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Authentic Christianity; An Introductory Study, Part 1

The Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, written in the late 1640's, still have the spiritual power to transform individuals, families and entire cultures on the threshold of the Twenty-First Century. As no other book, outside the Bible, the Westminster Standards have been informing, inspiring and transforming people and nations for over 350 years. Why? Because they take seriously all the facts of the written Word of God and all the facts of reality and human life. They seek to understand everything we need to know about God and the universe in the light of that Word, Psa. 36:9. They look at all of life from the perspective of the God of the Bible, for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, Rom. 11:26. It is for this reason that the Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with the question: "What is man's chief end?", and answers: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."

 

 

 

Pastor MorecraftAUTHENTIC CHRISTIANITY
An Introductory Study of the
Westminster Standards, Part I
From the 5 Volume set, Authentic Christianity,
by Joe Morecraft, III


I. THE IMPACT OF THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS ON THE INDIVIDUAL, FAMILY AND SOCIETY1

Authentic ChristianityA. THE VITALITY OF THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS

1. THE SPIRITUAL POWER OF THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS

     The Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, written in the late 1640's, still have the spiritual power to transform individuals, families and entire cultures on the threshold of the Twenty-First Century. As no other book, outside the Bible, the Westminster Standards have been informing, inspiring and transforming people and nations for over 350 years. Why? Because they take seriously all the facts of the written Word of God and all the facts of reality and human life. They seek to understand everything we need to know about God and the universe in the light of that Word, Psa. 36:9. They look at all of life from the perspective of the God of the Bible, for from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, Rom. 11:26. It is for this reason that the Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with the question: "What is man's chief end?", and answers: "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."


 

2. THE PEERLESS QUALITY OF THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS

     As far as what they were meant to be, the Westminster Standards are peerless. They form a summary of the system of truths taught in the Bible, which everyone ought to believe, because it is taught in the Bible. Therefore, these standards comprise our "confession of faith." They are, in fact, the most faithful summary of Biblical teachings ever written by fallible men. They are not on par with the Bible, but are a faithful summary of what the Bible teaches. As John Murray has written in his COLLECTED WORKS, (Vol. I, pg. 317): "No creed of the Christian church is comparable to that of Westminster in respect of the skill with which the fruits of fifteen centuries of Christian thought have been preserved, and at the same time examined anew and clarified in the light of that fuller understanding of God's Word which the Holy Spirit has imparted."

3. THE POWER OF THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS AS THE PREACHING OF THE WORD OF GOD

     This is the reason the Westminster Standards still have an impact on individuals, families and societies: insofar as they are a faithful exposition and application of the Word of God, they bear the authority and power of the Spirit of God, the Author of that Word. They bear a transforming power similar to the saving power of the preaching of the whole counsel of God revealed in the Bible, I Cor. 1:18; Acts 20:27.

B. THE IMPACT OF THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS ON THE INDIVIDUAL

     A vital relation exists between faith and life, belief and conduct, creed and character. A person lives like he lives because he thinks like he thinks. As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. What people believe they become. Truth embraced by the mind prints goodness on the character and behavior, and error prints evil. Therefore, we must guard our minds from doctrinal error and our lives from ethical evils. But we must do more. To obtain goodness of character, we must begin with faith, faith in God, faith in Christ, faith in God's Word. We must believe as true everything the Bible teaches, simply because the Bible, which is the Word of God, teaches it.

     It can be documented from history that wherever the system of truth of the Westminster Standards has been embraced, it has produced individuals with A NOBLE AND DISTINCT type of character. Thomas Chalmers, the great Scottish preacher of the early Nineteenth Century observed: "Wherever there has been most Calvinism, men have been most moral." Consider the superior men and women of the Huguenots of France, the Protestant Dutch of Holland, the Puritans of England, the Covenanters of Scotland, and the Scotch-Irish of Ulster. The distinct, pure and noble type of character developed among these people has never been surpassed in the history of the world.

