How To Classify The Fundamentals Of The Faith

Not open for further replies.

Shadow Forge

Puritan Board Freshman

Samuel Rutherford
The Due Right of Presbytery (1644)

Ch. 4, sect. 5, q. 3, pp. 221-232

Another foundation can no man lay, than that which is laid, Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 3:11). Hence Jesus Christ is the foundation of faith real or personal, and the knowledge of Christ is the dogmatical foundation of faith. Upon this foundation some build “gold” (that is, good doctrine), some “hay and stubble” (that is as Calvin says, “curious doctrine;” Pareus, “vain and frivolous doctrine”). We are to distinguish between articles of faith (or res fidei, matters of faith, and fundamental points of faith). Matters of faith I reduce to three:

1. Fundamental points.
2. Supra-fundamentalia, superstructions built upon fundamentals.
3. Circa-fundamentalia, things about matters of faith.

For praeter-fundamentalia, things indifferent and beside the foundation in matters of religion and moral carriage, I acknowledge none. Fundamentals are the vital and noble parts or the soul of Divinity.

The Ignorance of Fundamentals.​

The ignorance of fundamentals condemns, which is to be understood in two ways:

1. The ignorance of fundamentals such as are supernatural fundamentals, condemns all within the visible church as a sin, but it does not formally condemn those who are outside the visible church (John 15:22). It only makes those who are without the church incurable, but does not formally condemn them, as medicine not known, and so not refused, makes sick men incurable, as a loss, but does not kill them as a sin.

2. Superstructures, which by consequence arise from fundamentals, are fundamental by consequence, and secondarily, as the second rank of stones that are immediately laid upon the foundation, are a foundation in respect of the higher parts of the wall, and therefore are materially fundamental. And the ignorance of these virtually condemns, and the denying of such, by consequence, is a denying of the foundation.

The Knowledge of Circa-Fundamentals.​

Things about the foundation, circa-fundamentalia, are all things revealed in the Word of God, as all histories, miracles, chronologies, things about Orion, the Pleiades, the North Stars (Job 38:31-32), that Paul left his cloak at Troas, etc. The knowledge of these is considered three ways:

1. As necessary, by necessity of a mean (necessitate medii); and the knowledge so is not necessary to salvation. Many are in glory (I doubt not) who lived in the visible church, and yet knew never that Sampson killed a lion. But the knowledge of all these is necessary, necessitate præcepti, because all in the visible church are obliged to know these things. Therefore the ignorance of these only, does not actually condemn, but virtually and by demerit leads to condemnation.

2. This knowledge is considered as commanded in the excellency thereof, and so error and bad opinions about these are sinfully ill, though in the regenerate, by accident, such errors condemn not, where the foundation is held.

3. The knowledge of these is considered as commended and enjoined to us with the submission of faith, for the authority of God the speaker, and the malicious opposing of these is a fundamental error, not formally, but by evident consequence. For though the matter of these errors is not fundamental, yet the malicious opposing of these is a fundamental error against this principle, “Whatever God has said is true.” But God says there were eight souls in the Ark of Noah. Hence because the historical things of Scripture and things about the foundation, as that Paul purified himself with the Jews (Acts 21), that Paul rebuked Peter (Gal. 2), is no less true, because God has so spoken in his Word, than this fundamental point, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”

(1.) It is clear that the specific and essential form of a fundamental article is not taken from the authority of God speaking in the Word (seeing God’s authority is one and the same in all that he speaks), but from the influence that the knowledge of an article has to unite us to God in Christ, and bring us to salvation.

(2.) And secondly, it will follow that this, “Thou shalt not by the use of things indifferent kill him for whom Christ died” (Rom. 14:15), and the like, is no less fundamental, by evident consequence, in respect it is spoken by God’s own authority, than articles of our faith.

(3.) It follows that Formalists ignorantly divide matters of God’s worship, into matters of faith, or points fundamental, and things indifferent, as if many scriptural truths were not to be found in God’s Word, such as the miracles of Moses, and Elias, the journeys of Paul, which are neither matters fundamental, nor yet things indifferent.

