Of Fundamental, Secondary & Tertiary Matters of Christianity, of Errors Therein & of Communion, Discipline & Separation Thereabout

Whom shall He teach knowledge? and whom shall He make to understand doctrine? Them that are weaned from the milk and drawn from the breasts.  For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:”

Isa. 28:9-10

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”

Heb. 6:1-2

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.  Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”

Mt. 23:23-4




Roman Church is a Church, is Apostate, her Baptism Valid, the Reformers’ Ministerial Calling was Valid, Necessity of Separation from Her & Whether Romanists may be Saved

Whether Arminians may be Saved, be Church Members & Whether they should be Disciplined?



Order of Contents

Fundamentals  22+
.       Quotes  4
Secondary Teachings  8
.       On Church Government  2
Tertiary Teachings  4

Distinctions & Conclusions of Witsius & Rutherford
Towards Union in Secondary & Tertiary Matters  8+
Historical Theology  7
.       After High Orthodoxy: Pan Protestantism

In Romanism
On Lutheranism
Contra Socinianism
On Modern, Liberal Denominations

Latin  30+
French  2




What precisely must one believe to be saved?  Given the variety of people’s background, understanding and what is told them of Christianity, even as exampled in Scripture, that is not an easy question to answer.

If people profess serious errors that seem to overturn the fundamentals of Christianity, though they yet profess to believe in those fundamental teachings of the True Faith, will they be saved?  Are they professing Christians?  May we have fellowship with such a Church?

The topic of the fundamental and secondary teachings of Christianity is at once a profoundly basic issue, and yet it is incredibly complex with many real world implications.  Should a baptist be allowed to be a member of a church reformed according to the Word of God?  Should an Arminian?

Little is it known that there was a large, reformed consensus in these issues in the puritan era amongst the presbyterians, even in the minute details, and that not simply from human agreement, but as it was proved by the Word of God and the light of nature.

You will learn a lot from these resources.  Witsius is very good, is easy to read and is online.  Turretin is dense but excellent and not online.  As usual, git wrekt by Rutherford (though he is not always easy to read).



On Fundamentals



Calvin, John

Institutes, bk. 4

ch. 1, ‘Of the True Church…’, section 12

ch. 2, ‘Comparison Between the False Church & the True’, section 1

‘Reply by Calvin to Letter by [the Romanist] Cardinal Sadolet to the Senate & People of Geneva’, pp. 35-42  in Tracts Relating to the Reformation...  tr. Henry Beveridge  (Edinburgh, 1844), vol. 1



Daillie, John – ‘Author’s Preface’  in A Treatise on the Right Use of the Fathers in the Decision of Controversies Existing at this Day in Religion  2nd ed.  (Philadelphia, 1856), pp. 17-21

Daillie was a French Reformed minister and theologian in Paris.

“All the difference of religion, which is at this day between
the Church of Rome and the Protestants, lies in some certain points which the Church of Rome maintains as important, and necessary articles of the Christian faith: whereas the Protestants, on the contrary, neither believe nor will
receive them as such.

For as for those matters which the Protestants believe, which they conceive to be the fundamentals of religion, they are evidently and undeniably such, that even their enemies admit and receive them as well as they: inasmuch as they are both clearly delivered in the Scriptures, and expressly admitted by the ancient councils and Fathers ; and are indeed unanimously received by the greatest part of Christians in all ages, and in different parts of the world.

But now their adversaries add to these many other points, which they press and command men to believe as necessary; and such as, without believing in, there is no possible hope of salvation.  As for example: that the Pope of Rome is the head and supreme monarch of the whole Christian Church throughout the world, that he, or at least the Church which he acknowledges a true one, cannot possibly err in matters of faith…  which their adversaries plainly protest that they cannot with a safe conscience believe.

These points are the ground of the whole difference between them; the one party pretending that they have been believed and received by the Church of Christ in all ages as revealed by him; and the other maintaining the contrary.” – pp. 17-19

Dury, John

A Copy of Mr. John Dury’s Letter Presented in Sweden to the Truly Noble & Religious Lord Forbes: Briefly Intimating, the Necessity of a Common, Fundamental Confession of Faith Amongst those Christians that Receive the Holy Scriptures as the only Rule of Faith & Practice…  Published…  for the Better Improvement of Great Britain’s Solemn [League &] Covenant…  (London, 1643)  8 pp.

Dury was an English presbyterian minister and Westminster divine who sought his whole adult life to unify the Lutheran and Reformed Churches in a Biblically principled way.

Rutherford:  “Mr. John Dury in his Theological consultation makes three sort[s] of necessary points:

1. These, without the knowledge of which Christ cannot be known in the Covenant of Grace, not by faith retained, which are comprehended in the paction of the Covenant.

2.  Saving points which secretly lurk in these necessary points, yet by just and evident consequence may be deduced therefrom, though they be not in the express words of the Covenant.

3.  Some things that are profitable, the express knowledge whereof conduces to the fuller knowledge and faith of these things necessary, yet are not such, but Christ may be believed by simple souls and rested on for salvation, without such a precise form of speaking.” – A Free Disputation, p. 60

‘Copy Proposition On Religion In Hand ?, Dury’  undated  17/8/1A-4B  in The [Samuel] Hartlib Papers  Search for ‘fundamental’ on the page.

Rutherford, Samuel

The Due Right of Presbyteries...  (1644), pt. 2

Ch. 4, Section 5, ‘Why We [New England Independents] do not Admit the Members of the Churches of Old England to the Seals of the Covenant’

Fundamentals  221

Of Fundamentals & Superstructures Around Fundamental Things about the Foundation  221-2

Matters of Faith & of Fundamental Points are Different  222

Ignorance of God’s Matters have a Threefold Consideration  222-3

Ignorance of Fundamentals  222-3

Knowledge of Fundamentals, how it is Necessary  223

What are Fundamental Points?  223

How Jews and Papists have All the Fundamentals, & How Not  230-31

The Error of Papists here About: that the Church’s Determination Makes Fundamentals  224

Nine Considerable Distinctions about Fundamental Points, Containing Diverse Things about Fundamentals  224-5 ff.

The Divine Right of Church Government  (1646), Intro, Section 3

Fundamentals, Because Successively Delivered, are Not Alterable, pp. 41-42

A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience…  (1649)

Ch. 5, ‘Of Fundamentals’

Ch. 10, ‘Of Indulgence in Fundamental or Non-fundamental Errors’

Influences of the Life of Grace…  (1659), pt. 3, ch. 1

Influences of Christ: Fundamental & Not Fundamental  208
Influences [that are] Not Fundamental, [are] Not Simply Necessary  209

Robert Bolton – pp. 137-8  of The Arraignment of Error...  (1646)

Cheynell, Francis – Ch. 10, ‘Christians who have a lively sense & sweet experience of this grand mystery of Faith, & practical mystery of Godliness, are afraid to hold Communion with such as pretend to be Spiritual Christians & yet deny the divine Nature & distinct subsistences of Christ and his holy Spirit’  in The Divine Trinunity of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit...  (1650)

Cheynell was a Westminster divine, whose book in general a magnum opus of orthodoxy.

Jacob Acontius (c. 1520 – c. 1566) was an Itallian jurist, religious writer, philosopher and engineer.  He wrote a book which was printed in London in 1648, entitled, Satan’s Strategems, wherein is Laid Open an Easy Way to End Controversies in Matters of Conscience…  While Acontius’s work held forth much that is good, yet he was a step away from Socinianism, and Socinians promoted it.  Wikipedia says that Acontius “is now known for his contribution to the history of religious toleration,” and Voet had written against that particular work of Acontius.

The work was recommended, besides by Peter Ramus and John Goodwin (an Arminian), by John Dury, a presbyterian and Westminster divine, yet without his consent in its publishing.  The Westminster Assembly, hearing about this, was a bit alarmed, and called on Dury to give an account.  Cheynell relates:

“When Mr. Dury came amongst us, and saw that he had given too fair a testimony to that subtle piece, he dealt as ingenuously with us as we had dealt with him, and assured us that he would be ready to make his retraction as public as his recommendation had been made without his consent, because he clearly saw that they practiced upon his passionate love of peace to the great prejudice of truth, and that he was merely drawn in to promote a syncretism beyond the orthodox lines of communication.” p. 445

Here is an excellent example of faithful Christians working toward unity in the constraints of the love of both peace and truth.  See the whole account of this episode on pp. 444-53 ff.

Norton, John – Ch. 3, ‘Fundamentals in Religion are so Denominated’  in The Heart of New England Rent at the Blasphemies of the Present Generation. Or A Brief Tractate Concerning the Doctrine of the Quakers...  (Cambridge, 1659), pp. 30-31

Norton (1606-1663) was a congregationalist puritan.

Baxter, Richard

Q. 138, ‘How may we know the Fundamentals, Essentials, or what parts are necessary to Salvation? And is the Papists way allowable that (some of them) deny that distinction, and make the difference to be only in the degrees of men’s opportunities of knowledge?’  in A Christian Directory…  (London, 1673), pt. 3, Christian Ecclesiastics, pp. 895-6

pp. 525-7  of pt. 3, ch. 12, section 10, ‘Lastly, be sure that you study and strive after Unity & Peace…’  in The Saints’ Everlasting Rest…  (London, 1650)

As an Independent, Baxter had a laxer view than presbyterians of the bindingness of secondary matters as regards full ministerial communion.

“Were we all bound together by a confession or subscription of the true fundamentals, and those other points that are next to fundamentals only, and there took up our Christianity and unity, yielding each other a freedom of differing in smaller or more difficult points, or in expressing ourselves in different terms, and so did live peaceably and lovingly together, notwithstanding such differences, as men that all knew the mysteriousness of Divinity, and the imperfection of their own understandings, and that here we know but in part [1 Cor. 13], and therefore shall most certainly err and differ in part: what a world of mischiefs might this course prevent?”

Menzeis, John – Ch. 4, ‘A Discourse of Fundamentals, with some Reflections on the Contradictions, Impertinencies & Falsehoods of the Romish Pamphleter…’  in Roma Mendax, or, The Falsehood of Rome’s High Pretences to Infallibility & Antiquity Evicted in Confutation of an Anonymous Popish Pamphlet...  (London, 1675)

Menzeis (1624-1684) was a professor of theology in Aberdeen, Scotland, in the reformed tradition.

