parent Roman Catholicism had been stated by Luther, and whatever subsequent development took place only built on the foundations he laid with a clarity and vigor that prompted his friend Melanchthon to say that "Luther is a miracle among men. What he says and writes grips the heart and leaves a marvelous deep impression behind."
His basic principle was an appeal to conscience, personally enlightened by the Spirit, against what he called the accretions of the Roman Church. Standing before the Diet of Worms in 1521, and charged by the Empire with promoting heresy, Luther replied in a statement that has become famous. The imperial judges asked him for a plain reply to this accusation. In a word, was he prepared to recant or not?
Your Imperial Majesty and Your Lordships demand a simple answer. Here it is, plain and unvarnished. Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or — since I put no trust in the unsupported authority of Pope or of councils, since it is plain that they have often erred and often contradicted themselves — by manifest reasoning I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.2
During the next twenty-five years, until his death in 1546, Luther elaborated this theory of conscience to include the whole construct of the Reformation. The conscience, he taught, is bound up with the word of God in the Scriptures. Therefore, instead of popes and councils, Scripture alone (sola Scriptura) became the source of religious knowledge. By the time of the Formula of Concord (1577), this had been canonized into an article of faith, that "Holy Scripture alone is acknowledged as the only judge, norm, and rule, according to which, as by the only touchstone, all doctrines are to be examined and judged, as to whether they are godly or ungodly, true or false."3 Language could not be clearer on the Scriptures as the fountainhead of all doctrine and the only standard of Christian belief.
However, Scriptures themselves need an interpreter. Since ecclesiastical authority was ruled out, the alternative was the indwelling Spirit of God. Both the antecedent question of which books of the Bible are inspired, and the problem of determining what a given passage means, are subject not to the whims of a human institution (like the Church) but to the ever-present divine light in the soul. If this idea was thematic in Luther, it was systematized by John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, first published in 1536, to become the greatest single legacy of the Reformation and the Summa Theologica of Protestantism.
Accordingly, the principle that by the Spirit alone (solo Spiritu) do we understand the Scriptures was axiomatic. "The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God alone is a fit witness of Himself in His Word, so also the Word will not find acceptance in men's hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit." So that "those whom the Holy Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture," and "the certainty it deserves with us, it attains by the testimony of the Spirit. For even if it wins reverence for itself by its own majesty, it seriously affects us only when it is sealed upon our hearts through the Spirit. Therefore, illumined by His power, we believe neither by our own nor by any one else's judgment that Scripture is from God," or that a given meaning attached to a biblical text is divinely true. "But above human judgment we affirm with utter certainty, just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God Himself, that it has flowed to us from the very mouth of God."4
Among the verities that Luther and Calvin were convinced the Spirit had taught them by the ministry of the Word was the complete depravity of human nature since the fail, and consequently that whatever good we do or hope we have of heaven come only from grace (sola gratia) and not at all from the effort or good works of man.
Basic to the Reformation theology of grace was the principle that original justice was due to human nature by a strict right of essence. "Original justice," wrote Luther, "was part of man's nature."5 As a result, when Adam fell and lost the righteousness he possessed, his nature became essentially corrupt and his faculties were intrinsically vitiated. Nothing in the literature of historic Protestantism is more emphatically asserted against the "scholastic innovators" who misinterpreted revelation and the teaching of St. Augustine.
"See what follows," urged Luther, "if you maintain that original righteousness was not a part of nature but a sort of superfluous or superadded gift. When you declare that righteousness was not a part of the essence of man, does it not also follow that sin, which took its place, is not part of the essence of man either?"6 If this were so, "there was no purpose in sending Christ the Redeemer," whose unique function was to win the grace we need to supply for our complete helplessness and inability to do any good. If, then, we are saved all the credit belongs to God and none to us; grace alone accounts for man's salvation and not in any sense the works of man, whose corruption is capable of nothing but sin and whose freedom, in Luther's phrase is "only an empty phrase." To God alone the glory, therefore, and to His grace the thanks.
One final element belongs to the foundations of Reformation thought, the doctrine that by faith alone (sola fide) are we saved, namely, by an absolute trust in God's mercy that in spite of our sinfulness the merits of His Son will hide our sins and spare us from the hell fire that we justly deserve. In the words of the Augsburg Confession (1530), "Our works cannot reconcile us to God or merit remission of sins and grace and justification. This we obtain only by faith, when we believe that we are received into grace on account of Christ." And to make sure there is no mistaking this trust for the dogmatic faith of Catholics, who made acceptance o€ revealed truths the first requisite for salvation, "Men are warned that the word faith does not signify the knowledge of an event — the devils and impious men have that — but it signifies a faith which believes not in an event merely, but also in the effect of an event, namely this article, the remission of sins, i.e., that we have, through Christ, grace, righteousness, and remission of sins."7
Thus we have the full complement of principles on which the structure of classic Protestantism was built, likened to the pillars of a massive building: the interior conscience instead of external authority, the Scriptures rather than ecclesiastical tradition, the interior Spirit supplying for the pope and councils, divine grace making up for the innate deficiency of will, and confident trust relying on the promise of the Savior, "because consciences cannot be quieted by any good works, but by faith alone, when they believe assuredly that they have a God who is propitiated for the sake of Christ."8
the four centuries since these concepts were propounded, they have undergone much
development and seen applications that Luther and Calvin never suspected, but
their original spirit has not been lost. This spirit has remained fairly constant,
and still serves to unite what is externally the most fragmented form of Christianity
in existence, whose very beginnings were marked by cleavage and division. For
although it is true that Luther was the first of the Protestant Reformers, the
churches of the Reformation really had four beginnings: under Luther, Calvin,
Henry VIII and the Anabaptists, all within a generation of that Eve of All Saints
in Wittenberg. Each prototype has since grown into a multitude of churches and
denominations that, in spite of mergers and overlappings, still retain characteristic
elements that are traceable to their respective ancestry, along with the common
features that first marked the origins of Protestantism.
The religious crisis which Luther and his followers precipitated in Germany occasioned a series of conferences which became landmarks in the history of Protestantism. Summoned by Charles V to the Diet of Worms, Luther refused to submit and was condemned as an outlaw, but taken by the Elector of Saxony into protective custody. Eight years later, at the Diet of Speyer (1529), the Lutheran princes refused to agree that Catholic worship should be free everywhere and the new religion be allowed only in places where it already had some followers. Their "protest" at Speyer became symbolic of the whole movement and gave the name by which the Churches of the Reformation have since become known. When the Diet of Speyer proved inoperative, the Emperor called the Diet of Augsburg (1530) to effect a reconciliation between the Catholics and Reformers. While this attempt failed, a compromise was reached among the factions in the Protestant camp and the agreement was stabilized in the Confession of Augsburg, for which Melanchthon wrote an Apology after the creedal statement was challenged by the Catholics. Both documents are now doctrinal standards in Churches of the Lutheran tradition.
Luther's productivity was phenomenal. There are four Weimar editions of his writings, amounting to eighty-three volumes. The current English translation will run to fifty-five volumes in octavo.
His two catechisms, a larger and smaller, were originally intended "for the improperly indoctrinated Roman clergy who had joined the evangelicals and to the teachers of the parochial schools." They have since been recognized as the most unique of his writings and the most influential, in marked contrast with the polemic tracts he was forced to compose to meet the steady opposition toward leaders of the Reformation.
After Luther's death, the area of conflict widened between his own evangelical disciples and the followers of Calvin and Zwingli. Questions of sin and grace, justification and free will, the ministry and the Lord's Supper, baptism and predestination divided the different groups, even among the Lutherans, who were partially reconciled by the Formula of Concord, which is the last of their fundamental confessions of faith.
By the middle of the seventeenth century, Lutheranism
had been established not only in Germany and Central Europe, but in Denmark, where
the Church was organized in 1536 with the king as ruling prelate, in Sweden, East
Prussia, Iceland, Hungary, Silesia, Poland, and Transylvania. The first Lutherans
to make a permanent settlement in America came from Holland to the Dutch New Netherlands
(Manhattan) in 1623. Their estimated world membership is eighty million.
Justification by faith alone lies at the heart of Lutheranism, which strenuously opposes any kind of synergism (Greek syn, "with," and ergon, "work"), that in the act of conversion the human will can cooperate with the Holy Spirit and God's grace. Its emphasis is always on God's sole activity in the process of salvation.
According to the Augsburg Confession, man has some freedom of the will in matters which do not concern salvation. But in things spiritual, no freedom is left to the natural man, who "cannot work the inward motions, such as the fear of God, trust in God, chastity, patience and the like."8Everything in the moral order is the fruit of grace alone. Modern Lutheran manuals of theology are equally intransigent. "One of the consequences of the hereditary corruption is the loss of free will in spiritual matters." And "if by free will is meant the ability to will or desire what is spiritually good ... we deny that since the Fall man has a free will.9
Unlike the Reformed Churches, however, Lutheran bodies abstain from examining too closely into the mystery of predestination which is painfully raised by the denial of freedom in contact with grace. They concentrate on the confidence we should have in God's mercy and the gratitude we owe Him for His promised redemption. In the Evangelical tradition, therefore, God has done everything for us; we have only to trust and give Him thanks. He has already forgiven us; we need only accept His benefit with appreciation. He has already come to us in the person of the Savior; so that nothing can separate us from this treasury of goodness.
Lutheran Churches retain in large measure the pre-Reformation idea of the Atonement as something objective, and not merely personal to each individual. One modification, however, is that they do not consider the sufferings of Christ a satisfaction for sin but a punishment which Christ underwent vicariously on our behalf. This concept of the Atonement is a prominent feature of Lutheran preaching and liturgical hymns.
No area of Lutheran theology more clearly distinguishes it from others, notably the Calvinist, than the doctrine of the Eucharist. Lutherans repudiate any idea of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist in a purely spiritual manner. They hold that He is present in a bodily way, and the communicants partake physically of His body and blood, along with the visible elements. "The body and blood of Christ are received with the bread and wine, not only spiritually by faith, but also orally, in a supernatural and celestial way, because of the sacramental union. He who eats this bread eats the body of Christ."10 Unlike the Catholic belief, there is no transubstantiation but a kind of impanation (in-breadness) in which Christ's presence exists alongside the substance and accidents of bread and wine, the union between elements and Christ being called sacramental. In the Formula of Concord, the body and blood are said to be present "in, with and under" the bread and wine. Technically the doctrine is known as consubstantiation.
Behind this theory is the application of a principle of Christology, adapted from the teaching of Chalcedon, that the two natures in Christ are not commingled or confused, yet are inseparably united. The Reformed Churches maintained that after the Ascension Christ's human nature was on the right hand of the heavenly Father, and therefore only His divinity was really present in the Eucharist, together with a virtual (but not bodily) presence of His humanity. Lutherans objected that such separation is impossible, so that wherever Christ is present, He is there both as God and man, hence also in the Eucharist.
Upholding the ancient faith that Christ is true God and man, Lutherans made the miracle of the Incarnation central in their tradition and the focus of all their teaching. It was, particularly, concern to preserve such fundamental doctrines as the divinity of Christ that has led Lutheran Churches the world over to promote Christian day schools and, at great sacrifice, build an impressive system of religion-centered education. When civil pressures threatened the parochial schools, they were quick to defend their educational policy.
Whereas the Word of God, our rule of life, enjoins upon all Christian parents the duty of bringing up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; therefore all Christians who educate their children in schools are in duty bound to entrust their children to such schools only as secure the education of children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, while at the same time it is with us self-understood that we are willing to make good citizens of our children, to the utmost of our ability.11
In the development of Lutheran forms of worship, the basic structure was the Roman Catholic Mass, "purged of non-evangelical elements and adapted for the ordinary worshiper." Among the major changes, the most important was the removal of sacrificial prayers from the Canon of the Mass. Luther himself carried out this reform. His idea was to give expression to the doctrine of the Eucharistic Presence without the concept of sacrifice.
The normal sequence of the Canon is the Preface, Sanctus, Words of Institution, Lord's Prayer, Pax Domini, Agnus Dei, and distribution of Holy Communion. In giving the elements to the faithful, the minister says, "Take, eat; this is the true body (blood) of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, given into death for (shed for the remission of) your sins. May this strengthen and preserve you in the true faith unto life everlasting."
Another change was to make the sermon an essential part of the Eucharistic service. The word of God, in the sense of the word that is preached, remains to this day a prominent feature of Lutheranism. Orders of worship prescribe the sermon after the Nicene Creed and before the Offertory.
Another innovation that has since become part of most other Protestant churches was the singing of hymns by the congregation during the Communion service. As early as 1526 Luther composed his German Mass (Deutsche Messe), in which the Credo and Agnus Dei were replaced by German hymns so that the whole congregation could sing together. He also replaced the Latin Introit by a hymn in the vernacular and added a prescriptive hymn after the Epistle in place of the Gradual. Luther's love of music was proverbial, and faithful to his memory the churches have made religious songs almost coextensive with divine worship.
Among the authors in common use are Saints Ambrose, Bede, and Bernard of Clairvaux, the Dominican Savonarola, nonLutheran Reformers like John Huss and the two Wesleys, and more recent writers like John Keble and William Cullen Bryant. Most of the composers are Protestant, but a few Catholics (Palestrina, Gounod and Tallis) are included in standard hymnals. Typical of the robust virility and authentic evangelical theology of the hymns is the well-known masterpiece of Luther, Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott.
A mighty Fortress is our God, a trusty Shield
differ greatly in different countries. In Germany, for instance, the liturgical
heritage of Lutheranism has been much reduced; in the United States it is growing
at a pace so rapid that concern has been expressed over the "ritualistic
movement," comparable to the High and Low Church types in Anglicanism. Lutheran
bodies closer to the Reformation spirit have altars, altar candles, vestments,
and an order of worship which are remarkably Roman Catholic in external form.
All the principal Lutheran Churches of Reformation times were established institutions following the norm of the Augsburg Treaty of 1555, cujus regio, ejus religio, which meant that civil rulers determined the religious affiliation of their subjects. To this day, Lutheranism is the state religion of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. In Germany the Lutheran Churches continued to be established bodies until the Weimar Constitution of 1919, when Church and State were declared separated throughout the country.
In Scandinavia, the national bodies are supported financially by the civil authorities and administered by a ministry of ecclesiastical affairs, which is a joint Ministry of Church and Education in Norway and Sweden. Except for assistant pastors, bishops and clergy are appointed by the Crown, and Parliament acts as the Church's highest legislative body, in spite of the fact that members of Parliament need not belong to the Lutheran Church.
The European trend has been in the direction of emancipating the Church from political control, and giving it independence in purely spiritual matters. Sweden has a national Church Assembly that can vote on ecclesiastical issues, present recommendations to Parliament, and exercise a kind of veto; but the legal competence of the assembly is naturally limited as long as the Church is officially established. In the United States the congregation is the basic unit of Lutheran church government, with no semblance of the close tie-in with civil powers as in Europe.
During the nineteenth century, two competing theological trends in Lutheranism struggled for mastery in Europe, with heavy overtones in America. In 1821, Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) published his Christian Faith which dates an epoch in the history of modern theology. While rationalists and supernaturalists carried on their fight in schools of divinity, Schleiermacher took the ground from under their contention by removing its main premise. The Christian faith, he claimed, does not consist in any kind of doctrinal propositions. It is a condition of devout feeling and, like all other internal experience, simply an object to be described. Against the supernaturalists Schleiermacher maintained that Christianity is not something to be received on authority from without, but an inward state of our own self-consciousness. Against the rationalists he said religion is not a product of rational thinking, but an emotion of the heart, a feeling which occurs independently of the mind.
The net result of this emphasis on subjective experience was to usher Low Church mentality into Lutheran circles, with an undervaluation of the sacraments and a new stress on revivalism. There was a correlative downgrading of church authority and the development of an ecclesiastical structure built along Free Church and Congregational lines.
In the opposite direction, Lutheran confessionalism reacted against the liberal tendencies of the Enlightenment and the "religion of feeling" to inaugurate what can only be called a Lutheran Renascence. Since the beginning of the present century, interest in Luther's theology and Reformation thought has become the dominant characteristic of the Evangelical Churches. German and Swedish scholars have been the mainstay of the movement, but supported by Danish and Flemish theologians.
One effect of this renascence has been the discovery in Reformation sources of doctrinal principles that lay hidden for centuries, principles that are being exploited in the current drive for Christian unity. The Una Sancta movement brings together priests, ministers, theologians and laymen to discuss the prospects of uniting Catholic and Evangelical Christianity. Die Sammlung (The Gathering) is a more advanced group of Lutheran pastors which sees in Roman Catholicism a balance that Lutherans desire to reach the fulness of their own Reformation ideals.
In a declaration of principles, Die Sammlung calls upon Catholics and Lutherans alike to re-examine their respective positions to find out whether a corporate reunion is possible, without compromise of doctrinal convictions. Under title of the League for Evangelical-Catholic Reunion, the leaders of the movement bear witness to the fact that Christ founded only one Church, which exists in the realm of the visible and is always present, and that according to Scripture and universal Christian belief visible unity is inherent in the nature of the true Church.
