Don’t forget all these steps: FIRST, the natural thought, which is in every religion. SECOND, the methodological development of doctrines. THIRD, the acceptance of some doctrines as protective doctrines against distortions. FOURTH, the legalization of these doctrines as parts of the canonic law. FIFTH, the acceptance of these doctrines as the foundation not only of the Church but also of the state, because the state has no other content than the content the Church gives it, so that he who is supposed to undermine this content not only undermines the Church but also the state. He is not only a heretic who must be excommunicated; he is also a criminal who must be delivered into the hands of the civil authorities to punish him as a criminal. Now this was the state of the dogma, against which the Enlightenment was fighting – not so much the Reformation, which was still in the same line, but certainly the Enlightenment; and ever since, all liberal thinking has been characterized by trying to avoid dogma, and this also was supported by the development of science and the necessity to leave science and philosophy complete freedom in order to give them the possibility of their creative growth.
In his famous History of Dogma, Harnack asked the question whether, with the dissolution of the dogma in the early period of the Enlightenment, the dogma has not come to an end. He agrees that there is still dogma in orthodox Protestantism, but he believes that the Enlightened dissolution of the Protestant dogma is the last step of the history of the dogma: there is no dogma any more in Protestantism, since the Enlightenment. This means a very narrow concept of dogma, and Harnack agrees that he uses a very narrow concept, namely the Christological-Trinitarian doctrine of the early Church. Against this Seeberg emphasized that the dogmatic development has not finished with the coming of the Enlightenment, but that it is still going on.
Now this is a very important systematic question: Are there dogmata in present-day Protestantism, or are there not? Those of you who go into the ministry have to undergo a kind of church examination, which is not an examination for knowledge but for faith. The churches want to know whether you agree with their fundamental dogmatic tenets. And they often do it in a very narrow way, without much understanding of the development of theology in the last 400 years, since the period of old Orthodoxy.
On the other hand if you have an inner revolt – and I know that most Union Seminary students have such an inner revolt against this faith- examination – don’t forget that you go into a definite group, which is distinguished from other groups. It is first of all a Christian and not a pagan group; it is a Protestant and not a Catholic group; and within Protestantism it may be an Episcopalian, or a Baptist–or between these extremes! Now this means there is a justified interest in the Church that those who represent it at least show some acceptance of their foundations. Every baseball group demands of you that you accept the rules and the moral standards of a baseball team, and why should the Church leave it completely to the arbitrary feelings of the individual? That cannot be done. Usually the problem today is of somebody who is too heretic, too radical, too much on the side of Bultmann in the demythologization of the New Testament, or Tillich in using the term “IT Being” for God – or other bad people! This is the problem today. And on this basis many churches are suspicious.