Turretin, Francis – 1st Topic, Question 14, ‘Are Some Theological Topics Fundamental, others Not; & how can They be Mutually Distinguished?’  in Institutes, vol. 1, pp. 48-54

“XXII.  …it [the Apostles’ Creed] cannot be an exact mark of fundamental articles because it treats only of theoretical articles relating to faith, not of practical articles relating to worship…

…that the Symbol [Creed] is not to be considered only with regard to the words, but as to the sense (because, as Hilary says, ‘The Scriptures do not consist in the reading but in the understanding,’ Ad Constantium Augustum, II,9 [PL 10.570]; and ‘fundamentals are not found in the words but in the sense,’ as Jerome says).  Therefore although heretics may say that they receive the Symbol, yet they do not because they reject its true and genuine sense.” – p. 53

“XXV.  The question concerning the number of fundamental articles which our adversaries have proposed, besides being rash (since Scripture says nothing definitely about it) is also useless and unnecessary because there is no need of our knowing particularly the number of such articles, if we can prove that they err fundamentally in one or more.  And this can be done easily with regard to the papists, Socinians, Anabaptists and similar heretics.” – p. 54

Hopkins, Ezekiel – ‘What These Things are that Accompany Salvation’  in VI. ‘A Discourse on the State & Way of Salvation’  in Miscellaneous Sermons  in Works  (d. 1690), vol. 3, pp. 452-559

Hopkins (d. 1690) was an Anglican divine and bishop in the Church of Ireland.

Edwards, Jonathan – A Brief Vindication of the Fundamental Articles of the Christian Faith, as also of the Clergy, Universities & Public Schools, from Mr. [John] Lock’s Reflections upon Them in his Book of Education, etc.: with Some Animadversions on Two Other Late Pamphlets, viz., of Mr. Bold & a Nameless Socinian Writer  (London, 1697)

Edwards (1637–1716) was a reformed, Anglican divine.



Witsius, Herman – Sacred Dissertations, on What is Commonly Called the Apostles’ Creed  tr. Donald Fraser  (Edinburgh, 1823), vol. 1

Dissertation 2, ‘On Fundamental Articles’, pp. 16-33  ToC

Dissertation 3, ‘On Saving Faith’, pp. 34-68  ToC

Waterland, Daniel – ‘A Discourse of Fundamentals, being the Substance of Two Charges Delivered to the Middlesex Clergy…’  (1734-5)  in The Works of the Rev. Daniel Waterland, D.D….  (Oxford, 1823), vol. 8, pp. 85-125

Waterland was an Anglican clergyman and theologian who opposed latitudinarianism and Deism, and defended in numerous writings the orthodox view of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ.

Wikipedia:  “Its professed aim is to determine a basis for intercommunion among various Christian bodies. It dates from 1734-5 and takes a High Church line.

The treatment is quite academic.  Waterland enumerates no less than ten different views on the selection of articles, which he rejects as inadequate.  “We have”, he says, “almost as many different rules for determinating fundamentals as there are different sects or parties.””

De Moor, Bernard – A Continuous Commentary on John Marck’s Compendium of Didactic and Elenctic Christian Theology, vol. 1  Buy  (Leiden, 1761-71), ch. 3, ‘On Religion’

Section 6, ‘Knowledge as a Necessary Act of Religion’

Section 7, ‘Is Universal Doubt Necessary for the Knowledge of God?’

Sections 7-8 are against Cartesianism.  Cartesianism had heavily influenced reformed thought by the time of De Moor.

Section 8, ‘Is Clear & Distinct Perception Necessary for the Knowledge of God?’

Section 9, ‘Definition of ‘Fundamental Articles”

Sections 10-11, ‘Controversy with Rome over Fundamental Articles’, pt. 1, 2

Section 12, ‘The Criteria for Fundamental Articles’

Section 13, ‘Reduction of Fundamental Articles to Heads’

Sections 14-15, ‘Controversy concerning the Number of Fundamental Articles’, pt. 1, 2

Section 16, ‘The Necessary, Genuine Sense of the Articles’

Section 17, ‘Things Opposed to True Religion in General: Impiety and Superstition’

Section 17, ‘Denial of Fundamentals–Heresy’, pt. 1, 2, 3

Section 17, ‘Schism’, ‘Error’ & ‘Apostasy’

Section 18, ‘General Marks Differentiating True and False Religion’

Section 19, ‘Specific Marks Differentiating True & False Religion’

Section 20, ‘The Free Confession of True Religion’ & ‘The Prudent Confession of True Religion’

Section 20, ‘Against Religious Syncretism’, pt. 1, 2

Section 21, ‘Tolerance’




Wilson, Thomas – An Exposition of the Two First Verses of the Sixth Chapter to the Hebrews, in Form of a Dialogue. Wherein you have a Commendation of Catechizing, also a Declaration of the Six Fundamental Principles wherein the Christians of the Primitive Apostolical Church were Catechized  (London, 1600)

Wilson (1563-1622) was a reformed Anglican.

Chillingworth, William – The Religion of Protestants, a Safe Way to Salvation  a new & complete edition  (Oxford, 1638; London, 1888)  ToC

Chillingworth (1602-1644) was an Arminian, Anglican who had difficulty in affirming the 39 Articles and believed that clauses in the Athanasian Creed are false.  He had an insufficient view of the Sabbath. 

While Arminians tended to be very lax regarding secondary matters of Christianity (and even fundamentals), as far as doctrinal uniformity, Chillingworth’s work above is valuable for the sheer amount of information on the subject, especially from Church history.

Wikipedia:  “His major work was an intervention in another controversy, undertaken in defence of Christopher Potter [Arminian, Laudian], Provost of The Queen’s College, Oxford, against the Jesuit Edward Knott.  Potter had replied in 1633 to Knott’s Charity Mistaken (1630), and Knott retaliated with Mercy and Truth, which Chillingworth attempted to answer.  Knott brought out a preemptive pamphlet tending to show that Chillingworth was a Socinian.  Chillingworth wrote The Religion of Protestants…  [William] Laud, now Archbishop of Canterbury, was anxious about Chillingworth’s reply to Knott, and at his request it was examined by Richard BailyJohn Prideaux, and Samuel Fell, and published with their approval in 1637…

The main argument is a vindication of the sole authority of the Bible in spiritual matters, and of the free right of the individual conscience to interpret it.  In the preface Chillingworth expresses his new view about subscription to the articles.  “For the Church of England,” he there says, “I am persuaded that the constant doctrine of it is so pure and orthodox, that whosoever believes it, and lives according to it, undoubtedly he shall be saved, and that there is no error in it which may necessitate or warrant any man to disturb the peace or renounce the communion of it.  This, in my opinion, is all intended by subscription.

The gist of his argument is expressed in a single sentence:

“I am fully assured that God does not, and therefore that men ought not to, require any more of any man than this, to believe the Scripture to be God’s Word, and to endeavor to find the true sense of it, and to live according to it.”

In this way he bypassed the debate on the fundamental articles, a bone of contention between the Catholic and Protestant approaches.”

Wikipedia, ‘Fundamental articles’:  “Potter says:  “By Fundamental doctrines we mean such Catholique verities as are to be distinctly believed by every Christian that shall be saved”.

Knott showed how discrepant were the views of leading Protestants as to what was fundamental…  Chillingworth, who replied to him, while defining fundamental articles in a manner similar to Potter, conceded that it was impossible to draw up any list of fundamental doctrines [this is similar to Rutherford’s conclusion in the summary quote below].  He urged indeed that this mattered little, since the Bible constitutes the religion of Protestants, and he who accepts the Bible knows that he has accepted all the essentials of the Faith.”

D’Huisseau, Isaac – The Re-Union of Christians: or, The Means to Re-Unite All Christians in One Confession of Faith  (1670; London : Henry Mortlock, 1708)  148 pp.  ToC

D’Huisseau (1607-1672) was a rector of the reformed academy in Saumur, France.  The appendix says, “though, twas never certainly known who was the Author of it, yet twas with great probability conjectured that Mr. D’Huisseau, one of the ministers of Samur had the chief hand in it.”

The stated goal in the title is no doubt a good ideal, and the book has many helpful Scriptural principles and material in it.  However, part 3, ch. 3, is titled, ‘ That we ought to be guided by no other light but such an one as is known and generally approved of by all Christians.’  What that light is, for the author, is the Apostles’ Creed, which appears to be what he is holding out as, at least, the initial basis for Church unity.  This though, for him, appears to be the starting point, as he also states and presses that persons ought to believe whatsoever is clearly revealed in Scripture, which then becomes a further basis for progressive doctrinal maturity and Church communion.

D’Huisseau says on p. 110:

“But as for those doctrines which treat of the eternal decrees of God, which set out the particular objects of predestination, and explain how the two natures are united in the Person of Jesus Christ, which unfold the mystery of the Trinity, and describe how the Holy Spirit acts upon the hearts of the faithful, and other points of the like abstruse nature, I will maintain that though learned men may say a great many fine things upon these subjects, which may appear very agreeable to reason, yet are they not to be weighed in the same balance with those truths which are clearly revealed in the Word of God.

And therefore we ought only so far to assent to them, as to be ready to give them up, and renounce them whenever it appears, and is plainly proved, that they are false; for otherwise we lay a foundation for division.”

The list of doctrines that D’Huisseau gives probably has some reference to scholasticism, the lapsarian question, the Saumurian theology, Lutheranism (with respect to the ubiquity of Christ’s human nature) and Arminianism (in how the Holy Spirit works upon the heart).  The mention of explaining how the Person of Christ is in two natures and the mystery of the Trinity may leave open all of the heresies that the councils of Chalcedon and Nicea corrected, as all of those heresies could yet affirm the Apostles’ Creed (in their own sense).

A further significant qualifier is that the English translator and publisher, in 1708, stated his view and goal in this way (Appendix, p. 14):

“Why truly, after all other means have been used, and costly experiments tried, I believe none will be found more successful, than to maintain the established [Anglican] Church in all its rights, privileges and revenues, keeping close to the constitution which has been so long settled and naturalized to us, supporting it on its ancient basis, without making any material alteration, and hereby sapping the foundation on which ’tis built; but taking care that those who differ from it really on principle, they shall be easy, by granting them such a limited toleration and liberty that they may rest secure [that] they shall not suffer merely for conscience sake, whilst they behave themselves peaceably under the government, and do not make use of any pretended difference in opinion to disturb the peace of the State or the established Church.”



