Short Study— Calvin on Fundamental Articles and Ecclesiastical Union -- By: Martin I. Klauber

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 54:2 (Fall 1992)
Article: Short Study— Calvin on Fundamental Articles and Ecclesiastical Union
Author: Martin I. Klauber


Short Study— Calvin on Fundamental Articles and Ecclesiastical Union

Martin I. Klauber

The term “fundamental articles” typically conjures up thoughts of the separatist nature of the American fundamentalist movement of the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, American fundamentalism has obscured the fact that this term was used by Reformed theologians in the Reformation and post-Reformation as a starting point for a pan-Protestant theological union. Richard A. Muller, in his Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, defines the fundamental articles as “those doctrines without which Christianity cannot exist and the integrity of which is necessary to the preservation of the faith.”1

The issue of fundamental articles developed into an integral aspect of Reformed theology by the mid-seventeenth century when François Turrettini (1623–87), the famous professor of theology at the Academy of Geneva, used it as a foundational thrust of his prolegomena to theology. Prior to Turrettini, fundamental articles served as either a point of separation from other confessions of faith or a point of union. Reformed theologians, beginning with Calvin himself, used them as a basis for attempting ecclesiastical union among the various Protestant camps.2 A discussion of Calvin’s use of fundamental articles provides a helpful starting point for understanding the basis for the Reformed ecumenism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Richard Muller points out that the Reformed use of fundamental articles had both positive and polemical origins. In a positive sense, it developed out of the catechetical theology of the early Reformers. In a polemical sense, the Counter-Reformation use of skepticism as an attack against the Protestant notion of sola Scriptura propelled the use of fundamental articles into prominence. The main issues of contention were the definition of the true church and the perspicuity of Scripture. Reformed theologians defined the true church according to its marks: the preaching of the Word of God, the administration of

the sacraments, and ecclesiastical discipline. Inherent in the proclamation of the Word was the adherence to those biblical doctrines essential for salvation that became commonly known as the fundamental articles. In addition, Reformed theologians argued that clear scriptural pericopes could interpret obscure ones and that all of the fundamental doctrines necessary for salvation were clearly revealed.3

The issue of fundamental articles was, therefore, initi...

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