(4.) Many things may be fundamental, by consequence, to one who can read the Word, and hear it read, which is not by consequence fundamental to a rude and ignorant man.

The Necessity of Fundamental Points of Faith.​

The knowledge of points fundamental is necessary, 1. to obtain salvation; 2. to keep communion with a true church, for we are to separate from a church subverting the foundation and laying another foundation.

Identifying the Fundamentals.​

Fundamentals are restricted by many to the Creed of Athanasius, and Gregorius Nazianzen, and Cyrillus of Jerusalem, to the Apostle’s Creed (as it is called). Others reduce all fundamentals to the famous Creeds of Nice, of Constantinople, of Ephesus, of Chalcedon. Estius restricts fundamentals to things necessary for the well ordering of our life. Davenant says better, “That such are fundamental knowledge whereof is simply necessary to salvation, the ignorance whereof does condemn.” Doctor Potter calls them “Prime capital doctrines of our Religion, or of that faith which essentially constitutes a true church,” and a true Christian; which is good, but that he contra-divides from these things not fundamental, which may be disputed on either side, and cannot be determined by the Word of God, and must lie under a non liquet, is his error. Yet he may know that Bellarmine says rightly, many things are of faith (and clear in Scripture, as historical relations) which are not fundamental. Camero, and a greater divine than Camero, Dom. Beza reduces all fundamentals to things which necessarily belong to faith and obedience, and Calvin restricts fundamentals within the Apostles’ Creed. Occam will have the militant (Catholic) Church always explicitly or expressly believing things necessary to salvation, and our divines teach that the Catholic Church cannot error in fundamentals; they mean (1.) with pertinacity and obstinacy; (2.) in all fundamentals; (3.) totally and finally.

Papist Definition of Fundamentals of the Faith, Rejected.​

But we are not to believe Papists, who say things are fundamental, but such things only as the Church defines to be fundamental. But:

(1.) The foundation of our Faith is God’s Word, and God’s Word is necessary to be believed to salvation whether the church defines it or not. To abstain from idolatry is necessary to be believed, though Aaron and the Church of Israel say the contrary [cf. Ex. 32]; neither does God’s Word borrow authority from men.

(2.) If the church may make points to be fundamental by their definition, whereas before they were not fundamental, then may the church make articles of faith; sure I am Papists, as Gerson, Occam, Almaine, Suarez, yea and a very Bellarmine is against this. Yea, and by that same reason they may make fundamental points to be no fundamental points, and they may turn the Apostles’ Creed into no faith at all, for ejusdem est potestas creare & annihilare [it is in his power to create and destroy].

(3.) There cannot be a greater power in the church, to define articles of faith than is in God himself; but the very authority of God does not define a matter to be an article of faith, except the necessity of the matter so requires. For God has determined in his Word, that Paul left his cloak at Troas; but Paul left his cloak at Troas, is not (I hope) an article of faith, or a fundamental point of salvation.

(4.) What can the church do (says Vincentius Lyrinens) but declare that that is to be believed, which before in itself was to be believed? And Bellarmine says, “Counsels make nothing to be of infallible verity.” And so does Scotus say, “Verity before heresies (erat de fide) was a matter of faith, though it was not declared to be so by the church.” “Determinatio non facit vertatem,” says Occam, “The Church’s determination makes no truth.”

Distinctions In the Knowledge of Fundamentals.​

The evidence of knowledge of fundamentals is gravely to be considered. Hence these distinctions.

1. Fundamentals vs. Consequences From Fundamentals.​

DISTINCTION ONE. One may believe that Christ is the Son of God by a divine faith, as Peter does (Matt. 16:17), and yet doubt of the necessary fundamental consequences. Ergo, Christ must be delivered into the hands of sinners, and be crucified—as the same Peter doubted of this. For as one may fall in a grievous sin, though regenerated, and fail in action, and yet remain in grace, in habitu [in condition], the seed of God remaining in him, so may Peter and the apostles doubt of a fundamental point of Christ’s rising from the dead (John 20:8-9), in an act of weakness, and yet have saving faith in Christ, as it is likely many of the saints at Corinth denied an article of their faith, the rising again of the dead. One act of unbelief makes not an infidel.