Ridgley, Thomas – An Essay Concerning Truth & Charity, in Two Parts, Containing, I. An Enquiry Concerning Fundamental Articles of Faith, and the Necessity of Adhering to Them in Order to Church-Communion; 2. Some Historical Remarks on the Behavior of the Jews & Primitive Christians towards those who had either Departed from the Faith, or by any Other Offenses Rendered Themselves Liable to Excommunication…  (London, 1721)  96 pp.

Ridgley (c. 1667–1734) was known for his commentary on Westminster Larger Catechism, though he is not wholly trustworthy on this issue.  Ridgley was an English, Independent dissenter (Independents were generally more lax regarding the necessity of secondary teachings for various levels of Church communion than presbyterians).

“…his scheme of the Trinity, denuded of the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit, is essentially Sabellian, and in easing the difficulties of Calvinism he follows the Socinians in limiting the penalties of Adam’s sin to death and temporal discomfort.” – Wikipedia


Latin Article

Voet, Gisbert – Select Theological Disputations  (Utrecht: Waesberg, 1648 / 1655)

8. ‘The New Jesuit Skepticism about the Principles of the Christian Faith’, vol. 1, pp. 106-114

34. ‘Of Fundamental Articles & Errors’, vol. 2, pp. 511-39



Quotes on the Fundamentals

Johannes Maccovius

Maccovius, John – Scholastic Discourse: The Distinctions & Rules of Theology & Philosophy  Buy  (1644), ch. 16, ‘On the Church’

“8. The Church can fail in respect of its faith or its morals.  Regarding morals there is no doubt and regarding faith it is certain. The apostles erred in the doctrine of Christ’s resurrection and Christ’s kingdom, which are both articles of faith.

9. It is also possible that the Church errs in its foundation, but it does not err tenaciously or until the end.  This is evident in the apostles, who erred in the fundamental doctrine concerning the resurrection.”


Samuel Rutherford

Due Right of Presbyteries (1644), pt. 2

pp. 229-230

“2. [John] Robinson [a Separatist] says, ‘fundamental truths are holden 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?’

[Rutherford’s] 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 be 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 is a thousand Gods whom they adore, and though they teach [that] there is one Mediator, yet do they substitute infinite Mediators with and besides Christ, so that the truth is, not a formal, ministerial and visible active external calling is in the Church of Rome, as it is a visible Church, in the which we can safely remain, though fundamentals be safe in Rome, and the books of the Old and New Testament be 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 be ministerially in Rome, they be destructive of the foundation, though there be some ministerial acts valid in that Church, for the which the Church of Rome is called a true Church, [in Greek], in some respect, according to something essential to the true Church, yet never sine adjecto [without the adjunct], 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 [ecclesiastically, ministerially, pastorally], in a Church way, so as by believing these from their chairs so exponed, they can be saved who do believe them.”


p. 242

“Papists, Anabaptists, idolaters, are disavowed by us, and from them we separate, because though they profess the true God as Edom did, yet they closely do evert the fundamentals; neither we, nor the reformed Churches, in words or by consequence, do evert the fundamentals and necessary points of salvation…”


A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church-Discipline Penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker  (1658), Book 1, ch. 21, pp. 119-120

“2.  Such a Baptism that is valid, as touching the substance of the seal, as is in Rome: such a Church according to the meta­physic entity and being of a Church, is Rome a Ministerial Church, teaching necessary fundamentals, though darkening and contradicting all; but it is not morally a true Church, but leprous and unclean.  See what Junius, Whitaker, Calvin and Ri­vetus say hereupon…”



On Secondary Teachings


Rutherford, Samuel

The Due Right of Presbyteries  (1644), pt. 2

Ch. 6, Section 5, ‘Three other ways of communion of sister Churches’, Appendix

Erroneous Opinions Concerning God & his Worship, though not in Fundamentals, is Censurable  363-4

A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience…  (1649)

Ch. 6, ‘Errors in Non-Fundamentals, Obstinately Held [& Taught], are Punishable [both by Church & a Christian State]’

Ch. 10, ‘Of Indulgence in Fundamental or Non-fundamental Errors’

De Moor, Bernard – A Continuous Commentary on John Marck’s Compendium of Didactic and Elenctic Christian Theology, vol. 1  Buy  (Leiden, 1761-71), ch. 3, ‘On Religion’

Section 17, ‘Schism’

Section 20, ‘Against Religious Syncretism’, pt. 2

Section 21, ‘Tolerance’



George Gillespie

A Late Dialogue Betwixt a Civilian & a Divine Concerning the Present Condition of the Church of England…  (London, 1644)

pp. 9-11


…the voice of his rods, and the voice of their own consciences telling them that He has somewhat against them: that He heals not the breaches of the land because they heal not the breach of the daughter of Sion: that He makes the success of the war to halt because they halt betwixt two, or rather many opinions.


I do fully agree with you if all this be understood of the fundamentals of faith and religion, and the power of godliness.  But if so be you mean of the government and discipline of the Church, then you make mountains of molehills, and put Hercules shoe upon an infant’s foot, while you hold that God is not pleased and that the kingdom cannot be blessed unless the order and discipline of the Church be established so and so as you would have it.

I do not acknowledge either the episcopal way, or the presbyterial, or the congregational to be jure divino [by divine law], but that all things of that kind are left in such an indifferency that they may be molded and fashioned diversely according to the different forms and constitutions of commonwealths, and altered as much and as often as each State shall find most convenient for itself.  If you can convince me that I am in an error, go to; let me hear your reasons.


I shall endeavor by God’s assistance to satisfy you.  But first of all let me use this humble liberty with you once to put you in mind of the apostle’s premonition, ‘Let no man deceive himself: if any man among you seem to be wise in this world, let him become a fool that he may be wise.’ (1 Cor. 3:18)  He that most denies his own natural judgment in supernatural verities, and is not conformed to this world, but is transformed by the renewing of his mind shall best prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom. 12:2)  Absque te sapere, est desipere.  ‘O Lord,’ says Augustine, ‘to be wise without thee, is to be mad.’

Do not therefore measure Scriptural truths, by political principles, but contrariwise, and let your judgement be unbiased and unprejudiced when light is set before you.  And whereas it seems to you a venial thing, if not altogether lawful to take a latitude in all such things as are not substantial (though Scriptural) truths, and may (you conceive) admit a variation upon State-considerations.  Remember I beseech you that it is the pleasure of God to take notice of, yea purposely to try our obedience, Etiam in minimis [Even in little things]: ‘For he that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in much, and he that is unjust in the least, is unjust also in much.’ (Lk. 16:10)

How was the Lord offended with Jeroboam’s setting up of altars at Dan and Bethel: yea even with the kings of Judah, for not taking away the high places, though Jeroboam might have pleaded that it was extremely dangerous (in regard of the war betwixt him and Rehoboam) that his subjects should go up to Jerusalem to sacrifice unto the Lord there.  And the kings of Judah might plead that it was too burdensome for all the people to be tied to go to Jerusalem with their sacrifices: that God would have mercy and not sacrifice; especially considering that they held the foundation, and sacrificed to the Lord only; And this variation from the law of Moses, being in no substantial thing, but only in the circumstance of place.  In like manner Jeroboam thought not fit to have the feast of Tabernacles upon the fifteenth day of the seventh month, but upon the fifteenth day of the eight month, when the fruits of the earth were more fully gathered in: he would observe the feast according to the law in all the substantials, but would not be tied to the circumstance of time.  But God does utterly reject his worship (1 Kings 12:33), because Jeroboam had devised it of his own heart.

If therefore the will of Jesus Christ can be made to appear from his Word, even concerning the form of Church-government and discipline, and ceremonies of worship, that thus and thus He would have us to do, will you then quarrel at these things, because stamped with a jus divinum?  Will you draw out your neck from this yoke, because it is Christ’s yoke?  Will you submit and obey because these things are ordinances of parliament, and you will not submit because they are ordinances of Christ?”


pp. 30-31


“But tell me now your opinion of another matter, and that is concerning liberty of conscience, and toleration of heretics and sectaries, for which there are so many books written of late…


This question about the toleration of those whose way is different from the common rule which shall be established, must be both stated and resolved, cum grano salis [with a grain of salt].  We must remember to distinguish persons from corporations or Churches, and both these from errors.

Again, to distinguish persons, whether godly and gracious, or loose and libertine, whether moderate and peaceable, or factious and turbulent; whether such as have deserved well of the public, or such as have done either no service or a disservice.  To distinguish corporation, whether the question be of such only as have a present existence, or of all who shall join to such a way afterward.  To distinguish errors, whether practical or doctrinal only, whether fundamental, or circa-fundamental, or neither of the two.  To distinguish toleration, whether absolute, or hypothetical and conditional, whether anywhere, or in some few certain places only, whether indefinite and general, or limited and bounded, and if bounded, how far and how much: Whether such toleration as may stand with the Solemn League and Covenant, or such as is inconsistent therewith; whether such as is profitable for the public peace, or such as is apparently destructive thereto.”


A Treatise of Miscellany Questions...  (Edinburgh, 1649), ch. 9. ‘What is Meant in Scripture by the Word ‘Heresies’…’

1. Heresy is neither to be so far taken at large as to be extended to every error which may be confuted by Scripture, although happily such an error be too tenaciously maintained. Nor yet is it to be so far restricted as that no error shall be accounted heretical, but that which is destructive to some fundamental article of the Christian faith, if by a fundamental article you understand such a truth without the knowledge and faith whereof, ’tis impossible to get salvation.  When Peter Martyr defines heresy, he makes no mention of a fundamental error, but of an error contrary to the Scriptures (Common Places, class. 2, ch. 4, § 50; So Calvin, Instit., bk. 4, ch. 2, § 5, understands all such to be heretics as make a breach in the Church by false doctrines.  Walaeus, tome 1, p. 57 says, heretical Churches do either err in the foundation, or only in some other things built upon the foundation.  When Peter speaks of such heresies as take away the very foundation, Jesus Christ, he thinks it too little to call them simple heresies, but he calls these damnable heresies.

But if you understand by fundamental truths, all the chief and substantial principles (I do not mean only the first rudiments, or A, B, C, of a catechism, which we first of all put to new beginners, but I mean all such truths as are commonly put in the confessions of faith, and in the more full and large catechisms of the reformed Churches, or all such truths, as all and every one who live in a true Christian reformed Church, are commanded, and required to learn and know, as they expect in the ordinary dispensation of God to be saved) in this sense, I may yield that heresy is always contrary to some fundamental truth.

