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Religion Library: Protestantism

Sacred Texts

Written by: Ted Vial

Essentially agreeing with Luther, Calvin went on to argue that there are no rational arguments to persuade people that the Bible is the source of truth. The same Spirit present in the Bible is present in the hearts of those who turn to the Bible as truth. (In Calvin's phrase, scripture is "self authenticating.")

Some Protestant churches have produced creeds, or formal statements of Christian belief, that function as a guide to correct interpretation of scripture for that denomination. Some denominations declare themselves to be "non-creedal," that is, they reject the creation of formal statements of faith and claim instead to rely on direct encounter with the Bible. Most of these stem in some way from the Anabaptists. Non-creedal churches include Baptists, Churches of Christ, and Mennonites. Many "non-denominational" churches, often growing out of the Pentecostal movement, are also non-creedal. Among these non-creedal traditions, most have found it necessary, however, to formulate what they call "confessions" or more recently, "statements of faith." These traditions make a distinction between "creeds," which they view as being incapable of being reformed or changed by the teaching of scripture, and "confessions," which, at least in principle for them, are capable of being revised if found to be inconsistent with scripture and, therefore, do not threaten the supreme authority of the Bible.

Lutheran Churches rely on several creeds gathered in the Book of Concord to guide and set limits around correct interpretation of scripture. There is no single, agreed-upon book of creeds or confessions for Reformed Christians, but the more widely recognized ones include The Westminster Confession, as well as The Scots Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Second Helvetic Confession. They also include important 20th-century statements: the Theological Declaration of Barmen (written largely by Karl Barth against Nazism), and the Confession of 1967 (written as part of an effort to unify separate Reformed churches).

Historically, Anglicans (and Episcopalians), have relied on the Thirty-nine Articles. In recent decades, more liberal voices within these churches have moved this document to a peripheral and largely historical role, while conservatives continue to view it as a valid statement of belief. Methodists use a slightly revised version of the Thirty-nine Articles, called the Articles of Religion. In addition they take their orientation from the sermons of John Wesley, and his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament.

Study Questions:
1.     How is the Protestant canon different from the Catholic canon?
2.     Describe the relationship between grace and salvation.
3.     What are creeds and confessions? What is their purpose?


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