The League considers the present division of Christians against the will of Christ. "It is a sin and scandal." Without seeking to blur or level off confessional differences that exist within the Evangelical Church, Die Sammlung believes that these contrasts can be overcome only if it should first enter into Catholic unity. Its duty is to strive for the gathering together and the formation of an Evangelical church community united with the Roman Catholic Church.
Corporate reunion with the Catholic Church is commanded because the Catholic Church is the closest to Evangelical Christendom historically, geographically, and spiritually, in comparison with the Churches of the East. It is also commanded because the essential Catholic content of Revelation is already explicitly and visibly transmitted in Sacred Scripture as confirmed in great measure by Evangelical exegetes of modern times, and this content is preserved and defended by the Catholic Church. In it is also found subordination to the authoritative rule of the Apostles and of the Bishops, established by them. From this flows a duty insufficiently comprehended by the Reformation.
Evangelical Christendom must learn that the Bishops, having at their head the possessor of the Petrine Office, make decisions with the authority of the Holy Ghost, which are binding in conscience for the individual Christian.13
If sentiments like these are comparatively rare, the spirit behind them is becoming more deeply felt in Lutheran writers and churchmen on both sides of the Atlantic. They are impelled, they say, by the will of God, by Evangelical responsibility for Catholic unity, and a concern to save the Church of Christ from the assaults of Communism.
An interesting sidelight of the Sammlung approach has been the restoration of community religious life in the Lutheran Churches. While still on a microscopic scale, the idea has taken hold in Germany and the States and shows signs of further development. The Sisters of St. Mary on the continent were founded in 1944 at Darmstadt. One of their main concerns is to pray for the unity of Christendom. Members wear a religious habit of austere gray, and they all pledge to live according to the three evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. After a year's probation, the novitiate lasts from four to five years. The Sisters maintain a continuous vigil of prayer, holding services in a chapel, and engage in works of charity by caring for children, helping the sick, imprisoned and delinquent. They also do catechetical work.
America a similar organization was started by a group of men who call themselves
the Congregation of the Servants of Christ. The articles of incorporation set
forth that "the rule, life and worship of the Congregation shall be in agreement
with the Augsburg Confession."
Reformed Protestantism stems from the teachings of John Calvin, synthesized in his massive Institutes of the Christian Religion, and for that reason often simply called Calvinism. Its doctrinal position has been stabilized in the Reformed Churches of Europe and America, and the Presbyterian bodies in France, England and the United States. Baptists have also been deeply influenced by Calvinism.
Similar to the symbolic writings of the Lutherans, there are Reformed confessional documents, but they have never played a major role in the Churches' life and policy. The main reason is that the Scriptures hold a towering position in Calvinism; with everything else, including "articles of faith," relegated to second place. Yet the importance of doctrinal standards should not be minimized; it is only that they are relatively less binding than their Evangelical counterparts.
In Switzerland the most important confessional statements are the two Helvetic Confessions of 1536 and 1566, and the Consensus Tigurinus of 1549. Where the Confessions are strongly Zwinglian, the Consensus is a compromise document drawn up by Calvin. A feature of all three is the doctrine of the Eucharist, which oscillates between the pure symbolism of Zwingli (1484-1531) and the Calvinist theory that Christ is present in Holy Communion "for ail who truly believe."
In France the composition of Calvin, Confessio Gallicana, first drafted in 1559 at a general synod of St. Germain, is still the confessional document of the French Reformed Church. Predestination is lucidly expounded in a long article and the Eucharist is said to be received by the communicant spirituellement. Germany produced a parallel statement of faith in the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563, a practical and edifying work with a moderate Eucharistic and Christological doctrine. In order to avoid offending the Lutherans, there is no express mention of Predestination, but a strongly anti-Catholic tone pervades the document. The Heidelberg Catechism has become popular also in Switzerland, Hungary and Poland. In 1566 the Netherlands adopted their Confession Belgica, approved by a synod held at Antwerp, as the last continental document of this type compiled during the Reformation.
The Reformed faith was recognized as the national religion by the Scottish Parliament in 1560, and in the same year published the Confessio Scoticana, which is mildly Calvinist, with an almost Lutheran doctrine of the Eucharist and the doctrine on Predestination expressed in ambivalent terms.
However the most significant statement of Calvinist teaching is not a Confessio but a set of Canons formulated (1619) by the Synod of Dortrecht (Dort) in the Dutch Reformed Church. The document arose out of a heated controversy on the question of Predestination. Most ministers and theologians in Holland held the doctrine in its full severity. God had from eternity arbitrarily chosen some persons for heaven and predestined others to damnation, irrespective of their faith or good works and dependent solely on the inscrutable will of God.
A less absolute tendency was advocated by the Arminian party, named after Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), professor at Leyden. Under adverse pressure from the orthodox clergy, they submitted a Remonstrance to the government in which they stated five theses that favored Catholic teaching on grace and became the subject of a celebrated controversy. God's predestination, they stated, rests upon His foreknowledge that certain people will persevere to the end; Christ died for all men, although only believers share in His merits; divine grace is not irresistible and it is possible for a person once in grace to lose the friendship of God.
In view of its importance, the synod invited Reformed representatives from other countries, including delegates from England. In its one hundred and thirty-seventh session, the Arminians were declared heretics and a detailed statement of orthodox Calvinism was compiled. It said in substance that the election of the predestined depends solely on God, Christ died only for the predestined, grace cannot be resisted, and those who have received irresistible grace cannot subsequently fall away.
The Westminster Confession was formulated in 1646, to
become the standard of doctrine for Presbyterian Churches in the British Isles
and America. A critical passage in the American version was changed with regard
to the papacy. From an originally polemic statement, the present text reads, "the
claim of any man to be the vicar of Christ and the head of the Church is unscriptural,
without warrant in fact, and is a usurpation dishonoring to the Lord Jesus Christ."14
The guiding motif of Churches in the Reformed tradition is the affirmation of God's sovereign majesty. Every phase of doctrine, worship and church policy is affected by this stress. Where Lutheranism might be described as anthropological, because its central doctrine is man's salvation, Calvinism is theocentric in that its governing principle is the service and glory due to God from His creatures.
Confessional standards repeatedly speak of the Glory of God which is man's universal purpose in existence. Thus the Genevan Catechism begins with the statement that "God has created us, and put us into this world in order that He might be glorified by us," and the first response of the Shorter Westminster Catechism reads, "Man's chief end is to glorify God."
Consistent with this accent. the distance between God and man is brought out in the strongest terms. In the Westminster Catechism, it is said "the distance between God and the creature is so great that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto Him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of Him, as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension of God's part, which He hath been pleased to express by way of covenant."15
Predestination and Election are organically connected with this notion of sovereignty. Since man's salvation is due entirely to God and man contributes nothing, all the praise is due to the Creator, even when He condemns the damned to eternal sufferings.
Unexpectedly the Reformed doctrine on grace has not paralyzed human activity. If anything it stimulates action, though of a particular kind. Predestination serves the function of an ethical motive, on the assumption that those who reflect on this mystery are all chosen to heavenly glory. Armed with the conviction that they are predestined, believers can afford to rejoice at their happy lot and go about life's affairs with a nonchalance that might scandalize less hardy Christians.
The whole complex of Reformed mentality on this subject is illustrated in Karl Barth, the Swiss theologian, whose commentary on the Lord's Prayer is a witness to the abiding Calvinist tradition in modern times. In the fifth petition of the Our Father are two suppositions that seem irreconcilable with orthodox Calvinism. For when we ask God to forgive us our trespasses, we imply that in some sense our sins are not yet remitted and that our prayers will contribute to this remission. When we add, "as we forgive those who trespass against us," the implication is that our own practice of merciful charity somehow determines the degree of mercy that God will bestow on us.
But Barth will have none of either. We pray, "forgive us our trespasses," and with good reason, because our lives are continuously sinful. Can our prayer for mercy avail us to obtain pardon? Not at all. "Neither man's offense, nor man himself as a sinner can be exculpated. Man is unpardonable. He has no right whatsoever to ask for a remission of his debt."16
Perhaps, Barth suggests, we place some kind of condition when we pray that shows God's forgiveness is somehow determined by ourselves. "No, the phrase: as we forgive those who trespass against us, is only a necessary sign to make us understand the pardon of God." When He forgives us, we become conscious of His mercy and confident of salvation. This confidence "necessarily opens wide our hearts, our feelings and our judgment with regard to our fellowmen." Some people mistakenly suppose the words, "as we forgive," are an appeal for the practice of charity. They are wrong. "This is not an exhortation, 'Come, be merciful,' but a simple statement of fact: 'When you receive forgiveness from God, you become capable of forgiveness to others.'"17 In other words, prayer is essentially an expression of gratitude for graces received, not a petition to obtain them, and for the elect who are sure of their destiny this gratitude can well pour itself out in deeds of generosity.