‘Tis one thing to dispute of the absolute sovereign power of God, and what are the truths, without the belief whereof ’tis absolutely, and altogether impossible that one can be saved: Which question (I doubt) is hardly determinable by Scripture, nor do I know what edification there is in the canvassing of it; sure I am ’tis a question much abused.  ‘Tis another thing to dispute what are these truths, which in a Church where the Gospel is truly preached, all and every one (come to years of knowledge and discretion) and having means and occasions to learn, are bound to know (and according to the revealed will and ordinary dispensation of God) must learn, as they desire or expect to have a true fellowship with Christ in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or to be accepted of God, and saved eternally.”


Robert Bolton

The Arraignment of Error...  (1646)

p. 40

“Grace embraces all truths, rejects all error.  God would have all saved by coming to the knowledge of the truth.”


p. 51

“But mistake me not, I speak not this of all kind of errors in judgement, what man is he that errs not?  All errors are sinful, but all errors are not damning: all errors are hurtful, but all errors are not destructive and undoing errors.

I told you there were some errors which were building errors, and some which were fundamental errors: as the apostle speaks, 1 Cor. 3:10-12, etc.  In the one the work shall be burnt, in the other the workman.  One shall be saved, but so saved as by fire, the other shall be destroyed in fire; work and workman, person and errors shall perish together, 1 Cor. 3:13-15.”


p. 164

“Conclusion 1.  The appearing-holiness of those who hold an opinion is not enough to demonstrate it a truth.  A man may be in a dangerous (I had like to have said, damning) error, and yet to the view of men appearingly-holy.  Many men have put on a form of godliness, and shew of holiness, till they have gotten strength and power enough to back them in their opinions, and then they have discovered the venom of their spirits, and let loose their spirits to those corrupt ways which their erroneous understandings did lead them to.”


p. 166

Conclusion 2.  That a real and approved holiness is a sure-note that the error which they hold is not a damning, destroying error.

I say, though the holiness of those men that maintain an opinion, be not a sure note that the opinion they maintain is a truth, yet it is a certain evidence that it is not an undoing and destructive error.  Christ says that the elect shall not be deceived, Mt. 24:24, that is, though they may be carried aside with some sinful, yet they shall not be drawn away with undoing errors.

And we have all the harmony of Scripture for that:  He tells us that they who do his will, shall know his doctrine, that we shall all be taught of God, that we shall hear his voice, and shall not follow the voice of strangers, and that we have received an anointing of the holy One, whereby we know all things.  All which places are to be understood of necessary truths, not accessory; of truths that are essential and fundamental, not circumstantial: and it proves fully to us that God will never give up his holy ones to undoing errors.  That’s the second answer; that holiness is a sure note, that the opinions which they hold (though an error) yet it is not a damning and destroying error.”



Secondary Teaching:  on Church Government


The following in Turretin occurs after he spends 26 elaborate sections explaining why episcopalianism is wrong.  Contrary to the way some may take what he says, it does not appear to be a concession from divine right presbyterianism, but rather is consistent with how secondary matters are to be handled according to Scripture and the consensus of reformed teaching on this webpage.

The Church of Scotland reformed Church government according to the Word of God and became presbyterian from early on in her reformation.  When she did contend for presbyterianism and made a disturbance about it, it was when presbyterianism had already been established, but she was under episcopal pride and tyranny, or fending off the Independents from changing the government.  Yet the Church of Scotland had cordial relations with other national Churches differing from them in Church government.

In England, where presbyterianism chose to make a disturbance about the form of Church government, it was again under the dominating pride and tyranny of episcopacy.

But as seen in Switzerland with Beza and Turretin, where episcopacy was not exercised in such pride and tyranny, they did not make a disturbance about it, for the overall good and well-being of the Church.  Secondary matters, in general, are only to be reformed when it is with the consent of the people and officers, and contributes to the overall good and health of the Church.  Church government only has power to edification, and none to the detriment of the Church.

Episcopal bishops were considered by presbyterians to be an illegitimate office, yet the bishops, by definition, also simultaneously held the functions and office of pastors, which was valid.  As the bishops had the consent of the teaching ministry, Church and State, as well as the people, so they yet validly held governing positions in the Church, though impurely.  As far as the presbyterian minded ministers offering subjection to the bishops acting as bishops above the other ministers, such is a form of passive-obedience (material obedience to something without authority from God).  Such passive-obedience, though, could be right and godly in many circumstances if done for right ends, such as the long term welfare of the Church, and further reform with time and the willing consent of the consciences of the people.


Francis Turretin

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 18.21.27

“XXVII. Although we believe that the presbyterian order and parity (isotimian) or equality of pastors received among us approaches nearer to the institution of Christ and the apostles and the practice of the apostolic church, still we are unwilling to disturb anyone on this subject or to condemn the usage of the evangelical and Reformed churches, who retain the episcopal government so far, as more suitable to the genius and morals and political form of government of their people and more useful for good order (eutaxian) and the exercise of discipline. Provided there be always absent Babylonian pride and papal tyranny and this order be acknowledged as of ecclesiastical, not of divine right.

But in turn we expect that equity and moderation from our brethren who differ from us here, so that they do not presume to condemn by a decretory sentence as schismatics and destitute of a lawful calling other churches differing from them and (in accordance with the liberty granted to them by Christ) using the presbyterian form of government as better adapted to their state and to the wishes and customs of their people; but should not cease to embrace them with brotherly affection that the bond of unity and fraternity may always remain unbroken and so with heart and strength joined together the work of God may be carried on to the increase of the kingdom of Christ and the destruction of Antichrist.”


Second Reformation & Westminster History

Kirsteen M. MacKenzie

The Solemn League & Covenant of the Three Kingdoms & the Cromwellian Union, 1643-1663  (Routledge, 2018), ch. 1, pp. 37-8

“Much has been made by historians of the Scots ‘forcing’ their austere brand of religion upon their English brethren.  However, it is clear that Scottish commissioners were aware their role was limited to advising only and that the construction of the Church rested with English members of the Assembly.

Indeed, the Westminster Assembly did invite the Scottish commissioners to become full members of the Assembly, an invitation which the Scots declined, thereby recognising  and respecting England’s right to define its own church government…  The Scots fully encouraged the English to set up a Classical Presbytery based on English tradition and encouraged compromise [or rather a principled accommodation to the Independents].  In response to [the Independent] Philip Nye’s sharp accusation that the Scots had ‘given’ the Assembly a whole system of church government, the Scottish members responded that ‘we were well content the Assembly should take their own order, and not tie themselves to ours.'”



On Tertiary Teachings


Rutherford, Samuel

A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience…  (1649)

Ch. 7, ‘What Opinions may be Tolerated, what Not?’

De Moor, Bernard – Section 17, ‘Error’  in A Continuous Commentary on John Marck’s Compendium of Didactic and Elenctic Christian Theology, vol. 1  Buy  (Leiden, 1761-71), ch. 3, ‘On Religion’



Samuel Bolton

pp. 198-199 of The Arraignment of Error...  (1646)

“Such a man as does not close with an opinion for base respects, nor recede from his principles for worldly respects, either gain or loss, such a man as walks answerable to his opinion, though an error may be said to do this with honesty of heart, without hypocrisy, but yet with a deluded heart, they have a zeal, but yet without knowledge.

When the disciples were sorrowful, because Christ told them he was to go away, Christ says to them, ‘If you loved Me, you would rejoice, I go to my Father’: Certainly they loved Him, they had forsaken all to follow Him, and Christ did neither doubt of their love, nor blame their want of love here.  He blamed their judgements, not their affections; though they loved Him, yet they loved Him not wisely; He blamed their ignorance.  And thus far it holds, men may do things with honest affections, and yet do them ignorantly.  And if you grant not this, what flesh can be saved?

There were many of our fathers that have opposed many things as errors which are the received truths of God; certainly they opposed them with honesty of heart, though not with an understanding heart; the fault was not so much in their heart, as in their head; they did not oppose them out of sinister and corrupt affections, but with honesty of heart, they walked according to their notion of things; and that will serve to demonstrate a man an honest man, though not an upright man, a good Christian; that demonstration must be taken in upon better grounds.

It was said of Asa that notwithstanding the high places were not removed, yet his heart was perfect with the Lord all his days, 1 Kings 15:14, perfect, that is sincere.  A man may have a perfect heart, in this sense, that is, a sincere heart, and yet have many failings in life, nay, and not only many imperfections in his judgement, but some errors too, such as are not damnable fundamental errors, but only circumstantial and lesser; but then these errors must arise from the imperfections of his knowledge, not from the corruption of his heart.  The apostle seems to imply this, Phil. 3:15-16:

As many as be perfect let them be thus minded, and if any be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even that unto them.  Nevertheless whereunto you have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same things.’


James Durham

Treatise on Scandal (1659), ch. 8, ‘When Some Errors are to be Foreborn’, pp. 202-3 & 205-206

“I will not say but sometimes it may be meet to discover the least error, and it may be by circumstances so aggreged that it may be needful judicially to take notice of it, as when it’s involved with offence and ready to breed schism or scandal, or in such like cases (in which respect there are some things mentioned in the decree, Acts 15, which are not very material in themselves, as the eating of things strangled) yet, we say, it is not simply and always necessary for ministers to press at the convincing of all who maintain something different from truth, or which is supposed to be so by them, if it be of things extra-fundamental, or, which have not direct or palpable influence upon the violating of faith, or corrupting of manners, much less to censure for the maintaining of it.

For, it is not of such that these epistles speak: and we see, Rom. 14, and in the epistles to the Corinthians, in the debate about meats and eating of things sacrificed to idols, and such like, wherein though there was still a right side and a wrong, yet does he rather press the forbearing of these debates, than the dipping into them, not astrict∣ing men always to follow this or that, providing it be done without breach of unity and charity.  Hence it is that although there be somethings he will give no forbearance unto, but authoritatively and ministerially he decides in them, yet in the same epistles there is something amongst the saints that he seeks rather to heal, and to obtain mutual forbearance in, than peremptorily to decide.  See Rom. 14:1; Cor. 8:2-3, etc.; Phil. 2:3.

…there may be somethings truly errors that may and should be forborne [tolerated] in themselves, yet their consequents ought not to be forborne, and this also may be at one time, and in one Church more necessary to be adverted to than in another, because consequents of schism, faction, division, etc. may sometimes follow on the meanest [the least] errors.

