Confessions, Creeds, and Catechisms in Swiss Reformed Theology (1675-1734) -- By: Martin I. Klauber
WTJ 57:2 (Fall 1995) p. 403
Confessions, Creeds, and Catechisms in Swiss Reformed Theology (1675-1734)
Confessions, creeds, and catechisms played an important role in defining and systematizing Protestant theology in the first century and a half following the Reformation. This was especially true within Reformed circles, as can be seen in the Genevan Confession (1536), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), the Belgic Confession (1561), and the Westminster Confession (1646). They also played a role in the erosion of orthodoxy by the early eighteenth century. This paper will focus on the role that these theological documents played in this decline within the confines of early eighteenth-century Geneva, one of the most important centers of Reformed thought from the era of Calvin to the Enlightenment. I will also attempt to glean some lessons from history and point to the importance of such theological boundaries for the church today.
Confessions, creeds, and catechisms are closely related. As Reformation historian John Leith observes, the liturgy initially served as the impetus for creeds, since the latter were used in the early church as part of the worship service when the congregation affirmed the faith corporately and publicly. Leith posits that, in the reciting of such confessions, “the believer takes his stand, commits his life, declares what he believes to be true, affirms his ultimate loyalty, and defies every false claim upon his life. The confession of faith is the seal of faith and the courage of faith.”1
The catechism has a slightly different use, being simply a method of theological instruction in a question-and-answer format. In the Reformation era, the catechism was very popular because of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. It was not initially used solely for the young person preparing for confirmation, but for all believers in order to teach them the basics of the Christian faith. According to Leith, the catechisms of the Reformation were based on the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer, with additional provisions made for sacramental theology. Leith concludes: “The catechetical method had the advantage not only of providing clear and precise statements
WTJ 57:2 (Fall 1995) p. 404
of Christian theology, but also of raising the important questions and in particular the questions for which Christian faith is the answer.2
Creeds, by contrast, are statements that reflect the beliefs of the church at a particular time. Specifically, they indicate how the church interpreted Scripture. Mark Noll, in the introduction to his recent Confessions and C...
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