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Here is a simple summary of the purpose of the first six councils:

  1. FIRST COUNCIL OF NICAEA (325) – Affirmed the deity of Christ. The false doctrine of Arianism was rejected and affirmed the apostles’ teaching of who Christ is—the one true God and the Second Person of the Trinity, with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
  1. FIRST COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE (381) – Clarified the nature of the Holy Spirit and dealt a fatal blow to Arianism. It sharpened the distinctions between the Eastern and Western branches of the church. When the Great Schism occurred centuries later, one of the primary disagreements was the hierarchy of Rome and Constantinople.
  1. COUNCIL OF EPHESUS (431) – Clarified the nature of Christ’s personhood. The false teaching of Nestorianism was repudiated and also denounced (and rejected) Pelagianism and re-affirmed the Nicene Creed. The decision to condemn Nestorianism caused an immediate split in the Eastern Church, creating several splinter groups. Some of these survive today, including the Assyrian Church of the East and Chaldean Catholicism.
  1. COUNCIL OF CHALCEDON (451) – Clarified the teaching concerning Christ’s nature and person, including the “hypostatic union.” The false doctrine of monophysitism was rejected. The Council produced the “Chalcedonian Definition,” which affirms that Christ is “the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man.”
  1. SECOND COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE (553) – Confirmed the conclusions of the first four councils.
  1. THIRD COUNCIL OF CONSTANTINOPLE (680–681) – Clarified the nature of Christ’s will.

I have left out the seventh ecumenical council (the SECOND COUNCIL OF NICAEA in 787) because it established guidelines for the veneration of images. Some Protestants reject this council, while accepting the Council of Hieria of 754, which rejected the veneration of icons.

Do Protestant denominations broadly accept the authority of these councils and agree with the theological views as presented in the first six ecumenical councils? I ask because I read an article that said Protestants recognise the first six, although they do not hold those decrees in the same regard as Catholics.

Is there a general acceptance by Protestants of the first six ecumenical councils? Or are some parts rejected by Protestant denominations?

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    I'd say "Mother of God" is a poor translation of Theotokos. "God-bearer" seems more accurate, and wouldn't trouble Protestants either. But "Mother of God" is not strictly wrong, it's just confusing to those who don't know much about Christianity
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 10 at 20:09
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    It is possible to accept the accuracy of the conclusions of Councils (believing them to concur with Scripture), without necessarily accepting the authority of the Councils. I think most Protestants take that view.
    – davidlol
    Jan 10 at 21:12
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    What does it mean to accept the councils? The First council set canon law forbidding kneeling on Sundays, but Catholics do that now! We normally just think of the big doctrines these councils clarified, but if you get into the details then probably all denominations would have things they don't accept.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 15 at 23:40
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    @curiousdannii - I don't intend for anyone to dig down into the detail of those Councils. My focus is on the major doctrinal conclusions and whether some Protestant denominations reject them (as per my summary above). As interesting as it is to know that canon law forbade kneeling on Sundays, that's not theologically critical!
    – Lesley
    Jan 16 at 7:55
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    Agree with @davidlol. Council produce canons, creeds, and clarify Bible interpretation. Protestants want Scripture to norm any of those 3 result of a council (thus putting Scripture above council result, which is categorized "tradition" just as WCF is "tradition") so they pick and choose among the result. So there will be ambiguity when saying whether a Protestant group "accept" or "reject" a council. Some canon may also be irrelevant to a Protestant group because it's based on the authority of bishops in matters of ecclesiology (excommunication, etc,) rather than doctrinal. Jan 16 at 10:19

2 Answers 2

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According to this source, nontrinitarian groups (LDS, JW, Unitarians, etc) reject all of the ecumenical councils.

Ecumenical councils are not recognized by nontrinitarian churches such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and other denominations within the Latter Day Saint movement), Christadelphians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Church of God (Seventh-Day), their descendants and Unitarians. They view the ecumenical councils as misguided human attempts to establish doctrine, and as attempts to define dogmas by debate rather than by revelation. Wiki Source

World Evangelical Alliance

This is an international association of Evangelicals. It believes that Scripture is the supreme authority. So, one might surmise that as long as the six first Councils conform, then they would agree.

The Holy Scriptures as originally given by God, divinely inspired, infallible, entirely trustworthy; and the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct. Statement of Faith

Anglican

The 21st of 39 Articles simply states that Councils are subject to Scripture, so it is not clear that it accepts any, except again in so far as they adhere to Scripture.

Articles 19–21: The Church and its Authority: These articles explain the nature and authority of the visible church. They state that the church, under Scripture, has authority over matters of faith and order. General councils of the church can only be called with the permission of the civil authority. It is possible for church councils to reach the wrong decisions, so they should only be followed if their actions align with Scripture. 39 Articles

Lutheran

It accepts the first seven Councils.

