Title page for ETD etd-07192007-090407

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Soderberg, Gregory David
Email gsoderberg@nc.rr.com
URN etd-07192007-090407
Document Title Ancient discipline and pristine doctrine : appeals to antiquity in the developing reformation
Degree MA (Church History)
Department Church History
Advisor Name Title
Prof J W Hofmeyr
  • primitive church
  • puritan
  • creeds
  • confessions
  • catholic substance
  • catholicity
  • apostolic church
  • ancient church
  • anabaptist
  • humanist
Date 2007-04-20
Availability unrestricted

This thesis in Church History examines the changing attitudes of Protestants toward Church History. The primary evidence surveyed is statements within major Protestant confessions, as well as the views of selected Reformers. By focusing on how Protestant confessions either quote the church fathers, or affirm the ancient creeds of the Church, the thesis presents a general overview of how Protestants have related to Church History.

This thesis takes advantage of many recent studies on the use of church fathers by the reformers, and new critical study of creeds and confessions. A study of selected reformers and Protestant confessions demonstrates that an important part of the Reformation program was the claim to continuity with the early church, as opposed to the perceived innovations of Rome. A brief survey of reformation attitudes towards history also shows that appeals to church history were largely determined by the historical and polemical context of the times. Calvin and Bucer, for instance, make stronger or weaker appeals to church history depending in which polemical context they found themselves.

As a result of the hardening of confessional lines, a more critical attitude towards church history developed, especially in Anabaptism and English Puritanism. Whereas the reformers and most Protestant confessions claim continuity with the “ancient church,” the Puritans claimed continuity with the “apostolic” church. This is ironic because the Puritans wanted to reform the English church according to the model of the “best reformed churches,” whose confessions affirm the ancient creeds.

Thus, this thesis provides further evidence for the claims of other scholars who have argued that there are two main view of church history within Protestantism: one that stresses continuity with the church in history, and one which stresses interpretation of the Bible free from any historical considerations. As Stephen R. Holmes has suggested, one party sought to “reform” the church while the other party sought to “re-found” the church.

If Protestants have developed an anti-historical attitude, it has been partly in response to polemical circumstances. A way out of current Protestant provincialism, particularly in American fundamentalism, may be found in studying the reformers' original, more positive, attitude towards church history.

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