2. The Quality of the Conscience.​

DISTINCTION TWO. A simple Papist and a Lutheran, not well educated, believes upon the same former ground, that Christ is true man, and has an habitual faith of this article: that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of David, and yet holds transubstantiation, or consubstantiation, that Christ’s body is in many sundry places in heaven, and earth, on this side of the sea, and beyond sea. Yet the connection between Christ’s humanity and this monster of transubstantiation not being possible, all error may be merely philosophical—that the extension of quantitative parts without or beyond part, is not the essence of a quantitative body, while as the rude man believes firmly that Christ is true man, and so believes contradictory things by good consequence. Therefore the quality of the conscience of the believer is to be looked into, since fundamental heresy is essentially in the mind, and pertinacity and self-conviction does inseparably follow it.

(1.) There is a conscience simply doubting of fundamental points, this may be with a habit of sound faith. (2.) A scrupulous conscience which from light grounds is brangled about some fundamental points, and this is often in sound believers, who may and do believe, but with scruples. (3.) A conscience believing opinions and conjecturing and guessing, as in atheists; this is damnable, but where obstinacy is, as defending with pertinacity transubstantiation, and that it is lawful to adore bread, this pertinacious defending of idolatry does infer necessarily, that the faith of the article of Christ’s humanity is but false and counterfeit, and not saving.

3. Formal vs. Virtual Certainty.​

DISTINCTION THREE. There is a formal certitude of adherence, and a virtual certitude of adherence. A certitude of adherence, formal, is when one does adhere firmly to the faith of fundamentals. A certitude of adherence, virtual, is when with the formal adherence to some fundamental points, there is an ignorance of other fundamental points, and yet withal a gracious disposition and habit to believe other fundamentals when they shall be clearly revealed out of the Word. So in Luke 24, Christ exponed the resurrection, and the articles of Christ’s sufferings and glorification (vs. 25-27), to the disciples who doubted of these before, and yet had saving faith of other fundamental points (Matt. 16-18).

4. Principal vs. Secondary.​

DISTINCTION FOUR. Hence there are two sorts of fundamentals. (1.) Some principally and chiefly so called, even the elements and beginning of the doctrine of Christ. As, Credenda, things to be believed in the Creed, the object of our faith. And Petenda, things that we ask of God, expressed in the Lord’s Prayer, the object of our hope specially. Agenda, things to be done, contained in the decalogue, the object of our love to God and our brethren.

(2.) Others are so secondarily fundamental, or less fundamental, as deduced from these. Yea there are some articles of the Creed principally fundamental, these all are explicitly to be believed, noted by Vigilius Martyr and Pareus, as that “Christ died and rose again,” etc. Other articles are but modi articulorum prolegomen, fundamentalium [preliminary remarks in the manner of fundamental articles], and expositions and evident determinations of clear articles, as Christ’s incarnation, and taking on our flesh is explained by this, “conceived of the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary.” The death and suffering of Christ is exponed by subordinate articles, as that “he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified,” etc.

And these lesser fundamentals are to be believed, necessitate praecepti, because God commands them, but happily non necessitate medii [not as a necessary means]. It is possible many are in glory who believe not explicitly, but only in the disposition of the mind (as some are baptized, in voto, in their desire only) these lesser fundamentals. It is enough they have the faith of non-repugnancy, or negative adherence to these, so as they would not deny them, if they had been proponed to them in a distinct and clear way.

5. Belief in Degree, Object, and Adherence.​

DISTINCTION FIVE. The faith of fundamentals is implicit in three ways. (1.) In respect of the degree of believing. (2.) In respect of the object. (3.) In respect of the subject, or our adherence to things believed.

1. In respect of degrees the faith is implicit and weak three ways, as Calvin may teach. (1.) Because we are ignorant of some less fundamentals. (2.) Because we see in a mirror and imperfectly [1 Cor. 13:12]. (3.) In respect of believing upon a false ground, as for miracles.