And seeing these are always enemies to edification, even when they arise from the least ground, they are never absolutely to be foreborne; for to say, I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos, and for one to think such a man a better preacher than another, seems to be no great matter; yet when it begins to rent [tear] them, and to make factions in Corinth, it is not to be forborne, but to be reproved: And in the former difference of meats, the apostle condemns always the offence and schism that followed on it, although he did not peremptorily decide anything as to men’s practices, or censure for the opinion itself…

Thus the differences and errors concerning Church-government by bishops, and in the Congregational way, may, we conceive, in themselves be forborne in persons where they are not vented to the shaking and drawing away of others; but if pressed in practice, to the renting of a Church, and preferred or equalled to the true government that is established by the Word, in that case they are not to be foreborn, because then truth is to be vindicated, and obstructions to edification in the renting or distracting of a Church to be removed, and at one time more than at another, as such an offence does waken a schism, and disturb order and union in one Church or at one time more than another: hence we see, Acts 15, some things are put in that decree in reference to that time, only for preventing of schism and scandal…”


Latin Articles

Mestrezat, Phillipe – Theological Theses on Christian Endurance [Tolerantia] with Brothers Dissenting in Things Other than [or Beyond, Praeter] Fundamentals, Part 1, where the State of the Controversy is Unfolded & a Bearing With [Tolerantia] is Proved, the Precepts of Sacred Scripture having being Examined  (Geneva, 1663)  20 pp.

Mestrezat (1620-1690) was a reformed professor of philosophy and theology at Geneva, Switzerland, who sympathized with the doctrines of the French reformed academy at Saumur.  Mestrezat has been said to have been Amyrauldian.  His professorship in theology at Geneva (1649-90) overlapped with that of Turretin (1653-87).

“The Reformed orthodox generally also note…  three kinds of doctrinal error:  1. errors against a fundamental article…  2. errors around a fundamental or in indirect contradiction to it…  3. errors beyond a fundamental article (praeter fundamentum)…

The third category of error does not address fundamental articles directly or indirectly but rather involves faith in problematic and curious questions…  that do not arise out of the revealed Word–hay and stubble!–and that, because of their curiosity and vanity, constitute diversions from and impediments to salvation. (Rijssen, Summa, I.xiii; cf. Turretin, Inst. theol., I.xiv.9)” – Muller, PRRD (2003) 1.422-23



The Distinctions & Conclusions of Witsius & Rutherford


The 21 Distinctions & Conclusions of Witsius

From the English editor’s table of contents to Witsius’s, Dissertation 2, ‘On Fundamental Articles’  ToC  in Sacred Dissertations, on What is Commonly Called the Apostles’ Creed  tr. Donald Fraser  (Edinburgh, 1823), vol. 1  The links below open up the section where it is discussed more at length.

1. Whether all the necessary articles, & those only, are contained in the [Apostles’] Creed?

2. An article may be said to be necessary: (1) to salvation, (2) to religion, or (3) to the Church

3. The knowledge of necessary articles is either more or less explicit

4. A greater measure of knowledge is required under the New, than under the Old dispensation

5. Nothing ought to be deemed a fundamental article which cannot be found in Scripture

6. And which is not clearly stated there

7. That only is to be held fundamental, without which neither faith nor repentance can exist

8. That also is evidently a fundamental article, to the rejection of which, God has annexed a threatening of destruction

9. Every thing is not fundamental to which a promise of life is annexed

10. But that is fundamental which the Scripture calls a foundation

11. And that, without which, what is necessary can be neither believed nor known

12. In the end, that which the nature of the things shows to be no less, or even more necessary, than that which is propounded as such in holy writ

13. A distinction betwixt these marks of fundamental articles

14. An equally distinct knowledge of necessary articles is not indispensably requisite in all

15. To determine the number of fundamental articles is either impossible or extremely difficult

16. Nor is it necessary, either with respect to individuals

17. Or with respect to the whole Church

18. All the necessary articles are not contained in the Creed

19. In what sense some may have said that all necessary points are contained in the Creed

20. Nor are all the articles included in it, necessary

21. Yet such articles are not improperly inserted in Creeds



Rutherford’s Distinctions 

The Due Right of Presbyteries…  (1644), pt. 2, ch. 4, section 5, p. 221 ff.

3 Distinctions about Matters of Faith

“Matters of faith I reduce to three:

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

For præter 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.”


2 Distinctions about 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.”


3 Distinctions about Things Around 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.  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 [by a necessity of precept], 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 [are] in the regenerate, by accident; such errors condemn not [to damnation] 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…”


4 Distinctions about Fundamentals

“(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, 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.”



A Summary of Rutherford’s 9 Distinctions about Fundamentals  by T. Fentiman

1. Acts of Disbelieving Fundamentals vs. the Habit of Believing Them

2. Believing Contradictory Intellectual Consequences from Fundamentals, & Scrupling at Them vs. the Faith of Guessing & Defending Such Overturning Errors

3. Firm, Explicit Faith in All the Fundamentals vs. Ignorance of Some, yet with a Believing Disposition Towards the Others when Clearly Revealed in the Word

4. The Necessity of Explicit Belief in Principal Fundamentals vs. Non-Repugnancy to Lesser Fundamentals that One is Ignorant of, yet has a Believing Disposition to

5. Faith can be Implicit in (1) Respect of Degrees; (2) the Object, God, is Most Certain; (3) the Adherence of our Faith in Understanding & Affections Must Exclude Doubting; the Highest Measure of Positive Certainty is Not Required of All, though Christian Certitude & Fulness of Persuasion is Required of All Christians, Though Many be Saved with Less.  The Implicit Faith of Romanists, in the Will & Affections, Does Not Save, but Condemns.

6. (1) Those who Believe Fundamental Heresies, Believing Them to be True, out of Ignorance, vs. (2) Those who Defend Fundamental Heresies, vs. (3) Those who Teach Them & Obtrude Them upon the Consciences of Others.

7. Hating Fundamentals vs. Subverting Them by Consequence

8. Agreement in the Profession of Fundamentals, in Erroneous & Contradictory Senses vs. What Essentially Constitutes the True Religion & a True Church

9. Material Knowledge (vs. Articulation) of Fundamentals is Necessary to Salvation vs. What Measure of Knowledge & Determinate Number of Fundamentals Constitutes a Sound Believer & a True Visible Church vs. the Obligation to Separate from a Church Retaining the Fundamentals, but Forcing one to Believe or Practice in Ways that Overturn the Foundation of Faith.



Rutherford’s  Conclusion

“9th Distinction:  Though the knowledge of fundamentals be necessary to salvation, yet it cannot easily be defined what measure of knowledge of fundamentals, and what determinate number of fundamentals does constitute a true visible Church and a sound believer, as the learned [Gisbert] Voetius says.  Hence:

1.  They are saved who soundly believe all fundamentals materially, though they cannot distinctly know them under the reduplication [term] of fundamentals, nor define what are fundamentals, what not.

2.  Though a Church retain the fundamentals, yet if we be forced to avow and believe as truth doctrines everting the foundation of faith, against the article of one God; if we must worship as many Gods as there be [Roman mass] hosts, if Christ’s Kingly, Priestly and Prophetical office be overturned, as we were forced in Popery to do, we are to separate from the Church in that case.”



Rutherford’s 9 Distinctions & Conclusion

The Due Right of Presbyteries  (1644), pt. 2, ch. 4, section 5, pp. 224-29

“1st Distinction [Act vs. Habit].  One may believe that Christ is the Son of God by a divine faith, as Peter does, Mt. 16:17, and yet doubt of the necessary consequences-fundamental.  Therefore Christ must bee 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 act, and yet remain in grace, in habitu [by a latent disposition], 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, Jn. 20:8-9, in an act of weakness, and yet have saving faith in Christ, as it is like[ly] many of 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.

2nd Distinction [Contradictory Intellectual Consequences & Scruples vs. Guessing & Defending Such]:  A simple Papist and a Lutheran, not well educated, do believe, 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 hold 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 betwixt Christ’s humanity and this monster of transubstantiation not being possible, all the error may be merely philosophic, 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 do 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 a scruple.

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.

3rd Distinction [Firm, explicit faith in fundamentals vs. ignorance of some, yet with a believing disposition].  There is a certitude of adherence-formal, and a certitude of adherence virtual.  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 bee clearly revealed out of the Word, so Luke 24, Christ exponed the resurrection and the articles of Christ’s sufferings and glorification, vv. 25-27, to the disciples who doubted of these before, and yet had saving faith of other fundamental points, Mt. 16:17-18.

4th Distinction [Principal vs. Lesser Fundamentals, with Non-Repugnancy].  Hence there be 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 [Apostles’] 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.  2. 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-fundamentals, as deduced from these; yea there be some articles of the Creed principally fundamental, these all are explicitly to be believed, noted by [Peter] Vermigilius Martyr (bk. 2, ch. 4) and [David] Pareus [Prolegomenna in Commentary on Hosea, Questio 4]: as that Christ died and rose again, etc.  Other articles are but modi articulorum fundamentalium [a mode 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 borne 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 [out of the necessity of a command], because God commands them, but happily non necessitate medii [not by a necessity of means].  It is possible many be 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.

5th Distinction [How Faith can be Implicit & How Not].  The faith of fundamentals is [can be] implicit 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]; 3. In respect of believing upon a false ground, as for [believing doctrine solely for] miracles [and not ultimately because it is God’s Word].

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

[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 scholar, for all the body cannot be an eye, 1 Cor. 12:17, yet is a Christian certitude and fulness of persuasion required even of all Christians, Col. 2:2; Col. 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 the means, necessitate medii, as Beza and Doctor Ames teach (Beza, vol. 1, opul., p. 141; Ames, De Cust., bk. 4, ch. 2, q. 3).

[3. continued] There is a faith of fundamentals implicit in respect of the will and affections, which Papists make a wide faith, as the Jesuit Becanus (2nd part, de Vtui. Theolog., ch. 2, q. 3) think[s] to believe these [are the] two fundamentals, 1. That there is a God; 2. That this God has a providence concerning men’s salvation, though other particulars be not known.  Or implicit faith is, says Estius (bk. 3, d. 25, q. 2), when any is ready to believe what the Church shall teach; which faith (Suarez says, de Trip., disp. virt. Theolo., 13, section 8), though it include ignorance, yet keeps men from the danger of 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 (22, q. 2, art. 5).

6th Distinction [Those who believe fundamental heresies out of ignorance, defend them or teach & obtrude them].  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, haereticos nescientes, ignorant heretics, as the Marcionites and the Manicheans, and these the Church should tolerate while they be instructed (Dialogue, p. 7, bk. 4, ch. 3)

It is true the Jesuit Meratius says (De Fide, dist. 24, section 4, n. 7-8) 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 rejecting.  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 tentation [trial or temptation] may doubt of one fundamental, as the disciples doubted of the resurrection, Jn. 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.