     This character has been marked by a STRICTNESS of life and worship which regulates both by the Word of God. This is understandable in the light of the fact that "all excellence is marked by strictness. Strictness certainly characterizes everything that truly represents God. --- Any pretended exposition of the moral nature and claims of God which is characterized by looseness, by that very fact brands itself as false."- Cannon, pg. 262.

     The adherents of the Westminster Standards have also been distinguished by INTELLIGENCE. "It is a plain fact of history that Calvinism and ignorance have never dwelt together in unity. Wherever they have met, one or the other has had to quit the field." pg. 263.

     Those molded by our confessional standards have also been marked by COURAGE. "He who believes in an Almighty Father, who has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, and who through His overruling providence is preserving and governing all His creatures, and all their actions, is made superior to those experiences of life which cause others to quake and fear."-pg. 264. Faith in a sovereign God of grace makes a man or a woman a hero.

     Adherents of the Westminster Standards have also had a HIGH REGARD FOR THE NEEDS AND DUTIES OF MANKIND. "Honesty, integrity and all social and domestic virtues have been developed among them to a degree that is rarely seen in this selfish and grasping world. 'Men may talk as much as they please,1 says Mr. Beecher, 'against the Calvinists, Puritans, and Presbyterians, but you will find that when they want to make an investment they have no objection to Calvinism, Puritanism, or Presbyterianism. They know that where these systems prevail, their capital may be safely invested.1" pg. 264.

     "It is not too much to claim that the Calvinistic peoples have been marked by a LOVE OF TRUTH AND JUSTICE, a DEVOTION TO DUTY, an UNSWERVING ALLEGIANCE TO RIGHT, a PERSONAL UPRIGHTNESS and PURITY of character, not surpassed by the adherents of any other creed or system. We may with confidence maintain that the world has never known a higher type of stalwart manhood, nor a gentler, purer, or more lovable womanhood than has prevailed among those peoples into whose hearts and life has entered this Calvinistic creed...."- Cox, pg. 280.

C. THE IMPACT OF THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS ON THE FAMILY

     The Westminster Standards have had a particularly powerful influence on marriage and family life. One historian has written: "'Home, as we conceive it, was the creation of the Puritan.' Certain it is that the ideal Christian home has been most nearly realized in those places where the influence of the Westminster Symbols has been most dominant. --- '...in all the history of the Puritans there is not an example of divorce.'"- Cannon, pg. 265. The Reformed Faith has constantly emphasized that the Christian family is our first defense organization, political unit, school, judicial system, church and factory.2

     These "Westminster Christians" perceived more clearly than others the Biblical truths that: (1). the family, rather than the individual, is the basic unit upon which church and society are built; (2). the family of the believer is included in the provisions and promises of God's gracious covenant; (3). the children of believing parents have a place in the church, covenant and kingdom of God. They have never "been content to offer life and salvation to the individual hearer, but (have) always included in (their) offer the children whom God has given (them). No smaller gospel can adequately express the exceeding riches of redeeming grace; no smaller gospel can perfectly satisfy the need of the human soul. — That deep yearning of the soul the gospel answers with the assurance that as we confidently commit ourselves, so may we commit our children, into the arms of redeeming love. This precious feature of our holy religion the Westminster Standards clearly expound, and I am not sure but it is their most distinctive glory."- Cannon, pg. 266.

     Wherever the Reformed Faith as expressed in the Westminster Standards has prevailed, homes and families have been characterized by two features: FAMILY DISCIPLINE and FAMILY WORSHIP. Such features are "indigenous to the Presbyterian soul; and if our beloved old church ever loses her glory, it will be when the fires go out on her family altars."- Cannon, pg. 267.

D. THE IMPACT OF THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS ON SOCIETY

1. THE SHIELD OF LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL

     "Wherever Presbyterianism has been planted, and has been true to her doctrinal Standards, she has made a distinct impression upon the face of society. She has never failed to bless the state under whose aegis (shield) she has dwelt."- Cannon, pg. 267. Along with her emphasis on self-government, family government and church government, she has emphasized the necessity for representative, limited, constitutional, Christian republicanism as essential to liberty and justice for all. "The freest people in the world today must trace their institutions back through England, Scotland, the Netherlands, of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, to the Geneva of Calvin; and the England, the Scotland and the Netherlands of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were to their heart's core intensely Calvinistic. They won civil liberty and established responsible governments because Calvinism had made them desire to be free, and had fitted them to achieve and enjoy freedom."- Cox., pg. 281.

2. THE INSTILLING OF SELF-GOVERNMENT & THE HATRED OF TYRANNY

     It was not a general kind of Reformed Faith that had such an impact upon states and nations; it was specifically Presbyterianism which had such an impact. "It furnished the people in their ecclesiastical affairs a pure type of representative republicanism. It habituated them to self-government. It trained them to self-restraint. It taught them independence and self-reliance. It developed among them a capacity for leadership, and a power of command which served them equally as well adapted to the state as to the church. It stimulated in them a desire for civil liberty. No people accustomed to govern themselves in one sphere could ever become reconciled to an unmixed despotism in the other."- Cox, pg. 28If.

3. THE MODEL & MOTIVE FOR CHRISTIAN REPUBLICANISM

     This Christian republicanism in a church, governed by elders, elected by the people to represent the law of Christ, the head of the church, also served as the pattern for civil government, with its democratically elected representatives, whose duty it was to administer the nation's constitutional law, under the headship of Christ, the Ruler of the kings of the earth, Rev. 1:5. In the last century, Bancroft, the historian of the United States, was able to say that Calvinism is "the system which for a century and a half assumed the guardianship of liberty for the English-speaking world."- Cox, pg. 297.

4. THE RESISTANCE TO ALL TYRANTS

     "Westminster Christians" have always stood against all forms of totalitarianism in church and state. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, these Reformed Christians "stood practically alone in teaching that tyrants were usurpers and were to be resisted and deposed."- Cox, pg. 285. The Westminster Standards were written to put down ecclesiastical tyranny represented in Bishop Laud and High Anglicanism, with its move toward Rome, and civil tyranny as represented in King Charles I of England, with his theory of the divine right of kings. Between 1640 and 1649, "the Presbyterians had done their work. They had overthrown the monarchy, never, in the sense in which Charles understood the word, to rise again in England." (Henry White, "Social and Political Condition of Britain at the Time of the Calling of the Westminster Assembly," MEMORIAL VOLUME, pg. 28.)

5. THE BIRTH OF AMERICA AND THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE

     It is not an exaggeration to say that it was the principles of the Westminster Standards, applied and defended by the adherents of those principles, which gave birth to the American War of Independence and this American Republic. "Here the political principles of Calvinism have been most fully wrought out, and their beneficient effects most fully realized."- Cox, pg. 294. (At least that was true in 1897.) "The Scottish settlers in the province of Ulster, Ireland, bore the seeds of that principle, (i.e., Christian republicanism), to our own Appalachian ridges and foothills. The open Bible, the Westminster Confession, and the Shorter Catechism taught them the principle of resistance to kings, and they formed the bone and sinew of the revolutionary party that wrought out the independence of the American colonies."- White, pg. 29.

E. THE IMPACT OF THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY3

1. THE HOSTILITY OF OUR AGE TO REFORMED CHRISTIANITY

     We live in an age of anti-Christianity, an age of intensifying hostility toward Reformed Christianity. The apostasy and bankruptcy of the American culture deepens every day. Western society is affluent, highly specialized, undisciplined and Godless. It is a society becoming more and more hostile to all the claims of Jesus Christ. To such a society, the Westminster Standards are symbolic of all that is obscure, irrelevant, primitive and unworthy of modern man.

2. THE NEED OF THE HOUR: MODIFICATION OR CLEAR CONFESSION?

     What are we to do? Modify our Standards to suit the objections of the modern, humanistic world? NO! "What we can to is to confess Christ clearly and relevantly to this increasingly hostile society. Our confession of Christ must be clear! We cannot afford to allow society to misunderstand the claims of Christ with which we are to confront it. And our confession of Christ must be RELEVANT—relevant to the specific needs of twentieth-century, (and twenty-first century) man."- F. Nigel Lee, pg. 2.

     Nothing clarifies our confession of Christ more effectively and relevantly than the careful exposition and application of the doctrines, principles, laws, and worldview of the Westminster Standards. As an honest study of these standards will show, the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms are sufficiently relevant in their content and emphasis to the special problems of men and women in the Twenty-First Century.

"Our confession of Christ in modern society must, without in any way compromising the unchangeable truths of Christianity, also take account of these characteristics of our society. Our affluent society must be confronted with the greater affluence of (Reformed) Christianity to make it realize its own relative poverty; our society's over-specialization must be challenged by (Reformed) Christianity's even greater capacity for detail yet overriding and unified life and worldview; we must confront society's increasing decay with the benevolent discipline yet perfect freedom of (Reformed) Christianity; and by this rich and relevant manner of confessing Christ, we must show society the irrelevant poverty of its own Godless smugness."- Rev. Dr. Nigel Lee, pg. 4.


II. THE AUTHENTIC CHRISTIANITY OF THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS:BIBLICAL, HISTORICAL CALVINISM

A. THE ESSENTIAL CHARACTER OF THE REFORMED FAITH (CALVINISM)

1. THE DEFINITION OF CALVINISM

     Reformed or Calvinistic Christianity is Christianity in its purest human expression. "I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what is nowadays called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the Gospel, and nothing else...."- Charles Spurgeon, quoted in J.I. Packer's INTRODUCTION TO THE DEATH OF DEATH.

"The Calvinist is the man who has seen God, and who, having seen God in His glory, is filled on the one hand, with a sense of his own unworthiness to stand in God's sight as a creature, and much more as a sinner, and on the other hand, with adoring wonder that nevertheless this God is a God who receives sinners. He who believes in God without reserve and is determined that God shall be God to him, in all his thinking, feeling, willing—in the entire compass of his life activities, intellectual, moral, spiritual—is, by force of that strictest of all logic which presides over the outworking of principles into thought and life, by the very necessity of the case, a Calvinist. — The Calvinist is the man who sees God behind all phenomena and in all that occurs recognizes the hand of God, working out His will; who makes the attitude of the soul to God in prayer its permanent attitude in all its life-activities; and who casts himself on the grace of God alone, excluding every trace of dependence on self from the whole work of salvation. — The Calvinist is the man who sees God. Everywhere he sees God in His mighty stepping; everywhere he feels the working of His mighty arm, the throbbing of His mighty heart."- Benjamin B. Warfield, SELECTED SHORTER WORKS, Vol. II.

 2. THE THREE BASIC TRAITS OF REFORMED CHRISTIANITY

Reformed Christianity, or Calvinism, is basically three things:

     (1). Pure and mature Theism, (belief in one God), come to its rights. To the believer in the living and almighty God, there can be but one God, of whom, through whom and to whom are all things, to whom be the glory forever, Rom. 11:36. Belief in one, almighty Lord God to be true must be consistent. Insofar as we detract from God's glory or God's sovereignty, we depart from true Theism. All that Theism, to be really Theism, must be is already in principle, Calvinism.

     (2). Pure and mature religion at the height of its conception. Religion "is a sense of absolute dependence on God and reaches the height of its conception only when this sense of absolute dependence is complete and all-pervasive in the thought and feeling of life. But when this stage is reached we have just Calvinism."- Benjamin B. Warfield, SELECTED SHORTER WORKS, Vol. II. Calvinism is the preservation in all our thinking and living of an attitude of utter dependence on God which we assume in prayer.

     (3). Pure and mature evangelicalism in its only stable expression. Evangelicalism, in its best sense, implies sin and salvation from sin by grace through faith in Christ. "Evangelicalism is religion at the height of its conception as it forms itself in the hearts of sinners. It means utter dependence upon God for salvation. It implies therefore, need of salvation and a profound sense of this need, and utter dependence on God for its satisfaction. Its type is found in the publican who smote his breast and cried, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!1 No question there of saving himself, or of helping God to save him, or of opening the way to God to save him. No question of anything but, 'I am a sinner, and all my hope is in God my Savior!1 Now this is Calvinism, not something like Calvinism or an approach to Calvinism, but just Calvinism in its vital manifestation. Wherever this attitude of heart is found and is given expression in direct and unambiguous terms, there is Calvinism. —- Calvinism is just Christianity. Calvinism is the casting of the soul wholly on the free grace of God alone, to whom alone belongs salvation."- Benjamin B. Warfield, SELECTED SHORTER WORKS, Vol. II.

B. THE HEART-DELIGHT IN THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS

     The Westminster Standards are "the product of intellect working only under the impulse of the heart, and must be a monument of the religious life. This is true of all the great creedal statements, and pre-eminently true of the Westminster Standards. Their authors were men of learning and philosophic grasp; but above all of piety. Their interest was not in speculative construction, but in the protection of their flocks from deadly error...In proportion as our own religious life flows in a deep and broad stream, in that proportion will we find spiritual delight in the Westminster Standards."-W.G.T. Shedd quoted in TO GLORIFY AND ENJOY GOD, pg. 61.

III. THE USES OF A CONFESSION OF FAITH AND CATECHISMS

A.   A LANDMARK PRESERVING THE CHURCH'S MATURITY

     A confession of faith is a landmark used to mark and preserve the church's grown in knowledge of revealed truth.

     "The significance of the Westminster Standards as a creed is to be found in the three facts that: historically speaking, they are the final crystalizing of the elements of evangelical religion, after the conflicts of sixteen hundred years; scientifically speaking, they are the richest and most precise and best guarded statement ever penned of all that enters into evangelical religion and of all that must be safeguarded if evangelical religion is to persist in the world; and, religiously speaking, they are a notable monument of spiritual religion."-Benjamin B. Warfield, SELECTED SHORTER WRITINGS OF BENJAMIN B. WARFIELD, Vol. II, pg. 660, (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973 reprint).

     "No creed of the Christian Church is comparable to that of Westminster in respect of the skill with which the fruits of fifteen centuries of Christian thought have been preserved, and at the same time examined anew and clarified in the light of that fuller understanding of God's Word which the Holy Spirit has imparted."- John Murray, "The Importance and Relevance of the Westminster Confession," in COLLECTED WRITINGS OF JOHN MURRAY, Vol. I, pg. 317, (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1976).

B. A PROTECTION FOR THE CHURCH FROM FALSE DOCTRINE

It is a protection for the church from false and unbiblical teaching. It can be used as a test of orthodoxy for preachers, teachers and officers in the church.4

C. A BASIS FOR CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP

It is a basis for Christian fellowship and unity so that Christians may be able to live and work together harmoniously. In Ephesians 2-4, Christian unity is unity in the truth.5

D. A TOOL OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

It is an instrument of instruction in the Christian education of the church. It provides a Biblical philosophy of education and a basis for unity of curriculum.

E. AN EVANGELISTIC TOOL

It is the church's profession of faith to the world, and as such it is an evangelistic tool.

IV. THE BIBLICAL BASIS FOR A CONFESSION OF FAITH

A.. THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH AS THE CUSTODIAN OF THE TRUTH

     The Church of the Living God is the pillar and support of the truth, I Timothy 3:15. As such, it is to be the custodian, witness, defender and interpreter of the truth of God to the church and the world. It is to guard the truth from corruption and mixture, I Tim.6:20-21; II Tim. 1:12-14, and it is to teach that unmixed truth to its members. Furthermore, the church has been commissioned by Christ to be His authoritative witness to the world, Acts 1:8; Phil. 2:15-16, and His authoritative protestor against the world's unbelief and evil, Eph. 5:1 If.

     This office of custodian, teacher, witness and protestor of the truth of God's Word has usually been discharged by the Church in the creation of confessions of faith and statements of doctrine, which not only were declarations of the gospel, but which also defended of the faith and bore witness against false doctrine and heresy. When the church confesses her faith in written form faithfully and relevantly, that confession will always serve a twofold purpose: it will be a witness to the truth of God's Word and a protest against disbelief and error regarding that Word.

     Therefore, it is out of this duty of the church to confess her faith clearly, faithfully and relevantly to the world, to defend that faith and to instruct her members in it, that is derived her authority to declare her faith to its members and to the world by means of creeds, confessions and catechisms.

B. THE CONFESSIONAL NATURE OF THE CHURCH IN THE O.T. AND N.T.

     The Church in both the Old Testament and the New Testament is a confessional (confessing) Church called by her Head to confess what she believes, Deuteronomy 26; Matthew 16:13f; Romans 10:9. In fact, it was upon Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, that Jesus said He would build His Church, Mat. 16:13f. Furthermore, every great period of Spirit-produced revival and reformation in the Church has produced a great creed or confession—The Apostles' Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Heidelberg Catechism, The Belgic Confession, The Canons of Dort, The Westminster Confession of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

C. THE AUTHORITY OF A CONFESSION OF FAITH

     The authority of the Church's confession of faith is inferior, secondary and subordinate to the Bible; and "binding in so far as, and no further than, (it is) a declaration or exhibition of the meaning of the Word of God."- James Bannerman, Vol. I, pg. 305. The Bible is our ONLY infallible rule of faith and practice, and our church confessions and catechisms are HELPS in understanding and applying the one rule of faith and practice.

     Our Divinely-produced creed is the Bible, and the Church-produced creed is the Church's interpretation of that Divine creed. Therefore, the Church's creed is derived from, depends upon, and is subordinate to the Bible, and her creed may never be placed above or on par with the Bible. "The Scriptures, as the inspired word of God, rightly sit upon the throne in all matters pertaining to religious belief, conduct and worship. — The Bible is the fixed, unchanging and infallible rule, while the creed may be regarded as the secondary, subordinate, temporary standard of faith and life."- Francis R. Beattie, THE PRESBYTERIAN STANDARDS, pg. 31, (Richmond, Va., The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1896).

     The Church's creed may not be separated from the Bible. The Bible is the inerrant truth of God, the Church's creeds, confessions and catechisms are the accepted interpretations of that Divine truth. The Bible is interpreted by the confession and catechisms of the church. The real standard is not the confession or the catechisms, but the Bible as interpreted by the confession and catechisms.

D. THE OBJECTIONS TO A CONFESSION OF FAITH

     FIRST OBJECTION: the imposition of a human creed or confession upon church officers or members denies the sole supremacy of the Bible as the only source of the church's law and doctrine. ANSWER: Creeds and confessions are inferior, fallible, and subordinate standards, and are binding on us only in so far as, and no further than, they are accurate interpretations and declarations of the true meaning of the written Word of God. The secondary standards must remain ever open to the judgment of the Word of God. When viewed in this light, they cannot be charged with usurping that place which is due only to the Bible.

     SECOND OBJECTION: the use of subordinate human standards is adding to the Word of God. ANSWER: The Bible was, in fact, given to us as a revelation from God to be a complete, perfect and all-sufficient standard of truth in doctrine and ethics, and its language is clear, full and definite; and to it may nothing every be added or subtracted. But the creeds, confessions and catechisms of Historical, Orthodox and Reformed Christianity are simply declarations of the truths of the Biblical revelation, and nothing more; and therefore, are not open to this charge. In fact these written doctrinal standards must be considered as having a similar character to the exposition and application of the Word of God in the faithful preaching of the Word by any minister of the gospel. The confession is no more guilty of adding to the Word of God than the sermon. Both profess to be the Church's interpretation of the mind of God revealed in His written Word. "They both claim to be believed because they declare the truth of God, and no further than they declare it."- James Bannerman, Vol. I, pg. 313.

     THIRD OBJECTION: the use and imposition of subordinate standards of faith restricts the Christian liberty of church members. ANSWER: If the adoption and imposition of subordinate standards of faith on the church's officers and members were the imposing of new doctrines to be believed and new laws of conduct, previously not obligatory, and not based on the Word of God, then the charge of restricting Christian liberty would be established. But if the doctrines and laws of these subordinate standards are nothing more than the declaration of the truths of the Bible, then they do not restrict the liberty of Christians any further than the Bible already restricts it. In fact, rather than depriving the Church of her Christian liberty, faithful and true confessions and catechisms protect that liberty. "The doctrine that forbids the use of subordinate standards in the Church, carried out to its legitimate result, must throw down all the barriers that protect its Christian fellowship, and leave its territory a defenseless prey to the alien and the foe."- James Bannerman, Vol. I, pgs. 313f.

V. THE HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS

A. THE DATE AND PLACE OF THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY

     The Westminster Assembly convened on July 1, 1643 in Westminster Abbey in London, England, and met in 1,163 numbered sessions in the Jerusalem Chamber of the Abbey until February 22, 1649. It continued to meet irregularly as an examining committee for ministers and ministerial candidates, until it finally was disbanded, its last minutes dated March 25, 1652. "The Westminster Assembly was unique. Never before or since have so many devoted, competent Christian scholars gathered together for so long a period of time to define so many crucial teachings of the faith so well."- Jay Adams, TO GLORIFY AND ENJOY GOD, pg. 251, published by The Banner of Truth Trust.

B. THE MEN OF THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY

     The Seventeenth Century is the decisive century in English history, and the meeting of the Westminster Assembly is the most important event of that century. It was comprised of "learned, godly, and judicious divines," (i.e., ministers and teachers), from England and Ireland, together with representatives of the Scottish Church, and advisers from both Houses of Parliament, numbering some 150 men in all, all of whom were Calvinists, and, with few exceptions, Presbyterians. "The expectation in the minds and hearts of most of those who gathered at Westminster Abbey on 1 July 1643, was that the Lord God expected ALL of Britain to live in obedience to him and that the task of those there gathered was to assist in creating a national ecclesiastical establishment which moved toward that end."- Samuel Logan, in TO GLORIFY AND ENJOY GOD: A COMMEMORATION OF THE 350TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY, pg. 32, (Edinburgh, Scotland: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994).

     The great Puritan, Richard Baxter, said of this Assembly: "The divines there congregated were men of eminent learning and godliness and ministerial abilities and fidelity; and, being not worthy to be one of them myself, I may the more freely speak that truth which I know, even in the face of malice and envy, that as far as I am able to judge by the information of all history of that kind, and by other evidence left to us, the Christian world since the days of the apostles had never a synod, (i.e., official assembly), of more excellent divines (taking one thing with another) than this Synod and the Synod of Dort, (1618-1619, A.D. in the Netherlands)."- Quoted by T.D. Witherspoon in MEMORIAL VOLUME OF THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY 1647-1897, pg. 82, (Richmond, Va.: The Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1897).

     "And so, as we contemplate the lives and characters of these illustrious men, whose lot was cast in the midst of the storms of political and ecclesiastical revolution, who heroically bared their breast to the tempest, receiving in full shock, and hurling back in defiance the waves of despotic absolutism in the state, and hierarchical oppression in the church, their majestic forms loom up before us in the thick of the conflict for the defense of the civil and religious liberties which we enjoy, and there is a majesty and a sublimity in the rugged grandeur of their natures that overawe us. We uncover our heads with reverence before them, and our souls thrill with emotions of gratitude, admiration, and love, as we remember that it was because they stood breast-deep amidst the waves, and maintained their position, inflexible and unawed, under all the fury of the tempest, that we are today in the midst of a Presbyterianism, which under the soft sunlight of God's truth, covers all its fair fields with verdure, bids the fragile fern unfold upon the barren cliffs its graceful fronds, and fills the world with the delicate aroma of its flowers."-T.D. Witherspoon, MEMORIAL VOLUME, pgs. 84-85. (These words were written in 1897!)


 1-For these observations on the impact of the standards on the individual family and society, I have leaned heavily on an article by John Cannon, entitled, “The Influence Exerted by the Westminster Symbols upon the Individual, the Family and Society,” which appeared in the Memorial Volume of the Westminster Assembly, published by the Presbyterian Committee of Publication, Richmond, Va., 1897. I also quote from William Cox’s article, “The Influence of the Westminster System of Doctrine, Worship and Polity on Civil Liberty and Responsible Government,” from the same volume.

2-Two important books on the influence of the Reformed Faith on the Family are: When Fathers Ruled: Family Life In Reformation Europe by Steven Ozment, Harvard University Press, 1983, and The Puritan Family by Edmund Morgan, Harper and Row, NY, 1966.

3 This section is based on F. Nigel Lee's booklet, THE WESTMINSTER
CONFESSION AND MODERN SOCIETY, Scottish Reformed Fellowship, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1972.

4-When a man is ordained to an office in the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States, he is required to subscribe strictly and fully to the Westminster Standards with the vow: "Do you sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and the Catechisms of this Church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures...?" "Notice that the vow requires the adoption of the Confession and Catechisms, and not just the system of doctrine. It holds that the ordinand, (the one being ordained), is subscribing to nothing more or less than the entirety of the Confession and Catechisms as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Scriptures. — This is not to say that the full subscriptionist does not recognize that some of the teachings of the Confession and Catechisms are not more foundational than others, but it is to say that the full subscriptionist believes that in professing that the Confession and Catechisms are his confession, that he is subscribing to all the doctrines in the Confession and Catechisms. — Note that full subscription does not require subscription in terms of adopting every word of the Confession and Catechisms, but rather in terms of every doctrine or teaching of the Confession and Catechisms. — When the full subscriptionist insists on the fact that our subscription includes all the doctrines in the Confessional Standards, he is not insisting on every statement regarding each of these doctrines, but rather that each of the areas of teaching dealt with by the Standards is included in his subscription."- Morton H. Smith, THE CASE FOR FULL SUBSCRIPTION TO THE WESTMINSTER STANDARDS IN THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN AMERICA, (Greenville, S.C.: Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Press, 1992), pgs. 7, 19, 20. Loose subscription maintains "that we subscribe to a system of doctrine, which is not specifically defined, but which is contained in the Confession and Catechisms of the Church. This is similar to the liberal interpretation that the Bible contains the Word of God. — The question is whether the Church believes the Confession in its entirety contains the system of doctrine taught in the Bible, or whether only a part of the Confession contains what is taught in the Bible. — To allow loose or system subscription is to open the door for the deformation of the Church."- Morton H. Smith, pgs. 8, 9, 15.

5-The Westminster Standards were not intended to be a test of church membership. The requirement for church membership is a credible profession of faith in Christ. But the holding of office in Reformed and Presbyterian Churches does require of the office-holder subscription to those standards. Furthermore, those who are considering churches that subscribe to the Westminster Standards ought to familiarize themselves with them and ask themselves whether they would be happy and remain teachable in a church that teaches such doctrines.