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Question and Answer

Value of the Westminster Standards

Question:

I would like to ask you a question regarding the Westminster Confession of Faith that was designed to reform the church: What potential value do the distinctive theological emphases of the Westminster Standards have for Christians in the twenty-first century?

Answer:

Your question—"What potential value do the distinctive theological emphases of the Westminster Standards have for Christians in the twenty-first century?"—seems to require a division of your question into two parts. To respond requires, first, an attempt to define what "the distinctive theological emphases of the Westminster Standards" are. And then, secondly, what their "potential value for Christians in the 21st Century" is. I will therefore attempt to answer your question in this way.

In the history of the Presbyterian and Reformed Churches the Westminster Standards have always had an honored place as faithful expressions of the teaching of Scripture. In other words, the most important thing about the Westminster Standards is that they are in harmony not only with the Bible, but also, in all essentials, with the other great Reformed Confessions such as the Belgic Confession and the Canons of Dordt or the Second Helvetic Confession. Yet it is also a fact that the Westminster Standards express that Reformed Faith with what could indeed be called "distinctive theological emphases." Let me simply point out a few of these.

Here are some of the distinctive points that set Chapter I of the Westminster Confession apart from all other Reformed Confessions.

Most of the above teaching can be logically deduced from other major Reformed Confessions. But none state them as clearly and fully as the Westminster Standards.

The same can be said of the much fuller treatment of the ten commandments that we find in the Larger Catechism, as compared with any of the other Reformed Catechisms or Confessions. Similarly, no other Catechism or Confession has so clear and full a statement of the doctrine of worship (Wesminster Confession of Faith XXI), the doctrine of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience (WCF XX), or the Biblical teaching on Marriage and Divorce (WCF XXIV). And it is the only Reformed Confession that fully recognizes the importance of the doctrine of adoption (WCF XII).

More could be said, but this should be sufficient to make one thing quite clear: what is distinctive about the Westminster Standards is not that they teach a different doctrine than that of the other great Reformed Creeds but that they teach it with greater fullness and precision. And that, it seems to me, is what gives it great "potential value for Christians in the 21st Century."

It is generally recognized that the Christian church today needs a new Reformation! In many areas—such as worship, for example—the scene is one of confusion and disunity. Presbyterian and Reformed Churches in past generations were much more united in both doctrine and practice. Indeed, it was because they were united in doctrine that they tended to be of one mind in practice. If there is to be a new Reformation—and we believe there will be—it will come as the church recovers, first of all, in doctrine. And no document yet produced in the history of the church will be of greater importance than the Westminster Standards. The reason is quite simple: they express what the Bible teaches more fully and accurately than any other Creed.

May the Lord bless your own study of these great Reformation documents!


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

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Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been edited—all personal references are removed, Scripture references may be added, and sometimes portions are expanded—to make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.

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