In Samuel Rutherford’s, The Due Right of Presbytery; Or, A Peaceable Plea for the Government of the Church of Scotland (1644), pp. 221-255, he takes on the question:
In what cases is it lawful to separate from a Church?
He begins by noting the 3 things he hopes to discuss:
1. With what church retaining the doctrine of fundamentals, we are to remain.
2. Whether our separation from Rome is not warrantable.
3. Whether we may lawfully separate from true churches for the sins of the churches.
[I want to thank Chris Coldwell of www.naphtali.com for producing an edition of this essay, and making it available free online. as well as giving me permission to use the material, which is copyrighted.]
Rutherford actually begins with a semi-lengthy discussion on “Fundamentals” in a typical Puritannical way (you know, point one, then sub-points, then sub-sub-points, &c., then point two).
I’ve decided that there are too many great thoughts and principles to try to smoosh into one blog, so I’ll be posting for awhile on it, and other writings that he interacts with, or references. I wanted to start with Rutherford’s definition of the fundamentals…
DISTINCTION FOUR: Hence there are 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 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. Others are so secondarily fundamental, or less fundamental, as deduced from these;
To outline the fundamentals, per Rutherford:
Credenda = the object of our Faith = The Apostles’ Creed
Petenda = the object of our Hope = The Lord’s Prayer
Agenda = the object of our Love toward God and man = The 10 Commandments.
This is an excellent syllabus of the fundamental knowledge of the Christian Religion; the basis of our faith, hope and love! If you look on p. 319 of the Westminster Standards published by the Free Presbyterian Publications, you will see this summary footnote:
So much of every question both in the Larger and Shorter Catechism, is repeated in the answer, as maketh every answer an entire proposition or sentence in itself; to the end the learner may further improve it upon all occasions, for his increase in knowledge and piety, even out of the course of catechising, as well as in it.
And albeit the substance of the doctrine comprised in that abridgment commonly called The Apostles’ Creed, be fully set forth in each of the Catechisms, so as there is no necessity of inserting the Creed itself; yet it is here annexed, not as though it were composed by the Apostles, or ought to be esteemed canonical scripture, as the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer, (much less a prayer, as ignorant people have been apt to make both it and the Decalogue) but because it is a brief sum of the Christian faith, agreeable to the word of God, and anciently received in the churches of Christ.