- A doctrine is a principle or statement of belief (or by extension, a set of principles/beliefs) presented for acceptance and/or assent by an individual, group, or organization. Protestantism was largely identified by the doctrines it adhered to that contradicted Roman Catholicism, and was subsequently divided by differences of doctrine among the various branches of Protestantism.Protestantism affirmed the traditional doctrines of the ancient church stated in the common creedal statements, especially the Nicene Creed, but added its own doctrines on salvation by grace alone, the ultimate authority of the Bible in matters of faith and practice, and the priesthood of all believers. It affirmed two sacraments as opposed to the seven affirmed in Roman Catholicism. It denied belief in the authority of the pope, the existence of purgatory, and the practice of indulgences.The set of doctrines held by various Protestants groups often found expressions in formal confessional documents, with some attaining broad acceptance: Augsburg Confession of Faith, Dordrecht Confession, Westminster Confession of Faith, the Savoy Declaration, the Canons of Dort, and the Articles of Religion (Anglican, Methodist), among others.Early disagreements among Protestants concerned the doctrines of the sacraments, church polity, and the church's relationship to the state. Unitarians dissented on the doctrine of God, unable to affirm the Trinity.Over the centuries, some groups drew sharp distinctions between the ultimate authority of the Bible and the particular man-made statements of doctrine of the churches. In the 19th century, churches emerged that opposed the idea of creedal statements. They rejected the normative value often assigned to creedal statements, which shortcircuited creativity and new insights in Bible study. However, those same groups often saw the need to summarize what they had learned and agreed upon from their study of the Bible and issued documents that looked very much like doctrinal statements.The overwhelming majority of the thousands of denominations that now exist have issued statements of the primary doctrines they expect members to affirm, though with widely differing expectations about the level of homogeneity they demand.Further reading:■ L. Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1969)■ Jubert Cunliffe-Jones and Benjamin Drewery, A History of Christian Doctrine (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980)■ Walter Elwell, ed., Dictionary of Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1984)■ J. Gordon Melton, The Encyclopedia of American Religions: Religious Creeds, 2 vols. (Detroit: Gale Research, 1988, 1994)■ Alan Richardson and John Bowden, eds., The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1983).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.