Both Orthodox and Lutherans affirm that apostolic authority was exercised in the ecumenical councils of the Church in which the bishops, through illumination and glorification brought about by the Holy Spirit, exercised responsibility. Ecumenical councils are a special gift of God to the Church and are an authoritative inheritance through the ages. Through ecumenical councils the Holy Spirit has led the Church to preserve and transmit the faith once delivered to the saints. They handed on the prophetic and apostolic truth, formulated it against heresies of their time and safeguarded the unity of the churches. Wiki Citing This

Methodism

It accepts the first four Councils.

Methodist theologian Charles W. Brockwell Jr wrote that the first "four ecumenical councils produced and clarified the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Symbol (Nicene Creed), the most important document in Christian history after the Bible itself." Wiki, citation 1

Southern Baptist

It recognizes the local body and Scripture over the ecumenical councils.

Why have Southern Baptists not been identified with the ecumenical movement?

A major reason is our ecclesiology. The Southern Baptist Convention is a federation of independent democracies, local churches that recognize no ecclesiastical authority superior to themselves. Source

Conclusion

OP: Is there a general acceptance by Protestants of the first six ecumenical councils? Or are some parts rejected by Protestant denominations?

It appears that Protestants generally do not accept the first six and some do not accept any, although they may as in a subordinate role. This means they may find them useful or pious, but not binding as authoritative.

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  • Appreciate the research and the links provided.
    – Lesley
    Jan 15 at 7:53
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Disclaimer: Some Protestants prefer that churches which deny the core teachings of the Ecumenical Councils should not be considered truly Protestant. For purposes of this answer, I used the definition in used in the site tag:

Protestantism is a broad tradition referring to the churches which broke from the Roman Catholic Church during the 16th Century and those that descended from them.

The answer includes several churches that traditional Protestants would exclude. It also may also include a few that do not self-identify as Protestant, for which I apologize.


While mainstream Protestant denominations - Calvinist, Lutheran, Anglican, etc. - generally do accept the councils, many denominations reject some doctrines taught by them. These do not, however, necessarily state that they reject the councils as such. A few (e.g. LDS, Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses) hold the pre-Reform tradition of the Church in contempt and reject its entire tradition. In addition, even mainstream churches are not usually rigorous in requiring adherence to the councils' creeds. A survey:

  • The Jehovah's Witnesses do not accept the councils' teaching on the Trinity, affirming instead that God (the Father) alone is truly eternal and that Christ was the first creation rather than the eternally begotten Son.

  • Oneness Pentecostalism teaches that God is one person that he manifests himself in different ways, namely Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This rejects the Councils' teaching that God is three persons in one substance.

  • Seventh Day Adventists and similar denominations teach the co-eternity of the Father and Son but do not see the Holy Spirit as a co-eternal person with them.

  • Swedenborgianism reportedly holds that the Trinity exists in one person. Jesus Christ is the one God; the Father as to his soul, the Son as to his body, and the Holy Spirit as to his activity in the world.

  • Biblical Unitarians of various types believe that Jesus was the savior but that only God (the Father) is God.

  • Several denominations deny that Mary should be called "Theotokos."

  • Some (not all) Messianic Jews deny the doctrine of the Trinity.

  • The LDS Church teaches that the church had already been corrupted before the Ecumenical Councils and that Joseph Smith was sent to reform the primitive tradition of true Christianity.

  • Unificationists teach that the human being Jesus of Nazareth was not co-eternal with the Father and that the Second Coming was fulfilled by Rev. Sun Myung Moon and Hak Ja Han Moon, representing Christ and the Holy Spirit.

  • Jesus-only Pentecostalism rejects baptism in the of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost (adopted at Nicaea), insisting the baptism be performed only in the name of Jesus. Some non-Pentecostal denominations also baptize in the name of Jesus.

  • Quakers do not require creeds of any kind and reject the idea of anathematizing heretics, which the councils require.

  • Some Methodist denominations also do not require adherence to creeds, although they may recite the Apostles Creed in church for tradition's sake.

This is only a brief survey of the many ways in which Protestant denominations of various types diverge from the rulings of the Ecumenical Councils, keeping in mind that I have used a loose definition of "Protestant."


Note: I have not always referred to primary sources in this survey and some of it is based on personal memory of past research. I am happy to receive correction from members or experts of the denominations mentioned - or, as @Anne suggested participants may want to add their own answers.

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    Half of the groups you have listed are not Protestant, and it is confusing for them to be included in this question. I suggest you either remove them from the answer, or at least move them to the end, like an appendix.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 15 at 23:32
  • This is a very good over-view and the fact that two or three do not claim to be Protestant is not confusing, as far as I am concerned.
    – Lesley
    Jan 20 at 16:15
  • @curiousdannii, you a good point although I disagree with your assessment that "half" of those listed are not Protestant. Which ones do you consider "not Protestant"? A better yet, which ones do not consider themselves as such. (I will check to see if there is a question about this.) Jan 21 at 5:23
  • Not protestant: JW, Oneness Pentecostals, Swedenborgian, Unitarian, LDS, Unificationist, probably Jesus-only Pentecostalism, some Quakers, and any SDA who don't teach the eternality of the Spirit. Is Protestant: Calvinist/Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican, modern SDA, Methodist, Baptist, non-Oneness Pentecostal.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 21 at 5:34
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. Jan 21 at 6:21

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