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Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical notes. Volume I. The History of Creeds.
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§ 100. General Survey.

With the Westminster standards the creed-making period of the Reformed Churches was brought to a close. Calvinism found in them its clearest and fullest exposition. The Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675) was only a weak symbolical after-birth, called forth by the Saumur controversies on the extent of divine election and the inspiration of Hebrew vowel-points. The creative power of Lutheran symbolism had exhausted itself much earlier in the Formula of Concord (1577), and was followed by a period of scholastic analysis and demonstration of the Lutheran system as embodied in its authoritative confessions. The prevailing tendency in these Churches is to greater confessional freedom and catholic expansion rather than sectarian contraction. While the Roman Catholic Church in our age has narrowed its creed by adding two new dogmas of wide range and import, and has doomed to silence every dissent from the infallible decisions of the Vatican, like a machine that is worked by a single motive force, and makes resistance impossible, the Protestant Churches would simplify and liberalize their elaborate standards of former days rather than increase their bulk and tighten their authority. The spirit of the age refuses to be bound by rigorous formulas, and demands greater latitude for private opinion and theological science.

We might therefore close our history of creeds at this point. But evangelical Protestantism extends far beyond the boundaries of Lutheranism and Calvinism.

Since the middle of the seventeenth century there arose, mainly from the fruitful soil of the Reformed Church in England, first amid much persecution, then under the partial protection of the Toleration Act of 1689, a number of distinct ecclesiastical organizations, which, while holding fast to the articles of the œcumenical faith of orthodox Christendom, and the evangelical principles of the Protestant Reformation, differ on minor points of doctrine, worship, and discipline. They have passed through the bloody baptism of persecution as much as the older Churches of the Reformation, and by their fruits they have fully earned a title to an honorable standing in the family of Christian Churches.

The most important among these modern denominations are the Congregationalists, Baptists, and Quakers, who rose in the seventeenth century, and the Methodists and Moravians, who date from the middle of the eighteenth century. They originated in England, with the exception of the Moravians (who are of Bohemian and German descent), and found from the start a fruitful and congenial soil in the American colonies, which offered an hospitable asylum to all who suffered from religious persecution. The Congregationalists had established flourishing colonies in Massachusetts and Connecticut before they were even tolerated in the mother country. Roger Williams, the patriarch of the American Baptists, though of English birth and training, made Rhode Island his permanent home. The fathers and founders of the Society of Friends—Fox and Penn; of Methodism— Wesley and Whitefield; of the Moravian Church—Zinzendorf, Spangenberg, Nitschmann—visited America repeatedly, and with such success that they gave to their denominations an Anglo-American stamp. Two of these denominations, the Methodists and Baptists, have in the United States during the nineteenth century numerically far outgrown the older Protestant Churches, and are full of aggressive zeal and energy, both at home and in distant missionary fields.15831583    The following comparative table of ministers and churches in 1776 and 1876 gives at least an approximate idea of the growth of churches in the United States during its first centennial: Statistics of 1776 (or 1780-90) Statistics of 1876 Denominations. Ministers. Churches. Denominations. Ministers. Churches. Baptists. . 722 872 Baptists. . 13,779 22,924 Congregationalists. 575 700 Congregationalists. 3,333 3,509 Episcopalians. 150 200 Episcopalians. 3,216 4,000   (No bishop.)     (61 bishops)   Friends (Quakers). 400 500 Friends (Quakers). 865 885 Lutherans (1786). 25 60 Lutherans. 2,662 4,623 Methodists. 24 . . . . Methodists. 20,453 40,000 Moravians. 12(?) 8(?) Moravians. 75 75 Presbyterians (1788). 177 419 Presbyterians. 4,744 5,077 Reformed, Dutch. 40 100 Reformed, Dutch. 546 506 Reformed, German. 12 60 Reformed, German. 644 1,353 Roman Catholics. 26(?) 52(?) Roman Catholics. 5,141 5,046         (56 bishops)  

On the Continent of Europe these Anglo-American denominations till quite recently were little known, and were even persecuted as intruders and unchurchly sects. National State Churches will allow the widest latitude of theological speculation within the limits of outward conformity rather than grant freedom of public worship to dissenting organizations, however orthodox.15841584   Under the disparaging name of sects the Methodists and Baptists, and other denominations figure usually in German works on Symbolics that recognize only three Churches or Confessions—the Catholic (Greek and Roman), the Lutheran, and the Reformed (Calvinistic). The late Professor Marheineke, one of the chief writers on Symbolics, after explaining to his catechumens of Trinity Parish, in Berlin, that there are three Churches in Christendom, asked a pupil, 'To what Church do you belong?' and received the answer, 'To Trinity Church.' The science of Symbolics, or Comparative Theology, has thus far been almost exclusively cultivated in Germany, but should be reconstructed on a much more liberal scale in England and America, where all denominations meet in daily intercourse and on terms of equal rights.

The nineteenth century has given birth in England to the Irvingites and Darbyites, and in America to the Cumberland Presbyterians, Reformed Episcopalians, and other organizations, which more or less depart from the older Protestant confessions, but adhere to the supernatural revelation in the Bible and the fundamental articles of general orthodoxy.15851585   Some of these have already been considered, the Cumberland Presbyterians in connection with the Westminster Confession, the Reformed Episcopalians in connection with the history of the Thirty-nine Articles.

The creeds of these modern Protestant denominations (if we except the Savoy Declaration of 1658 and the Baptist Confession of 1688, which contain the body of the Westminster Confession) are thin, meagre, and indefinite as compared with the older confessions, which grew out of the profound theological controversies of the sixteenth century. They contain much less theology; they confine themselves to a popular statement of the chief articles of faith for practical use, and leave a large margin for the exercise of private judgment. In this respect they mark a return to the brevity and simplicity of the primitive baptismal creeds and rules of faith. The authority of creeds, moreover, is lowered, and the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of the Scriptures is emphasized.

In the present age there is, especially in America, a growing tendency towards a liberal recognition and a closer approach of the various evangelical denominations in the form of a free union and co-operation in the common work of the Master, without interfering with the inner organization and peculiar mission of each. This union tendency manifests itself from different starting-points and in different directions, now in the form of voluntary associations (such as Bible and Tract Societies, Young Men's Christian Associations, the Evangelical Alliance, the German Church Diet), now in the form of ecclesiastical confederations (Pan-Anglican Council, Presbyterian Alliance, Anglo-Greek Committees, the Bonn Conferences), now in the form of organic union (the evangelical Union of Lutherans and Reformed Churches in Prussia and other German States, Presbyterian Reunion of Old and New School). The same tendency calls forth efforts, feeble as yet, to formulate the essential consensus of the creeds of congenial sections of Christendom. The old motto, in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas, is struggling to become a practical reality; the age of separation and division is passing away, and the age of the reunion of divided Christendom is beginning to dawn, and to gather the corps of Christ's army, so long engaged in internal war, against the common foe Antichrist.


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