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Protestantism and Dogma

Marie-Noële Duchêne


Translation Louise Thunin


« All religions are false on the surface, which is dogma, and true in substance, which is God », wrote Victor Hugo (Philosophical Prose).

Protestantism doesn’t actually speak of dogma, since it considers all its teachings subject to review and reform. For example, liberal Protestants criticize the traditonal notion of the Trinity and seek for a more appropriate expression, whereas in Catholicism it is indisputable. For Protestants, the Trinity is not dogma but a doctrine. A doctrine, for many Protestant theologians, expresses and reflects religious experience. A doctrine is never definitive ; it can always be, should always be revised and redefined in the light of its cultural and historical context. Evangile et liberté specifies in its declaration « the preeminence of faith over doctrines ». One believes in God, one believes in Christ ; one does not necessarily believe the doctrines about them.

The International Theological Committee (1990) of the Catholic Church defines dogma as « a doctrine in which the Church sets forth definitively a revealed truth. » Therefore it is imposed upon believers of all times and in all places. It cannot be questioned or modified. Dogma is an affirmation solemnly proclaimed by a council or by the Pope using his infallibility in explicit fashion.

« Transsubstantiation », « The Immaculate Conception », the « Assumption of Mary », « Papal infallibility » are dogma which no Protestant recognizes. They have no Biblical foundation.

The Reformation put forth its great principles : Holy Scripture alone, Faith alone, Grace alone. « Principle » comes from the Latin principium meaning « origin, foundation ».

So, for Protestants, one must critique doctrines with reference to Scripture ; the teachings of the Church and our beliefs must always be confronted with what the Bible says. But the Bible does not impose one doctrine and one set of ethics ; it alllows for several. On the other hand, it disqualifies certain conceptions of God, certain ways of understanding reality and certain behaviors.

What difference is there between dogma and a principle ? According to Andé Gounelle ( « Dogma expresses a proposition that must be accepted ; a principle describes steps to take ; dogma defines static positions, whereas a principle indicates a path to follow, a procedure for formulating and discussing doctrines. Dogma resembles a building which you enter and and where you live without changing anything ; a principle conjures up a road to take, a pathway to walk, in other words, a method. »


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À propos Gilles

a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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