- Westminster Confession
- As Puritan's rose to power in England in the 17th century, Parliament called a group of Puritan clergy to Westminster Abbey to make proposals for the further reform of the Church of England. The group met from 1643 to 1648 and produced a series of documents including a Confession of Faith (designed to replace the Thirty-time Articles of Religion), the Larger and Shorter Catechism, the Directory for Public Worship (designed to replace the Anglican prayer book) and the Form of Church Government (which affirmed a Presbyterian polity).While the Westminster documents were adopted by the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, they were far less directly influential in England. They were largely discarded after the Restoration, which returned episcopal authority to the Church of England and the prayer book to church pews. The Congregationalists and Baptists each produced statements competing with Westminster (Savoy Declaration and the London Confession of Faith), which in effect became the sole possession of the remnant Presbyterian Church. However, from Scotland and Britain, the Westminster documents were passed to North America and then to Presbyterian churches around the world by missionaries. Today, they remain the most cited confessional documents of the Reformed faith globally.The Confession of Faith remains the most important of the documents. it is a lengthy document of 33 chapters, which affirms, in detail, the Bible as the Word of God, the Trinity, predestination, salvation by Christ, the perseverance of the saints, the church as the total number of the elect, the two sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and the return of the souls of the deceased to God immediately after death. Throughout the document, the sovereignty of God, the authority of the Bible, and its proper interpretation are affirmed.In Chapter XX, "Of Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience," the Westminster divines made an important statement about human liberty in the political arena: "The requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also."Through the years, Presbyterian synods have debated the binding authority of the Westminster Confession. One decisive statement was made in 1967 by the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. (now a constituent part of the Presbyterian Church [USA]). By adopting the contemporary Confession of 1967 and placing it alongside the Westminster Confession and other documents from the early Christian church, the United Presbyterians relativized the authority of Westminster. In contrast, more conservative bodies, such as the Presbyterian Church of America, affirm the continuing authority of the confession in the contemporary world.See also creeds/confessions of faith.Further reading:■ Benjamin Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and Its Work (New York: Oxford University Press, 1931)■ Samuel William Carruthers, The Everyday Work of the Westminster Assembly (Philadelphia: Published jointly by the Presbyterian Historical society [of America] and the Presbyterian Historical Society of England, 1934)■ John Richard De Witt, Jus Divinum: The Westminster Assembly and the Divine Right of Church Government (Kampe: J. H. Kok, 1969)■ John H. Leith, Assembly at Westminster: Reformed Theology in the Making (Richmond, Va.: John Knox Press, 1973)■ Robert S. Paul, The Assembly of the Lord: Politics and Religion in the Westminster Assembly and the "Grand Debate" (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1985).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.