Reformed teaching on the sacraments is distinctive. God is not bound by the sacramental instruments of grace, and, in any case, they are effectual only to the elect. They are "holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace," whose efficacy somehow depends "upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers."18
Baptism does not remit sin, but signifies becoming "ingrafted into Christ," and though it does not effect regeneration, yet infant baptism is retained. The Eucharistic doctrine has been the focus of controversy with Evangelical Protestantism since Reformation times and, like the Calvinist position on Predestination, has been much modified through tension. Present-day Reformed theology steers a middle course between the purely symbolic conception of Zwingli, who limited the sacrament to a commemorative meal and a confession of faith in Christ, and the Lutheran idea of a bodily presence and oral participation. Christ is in the Eucharist, they say, really but not bodily; and only the believers partake of Him. Familiar terms are "dynamic presence" and "virtual presence," whereby the communicant receives "the sacrificial virtue or effects of the death of Christ on the Cross."
of Reformed Protestantism is its unitary concept of the governing ministry. There
is only one type of authority, the presbytery, but four kinds of office: pastors,
teachers, elders and deacons. Presbyteries are usually organized on a geographical
basis, but some exist to care for separate language groups or racial minorities.
Although there are two grades of jurisdiction technically higher than the presbytery,
the latter is the principal ruling body. Presbyteries consist of clerical and
lay representatives within a given district, with power to receive
and issue appeals or complaints, examine and license candidates for the ministry,
resolve questions of doctrine and discipline, unite and divide congregations and,
in general, care for whatever pertains to the spiritual welfare of the churches
within the presbytery. It is more than coincidental that the only layman among
the major Reformers in the sixteenth century, John Calvin, should have developed
a form of polity that gives the laity equal share with the clergy in church government.
This idea was soon borrowed by other religious bodies and is now practically universal
The basic idea behind the Free Church Movement is nonconformity with established Protestant religions, which took different forms in different countries. On the continent the Anabaptists, Mennonites, and Brethren; in England the Separatists, including Quakers, Baptists and Congregationalists professed the Free Church principle of dissociating from the doctrines, polity and discipline of the dominant Protestant body in their respective territory.
Continental Free Churchism began with the Anabaptists, the "rebaptizers" who refused to allow their children to be baptized and instituted the baptism of adult believers. They argued that the Reformers were unfaithful to their own tenet of Bola Scriptura by allowing children to be baptized, since the Bible knows only the baptism of adults. Gradually the Protestant theory of private interpretation led to a cluster of other Anabaptist beliefs and practices which have remained in possession to modern times.
One of the earliest non-conformists was Thomas Munzer (1490-1525) and the Zwickau prophets who appeared at Wittenberg in 1521. Munzer favored the Peasants' Revolt (1525) and taught a doctrine of the Inner Light which reappeared later among the English Quakers. The Swiss Brethren reintroduced believer's baptism as a condition for church membership at Zurich in 1525. along with non-resistance and rejection of Christian participation in civil government. Soon these views spread throughout Switzerland and into Germany.
Communities that found asylum in Moravia, and led by Jacob Hutter (died 1536), founded settlements based on the idea of common property. After many wanderings and trials, the Hutterites became established in Central Europe or migrated to America. A group of Anabaptists in Munster attempted to form a Kingdom of the Saints, whose left-wing segment advocated polygamy. The idea was later revived among the American Mormons or Latter-Day Saints, under the reputed revelations of Joseph Smith (18051844). After the Munster episode, the Mennonites were reorganized in Holland and Friesland by Menno Simons (1496-1561), who first left the Catholic Church, joined the Anabaptists, and then founded his own denomination on the twin principle of independent church organization and no common doctrine.
The Anabaptists were vigorously denounced by Luther, Zwingli and Calvin, who encouraged their suppression by force of arms. Their influence on the English Separatists (Baptists, Congregationalists, and Quakers) places them in lineal relationship to the Free Church movement in Anglo-Saxon countries.
John Smyth (1570-1612), exiled Anglican minister, started the Baptists at Amsterdam in 11609 when he instituted the baptism of conscious believers as the, basis of fellowship in a gathered church. Many Baptists were associated with the more radical spiritual and political movements; in England in the seventeenth century. They were pioneers in Pleas for freedom of conscience and religious liberty. John Buny;an (1628-1688), author of The Pilgrim's Progress, was an outstanding figure among them, not only because of his writings but because he advocated a Church community which should include Baptists and paedo-baptists (those who baptized infants).
Most of the Baptist population of the world (about ninety percent) is in the United States, divided into more than twenty bodies and following a modified Calvinism, tinged with Lutheran and Zwinglian elements. Since the stress is on baptism of believers, the attitude towards this sacrament is characteristic of Baptist theology as a whole. Baptism dues not bring about the remission of sins or provide salvation. It is a symbol and "only a symbol of the blessed truths upon which remission of sins, salvation, and eternal life depend." There is nothing that comes after faith that is essential to salvation. With rare exception baptism by immersion is considered essential.
In spite of their variety and individualism, most Baptists have remained strongly attached to the truths of evangelical Christianity. The popular evangelist, Billy Graham, became a Southern Baptist early in youth. Their worship is mainly in the Reformed tradition, and their church organization an American type of independency. Majority rule prevails in Baptist polity, "in accordance with the law of Christ." So that, "the wild of the majority having been expressed, it becomes the minority to submit."19
Congregationalism is that form of church structure which rests on the independence and autonomy of each local church. It professes to represent the principle of democracy in Church government, said to have been the original type of organization founded by Christ and recognizing only Him as its head. Since all the members of the Church are Christians, they are all equally priests unto God. He is in their midst, wherever two or three are gathered in His name; their thoughts and actions are led by His spirit and, with no authoritarian laws to bind them, they are nevertheless united in Christ with the Church Universal.
The beginnings of Congregationalism are commonly dated from the founding, in 1581, of a church in Norwich, England, by Robert Browne, a Separatist Anglican minister. Browne was demoted from the ministry for teaching "seditious doctrines," notably that the basis of church membership was not submission to episcopal authority but acceptance of a covenant, to which a group of people gave their mutual consent. Pressure from the government forced Browne's followers to move to Holland, and then to America, where, as the Mayflower Pilgrims, they landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620.
A few years later they were joined by a group of immigrant Puritans, with whom they signed a compact in 1629, and from whom they inherited a strong Calvinist creedalism that lasted almost two centuries. The Salem trials for witchcraft belong to the early period of New England Congregationalism. By 1730, however, the churches had become quite thoroughly secularized. This induced a reaction, called the Great Awakening, ushered in by Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), pastor at Northampton, Massachusetts, who was consumed by the sovereignty of God, the fateful brevity of life and its eternal issues.
For more than two centuries, American Congregationalists were mainly concerned with higher education. Harvard was founded in 1636, Yale in 1701, to prepare students for the ministry. At present fifty-one colleges and universities ill the United States have professedly Congregationalist affiliations. With expansion, however, came internal tension over doctrinal issues. Two conflicting tendencies threatened to dissolve Congregationalism. By the middle of the last century, about two thousand churches, originally Congregationalist, became Presbyterian; they were looking for a more authoritative and dogmatic church polity. And during the same period a smaller, but even more influential, group of liberals seceded to form the American Unitarian Association.
The current history of Congregationalism has been largely a story of mergers and unitive movements. In 1925, the Protestant Evangelical Church joined the Congregationalists. Six years later the Christian Churches merged to form the Congregational Christian denomination, and in 1957, the Evangelical and Reformed entered into organic union to produce the United Church of Christ, leaving only a segment of less than a hundred thousand Congregationalists still dedicated to the full import of their doctrine of local church autonomy.
Congregationalism has given a major impulse to the ecumenical movement. The constitutional basis of the World Council of Churches as "fellowship of churches" whose function is to "offer counsel and provide opportunity of united action" among its constituents, is a paraphrase of Congregational principles expanded to global proportions.
