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Fundamental Doctrines.

1. J. Gerhard,* following scholastic theol., distinguished bet. “fundamental and principal” and “less principal” doctrines. But a fully developed distinction bet. fundamental and nonfundamental doctrines first appeared 1626 in N. Hunnius'* Diaskepsis theologica de fundamentali dissensu doctrinae Evangelicae Lutheranae et Calvinianae sea Reformatae; it was intended to show that there were fundamental doctrinal differences bet. Luths. and Ref. Later Luth. dogmaticians, esp. J. Hülsemann* and B. Meisner,* continued to elaborate the distinction, sometimes with differing classifications of doctrines.

2. Fundamental doctrines pertain to the “fundamentum” or foundation of saving faith, forgiveness of sin in Christ* Jesus. Primary fundamental articles (e.g., person and work of Christ) are constitutive for saving faith and can be neither unknown nor denied without loss of salvation. Secondary fundamental articles (e.g., Holy Baptism, Lord's Supper) are related to the foundation of faith, but in such a way that one may be ignorant of them, yet have saving faith.

3. Nonfundamental doctrines do not deal directly with the foundation of faith; therefore they may be unknown, even denied, without destroying saving faith, provided such a denial does not result from conscious opposition to Holy Scripture. Luth. dogmaticians gen. included in them such doctrines as the unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost, immortality of man before the fall, eternal rejection of the evil angels, and the Antichrist.

4. Both fundamental and nonfundamental doctrines are Scriptural doctrines. Questions not answered conclusively by Scripture are “open questions” or “theol. problems.” This classification of doctrines serves primarily to emphasize the greater importance of certain doctrines for the faith of the believer.

5. The question of fundamental and nonfundamental doctrines was much discussed after C. F. W. Walther* stated (Der Lutheraner, XXVII [May 1, 1871], 131) that he considered taking interest to be forbidden in Scripture, but regarded this teaching as nonfundamental: “Let everyone know, who desires to know, that we are certainly able to distinguish between articles of faith and Scripture doctrines that are not articles of faith. We indeed insist that no clear Scripture doctrine, may it appear great or small, may be regarded as an 'open question'; but though we consider it necessary to contend most strenuously for every article of faith, on each of which our faith and hope depend, to condemn the error that opposed it, and to deny fellowship to those who stubbornly contradict the article in question, we on the other hand by no means believe it necessary under all circumstances to contend to the utmost for other Scripture teachings that are not articles of faith, much less to pronounce sentence of condemnation on the opposing error, though we reject it, and to deny fellowship to those who err only in this point. If the issue in a doctrinal controversy concerns teachings that do not belong to the articles of faith, then it is of greatest concern to us to see whether the opponents show that they contradict because they refuse to obey the Word of God, that is, whether they, while apparently not attacking the fundamental doctrines of the Word of God, nevertheless destroy the foundation itself on which these teachings rest, the Word of God.” Here Walther evidently uses the term “articles of faith” in the sense of fundamental doctrines. It should be noted that he does not declare nonfundamental doctrines to be a matter of indifference, but holds that an error in such doctrines does not necessarily terminate fellowship. WA, RAB

F. Pieper, Christliche Dogmatik, I (St. Louis, 1924), 89–108, tr. and ed. T. Engelder et al., Christian Dogmatics, I (St. Louis, 1950), 80–96; H. Schmid, The Doctrinal Theology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3d ed., rev., tr. C. A. Hay and H. E. Jacobs (Minneapolis, 1961), 92–99; A. Hcenecke, Ev.-Luth. Dogmatik, I (Milwaukee, 1909), 450–458; J. G. [W.] Baier, Compendium Theologiae Positivae, ed. C. F. G. [W.] Walther, I (St. Louis, 1879), 49–68; T. Graebner and P. E. Kretzmann, Toward Lutheran Union (St. Louis, 1943).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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