Full Text for American Religious Scene- Volume 29 - Overview of American denominations (Video)

No. 29. >> Thanks, Dr. Rast. That helps me understand how things have come to be the way they are. But why have they come to be like this? Perhaps a related question would concern formal and material principles. Would you be willing to give us an overview of these principles for the various denominations in America? >>DR. LAWRENCE R. RAST, JR.: That is a big question, given the fact that there are so many denominations. I've looked at estimates in terms of the overall number of denominations here in America. And they stretch from about 1,000 to one web site that I recently looked at said about 3500. And some have even gone above and beyond that. It can become overwhelming to try to make sense of them. So one of the things we do is to talk about the formal and material principles in theology to give us handles, if you will, to make sense of the larger groupings of these denominations. So for example, when you talk about a Lutheran formal principle, we will say sola scriptura, Scripture alone. When we talk about a Lutheran material principle, we talk about justification by grace through faith. What do we mean then by these terms formal and material principles? To put it in the most simple terms, the formal principle is that basis upon which you build your theological position. The place where you turn. The authority, if you will, for your theology. And for us as Lutherans, as we said, that's the Scriptures. The Scriptures are the sole source, rule and norm for everything we believe, teach and confess. They are the norma normans to use a Latin term. The norming norm. That give us our theology. Then out of that formal principle, out of that authority, out of that text, if you will, we then draw the material principle. The material principle is the essence, the stuff, the matter, if you will, of our theology. That is what the formal principle teaches put in the simplest and most direct terms. Then again for Lutherans, basic our teachings on the Scripture, the formal principle, we draw from them the material principle of justification by grace through faith for the sake of Christ. The other churches, well, in the Protestant tradition, for example, would have very similar formal principles. For example, the Baptists, they would say sola scriptura, the Scripture alone, is our formal principle. When it comes to a material principle, however, you ask: What really characterizes the Baptist tradition here in the United States? And the material principle, the thing that truly distinguishes the Baptists from all other traditions is their assistance on the autonomy and independence of the local congregation. No formal creedal structures imposed from above. No adjudicatories that determine the way a congregation shapes its ministry. The local congregation is church in and of itself. Within the Calvinist church bodies, groups like the German Reformed, the Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ in the present time but having its roots in the old evangelical and Reformed Church and congregational church. Groups with that tradition, their formal principle would be also the Scriptures. But in their reading of the Scriptures, they would draw out a material principle of the sovereignty of God. Putting the willful actions of God at the center of all things. Within the Methodist tradition, somewhat in reaction to the Calvinist tradition, we might say the Arminian tradition in fact more broadly speaking, we see that there is a formal principle, once again, of the Scriptures as the center. The material principle, however, would be universal, full and free salvation. Not limited in any way, shape or form. Either in terms of Christ's atoning work or in terms of the opportunities that human beings have to receive the benefits of that work. Roman Catholicism, on the other hand, has a little bit different thrust in terms of its formal principle. Certainly the Scriptures are there. But within Roman Catholicism, there is a three-fold formal principle. A three-fold authority. Scripture, tradition and the interpretation of the magisterium. Usually understood in terms of the Pope being the one who has the final authority to speak Ex Cathedra on matters of faith and morals. So a three-fold authority in this particular case. And a material principle then that takes on different shapes and different expressions, depending upon in some ways the perspective of the tradition and the magisterium as it speaks. Take for example, in a concrete fashion expressions that the church has made say at the Council of Trent, 1546 to 1563. Or at the second Vatican Council more recently in the early 1960s. In authoritative church councils like Trent and Vatican 2, we reduce things and see their material principle, that is acceptance of the magisterium's authoritative teaching. Thus, at Trent, you have not only positive statements about the necessity of human works, that is faith plus works, but also negative statements to the effect that anybody who says they are saved by grace through faith apart from works, let them be anathema, that is condemned. We could go through a lot of other denominations as we extrapolated these formal and material principles from their authoritative documents. But I think for the present, that should probably suffice, simply to get us into the discussion and into a more deep consideration of these various traditions. In fact, what we'll do over the remainder of this course is look at these various traditions in some depth and discuss their formal and material principles and the impact that these have then on the shape of their ministry, their life and their ongoing character as a community. It's a little bit awkward, formal and material. But it does give us some handles and some ways to make sense of this very complex story.