Quakers are the most distinctive form of Free Church ideology extant in English-speaking countries. More accurately known as the Society of Friends, the Quakers were organized as a separate Christian group in England in 1668, when George Fox (16241691) drew up his Rule for the Management of Meetings. They soon engaged in missionary work and in 1682 William Penn founded Pennsylvania on a Quaker basis.
The religious tenets of the Friends center around the idea of the Inner Light, first professed by George Fox and since become their focal doctrine. No Quaker has improved on the description of this Light given by Fox, and all Quakers subscribe to his definition.
The Lord hath opened to me by His invisible power how that every man was enlightened by the divine Light of Christ; and I saw it shine through all; and that they that believed in it came out of condemnation and came to the Light of Life, and became the children of it; but they that hated it, and did not believe in it, were condemned by it, though they made a profession of Christ. This I saw in the pure openings of the Light, without the help of any man, neither did I then know where to find it in the Scriptures, though afterwards, searching in the Scriptures, I found it. For I saw in that light and Spirit which was before the Scripture was given forth, and which led the holy men of God to give them forth, that all must come to that Spirit — if they would know God or Christ or the Scriptures aright — which they that gave them forth were led and taught by.20
According to the theory of the Light, its possession consists mainly in the sense of the Divine, and the direct working of God in the soul, by which a man is freed from sin, joined to Christ, and enabled to perform good works. From the paramount importance given to the Inner Light derives the Quaker rejection of the sacraments, the ministry, and all set forms of worship. Their meetings are ideally held in bare rooms and begin in silence, in "holy expectation before the Lord" until some member of the congregation feels inspired to speak.
Church organization is democratic, ranging from Preparative Meetings which consist of single congregations, to Yearly Meetings that comprise a whole country (as in England) or the Five Years' Meeting that forms one of several Quaker denominations in the United States.
Quaker refusal to give military service and take oaths involved them in frequent
conflict with civil authorities, more in Great Britain than America, and since
the early nineteenth century the Friends have pioneered in promoting legislation
in favor of conscientious objectors to war. Their devotion to social and educational
work, as well as their high standards of personal integrity, have won popular
support to their side and helped in the advancement of such humane movements as
the elimination of slavery.
When the Tudor sovereigns in the sixteenth century decided to measure their strength against the Papacy, they found many elements in Great Britain to encourage their efforts. Criticism of ecclesiastical wealth, sporadic risings of antipapalism, remnants of the spirit of Lollardy which John Wyclif (1329-1384) initiated, merchants casting hungry glances at monastic property, religious dissatisfaction encouraged by the Renascence revolt against Scholasticism all these were in the air when Henry VIII tried unsuccessfully to secure a divorce from his wife, Catherine of Aragon.
The historical origins of Anglicanism covered a period of thirty-six years, from 1527, when Henry VIII first proposed his divorce to ecclesiastical authorities, to 1563, when his daughter, Queen Elizabeth, promulgated the Thirty-nine Articles of the English Church. Between these dates the religious character of England completely changed.
Under pressure from Henry, the higher clergy disavowed the pope's spiritual jurisdiction in a famous "Abjuration of Papal Supremacy." At the Convocation of Canterbury in 1534, in reply to the question, "Whether the Roman Pontiff has any greater jurisdiction bestowed on him by God in the Holy Scriptures in this realm of England, than any other foreign (externus) bishop," they voted: Noes 34, Doubtful 1, Ayes 4. In the same year, the Convocation of York "unanimously and concordantly, with no dissentient," affirmed the same.21
During the minority of Henry's son, Edward VI, the Book of Common Prayer was published in two editions (1549 and 1552), first along Lutheran and then Calvinist lines. A new Ordinal was issued (1550-1552) following a Lutheran pattern, in which every mention of a priesthood offering sacrifice was carefully omitted from the ordination ritual. However the complete rupture with Catholicism did not come until 1563, when the Elizabethan Parliament made the Articles of Religion obligatory on all citizens under heavy penalties.
The main credit for establishing the English Church should be given to Queen Elizabeth (1533-1603) who inherited a religious problem at her accession and tried to solve it according to political expediency. When she became queen in 1558, the country as a whole was still predominantly Catholic, though with strong Calvinist undercurrents. Elizabeth disliked Catholics because they denied her legitimacy and spiritual supremacy, and the Calvinists because they abolished the episcopacy which she considered essential for the welfare of kings. Penal legislation was consistently directed against both elements. Among other laws, two Acts of 1593 were sweeping condemnations "of seditious sectaries and disloyal persons" who obstinately refused to attend Anglican church services, to be "committed to prison" and there to remain until they conform "according to Her Majesty's laws and statutes."22
After a century of controversy against Catholics and Puritans, the English Church settled down from 1689 to a period of quiet. The Methodist departure in the eighteenth century and the Oxford movement in the nineteenth marked the critical stages in a new Anglicanism, whose main features are still rooted in the Reformation but whose present status in the English-speaking world is in the nature of a compromise between historical Protestantism and the Catholic Church.
as the English Church is known in America, was brought to the colonies in 1607
by a group of English settlers who founded what is now Jamestown, Virginia. The
Episcopalians officially left the parent Church at the time of the American Revolution,
and proceeded to revise their juridical structure in a way compatible with a non-established
denomination. They adopted the name Protestant Episcopal Church, which has been
the subject of much discussion but emphasizes the unique character of American
Episcopalianism: a democratic church united in spirit with the Anglican Communion
throughout the world and committed to a policy of cooperation with other Protestant
bodies, irrespective of their doctrinal traditions.
Although the Thirty-nine Articles are still included in manuals of instruction, they are not considered representative of what many Anglicans believe. Commentaries on the Articles range from extreme Reformed positions to an almost Roman Catholic interpretation, depending on the author and the tradition within which he is writing.
More typical of present-day Anglicanism are the broad principles enunciated at the General Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church held at Chicago in 1886. In a revised form the Articles were approved two years later by the Lambeth Conference, the periodic assembly of Anglican bishops held at Lambeth Palace under the presidency of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Lambeth Quadrilateral states the Anglican viewpoint on the essentials of religion. Its text has remained unchanged and serves as basis for reunion overtures with other Christian bodies.
We believe that all who have been duly baptized
with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, are
members of the Holy Catholic Church;
However, conscious that union among Christians is possible only by the principles of unity exemplified by the undivided Catholic Church during the first ages of its existence," the Quadrilateral isolates the four essentials of "this sacred deposit," which at once describes the substance of Anglicanism and the foundation for solidarity among the separated Churches.
The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments,
as the revealed Word of God.
Equally representative of the wide range of Anglican belief is the Book of Common Prayer, which historians believe has been the single most cohesive force in the English Church. The formula that the law of prayer is the law of belief expresses a fundamental norm of the Anglican Communion in modern times. Its liturgical life sets the standard for the Church's doctrine, and the past few generations have seen a number of far-reaching changes of emphasis. Today the liturgy is the keystone of harmony within the Churches derived from the English Reformation.
There are two main forms of the Book of Common Prayer, the revision made in England (1928) and the editions used in various countries, like the United States, where the Churches are juridically independent of Canterbury. The English revision was made over the protests of Parliament that refused to approve the moderately Anglo-Catholic version which the bishops submitted for government approval; it was therefore published without formal authority from the Crown. Different Prayer Books are substantially the same. All have set orders for Morning and Evening Prayer, for the administration of the Lord's Supper, baptism, and such "ordinances" as matrimony, visiting the sick and "making, ordaining and consecrating bishops, priests and deacons." Numerous Collects, Epistles and Gospels are offered for prayer on Sundays and Feast Days; they are drawn largely from the Roman Missal or other Catholic formularies. The complete Psalter is part of the Prayer Book, along with a Catechism, forms of prayer to be used in families, and the Articles of Religion.
Typical of the changes going on in Anglicanism, when the American Prayer Book was revised in 1928, most of the alterations affected the ultra-Protestant edition of 1552 and were a partial return to the more Catholic one of 1549. In the Offertory, Cranmer was by-passed in the direction of giving the Eucharist a definitely sacrificial tone. Answering to the demand for post-biblical saints to the liturgy, a new Proper was included, corresponding to the Proprium Sanctorum of the Roman Missal. Requiem Masses for the Dead were made legal, and prayers for the faithful departed were formally sanctioned. Since 1928, the Church at every Eucharistic liturgy has been remembering the souls of deceased persons, and beseeching God to grant them continual growth in His love. In the same way, extreme unction was at least partially restored as a sacrament of healing.
