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Daniel Schenkel: Excerpts from The German Protestant Association (1868)

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A renewal of the church; for there can be no disagreement that our church is in need of such a renewal. It is behind the times in every respect. While its official organs still seek the center of the church in traditional teachings, the co-called “confession,” modern scholarship has long since demonstrated that faith and not dogma, life and not the theological formula, form the essence of Protestantism and, moreover, that the traditional notion of dogma no longer holds up before the judgment seat of rigorous examination, because it is built upon presuppositions that have become entirely untenable. Its chief pillars of support are the following: the seventeenth-century doctrine of inspiration, which scholarship has refuted in every point; the Christology of the old-Catholic church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries, which stands in irreconcilable contradiction to the correctly understood Gospel literature and to a genuinely historical understanding of the person of Christ; the so-called Athanasian creed, which makes the doctrine of the three divine persons within one divine being an absolute obligation on pain of the eternal fire, and in order to be accepted, this creed must stake the claim to the complete suppression of rational thinking; the notion that theologians should determine the belief of the congregation and, as those who are of age the laypeople who are minors, and this notion is not only un-Protestant, it also clashes with the great New Testament principle that all Christians should have priestly rights and a free conscience. That is why the Protestant Church is urgently in need of renewal “in the spirit of Evangelical freedom” at this time. No one must be prevented from understanding and professing the Gospel in accordance with his own best knowledge and conscience. No one, especially no church authority, shall declare one single way of understanding and professing the Gospel as the exclusively justified one, and be allowed to condemn and suppress all others. That would amount to a coercion of conscience and faith that would not only be the equal of the Roman Catholic spiritual coercion, but would be even be worse, because it would be a denial of the Protestant principles under the banner of Protestantism itself.

The Protestant Association seeks the renewal of the Protestant Church “in harmony with the entire cultural development of our time.” For that very reason, because it does not acknowledge a finished dogma and no completed ecclesiasticism, but regards the form of the doctrine and the institutions of the church as the product of a particular time and of the ideas that predominate within the church, it also cannot accept that the development of doctrine and the constitutional formation of the church is finished at a particular point and then stands in contradiction with the subsequent times. To be sure, conventional theology proceeds on the assumption that the church is supernatural in origin, while culture is something natural. The conclusion that is drawn from this presupposition is quite simple: the natural must subordinate itself to the supernatural; culture is justified only to the extent that the theologians approve of it; thus, if theology, in accordance with its supernatural inspiration and the theory of the divine authority of the Bible, finds itself compelled to assume that the earth stands still while the sun revolves around it, it is the mark of a false education to claim the opposite. The Protestant Association for its part recognizes the full right of modern science to seek out its own paths, and it is of the opinion that religious truths are entirely independent of scientific findings. Once this proposition is accepted within the church, peace will be made between Christianity and culture. If culture often sees an enemy in Christianity, church theology itself is to a large

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