7th Distinction [Hate vs. to Subvert by Consequence].  It is one thing to hate a fundamental point, 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 the wonder of Transubstantiation, yet do not they hate this conclusion formally, that Christ is true man.

8th Distinction [Agreement in Profession of Fundamentals, in Erroneous Senses vs. True Religion].  Though it were true which Doctor Christopher Potter [an Arminian, Laudian Anglican] 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.’ (Charity Mistaken, ch. 8, s. 7, p. 235)

I say, though this were true, yet will it not follow that these few fundamentals received by all Christians, Papists, Lutherans, Arians, Verstians, Sabellians, Macedonians, Nestorians, Eutychanes, Socinians, Anabaptists, Treithitae [Tritheists], Antitrinitarii (for all these be Christians and validly baptized) do essentially constitute a true Church and a true religion:

[1.] Because all Christians agree that the Old and New Testament is 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 Testament, and these few uncontroverted points received universally by all Christians are not God’s Word, as all these Christians expone 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 Treithitae say there be three Gods, yet are the Treithitae Christians in the sense of Doctor Potter:

So that one principal, as that There is one God, and Christ is God and man, and God is only to be adored, not one of these are uncontraverted, in respect [that] every society of sectaries have contrary expositions upon these common fundamentals, and so [they have] contrary religions.  Who doubts but all Christians will subscribe and swear with us Protestants the Apostolic Creed, but will it follow that all Christians are of one true religion, and do believe the same fundamentals?

[2.] Now these fundamentals are the object of faith according as they signify things.  To us and to the Treithitae 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 Treithitae 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 Testament, as all Christians will do, and this day do.

9th Distinction:  Though the knowledge of fundamentals be necessary to salvation, yet it cannot easily be defined what measure of knowledge of fundamentals, and what determinate number of fundamentals does constitute a true visible Church and a sound believer, as the learned [Gisbert] Voetius says.  Hence:

1.  They are saved who soundly believe all fundamentals materially, though they cannot distinctly know them under the reduplication [term] of fundamentals, nor define what are fundamentals, what not.

2.  Though a Church retain the fundamentals, yet if we be forced to avow and believe as truth, doctrines everting the foundation of faith, against the article of one God; if we must worship as many Gods as there be [Roman mass] hosts, if Christ’s Kingly, Priestly and Prophetical office be overturned, as we were forced in Popery to do, we are to separate from the Church in that case.”



Towards Union in Secondary & Tertiary Matters



Robert Bolton – pp. 348-360  of The Arraignment of Error...  (1646)

Bolton here at the end of his treatise elaborates on the principle of accommodation, which Gillespie had publicly espoused in Wholesome Severity the year before.

Durham, James – The Dying Man’s Testament…  (1659), pt. 4, see chs. 6-21 in general.

ch. 9, ‘What is to be done in closing doctrinal differences?’

ch. 13, ‘What to do toward uniting in divisions arising from diversity of circumstances in external administrations, & especially arising from Church-government?’

ch. 14 of ‘What is to be done in order to union about divisions concerning doctrinal determinations?’

ch. 15, ‘What shall be done in order to union about such decisions, as have practical consequents following thereon?’

Durham was a Scottish presbtyerian.




Burroughs, Jeremiah – Irenicum [a Peace Token], to the Lovers of Truth & Peace, Heart-Divisions Opened in the Causes & Evils of Them: with Cautions that we may not be Hurt by Them, & Endeavors to Heal Them  (1646; London, 1653)  ToC  IA

Burroughs was an English Independent puritan.  Independents tended to be defective in the weight placed on secondary teachings in regards to ministerial communion and discipline, but the whole book is excellent for its purpose.



George Gillespie

Wholesome Severity Reconciled with Christian Liberty  (London, 1645)  This was printed anonymously.

“There is also a great difference between toleration and accommodation. By accommodation I understand an agreement of dissenters with the rest of the Church in practical conclusions, so that if any difference be, it is in their principles, not in their practices, and so not obvious, apparent and scandalous to people.

I had rather go two miles in an accommodation (yea as many as the word of God will suffer me) than one mile in toleration.  For in that way there is no schism, no rent in Israel, but ‘the Lord one, and his name one.’

In this way [of toleration] there is temple against temple, and altar against altar, Manasseh against Ephraim, and Ephraim against Manasseh, and they both against Judah: a misery from which the Lord deliver us.

I do not deny, but if a safe and happy accommodation is impossible, such a toleration as I have formerly spoken of, is not to be disallowed.  But the accommodation is a more excellent way, and that which is to be rather embraced, yea endeavored for and followed after, according to the apostle’s rule (which Isidorua Pelusiota did long since observe to be the best and happiest way of putting an end to divisions and dissensions in the Church).

Let us therefore as many as be perfect be thus minded: and if in anything ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.  Nevertheless whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing (Phil 3:15-16).”


Alexander Shields

An Enquiry into Church-Communion  (1706)

“Softness of heart in the sense of bygone sin would silence many things among us, that all disputings, writings and printings will not be able to do.  Pray for this to the land, as the most effectual mean and way of curing our divisions, and of uniting us in the Lord. It joins Israel and Judah together, whose breach was much greater and of far longer continuance than ours.”


John MacPherson

The Unity of the Church: the Sin of Schism  (1901)

“Rutherford, Brown, Gillespie, Durham, and generally all the best men of that school seek to multiply reasons against separation, and show themselves willing to bear the heaviest burdens and submit to the severest strain rather than take what to them is the most painful step in separation from communion with any body with which they had previously held church fellowship.”



Historical Theology

On the Post-Reformation


Heppe, Heinrich – Ch. 3, ‘The Foundation of Holy Scripture’  in Reformed Dogmatics  ed. Bizer, tr. Thomson  (1950; Wipf & Stock, 2007), pp. 42-46

Heppe gives translated quotes from: Ursinus, Cocceius, Voetius, Turretin, Rissen, Hottinger & Olevian.

Muller, Richard – ch. 9, ‘Fundamental Articles & Basic Principles of Theology’  in Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics  2nd ed.  (Baker, 2003), vol. 1, pt. 2, pp. 406-50



Stauffer, Richard – The Quest for Church Unity from John Calvin to Isaac D’Huisseau  Pre  (Pickwick Press, 1986)  77 pp.

D’Huisseau (1607-1672) was a rector of the reformed academy in Saumur, France.

This monograph examines Calvin (‘Advocate of Evangelical Christianity’), Amyraut (‘Advocate of Reconciliation Between Reformed & Lutherans’) & D’Huisseau (‘Advocate of Reconciliation Between All Christian Confessions’).


On the 1500’s


Klauber, Martin – ‘Calvin on Fundamental Articles & Ecclesiastical Union’  Westminster Theological Journal, 54 (1992), pp. 341-48


MA Thesis

Michel, Matthew Paul – That Which Every Christian Must Know:  Juan de Valdes & the Doctrina Christiana  (Univ. of Florida, 2009)

Valdes (c.1490–1541) appears to have been a Spanish reformer of the Roman Church (persecuted by the Inquisition), who may have accepted ‘the evangelical doctrine of justification by faith’, and yet rejected ‘the policy of the Lutheran schism’.

The claims of him espousing anti-Trinitarianism appear to be inadequately founded. 


On the 1600’s

Svensson, Manfred – ‘Fundamental Doctrines of the Faith, Fundamental Doctrines of Society: Seventeenth-Century Doctrinal Minimalism’  The Journal of Religion, vol. 94, no. 2 (April, 2014), pp. 161-181


On the 1700’s


DeYoung, Kevin – John Witherspoon & ‘the fundamental doctrines of the Gospel’: the Scottish Career of an American Founding Father  Abstract  (Univ. of Leicester, 2019)



After High Orthodoxy: Towards Pan-Protestantism


Richard Muller

PRRD (2003) 1.428-9

“As the relatively strict confessionalism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries gave way to various patterns of deconfessionalization, it became increasingly difficult to justify and sustain a strict understanding of the fundamental articles.

Among the Reformed themselves, the half century from 1675 to 1725 saw a shift from the attempt to define confessional orthodoxy in the strictest terms in the Formula Consensus Helvetica to the passing of strict confessional subscription throughout nearly all of Protestant Switzerland.  At the same time, in England, the Dissenting clergy [after 1662] were unable to maintain any sort of standardized confessional subscription and the Anglican Church had reached the conclusion that both Reformed and Arminian constructions of the doctrine of salvation could be legitimate under subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles–and some even argued the legitimacy of non-Nicene understandings of the Trinity.”


Latin Book

Turretin, Jean-Alphonse – Clouds of Witnesses for a Moderate & Pacific Judgment on Theological Things & Towards an Established Concord Between Protestants, to which is Prefaced a Brief & Pacific Disquisition on Fundamental Articles…   (1719)  ToC

J.A. Turretin was the son of Francis Turretin and a professor of theology at Geneva.  His tenure marks a beginning towards a more broad, enlightenment, rationalist pan-Protestantism.

After the initial disquisition on fundamental articles, the main body of the work is a listing (under several categories) of pacific passages from theologians throughout Church history.  Special sections are devoted to Lutherans, Reformed writers (p. 87 ff.) and even his father, Francis Turretin (140).



In Romanism


Wikipedia, ‘Fundamental articles (theology)’

“According to [Roman] Catholic teaching, the essential note of faith lies in the complete and unhesitating acceptance of the whole depositum on the ground that it is the revealed Word of God.  The conscious rejection of a single article of this deposit is sufficient to render a man guilty of heresy.  The question is not as to the relative importance of the article in question but solely as to whether it has been revealed by God to man.  This is clearly put by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica II-II:5:3:

“In a heretic who rejects a single article of the faith, there remains the virtue of faith whether as united with charity [formata], or as severed from charity [informis]…  The formal object of faith is the Supreme Truth in so far as revealed in the Holy Scriptures and in that doctrine of the Church that proceeds from the Supreme Truth.  Hence if anyone does not hold to the doctrine of the Church as to an infallible and divine rule…  he does not possess the virtue of faith.”

The Catholic Church does not deny that certain truths are more vital than others.  There are some as to which it is important that all the faithful should possess explicit knowledge.  In regard to others explicit knowledge is not necessary.  But it denies that any Christian may reject or call in question any truth, small or great, revealed by God.