After three centuries of suppression in the Established Church, religious life was brought back in the middle nineteenth century, and today there are over one hundred Anglican religious communities of men and women in all parts of the world. While growing in size and influence, the communities are still in a fluid state. The most serious problem is ambiguity on the concept of religious life within Anglicanism. At the Lambeth Conference in 1958, the assembly declared how greatly it valued "the special form of vocation evident in Religious Orders and Communities" and hoped that "this form of vocation may find its expression in a wide range of ecclesiastical tradition." Yet the basic issue remained unsolved. The fourteenth of the Articles of Religion states that "voluntary works besides, over and above God's commandments, which they call works of supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogance and impiety." Newman had difficulty with this article when setting up his community at Littlemore. The tension has yet to be resolved.
Some years ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher, appointed a commission to study and report on the differences between Catholic and Protestant traditions within the Anglican Church, their causes and possible solution. Among other significant judgments which the commission reached was its estimate of the Papacy.
It is one of the most remarkable facts in Christian history that the Papacy of the sixteenth century first cleansed itself of its vile and most notorious Renascence scandals, and then itself directed and impelled the cleansing of the Renascence Church.
The easy way in which the Reformers, almost from the first, simply wrote off the Papacy even as a possibility, illustrates clearly the extent to which they ignored from the outset both the New Testament doctrine of the Universal Church as an inherent part of the Gospel, and the inherence of the Divine-human society in the here-and-now of history.
If such an institution as the Universal Church is to exist, as more than a sentiment and an ideal, then some such central institution would seem to be more than just a convenience. It is at least a pragmatic necessity, as is shown by the obvious temptation of the modern ecumenical movement to try to provide a substitute for it.25
like these are not uncommon in Anglican circles. They accentuate the middle-ground
which the English Church and its derivatives occupy, between the individualism
of the Protestant tradition and the visible unity of Catholicism under the Roman
The founder of Methodism, John Wesley (1703-1791), was an ordained priest of the Church of England who until the day of his death insisted he did not want to sever connection with the Church in which he was reared. Yet even before he died, the principles he elaborated and the stress in church policy he advocated led him to organize a distinct denomination, whose current membership in the world compares favorably with Anglicanism and, in the United States, is about three times the size of the Protestant Episcopal Church.
It is not easy to describe Methodism in doctrinal terms because Wesley himself stressed the minimal importance of belief, in the sense of confessional doctrine, and described his followers in a passage that has since become classic.
The distinguishing marks of a Methodist are not his opinions of any sort. His assenting to this or that scheme of religion, his embracing any particular set of notions, his espousing the judgment of one man or of another are all quite wide of the point. Whosoever, therefore, imagines that a Methodist is a man of such or such an opinion is grossly ignorant of the whole affair; he mistakes the truth totally.
We believe indeed that "all scripture is given by inspiration of God"; and herein we are distinguished from Jews, Turks, and infidels. We believe the written word of God to be the only rule both of faith and practice; and herein we are fundamentally distinguished from those of the Roman Church. We believe Christ to be the eternal, the supreme God; and herein we are distinguished from the Socinians and Arians. But as to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.26
Among the "opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity," and on which his followers were free to dissent, were the character of the priesthood and the episcopate, the nature of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, and the role of the sacraments in the life of the Church.
But if Methodism allows considerable range in matters of doctrine, there is one element of its faith which not only distinguishes Methodists from their Anglican forebears but from orthodox Protestantism in general. This is their teaching on sanctification, which so closely resembles the Catholic doctrine on grace that some have called Wesley a "papist in disguise."
In his sermons and writings, Wesley constantly opposed the Calvinist theory of predestination. Even when he affirmed that God is the source of all human good, and that grace does not depend on any power or merit in man, he labored to show the untenability of any view that restricted salvation to the few who are elected by the unsearchable decrees of an arbitrary God. "The grace of God," he wrote, "whence cometh our salvation, is free in all, and free for all."27
When he revised the Thirty-nine Articles of the Anglican creed and sent them to America as a doctrinal basis for the new Methodist Episcopal Church, he eliminated the most extremely Calvinistic passages of Article nine, deleted the qualifying adverb necessarily from Article twelve, which says that good works "spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith," and entirely dropped Article seventeen, with its unqualified statement of predestinarianism. Wesley's concern was mainly with the salvation of all men. He was convinced that Christ came to seek and save that which was lost, and the Church is commissioned to preach the Gospel of redemption. But if predestinarianism is true, Christ's advent was in vain and the whole task of evangelism a sham, because there is no need (or possibility) of saving the unsavable. Multitudes are beyond the love of God and nothing can be done to help them. He considered this a repudiation of the central truth of Christianity.
Methodism has since developed a well-integrated system of sanctification that rests on the prior belief that salvation is more than justification in the sense of removal (or hiding) of sin. It is a vital process that God intends to have grow with the passage of time and develop through man's cooperation. "Sanctification," according to the Methodist Discipline, "is that renewal of our fallen nature by the Holy Ghost, received through faith in Jesus Christ, whose blood of atonement cleanseth from all sin; whereby we are not only delivered from the guilt of sin, but are washed from its pollution, saved from its power, and are enabled, through grace, to love with all our hearts and to walk in His holy commandments blameless."28
Parallel with the Methodist teaching on sanctification is an emphasis on the Witness of the Spirit, who bears testimony to those who are reborn to God after a life of sin. By this witness is understood an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God is believed immediately and directly to testify that a person is a child of God, that his sins are blotted out and that he is on the road to salvation.
This doctrine has inspired much of Methodist hymnology, composed by John Wesley's brother, Charles, in which the joyous experience of personal salvation is the dominant theme.
No longer am I now afraid;
Correlative with a stress on religion as personal experience has been the Methodist conviction that Christianity is essentially social. "Solitary religion," declared Wesley, "is not to be found" in the Gospel. "'Holy solitaries' is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than holy adulterers. The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness." 3° This has deeply influenced Methodist thought and action, and stimulated what has since become a new religious dimension in the Western world. Wesley's followers were introduced into a fellowship in which moral, economic, and racial issues became an integral part of living the faith; Methodists became pioneers of the "Social Gospel" which has characterized so much of American (and Anglo-Saxon) Protestantism in modern times.
A typical area of Methodist social evangelism is the temperance movement. In the spirit of John Wesley, who forbade anyone even to touch "that liquid fire," Methodists have been leaders in opposing the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. "Our Church," they state, "reasserts its long-established conviction that intoxicating liquor cannot be legalized without sin." And "to be true to itself the Church must be militant in opposition to the liquor traffic," as evidenced in the Methodist promotion of what became the American Volstead Act. "Adequate relief can come only through total abstinence for the individual, and effective prohibition for the state."31 Ministers are forbidden to indulge, and may be penalized for proved breach of their abstinence pledge. Methodism has affected the religious thinking of many denominations outside its own immediate family. The Holiness movement stems from Wesley's doctrine on sanctification from which certain Methodist churches felt the general stream of his followers had departed. The result was a score of religious bodies, like the Nazarenes, Churches of God and Holiness Churches, which are juridically distinct but united in professing a number of basic tenets of Protestant perfectionism.
Besides justification, they hold, there is a "second blessing" in which a person feels himself closely united with God. This is an emotional experience produced in the heart by the direct action of the Holy Spirit. Although instantaneous, the "second blessing" may require years of preparation. As a group, Holiness bodies claim that the teachings and practices of the larger denominations have departed from the true faith and compromised with modernism. The favorite method of preaching is popular revivals, which used to be the regular mode of Methodist evangelism in colonial America. Most of the churches profess, without always stressing, the imminent second coming of Christ which is to inaugurate a millenium of earthly peace and happiness before the last day.
The extreme left
wing of the Holiness movement developed into the Pentecostal Churches. They are
similar to the Holiness churches in admitting the fundamentalist principles of
Christ's divinity, inerrancy of the Bible, the Virgin Birth and Resurrection,
Christ's atonement and the early second coming. There is also an emphasis on sanctification
as a separate work of grace which follows justification, but with an added feature
that characterizes the Pentecostals and accounts for their distinctive name. When
the Holy Spirit comes to perfect a soul, His advent is not merely invisible; it
manifests itself by an external outpouring of spiritual gifts, not unlike those
bestowed on the Apostles at the first Pentecost, especially glossolalia or "speaking
in foreign tongues, even as the Holy Spirit prompted them to speak."32
A new spirit has entered the body of American and world Protestantism. For the first time since the Reformation leaders in every denomination are deeply concerned about their cleavage in doctrine, worship and practice, and are seriously trying to heal what they brand the "sin of disunity."
