Monday, February 12, 2007

The Fundamentals: 17th Century Style

In 1697, the English Baptist Benjamin Keach published The Glory of a True Church, and its Discipline display'd. Within his detailed discussion of discipline, Keach admonishes churches on how to deal with "hereticks and blasphemers." I thought his description of fundamental doctrines might be interesting:
Heresy is commonly restrained to signify any perverse Opinion or Error in a fundamental Point of Religion, as to deny the Being of God, or the Deity of Christ, or his Satisfaction, and Justification alone by his Righteousness, or to deny the Resurrection of the Body, or eternal Judgment, or the like. Yet our Annotators say, the Word signifies the same thing with Schism and Divisions; which if so, such that are guilty of Schism or Divisions in the Church, ought to be excommunicated also. Heresies are called Damnable by the Apostle Peter; without Repentance such cannot be saved, as bring in Damnable Heresies, denying the Lord that bought them.

Two things render a Man an Heretick according to the common signification of the Word. 1. An Error in matters of Faith, Fundamental or Essential to Salvation. 2. Stubbornness and Contumacy in holding and maintaining it. A Man that is an Heretick, after the first and second Admonition reject. [Quotation from the reprint of Keach's work in Polity, ed. by Mark Dever, p. 75]
A few observations might be worthwhile. First, many of the issues to Keach were the same as those that eventually crystallized more than 200 years later in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy, such as the deity and resurrection of Christ and substitutionary atonement. That's surprising to me since Keach was writing before the rise of critical theology and the modernistic denial of the supernatural. Perhaps there's an obvious explanation I'm missing. Second, he doesn't seem to believe that these points were a comprehensive statement of all fundamentals of biblical doctrine. Third, he seems to identify doctrines as fundamental relative to their proximity to the gospel. Finally, he demands the excommunication of heretics. Although the wording might sound a little different from historic 1920s fundamentalism and the separatist terminology we use today, it seems to me that the essence of Keach's approach is the same that was advanced in the early 20th century.

No comments: