George Robertson - June 2, 2014
Westminster Confession of Faith: Introduction
From Series: "Westminster Confession of Faith"
Westminster Confession of Faith
The Westminster Confession of Faith together with the Larger and Shorter Catechisms summarize the theological convictions of our church and denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America. While the Bible is our foundation and trumps all other standards, we believe that the Westminster Confession is an excellent and proven summary of biblical doctrine.
The Confession was born out of the political struggle in 17th century England that eventually led to civil war. Basically, the struggle was over the question of whether the King of England would rule alone or in cooperation with Parliament. While James I (1603-25) believed in the divine right of kings—whatever the king does is God’s will—Charles his son actually tried to rule on that premise. Charles dissolved the Parliament and threw its leaders in prison so he could make his decrees without their interruption. Especially disturbing to the Puritans who were trying to reform the Church to biblical standards, were his decrees regarding worship. Wishing to court the favor of Catholic nations, Charles took steps through his Archbishop William Laud to make Anglican worship look more like a Roman Catholic mass.
The Puritans tried to oppose Charles’ efforts politically; however, when he tried to impose his rule and Catholic practices on the Scots, they took up weapons! To fund an army in the field against the Scots required Charles to call Parliament into session. When Parliament met the Parliamentarians (Puritans) outnumbered the Royalists (the King’s supporters). In short order, the Puritans had beheaded Laud and put Charles on the run.
With the government in their control, their first order of business was not to refine their political machine but to pursue the reformation of the Church. That required a solid theological foundation. Pastors (121) and theological professors from England, Scotland and Holland were assembled eventually in the Jerusalem chamber of Westminster Abbey and over the course of five years they hammered out the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. Later the House of Commons directed that Scripture proofs be added for nearly every sentence of the Confession and Catechisms. The Shorter Catechism was designed for the instruction of children and the Larger for adults.
Each theologian (“Divine”) had to pledge to the following oath:
I do seriously promise and vow, in the presence of Almighty God, that in this Assembly, whereof I am a member, I will maintain nothing in point of doctrine, but what I believe to be most agreeable to the word of God; or in point of discipline, but what may make most for God’s glory, and the peace and good of the chis church
Such highly disciplined biblical work resulted in a work that has become broadly acceptable to many denominations. English Congregationalists and Baptists, and in recent years many Southern Baptists have subscribed to slightly adapted versions of the Westminster Confession. The Confession is organized along a logical path beginning with the doctrine of Scripture, moving to the question of who God is and how he works in the world, then on to Christ and what he accomplished, and concludes with the doctrine of the Church and the Judgment Day. While we could wish for more in the Confession about the Holy Spirit or marriage or eschatology and while we may quibble with the section on the Sabbath or the second commandment, one would be hard-pressed to find a more complete theological standard expressed in such warm pastoral language that has weathered centuries of theological debate. The Confession demonstrates that anything built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ revealed in the inerrant and infallible word of God will last forever.