2. In respect of the object, the certainty is most sure, as sure as that God cannot lie.

Negative vs. Positive Certainty.​

3. In respect of our adherence of understanding and affections, in this respect the knowledge of fundamentals must be certain. (1.) By a negative certitude which excludes doubting—and so pastor and people must have a certitude of fundamentals (as Rom. 14:5; Col. 1:9; Heb. 5:12). But for a positive certitude there is not that measure required in a teacher that is in a student, for all the body cannot be an eye (1 Cor. 12:17). Yet is a Christian certitude and fullness of persuasion required even of all Christians (Col. 2:2, 3:16), highest and greatest in its kind, though many may be saved with less, yet a distinct knowledge of fundamentals in all is not necessary by a necessity of means, necessitate medii, as Beza and Doctor Ames teach.

Implicit Faith.​

There is a faith of fundamentals implicit in respect of will and affections which Papists make a wide faith, as the Jesuit Becanus thinks to believe these two fundamentals: (1.) There is a God. (2.) That this God has a providence concerning man’s salvation, though other particulars are not known. Or implicit faith is, says Estius, “when any is ready to believe what the church shall teach,” which faith (Suarez says) “though it include ignorance, yet keeps men from the dangerous errors, because it does submit the mind to the nearest rule of teaching, to wit, to the church; the knowledge of fundamentals in this sense does not save, but condemn.” Thomas says better than he:

[“On the contrary, It is written: “He that cometh to God, must believe that He is, and is a rewarder to them that seek Him” (Heb. 11:6)… as regards the primary points or articles of faith, man is bound to believe them, just as he is bound to have faith; but as to other points of faith, man is not bound to believe them explicitly, but only implicitly, or to be ready to believe them, in so far as he is prepared to believe whatever is contained in the divine Scriptures. Then alone is he bound to believe such things explicitly, when it is clear to him that they are contained in the doctrine of faith.”] (Summa 2.2, q. 2, a. 5).

6. Belief, Defense, and Teaching of Heresy.​

DISTINCTION SIX. They are not alike, (1.) who believe fundamental heresies, (2.) and who defend them, (3.) and who teach them, and obtrude them upon the consciences of others.

For the first, many believe fundamental errors who are ignorant of them, and do think that they firmly adhere to Christian Religion. Occam terms such, hereticos nescientes, ignorant heretics, as the Marcionites, and the Manicheans, and these the church should tolerate while they are instructed.

It is true the Jesuit Meratius says, “When many things are proposed to the understanding for one and the same formal reason, to wit, for divine authority, the understanding cannot embrace one but it must embrace all, nor reject one, but it must reject all,” which is true of a formal malicious rejection. The Manichean believes nothing because God says it, and has faith sound and saving, in nothing, but it is not true of an actual or virtual contempt, in one or two fundamentals, because believers—out of weakness, ignorance, and through strength of temptation—may doubt of one fundamental, as the disciples doubted of the resurrection (John 20:9), and yet in habit believe all other fundamentals. But the church is to correct such as profess fundamental heresies, and to cast out of the church seducers and deceivers.

7. Formal Hatred vs. Consequential Subversion of the Truth.​

DISTINCTION SEVEN. It is one thing to hate fundamental points, as that Christ is consubstantial with the Father as the Arians do, and another thing, by consequence to subvert a fundamental point, as Papists by consequence deny Christ to be true man, while they hold to the wonder of Transubstantiation, yet they do not hate this conclusion formally, that Christ is true man.

8. Subscription to a Form of Words vs. the True and Pure Sense of the Words.​

DISTINCTION EIGHT. Though it were true which Doctor Christopher Potter says, “If we put by the points wherein Christians differ one from another, and gather into one body the rest of the articles, wherein they all generally agree, we should find in these propositions, which without all controversy are universally received in the whole Christian world, so much truth is contained, as being joined with holy obedience may be sufficient to bring a man to everlasting salvation.” I say, though this were true, yet will it not follow that these few fundamentals received by all Christians, Papists, Lutherans, Arians, Vorstians, Sabellians, Macedonians, Nestorians, Eutychanes, Socinians, Anabaptists, Treithites, Antitrinitarii (for all these are Christians and validly baptized), do essentially constitute a true church, and a true religion.

