Archive | Doctrinal Development

Changing Doctrine? How Do Protestants (And Others) Justify Themselves?

Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Views on the Development of Doctrine

How do Protestants justify their belief in sola fide (salvation by faith alone) if it didn’t exist prior to the sixteenth-century? How do Catholics explain their belief in the Assumption of Mary when it wasn’t dogmatized until the twentieth-century? How does Eastern Orthodox justify their under-developed beliefs and tendency to punt to “mystery”? What’s going on with all this changing doctrine?

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How do Protestants justify their belief in sola fide if it didn’t exist prior to the sixteenth-century?

How we answer these questions is our doctrine about the development of doctrine itself. Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholics have to account for the way truth has been progressively understood over time. Here are the problems each tradition faces:

Protestant Problems

Why do we hold so strongly to doctrines such as sola scriptura and sola fide when, prior to the Reformation, many (if not most) in the church didn’t? The typical answer is “because the Bible is clear about these teachings”. While true, it causes us to wonder, if the Bible was so clear, why did these doctrines take so long to develop?

If the Bible was so clear, why did these doctrines take so long to develop?

Catholic Problems

In 1950, the doctrine of The Assumption of Mary was dogmatized in Catholicism, and enforced under pain of excommunication. However, it finds no biblical warrant and little support in church history.  In fact, the first mention of the Assumption of Mary we find in church history isn’t until the fifth-century. Why wasn’t it heard of before this? Why did it take so long for it to become dogma? This is only one of the many doctrinal “developments” Catholicism must explain. Here is a partial list:
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How Protestants Can Justify the Doctrinal Development of the Reformation

How can Protestants justify a belief in the doctrine of justification by faith alone, when it was “invented” in the sixteenth century?

How can we believe in substitutionary atonement, when we know that Anselm first planted the seeds of this idea in the Middle Ages?

The answer is the same with every tradition of Christianity. We all go through “development” in understanding, articulating and shaping our thoughts through examination and controversy. This chart is meant to help express how Protestants often view the development of doctrine.

PLEASE NOTE: this is in no way attempting to be prophetic.

click on graphic to enlarge

It is very important to realize that the deposit of the truth (represented by the DNA) does not change. However, it does mature. For example, when we talk about justification by faith alone, we may notice this maturation. It is not as if justification, prior to the maturation that occurred at the Reformation, used to be by something else. It has always been by faith alone. Everyone has always seen the necessity of faith. Everyone has also seen that true faith produces works. However, our understanding of the relationship between the two matured at the time of the Reformation due to some significant abuses of the Middle Ages. The DNA (the Biblical witness) never changed in essence, it just was matured and better articulated through controversy. Continue Reading →