Protestant writers have taken the term "ecumenical," long used to describe the general councils of the Catholic Church, and invested it with a new connotation. They speak of the ecumenical movement as the search for a world-wide unity "from the Church as men have conceived it, to the Church as God wants it to be." Reunion efforts began on the international level, under stimulus of the need for coordinating the Protestant foreign missions. How could pagans be asked to believe that Christianity is true unless the missionaries themselves witnessed to the truth by professing the same message of the Gospel? The idea was first broached at Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1910, and by 1921 the International Missionary Council was formed at London to become the chief organ of liaison for Protestant evangelism.
According to its constitution, the "sole purpose of the International Missionary Council is to further the effective proclamation to all men of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior." Its function is not to command but to advise, by furnishing information, studying policy and strategy, "as an agency through which all the forces of world-wide missions can think and act together."
Though historically first, federating Protestant missions was only a logical outcome of reunion labors at home, one in the field of doctrine and worship, called Faith and Order, and another to deal with social and economic problems, under the title Life and Work. At the charter meeting of Faith and Order in Lausanne, Switzerland (1927), the leading spirit was Bishop Brent, an Episcopalian, who frankly told the delegates from seventy denominations that "in our hearts most of us are devotees of the cult of the incomplete — sectarianism. The Christ in one Church often categorically denies the Christ in a neighboring Church. It would be ludicrous were it not tragic." Two years before representatives from thirty-three countries met at Stockholm for the opening congress of Life and Work to face the problems of social morality that are insoluble for a divided Christianity.
By 1948 the two movements had sufficiently matured to fuse at Amsterdam into the World Council of Churches, which has since met regularly in formal assemblies. As expressed by the Secretary General, who asked himself what is the purpose of the Council, "Our name gives us the clue to the answer. We are a Council of Churches, not the Council of the one undivided Church. Our name indicates our weakness and our shame before God. Our plurality is a deep anomaly. Our Council represents therefore an emergency solution — a stage on the road."33
As a stage on the road, the World Council has done more in the short years of its existence to make Protestants unity-conscious than any other movement in the past four centuries. Even adding the forty years of preparation, its achievements are monumental. Presently combining about two hundred Protestant and Orthodox Churches in fifty nations, its membership covers most of the Christians who date from the Reformation.
The Council opened its third assembly at New Delhi by integrating with the International Missionary Council, which represents non-Catholic missionary groups in forty countries. By this historic action the three basic strands of the ecumenical movement were united: doctrine and worship through Faith and Order, social service in Life and Work, and evangelism under the International Missionary Council.
From its headquarters in Geneva the World Council has given Protestantism a new sense of solidarity. In spite of their divisions, they feel that God has not left them without some tokens of unity.
In our separateness we have attested the operation of the one Christ across all boundaries that divide us. We have heard the voice of the one Good Shepherd in the testimony of communions other than our own. We have experienced the power of the Name of Christ in their prayers. We have acknowledged the love of Christ to which they have borne witness in word and deed. In the fellowship of the ecumenical movement we have come together in a way which forbids us, in spite of all stresses, to break away from one another. Thus we have been led to see that the reality of Christ is more comprehensive than the limitations of our confessional traditions, and have confessed in faith our oneness in Christ.34
At the same time the Churches recognize how widely they are separated, not only in accidentals but in essentials of the Christian faith. They confess that their divisions are contrary to the will of Christ, and they pray God "to shorten the days of our separation and to guide us by His Spirit into fullness of unity."
But the obstacles that stand in the way are humanly speaking insurmountable. In a study of the non-theological and cultural factors in church divisions prepared for the World Council, no less than thirty areas of conflicting interest were analyzed: national antagonisms, distrust of the unfamiliar, historic isolation, political pressures, institutional pride, race, indifference, property ownership, doctored history, love of status quo, personal ambition — all were exposed to view and scrutinized.
Yet the doctrinal issues are admittedly deeper, and involve differences of understanding on almost every major element of the Christian faith. The very concepts of the Church and of the unity the Churches seek are in dispute. "If we were agreed on the nature of the Church's one-ness," observed the chairman of the Faith and Order Commission, "Our struggle between each other would be over."35
Two principal opinions prevail in the ecumenical movement on what should be done about this cleavage. There is first the theoretical position which represents the traditional Reformation concept of man, the fall and the Church of Christ. According to this opinion, the disunity among the churches is certainly sinful, but unavoidable, in view of man's depraved nature. Thus, "we may think of the Church as we are able to think of the individual believer, who may be said at one and the same time to be both a justified man and a sinner (simul justus et peccator)."36 The Evangelical theory of man's justification is also the speculative basis for the Church's simultaneous unity and disunity. In the same way that individual believers are and ever remain sinners, although justified by God, in Christ who alone is just; so the Churches are divided among themselves, while they are somehow united because of Jesus Christ their Founder, who is one.
Disunity, therefore, is no less inevitable in the Churches than sin in the individual Christian. They cannot help being divided, no more than he can help committing sin. After all, the members of the Church are human beings, suffering from the common effect of Adam's fall which destroyed man's intrinsic power to do any spiritual good. If any unity is to be found in the Church, it can only be something extrinsic, a kind of appropriation, where the unity of Jesus Christ is imputed to the Society which He founded.
Is there any hope of unifying the dismembered bodies of Christendom on these principles? Not from man's side. The only hope is that through prayer and patient waiting for the Spirit, God may see fit to unify the Churches in a way similar to the way He justifies sinners: by permeating them with His grace to the extent of removing the subjective conflicts that separate the denominations, and enabling them to live with one another in amicable charity.
A far different attitude towards Christian disunity does not prejudge the case on principle but, while assuming the need of prayer and divine help, insists on the corresponding need of human cooperation. The former theory was cited by the Secretary General of the World Council of Churches, who realized that on this point rests the whole success or failure of the ecumenical movement. There are many, he said, who think that the present relationship of the Churches in the World Council is the limit of all that can be hoped for. "The danger of this is that the World Council can thus become a narcotic instead of a stimulant. We must react against this temptation of accepting the present established disorder of our ecclesiastical world simply because it has been made to look less shocking" as it has been provided with an ecumenical facade.37
The sanguine element in the World Council looks to find the way that leads beyond co-existence or even cooperation, "to a true unity which will make it clear to the whole world that as there can only be one Body of Christ, so there is only one Body which is the Church of His people."38
In the past years, however, new and unexpected elements have appeared on the ecumenical scene. The admission of Russians and other non-Protestant bodies has greatly increased the strength of Orthodoxy in the World Council of Churches. No doubt the ecumenical movement was never intended to be exclusively Protestant. But until recently a large majority of the Council of Churches has been Protestant, and probably a majority has preferred it this way. It is now evident that Christian reunion must be built on a wider base than could ever be provided by the Churches stemming from the Reformation. The entrance of several Pentecostal Churches reinforces the point, and illustrates what certain promoters of a limited ecumenism had disavowed: that the hopes of a united Christianity cannot be realized without the combined effort of the whole Christian world.
More importantly, Protestant ecumenism has revealed a kindred desire for unity in the Roman Catholic Church. The shadow of Rome hovered over the first beginnings of the World Council. In 1919 when the founders were canvassing for member churches, they called on Benedict XV and invited his assistance, which he courteously declined. In 1937 at the opening service of the Edinburgh conference on Faith and Order, the Archbishop of York declared that "we deeply lament the absence from this collaboration of the great Church of Rome-the Church which more than any other has known how to speak to the nations so that the nations hear." as In 1948 at the first assembly in Amsterdam, one of the principal topics was on "The Roman Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Movement." At New Delhi, in 1961, there were official observers from the Vatican, whose presence was not only welcome but showed what no amount of argument could prove, that the pope and Catholics generally are deeply impressed with the unitive spirit of Protestantism and ready to do all in their power to advance the cause of true Christian unity.
It was more than symbolic,
as the head of the Council of Churches declared, that the two world assemblies
of New Delhi and Second Vatican should have met within less than a year of each
other. He felt "it would undoubtedly mean much for Christendom and for the
world, if it became clear in the decisions of both, that these councils do not
meet against each other and that each does not seek its own advantage, but seeks
only to serve the Lord Jesus Christ."39 The deliberations at New
Delhi and the decrees of Second Vatican give every promise that the hopes of reuniting
a separated Christianity are brighter now than they have ever been since the Reformation.
If it is difficult to analyze the essence of any religious faith, it is doubly hard with Protestantism, which is more a movement than a system and consequently not subject to easy classification. Yet visible as a theme in Protestant faith and practice is a respect for the person of Christ that may bale other Christians whose theology is more consistent and who therefore tend to overlook the attachment to the Savior bequeathed by the Reformation to its followers.
