Conditions in the sixteenth century were ripe for the composition of confessions. The publications of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and other Reformation leaders had brought momentous theological questions to the fore. When entire communities, or just the leaders, turned to their teachings, an immediate demand arose for uncomplicated yet authoritative statements of the new faith. The leading Reformers were also deeply involved in the day - to - day life of the churches where they sensed the uneasiness of the people, whether at the abuses of Rome or at their own innovations. And they early on saw the necessity for brief theological summaries that all could understand.
In addition, the very nature of the Reformation and the very character of the sixteenth century greatly stimulated the urge to write confessions. The Reformers posed Scripture as the ultimate authority for all of life, even if this undercut received Catholic tradition. They spoke of the priesthood of believers and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, in spite of the fact that these teachings called the pronouncements of Rome's infallible magisterium into question. The Reformers also challenged Catholic influence in the state. They proposed a new reading of history to support their own push for reform. And they had a passion for restoring the NT purity of Christian belief and practice. Yet every assault on an established belief and every challenge to a traditional practice called for a rationale, a concise statement of the reasons for change.
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The great outpouring of confessions in the first century and a half of Protestantism performed a multitude of functions. Authoritative statements of Christian belief enshrined the new ideas of the theologians, but in forms that could also provide regular instruction for the common faithful. They lifted a standard around which a local community could rally and which could make plain the differences with opponents. They made possible a regathering of belief and practice in the interests of unity, even as they established a norm to discipline the erring. And for Catholics, the writing of confessionlike statements made it possible to discriminate between acceptable modifications in its ancient faith and unacceptable deviations from its traditional norms.
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)
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