Fundamentals, or Fundamental Articles of Faith

by A. A. Hodge, revised by B. B. Warfield

Fundamentals, or Fundamental Articles of Faith [fundamental is from Low Lat. fundamenta’lis pertaining to a foundation, concerning the foundation; deriv. of fundamen’tum, foundation; deriv. of funda’re, found; deriv of fundus, bottom]: those doctrines which lie at the basis of a system or are involved in the right of a system to exist—its foundation. It is a relative term, and when a doctrine is asserted to be fundamental a necessary question always is, To what? It is also expressive of degrees of necessity, and allows of the question In what respect? It is therefore never a defining word till it has been defined. There may be a perfect agreement on the general sense of the word, and a total diversity as to the propriety of its application. Fundamentals are more or less generic as that to which they are related has more or less of the generic in it. If a doctrine be conceded to be fundamental to Christianity, it must be held by every one entitled to the name of Christian. But each Christian body has doctrines fundamental to its system which are not held by the entire Christian Church. Fundamentals have been divided into—(1) primary, or those doctrines the explicit knowledge of which is necessary to salvation; and (2) secondary, or those doctrines which are implied in the primary, and the denial of which logically involves the denial of primary fundamentals. They have also been divided into (1) constituent and (2) conservative, or those doctrines which enter into a system as constituent parts in the sense that the system can not be stated without explicitly stating them, and those doctrines which are only logically involved in system, in the sense that the denial of them logically involves the denial of the system in some of its constituent parts. They have still further been divided into (1) formative and (2) distinctive, or those doctrines which so lie at the basis of the system as that the system is but the unfolding of their contents, and those which differentiate and discriminate a system from some other system or from all other systems. These distinctions obviously cover largely the same ground. Involuntary ignorance of the secondary fundamentals does not remove the foundation of salvation, but denial of them does. And in like manner ignorance or neglect of the conservative or distinctive fundamentals does not invalidate a system, but denial of them does. The doctrine of fundamentals has been most agitated in efforts to unite the Lutherans and the Reformed; but it necessarily forms a part of all controversy between parties in all communions.

A. A. Hodge, “Fundamentals, or Fundamental Articles of Faith,” revised by B. B. Warfield, Johnson’s Universal Cyclopedia: A New Edition, edited by Charles Kendall Adams (New York: A. J. Johnson Company, 1894), 3:618.  [Google Books]

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