The focus on Christ appears in all the great Protestant writings since the sixteenth century and, before Luther and Calvin, reaches into the devotio moderna of the late Middle Ages and the Brethren of the Common Life. Under the topic of prayer, Calvin pointedly stated the place that Christ should occupy in the life of a believing Christian. Alone and of himself, a man lacks everything necessary for salvation. If he is to be saved, this can only be from resources furnished him by Cod in the person of Jesus Christ.
In Christ, the Lord offers all happiness in place of our misery, all wealth in place of our neediness. In him He opens to us the heavenly treasures that our whole faith may contemplate His beloved Son, our whole expectation depend upon him, and our whole hope cleave to and rest in him. This is that secret and hidden philosophy which cannot be wrested from syllogisms. But they whose eyes God has opened surely learn it by heart, that in his light they may see light.40
So uniquely was Christ interpreted as the object of devotion that the first commandment of the decalogue, "Thou shalt have no other gods besides me," was taken to exclude every other mediation of grace; and all claims to the contrary were summarily dismissed as idolatry.
On this principle the Mass was removed from liturgical worship as a human invention which derogates from the one sacrifice of the Savior on Calvary; priestly ministration of the sacraments, veneration of the saints and the Blessed Virgin, the use of sacramentals and relies, in a word, the very notion of the Church itself as a divine creation through which the grace of Christ flows to a fallen human race, were re-interpreted in the light of what some have called the two words that best synthesize the Protestant spirit, Kurios Christos, "Christ is the Lord," meaning that He alone is directly the agent of man's salvation, with no one and nothing else besides.
The Lordship of Jesus Christ in the economy of redemption has been imbedded in the principal confessions of Protestantism under various aspects depending on the denominational emphasis. Among Lutherans the stress is on the merciful Savior in whom sinners may implicitly trust that their sins are not imputed because of the merits of Christ; in the Reformed tradition it is Christ the Lord of creation and sovereign master of human destiny; for the Anglicans He is the object of liturgical worship and for Methodists the motive for works of zeal and social welfare; and in the Free Churches only Christ's authority is recognized in ecclesiastical polity, to the exclusion of synods, bishops, and even of mandatory creeds.
Subscription to this principle was dramatically illustrated when the Evangelical Church in Germany came into conflict with the totalitarian pretensions of National Socialism. Faltering for a while under the impact of the new tyranny, church leaders soon rallied to make a solemn affirmation that Jesus Christ is the one Word of God whom men have to trust and obey, all other claims to allegiance to the contrary notwithstanding. Under title of the Barmen Declaration, they stated their position as Christians and Protestants.
"I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me" (John 16:6).
Jesus Christ, as He is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God, whom we have to hear and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
We condemn the false doctrine that the Church can and must recognize as God's revelation other events and powers, forms and truths, apart from and alongside this one Word of God.41
Commenting on the Barmen statement, Karl Barth saw in it more than a protest against the Nazi overlords. It was a stand against all the heterodox movements within Protestantism "which for more than two hundred years had slowly prepared the devastation of the Church. The protest was without doubt directed against Schleiermacher and Ritschi. The protest was directed against the basic tendencies of the whole eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and therefore against the hallowed traditions of all other Churches as well."42 At its best, then, Protestantism asserts against all who teach otherwise that Christ is the only way, truth and life, and that all other claimants are false.
Parallel with its Christocentrism among Protestants in the biblical tradition is the same principle from another perspective among Protestants who philosophize about their distinctive contribution to the Christian way of life. Again the first commandment is invoked, this time not to exclude other mediators than Christ but other objects of loyalty than God. Paul Tillich has developed the idea in what he calls "the Protestant principle." It is the insistence that no partial allegiance may take the place of an ultimate object of loyalty. Nothing that is manmade, or less than God, may be respected and honored as though it were divine.
What makes Protestantism Protestant is the fact that it transcends its own religious and confessional character, that it cannot be identified wholly with any of its particular historical forms.
Protestantism has a principle that stands beyond all its realizations. It is the critical and dynamic source of all Protestant realizations, but it is not identical with any of them. It cannot be confined by a definition.
It is not exhausted by any historical religion; it is not identical with the structure of the Reformation or of early Christianity or even with a religious form at all. It transcends them as it transcends any cultural form.
On the other hand, it can appear in all of them; it is a living, moving, restless power in them; and this is what it is supposed to be in a special way in historical Protestantism.
The Protestant principle, in name derived from the protest of the "protestants" against decisions of the Catholic majority, contains the divine and human protest against any absolute claim made for a relative reality, even if this claim is made by a Protestant church. The Protestant principle is the judge of every religious and cultural reality, including the religion and culture which calls itself "Protestant."43
Tillich further explains that the Protestant principle is "the guardian against all the attempts of the finite and conditioned to usurp the place of the unconditional in thinking and acting. It is the prophetic judgment against religious pride, ecclesiastical arrogance, and secular self-sufficiency and their destructive consequences."44
Others than Tillich have spelled out the persons and agencies in modern times against which authentic Protestantism lodges its protest whenever something less than God assumes divine prerogatives. Social and political entities, industrial combines and philosophical systems, ecclesiastical bodies in the Catholic and Protestant tradition are all guilty in varying degrees of obscuring "the chasm between the human and the divine, which the prophets of Israel had understood so well," to pretend there were persons "in control of God's redemptive powers and purposes; and were in possession of the 'keys of heaven.'"45
Consistent with this protest against divinization is the idea that Protestantism itself should reflect on its own character and always see it as a church of sinners. "The Reformation," it is stated, "was not completed in the sixteenth century; it is never completed. We may for the sake of comfort try to transform Protestantism into a closed system; but it breaks out again. It has no 'infallible' voice to silence other voices in decrees that are 'irreformable.' Protestantism cannot be static."46
There is more to this claim than admission of human frailty or ignorance, more even than a confession of human guilt. It is the positive assertion that a Christian may turn his judgment upon the Church; that he must allow for reformation not merely in the Church but of the Church, to the extent of changing not only its policies but doctrines, and looking to the future for greater changes still. By this standard, the Church is indeed reformed but always in need of further reformation, Ecclesia reformata sed semper reformanda, not merely in externals but, if necessary, in the very constitution of its being. To question such necessity is to fall victim to the illusion that a human creation can, in any part of its nature, be above improvement or intrinsic change.
If the Church is always a human institution, the Protestant will treat the religious group to which he belongs accordingly. He will go beyond it for his commitment in a way that the Catholic or Eastern Orthodox would not do. They believe the Church possesses the Spirit of God and speaks to its members in His name; the Protestant considers the Spirit as somehow outside the Church, not unlike the theory of imputed justification of Christ's merits to a man who still remains a sinner. The institutional Church is not literally animated by the Spirit of God to be equated, as Catholics and Orthodox believe, with the Mystical Body of Christ. It rather waits for the Spirit and lives in ad hoc dependence on His mercy. It is not, as Reinhold Niebuhr correctly observed, an extension of the Incarnation in the Catholic sense of these terms.
Accordingly the whole history of the Church is the history of the reformation of the Church by the Spirit. Always the Christian must accept the fact that God is leading forward His Church and changing it, that the Church may never "settle down in a revelation which it treats as if it were its own property." Instead it is constantly on the watch to receive the new order which the Spirit brings. "The Church of Jesus Christ in history is at once the congregation of sinners and the new creation, for although it continues to live and work within the brokenness and estrangement of this world and to share in its divisions, the Church belongs to the new age and the new creation. As such the Church is summoned to perpetual renewal, to put off the old life, and by the renewal of its mind to be conformed to Christ, looking beyond its historical forms to the full unveiling of its new being in the coming Lord."47
we come nearest to the essence of Protestantism, which sees itself in a constant
process of renewal, so that all its affiliations with visible ecclesiastical structures,
its adoption of various liturgical forms, and even the acceptance of certain confessional
creeds are tentative. Only the Spirit of God is adhered to absolutely, and everything
else with reservation.
Father John A. Hardon. "Protestantism." Chapter 16 in Religions of the World (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1963), 427-467.
This chapter is reprinted with permission from Inter Mirifica.
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. (1914-2000) was a tireless apostle of the Catholic faith. The author of over twenty-five books including The Catholic Catechism, Modern Catholic Dictionary, Pocket Catholic Dictionary, Pocket Catholic Catechism, Q & A Catholic Catechism, Treasury of Catholic Wisdom, Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan and many other Catholic books and hundreds of articles, Father Hardon was a close associate and advisor of Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, and Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity. Order Father Hardon's home study courses here. Visit the Father John Hardon, S.J. online archives here.
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