The Catholic Church’s one and only one test, to determine the question of membership in Christ’s body, does not lie in the acceptance of this or that particular doctrine, but in communion with the Apostolic hierarchy.  It argues that the theory that finds the one requisite in the acceptance of a series of fundamental articles is a novelty without support in the Church Fathers.”



Aquinas, Thomas – Summa, II-II, Question 1, ‘Faith’

Reformed writers quote Thomas positively at times on certain notions, however Thomas still imbibes, though in a lesser form than what would come later, some of the serious distinctive errors of Romanism on the topic.


1600’s Book

Smith, Richard – Of the Distinction of Fundamental & Not Fundamental Points of Faith, Divided into Two Books, in the First is Showed the Protestants’ Opinion Touching that Distinction, & Their Uncertainty Therein: in the Second is Showed & Proved the Catholic Doctrine Touching the Same  (London, 1645)  350 pp.


Latin Articles


Cassander, George – Of the Office of Piety & Public Tranquility of a Truly Loving Man in the Disagreement of Religion…  (Basel, 1561)  38 pp.

Cassander (1513-1566) was Flemish.

Wikipedia:  “…while holding that no one, on account of abuses, has a right utterly to subvert the Church, he does not disguise his dislike of those who exaggerated the papal claims. He takes his standpoint on Scripture explained by tradition and the fathers of the first six centuries…  such a book pleased neither party; but as some of the German princes thought that he could heal the breach, the emperor Ferdinand asked him to publish his Consultatio de Articulis Fidei lute, Catholicos et Protestantes Controversis (1565), in which…  he tried to put a Catholic interpretation upon Protestant formularies.

While never attacking dogma, and even favoring the Roman church on the ground of authority, he criticizes the papal power and makes reflections on practices.  The work, attacked violently by the [Romanist, Flemish] Leuven theologians on one side, and by Calvin and Beza on the other, was put on the Roman Index [of banned books] in 1617.”

Wikipedia, ‘Fundamental Articles (theology)’:  “In his work “De officio pii…  he maintained that in the articles of the Apostles’ Creed we have the true foundations of the Faith; and that those who accept these doctrines, and have no desire to sever themselves from the rest of Christendom are part of the true Church. He believed that thus it might be possible to find a means of reuniting Catholics, Greeks, and Protestants.  But the proposal met with no favor on either side.  The Louvain professors, Hesselius and Ravesteyn, argued that the theory was irreconcilable with Catholic theology and John Calvin no less vehemently repudiated the system.

Among Protestants, however, the view soon reappeared, as a reply to two objections they were constantly called on to meet.  When Catholics told them that their total inability to agree amongst themselves was itself a proof that their system was a false one, they could answer that though differing as to non-essentials they were agreed on fundamentals.  And when asked how it could be maintained that the whole Christian world had for centuries been sunk in error, they replied that since these errors had not destroyed the fundamentals of the faith, salvation was possible even before the gospel had been preached [in the Reformation]…  Antonio de Dominis, once Archbishop of Spalatro [took up this standpoint], who, during the reign of James I, sojourned some years in England.  Certainly from this period the distinction [of fundamentals] becomes a recognized feature in the polemics of the Church of England, while on the other hand Roman Catholic writers are at pains to show its worthlessness.”



Voet, Gisbert – 8. ‘The New Jesuit Skepticism about the Principles of the Christian Faith’  in Select Theological Disputations  (Utrecht: Waesberg, 1648), vol. 1, pp. 106-114



On Lutheranism:  Historical Theology


Dorner, Isaac A. – Section 2, ch. 2, ‘Calixtus & the Syncretistic Controversies’  in History of Protestant Theology, Particularly in Germany, vol. 2  (1871), pp. 185-203

Dorner (1809–1884) was a German liberal.

George Calixt (1586-1656) was a German, Lutheran syncretist, desiring to remove all unimportant differences and unify all Christendom (including Romanism) around the Apostles’ Creed.  He remained a professor of theology at the University of Helmstedt till his death.

The more orthodox and rigorous Lutherans, who were confessionalists, were alarmed at this and responded accordingly.  They often (in contradistinction to the reformed) went too far, making seemingly every secondary (Lutheran) doctrine to hold the importance of essential doctrines.  Here is Calixt’s Latin Epitome of Theology  (1619; Helmestad, 1661).



Contra Socinianism on the Issue of Fundamental Articles

Edwards, John – pp. 4-20  of Ch. 1 of Socinianism Unmasked…  (London, 1696)

Edwards (1637–1716) was a reformed, Anglican divine.



On Modern, Liberal Denominations


Are modern liberal Churches, such as the PCUSA, United Methodists, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, etc. part of Christ’s visible Church in the earth?

This has serious implications for Bible believing churches:  Does one accept their baptism as valid, may one receive members of those denominations into membership at one’s own church, or allow a member to transfer into their denomination?  Does one attend ecumenical gatherings with them to do the work of the Church?

On the one hand, liberal Churches retain the fundamentals of Christianity insofar as they make use of the Bible, use Scripture in their liturgies, use Scriptural material and themes in their literature and sermons, and often have some correct doctrinal teachings in their collections of (largely non-binding) foundational documents (though these are often treated as museum pieces).

On the other hand, the mainline protestant churches from the early-1900’s have eviscerated those very same fundamentals.  In the early-1900’s the PCUSA had required that every ordinand ought to be able to affirm these five fundamentals:

The inerrancy of the Scriptures
The virgin birth (and the deity of Jesus)
The doctrine of substitutionary atonement
The bodily resurrection of Jesus
The authenticity of Christ’s miracles

However, in 1924, 1,293 ministers, elders and others in the PCUSA signed the Auburn Affirmation, which stated that:

“…we are united in believing that these are not the only theories allowed by the Scriptures and our standards as explanations of these facts and doctrines of our religion…”

Other mainline denominations followed suit.  It is not uncommon to hear preached from their pulpits that the Bible has errors, the Lord’s Supper is about the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, that those of other religions may be saved, that homosexuality and transgenderism is welcome, etc.

As liberal Churches retain the fundamentals of Christianity in some way (much like Northern Israel in the Old Testament), and yet perniciously overturn those same fundamentals of God’s Word (as Northern Israel did in the Old Testament), so they are much in the same category as the Roman Church:

As they are Churches in some respect, so their baptism (to speak generally, though not necessarily of all particular circumstances) ought to be recognized as valid.  However, as their teaching contrary to the fundamentals of the faith is abominable to God and injurious to their auditors, so persons have a duty to come out of them and have no fellowship with them:

“Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.  For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.” – Rev. 14:4-5



Machen, J. Gresham – Christianity & Liberalism  (1923)  145 pp.



Latin Articles


Junius, Francis – A Peace Token [Eirenicum], pt. 1, pp. 440-442  (1593)  in Select Smaller Theological Works  ed. Abraham Kuyper  (Amsterdam, 1882)

“On the Reformed side, the concept of fundamental articles appears as early as 1593 in the irenic or ecumenical theology of Francis Junius–as a response to the question of agreement between the Reformed side and the Lutherans despite significant theological differences:  Junius argued that the ‘fundamentals’ or ‘fundamental articles’ are those teachings without which the Christian faith cannot be present–among which is the doctrine of God, the immutable object of faith. (Eirenicum, I, Opuscula, p. 440)”

Rutherford, Samuel – Examination of Arminianism  (1639-43), Ch. 1, ‘On the Scriptures & Fundamental Articles’

2. ‘Whether those fundamental articles which are deduced by consequence from the most common principles are believed by true faith?  Explained & distinguished’, p. 19

3. ‘What sort of consequence is entailed by evidence so that it is an article of faith?  Explained.’, p. 29

4. ‘Whether the number of fundamental doctrines can be determined by us?  We deny.’, p. 32

5. ‘For which of the fundamentals is understanding and faith required? Explained.’, p. 34

6. ‘What is overcomeable versus absolute ignorance of the fundamentals?  Explained.’, p. 38

7. ‘In what way is understanding of the fundamentals necessary for salvation?  Explained.’, p. 42

8. ‘Why everything contained in the Word of God ought to be believed, on pain of damnation, while nevertheless only the fundamentals are necessary to be believed as a necessary means?
Explained.’, p. 43

9. ‘How far are they may be tolerated who err in the fundamentals? Explained.’, p. 44

10. ‘How far is it necessary for us to separate from a church erring in fundamentals?  Explained.’, p. 46

Maccovius, Johannes – Disputation 1, ‘Of the Nature of Theology’, p. 2  in A Volume of Theological Theses Through Common Places…  bound in A Theological Collection of all that which is Extant, including Theological Theses through Common Places in the Academy of Franeker  (Franeker, 1641)

Maccovius (1588-1644)

“Similarly, when Maccovius discusses theological method, he notes the principal heads of doctrine treated in catechisis (the Decalogue, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and the sacraments), notes the subtopics of each, and then referes to the whole series as those topics comprising the fundamentum fidei & salutis.  There is a series of doctrines the knowledge of which is necessary to salvation…  There is no mention of either predestination or election among these fundamenta.” – R. Muller, PRRD (2003) 1.409

Voet, Gisbert

Bk. 1, ch. 9, ‘Of Public & Private Disputations’  in Exercises & a Library on the Study of Theology  (Utrecht, 1644)

This chapter delineates categories of theological, exegetical, etc. topics that are appropriate, or not, for public or private disputations.  He gives lists of fundamental and necessary topics, secondary topics, others that are not needful where caution ought to be exercised, and other topics which are purely curious, cannot be solidly determined and are better left passed over.

34. ‘Of Fundamental Articles & Errors’  in Select Theological Disputations, vol. 2  (Utrecht, 1648-1667), pp. 511-39

Grebenitz, Elias – A Sketch of the Fundamental Articles of Faith According to the Enduring [Tolerantiam] Church  (Frankfurt, 1660)

Grebenitz was a reformed professor of theology in Frankfurt, Germany.

Mestrezat, Phillipe – Theological Theses on Christian Endurance [Tolerantia] with Brothers Dissenting in Things Other than [or Beyond, Praeter] Fundamentals, Part 1, where the State of the Controversy is Unfolded & a Bearing With [Tolerantia] is Proved, the Precepts of Sacred Scripture having being Examined  (Geneva, 1663)  20 pp.