(1.) Because all Christians agree that the Old and New Testaments are the truth and Word of God, and the whole faith of Christian religion is to be found in the Old Testament, acknowledged both by Jews and Christians; for that is not the Word of God indeed in the Old Testament, which the Jews say is the Word of God in the Old Testament. Yea the Old and New Testaments, and these few uncontroverted points universally held by all Christians, are not God’s Word, as all these Christians expound them, but the dreams and fancies of the Jews saying, that the Old Testament teaches that Christ the Messiah is not yet come in the flesh. The Treithite [Tritheists] say there are three Gods, yet are the Treithite Christians in the sense of Doctor Potter, so that one principle as that There is one God, and Christ is God and man, and God is only to be adored, not one of these are uncontroverted. In respect every society of Sectaries have contrary expositions upon these common fundamentals, and so contrary religions.

(2.) Who doubts but all Christians will subscribe and swear with us Protestants the Apostles Creed, but will it follow that all Christians are of one true religion, and do believe the same fundamentals? Now these fundamentals are the object of faith according as they signify things. To us and to the Treithite this first Article (I believe in God) as I conceive does not signify one and the same thing. Now join this (I believe in God) with holy obedience as we expone it, and as the Treithite expone it, it could never be a step to everlasting salvation. For it should have this meaning, I believe there is one only true God, and that there be also three Gods, and what kind of obedience joined with a faith made up of contradictions, can be available to salvation?

(3.) One general catechism and confession of faith made up of the commonly received and agreed upon fundamentals, would not make us nearer peace, though all Christians should swear and subscribe this common Christian catechism, no more than if they should swear and subscribe the Old and New Testaments, as all Christians will do, and this day do.

9. The Measure and Number of Fundamentals.​

DISTINCTION NINE. Though the knowledge of fundamentals is necessary to salvation, yet it cannot easily be defined (1) what measure of knowledge of fundamentals, and (2) what determinate number of fundamentals does constitute a true visible church, and a sound believer, as the learned Voetius says.

Hence, (1.) they are saved, who soundly believe all fundamentals materially, though they cannot distinctly know them, under the reduplication of fundamentals, nor define what are fundamentals, what not.

(2.) Though a church retains the fundamentals, yet if we are forced to avow and believe as truth, doctrines averting the foundation of faith, against the article of one God; if we must worship as many gods as there be hosties [Roman communion wafers]; if Christ’s Kingly, Priestly, and Prophetical office are overturned, as we were forced in Popery to do, we are to separate from the church in that case.

Objection 1.​

It is not true what Master Robinson says, “This distinction of fundamentals and non fundamentals is injurious to growing in grace, whereas we should be lead on to perfection, as if it were sufficient for a house, that the foundation were laid.”

Answer. It follows not. For the knowledge of fundamentals is only that we may know what is a necessary means of salvation, without which none can be saved. Notwithstanding, he who grows not, and is not led on to perfection, never laid hold on the foundation Christ. Nor are we hence taught to seek no more, but so much knowledge of fundamentals, as may bring us to heaven. That is an abuse of this doctrine.

Objection 2.​

Robinson says, “Fundamental truths are held and professed by as vile heretics as ever were since Christ’s days, a company of excommunicates may hold, teach and defend fundamental truths, yet are they not a true church of God?”

Answer. Papists hold fundamentals, and so do Jews hold all the Old Testament, and Papists hold both New and Old. But we know they so hold fundamentals, that by their doctrine they overturn them. And though there are fundamentals taught in the Popish Church, which may save if they were believed, yet they are not a true and ministerial church simply. Because though they teach that there is one God, they teach also there are a thousand gods whom they adore. And though they teach there is one Mediator, yet do they substitute infinite mediators with and besides Christ.