Mestrezat (1620-1690) was a reformed professor of philosophy and theology at Geneva, Switzerland, who sympathized with the doctrines of the French reformed academy at Saumur.  Mestrezat has been said to have been Amyrauldian.  His professorship in theology at Geneva (1649-90) overlapped with that of Turretin (1653-87).

“The Reformed orthodox generally also note…  three kinds of doctrinal error:  1. errors against a fundamental article…  2. errors around a fundamental or in indirect contradiction to it…  3. errors beyond a fundamental article (praeter fundamentum)…

The third category of error does not address fundamental articles directly or indirectly but rather involves faith in problematic and curious questions…  that do not arise out of the revealed Word–hay and stubble!–and that, because of their curiosity and vanity, constitute diversions from and impediments to salvation. (Rijssen, Summa, I.xiii; cf. Turretin, Inst. theol., I.xiv.9)” – Muller, PRRD (2003) 1.422-23

Hottinger, Johann Heinrich – The 8th Theological Disputation of the Gymnasium: Of the Use & Abuse of the Distinction of [Theological] Places into Fundamental & Non-Fundamental  (Zurich, 1664)

Cocceius, Johannes – ch. 7. ‘Of that which is Fundamental’  in A Sum of Theology Rehearsed out of the Scriptures  (Geneva, 1665), pp. 90-97

Velthuysen, Lambert – 3. ‘Of Principles from the First Rising, or Fundamental Articles & Errors’  in Theology  (Fribourg, 1666), pp. 8-11

Velthuysen (1623-1685)

Burman, Francis – Ch. 3. ‘Of the Foundation & Fundamental Articles’  in A Synopsis of Theology…  (Utrecht, 1671), vol. 2, Locus 41, ‘Of Revelation & the Word under the Economy of the New Covenant’, pp. 308-317

Burman (1628-79)

Pauli, Reinhold – A Compendium of Theological Disputations…  Ch. 1, On the Fundamental of the Faith  (Marburg 1672)

Pauli (1638-1682) was a German reformed professor of theology at Marburg.

Heidegger, Johann Heinrich – A Dissertation on the Foundation of Salvation, whereby the Whole Subject of Fundamental & Non-Fundamental Articles & Errors is Struck  (Zurich, 1676)

Rissen, Leonard – Locus 1, ‘Of Theology’, Controversy 3, sections 12-13, pp. 13-14  in A Sum of Didactic and Elenctic Theology, out of Our Theologians, especially out of Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Theology...  (Bern, 1676; 1690)

Here is an introduction to the life of Rissen (1636-1700).

Amongst other things, Rissen notes that Socinians and Arminians err in fundamentals by defect, and Papists and Lutherans err in excess.  “We maintain the middle.” 

Rissen categorizes three types of errors: (1) those that directly contradict fundamental doctrines, (2) those which are ‘around’ fundamentals and overturn them, not directly, but indirectly and by consequence, and (3) errors apart from or beyond (praeter) fundamentals, which do not touch fundamentals but respect remote and obscure consequences around curious and problematic questions not revealed in the Word, being hay and stubble.  They are able to consist with the true foundation, and not impede salvation, but they do detract from the salvation that they profess.

Wittich, Christopher – Exercise 5. ‘Fundamental Truths & Errors, with Appendices, or Twelve Questions of the Papists’  in Theological Exercises  (Boutesteyn, 1682), pp. 355-95

Wittich (1625-1687) was a German-born Dutch theologian.  He is known for attempting to reconcile Descartes’ philosophy with the Scriptures (which is not recommended).

Marck, Johannes à – Ch. 3, ‘On Religion’, sections 6-21  in A Compendium of Christian Theology, Didactic & Elenctic  (Amsterdam, 1696; 1722)

Marck (1656-1731)

Marck argues in section 8 against the Cartesian tenet that truth, and hence faith, and that in fundamentals, is always characterized by ‘clear and distinct perception’.

“Against the Socinians, Remonstrants, and other ‘Pelagians,’ the Reformed maintain that the right observance of religion and true knowledge of its content presupposes faith in God as the one who works redemption in Christ. (Marckius, Compendium, III.vi.)  This presupposition of faith makes the use of the [Cartesian] philosophical principle of ‘universal doubt’ impossible for Christians.  Such a principle would place Christianity on a level with Islam.  Similarly, the criterion of clara & distincta perceptio fails to recognize that many of the mysteries of faith are given by divine revelation and lie forever beyond human understanding–although both in faith and in morals believers ought to seek clarity and distinctness of statement.” – Muller, PRRD (2003) 1.418



Heidegger, Johann Heinrich

1. ‘Of Theology in General’, Theses 24-27, ‘Of the Fundamental of Faith’  in The Marrow of Christian Theology…  (Zurich, 1713)

1. ‘Of Theology in General’, Theses 45-57  of A Body of Christian Theology...  vol. 1  (Tigur, 1700)

Vitringa, Sr., Campegius – ‘Of Fundamental Articles’  in The Doctrine of the Christian Religion...  (d. 1722), vol. 3, Ch. 14, ‘Of Faith & Repentance’, pp. 54-68

Zeltner, Gustav Georg – A Theological Question:  Why have the Fundamental Articles of the Faith Not Been More Clearly [Pressius] Defined in Sacred Scripture?  (Altorf, 1722)

Zeltner (1672-1738) was a Lutheran professor of theology at Altdorf, Germany.  Orthodox Lutherans in the 1600’s tended to define any clear teaching of the Word, including secondary matters, to be essential.  Early-1700’s Lutheranism, growing towards a more pan-protestantism, tended towards reducing the necessity of belief, at least as regards ministerial and Church communion, to only that of the fundamentals.

Stapfer, Johann – Ch. 4. ‘Of Fundamental Articles’  in Institutes of Universal Polemical Theology, Ordered in a Scientific Arrangement, vol. 1  (Zurich, 1756), pp. 513-551

Stapfer (1708-1775) was a professor of theology at Bern.  He was influenced by the philosophical rationalism of Christian Wolff, though, by him “the orthodox reformed tradition was continued with little overt alteration of the doctrinal loci and their basic definitions.” – Richard Muller

“The sense of several kinds or levels of error manifests itself in Stapfer’s massive Institutiones…  Stapfer’s system, as its subtitle indicates, adopts a scientific arrangement by moving from those adversaries who deny the principia of Christianity [God, his providence and Scripture] (the infidels and unbelievers called Atheists, Deists, Epicureans, Pagans and Naturalists), to those who accept either of the principia (Jews, Moslems, Socinians, and Latitudinarians or Indifferentists), to those who accept both principia but attack fundamental articles (Papists, Fanatics, Pelagians, Remonstrants [Arminians], and Anabaptists), to those, finally, who agree on fundamentals but who differ on nonfundamental articles (the Greek Orthodox and the Lutherans)…  the latter two groups…  are not viewed as heretics but as schismatics from the Reformed faith.” – Muller, PRRD (2003) 1.421

De Moor, Bernard – ch. 3, ‘On Religion’, sections 9-21  ToC  in A Continuous Commentary on John Marck’s Compendium of Didactic and Elenctic Christian Theology, vol. 1  Buy  (Leiden, 1761-71)  This chapter has been translated into English; see the Buy link.

Section 8 is against the Cartesian principle of truth being clear and distinct perception, which factors into the fundamentals.  Section 10 is contra the Papists on the subject.



Latin Books


Hyperius, Andreas – Elements of the Christian Religion  (Basel, 1563)  101 pp.  The table of contents follows Heb. 6:1-2.



Davenant, John – An Exhortation toward a Restored Brotherly Communion between the Evangelical Churches, it being founded in this, that None Dissent in Any Fundamental Article of the Catholic Faith  (Cambridge, 1640)  163 pp.



Fabricius, Franciscus – Christ, the Sole & Perpetual Foundation of the Church, Having been Demonstrated in 14 Philological-Theological Dissertations  (Leiden 1717)  658 pp.  There is no table of contents.




Jurieu, Pierre

The Authentic System of the Church & a True Analysis of the Faith…  (Dort, 1686)  ToC

Jurieu (1637-1713) was a French reformed minister and prolific author.

Wikipedia:  “The most famous of the controversies on this subject was that between [the Romanist, Jacques-Bénigne] Bossuet [1627-1704] and the Calvinist Jurieu.  Jurieu’s book…  ‘Le Vray Systeme’ was an attempt to demonstrate the right of the French Protestants to rank as members of the Church Universal…  According to him all sects without exception are members of Body of Christ.  For this nothing is necessary but “to belong to a general confederation, to confess Jesus Christ as Son of God, as Saviour of the world, and as Messias; and to receive the Old and New Testaments as the rule and Law of Christians”, (Système, p. 53).  Yet among the various portions of the Church we must, he tells us, distinguish four classes:

1. Sects that have retained all the truths taught in the Scriptures;

2. Sects that, while retaining the more important truths, have mingled with them superstitions and errors;

3. Sects that have retained the fundamental truths, but have added doctrines incompatible with them;

4. Sects that have set the fundamental verities aside altogether.

This last class are dead members of the mystical body (ibid., p. 52).  Those who have retained the fundamental articles of the faith are, one and all, living parts of the Church.  When he comes to define precisely which doctrines are, and which are not, fundamental, Jurieu bids us fall back on the rule of Vincent of Lérins [d. c. 445]: Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus [that which is always, everywhere and from all].

Wherever all bodies of Christians still exist and possess some importance in the world, and agree in accepting a dogma, we have, in that agreement, a criterion that may be considered infallible.  Among truths so guaranteed are the doctrine of the Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the Redemption, the satisfaction, original sin, creation, grace, the immortality of the soul, the eternity of punishment (ibid, 236-237).

This work was followed, in 1688, by another entitled “Traité de l’unité de l’Eglise et des articles fondamentaux”, written in reply to Nicole’s criticisms.  In the same year appeared Bossuet’s “Histoire des Variations des Eglises protestantes”…

In regard to the relation of the fundamental doctrines to salvation, Jurieu is in agreement with the English divines already quoted.  “By fundamental points”, he says, “we understand certain general principles of the Christian religion, a distinct faith and belief in which are necessary to salvation” (Traité, p. 495).”

Tract on the Unity of the Church & that From Fundamental Points  (Rotterdam, 1668)  ToC  667 pp.




Of whom [Christ] we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.  For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.  For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.  But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Heb. 5:11-14

“…in all his [Paul’s] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.”

2 Pet. 3:16




Related Pages

On the Church

The Unity of the Church

On the Pressing Priority of Church Unity

On Creeds & Confessions

Church Membership

Against Separatism

Civil Separatism