So that the truth is, there is not a formal, ministerial and visible active external calling in the Church of Rome, as it is a visible church, in the which we can safely remain, though fundamentals are safe in Rome, and the books of the Old and New Testaments are there; yet are they not there ministerially as in a mother whose breasts we can suck. For fundamental points falsely exponed, cease to be fundamental points. Yea, as they are ministerially in Rome, they are destructive of the foundation, though there are some ministerial acts valid in that church, for the which the Church of Rome is called a true church, in some respect, according to something essential to the true church; yet never sine adjecto [without addition], as if it were a true church where we can worship God. Fundamentals are safe in Rome materially in themselves, so as some may be saved who believe these fundamentals. But fundamentals are not safe in Rome, Ecclesiastice, Ministeraliter, Pastoraliter, in a church way, so as by believing these from their chairs so exponed, they can be saved who do believe them; out of which we may have the doctrine of faith and salvation as from a visible mother, whose daughters we are.

Objection 3.​

Some say the fundamentals amongst Lutherans are exponed in such a way as the foundation is averted? I answer, there is a twofold aversion of the foundation. One theological, moral, and ecclesiastical, as the doctrine of the Council of Trent, which is in a ministerial way, with professed obstinacy, against the fundamental truths rightly exponed. And such an aversion of the foundation makes the Popish Church no church truly visible, whose breasts we can suck. But for Lutherans, their subversion of the foundation by philosophical consequences without professed hatred to the fundamentals, and that not in an ecclesiastical and ministerial way, does not so avert the fundamentals, as that they are no visible church. The learned Pareus shows that there is no difference between us and Lutherans in heads absolutely necessary to salvation. The dissention is in one point only about the Lord’s Supper, not in the whole doctrine thereof, but in a part thereof, not necessary for salvation.

There were divisions between Paul and Barnabas; between Cyprian an African Bishop, and Stephanus Bishop of Rome, about baptism of heretics, which Cyprian rejected as no baptism; between Basilius Magnus and Eusebius Cesariensis, because Basilius stood for the Emperor Valens, his power in church matters; so was there dissention between Augustine and Jerome about ceremonies of the Jews, which Jerome thought might be retained to gain the Jews; so there was also between Epiphanius and Chrysostom about the books of Origen. The orthodox believers agreed with the Novations against the Arians about the consubstantiality of Christ; and though excommunicated persons defend and hold all fundamentals sound, and so may be materially a true church, yet because their profession is no profession, but a denying of the power of godliness, they cannot be formally a visible church, but are for scandals cast out of the visible church.

Objection 4.​

But (says Robinson) “most of England are ignorant of the first rudiments and foundation of religion, and therefore cannot be a church.” Answer. Such are materially not the visible church and have not a profession, and are to be taught, and if they willfully remain in that darkness are to be cast out.

Objection 5.​

But (says he) “the bare profession of fundamentals makes not a church, they must be a company of faithful people, and if they must not be truly faithful, then they must be falsely faithful; for God requires true and ready obedience in his Word, according to which we must define churches, and not according to casual things.”

Answer. This is a special ground that deceives Separatists, their ignorance (I mean) of the visible church. For the visible church consists essentially neither of such as are truly faithful, nor of such as must be falsely faithful. For the ignorant man sees not that the visible church includes neither faith, nor unbelief in its essence or definition. It is true, to the end that professors may be members of the invisible church, they must be believers, and must believe, except they would be condemned eternally. But to make them members of the visible church neither believing nor unbelieving is essential, but only a profession ecclesiastically entire, that is not scandalous and visible and apparently lewd and flagitious, such as was the profession of Simon Magus, when he was baptized with the rest of the visible church (Acts 8). And God indeed requires of us true worship and ready obedience, as he says, but not that a visible church should be defined by true and sincere obedience. For essentials only are taken in a definition, and casual corruptions are only accidental to churches, and fall out through men’s faults, that therefore should not be in the definition either of a visible or an invisible church, nor should, for it is accidental to a visible church, and nothing invisible can be essential to that which essentially is visible. The visible church is essentially visible.
Not open for further replies.