Associated with the Shorter and Larger Catechism WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH Historical Framework Westminster Assembly was commissioned\in 1643 as a result of a promise made by Parliament: We will reform the English Church along the Scottish lines if Scotland will help Parliament overthrow Charles I (1600-1649). Charles I wanted to impose Anglicanism as the religious framework of England. Civil war broke out in 1642. 121 divines and 30 laymen completed the Form of Presbyterian Church Government and the Directory of Public Worship in 1644. This Directory was intended to replace the Book of Common Prayer Confession was accomplished in 1646, and the Shorter Catechism and Larger Catechism were written by the next year. The documents produced by the Westminster Assembly are known as the Westminster Standards. It was the Parliament that required Scriptural proofs for each theological statement. Both the governments of England and Scotland approved the Confession by February 1649. Confession provides the big picture. Its purpose can be compared to Calvin’s (1509-1564) intentions for the Institutes as a GUIDE and RESOURCE when his commentaries were read. Both Calvin and the divines pointed to Scripture as the sole AUTHORITY. Some chapters are more broadly accepted (e.g. by Catholics), others have evangelical emphasis, while a third category of chapters covers Presbyterian Calvinistic doctrine. A quote by Spurgeon should be noted: “Calvinism is a nickname for Christianity.” Complexity of Divines The Episcopalians (who supported an episcopacy) included such figures as James Ussher, Archbishop of Armagh. The Episcopalian group usually did not attend the sessions, because the king had not authorized them. The Presbyterians (who supported an assembly-based structure found in Puritanism), the largest group, included figures such as Edward Reynolds, George Gillespie and Samuel Rutherford. A small group of Independents (of the various Congregationalist views including baptists) were present and had the support of Oliver Cromwell, and these included Thomas Goodwin. The Erastian representatives, such as John Lightfoot, who favored the state's primacy over the ecclesiastical law. The Doctrine of Holy Scripture Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; 1 yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of His will, which is necessary unto salvation. [And] 2 Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His church; [And] 3 and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; [And] 4 which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; [And] 5 those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased. [And] 6 Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, now contained in all books of OT and NT Conclusions drawn about the Bible Creation – leaves “men inexcusable” (I, 1) Bible – 66 books “are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.” Also, “entire perfection,” “infallible truth,” and “divine authority.” (I, 2 & 5) “whole counsel of God” (I, 6) “nothing at any time is to be added “ (I, 6) Bible is for “not only the learned, but the unlearned” (I , 7) Gave mandate to translate into all languages (I, 8) Prescribes the analogy of faith: interpret Scripture with Scripture (I, 9) A.A. Hodge summarizes and comments on status of the knowledge of God There is the assumption of all those extreme Rationalists who deny the existence of any world beyond the natural one discoverable by our senses, and especially of that school of Positive Philosophy inaugurated by Auguste Comte in France, and represented by John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer in England, who affirm that all possible human knowledge is confined to the facts of our experience and the uniform laws which regulate the succession of those facts; that it is not possible for the human mind, in its present state, to go beyond the simple order of nature to the knowledge of an absolute First Cause, or to a designing and disposing Supreme Intelligence, even though such an one actually exists; that whether there be a God or not, yet as a matter of fact he is not revealed, and as a matter of principle could not, even if revealed, be recognized by man in the present state of his faculties.—Commentary on the WCF, A - A. Hodge This assumption is disproved By the fact that men of all nations, ages, and degrees of culture, have discerned the evidences of the presence of a God in the works of nature and providence, and in the inward workings of their own souls By the fact that the works of nature and providence are full of the manifest traces of design The same is disproved from the fact that conscience, which is a universal and indestructible element of human nature, necessarily implies our accountability to a personal moral Governor, and as a matter of fact has uniformly led men to a recognition of his existence and of their relation to him Romans 1:19-20 That there is a God is the first principle of all religion, whether natural or revealed, and we are here taught that the being of God and a number of his perfections may be discovered by the light of nature. By the word God is meant a Being of infinite perfection; self-existent and independent; the Creator, Preserver, and Lord of all things. “It is true, indeed, that to give a perfect definition of God is impossible, neither can our finite reason hold any proportion with infinity; but yet a sense of this Divinity we have, and the find and common notion of it consists in these three particulars,—that it is a Being of itself, and independent from any other; that it is that upon which all things that are made depend; that it governs all things.” When we affirm that the being of God may be discovered by the light of nature, we mean, that the senses and the reasoning powers, which belong to the nature of man, are, [capable of affirming the existence of God]. Rom. 1:19, 20— Exposition of the WCF, An - R. Shaw Colossians 2:6-8 HOW DOES THIS CHAPTER OF THE CONFESSION HELP US TODAY The Question of Evolution and Intelligent Design EVOLUTION Life is Godless “Darwinism removed the whole idea of God as the creator of organisms from the sphere of rational discussion.” Sir Julian Huxley Life is Purposeless “Life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA…life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” Richard Dawkins Life is Meaningless “There are no gods, no purpose, and no goal- directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death….There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans.” William Provine William B. Provine I am working on four disparate research projects: (1) a history of the theories of neutral molecular evolution (Kimura, Ohta, King, Jukes, and many others); (2) a history of geneticists' attitudes toward human race differences and race crossing; (3) implications of modern biology for free will, moral responsibility, and the foundations of ethics; and (4) a history of ideas about speciation from 1963 to the present. In recent years, graduate students working with me have written their theses on topics such as the history of mimicry theory, history of ideas about variation in natural populations, role of botany in the evolutionary synthesis of the 1930s and 1940s, a study of the controversies surrounding the genetic effects of atomic bombs dropped on Japan, ideas about inheritance in humans in the period 1600- 1865 in the USA, using the history of biology to teach introductory college-level biology, reactions of the professional ecology community to the work of Rachel Carson, history of ideas about sexual selection, tensions in the history of neuropsychology, and a biography of Tomoko Ohta. [ Tomoko Ohta is currently at the Japanese National Institute of Genetics and, in 2002, she was elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences as a foreign associate in evolutionary biology.] I have collected an enormous library of evolution and genetics that is available for our use. The library consists of more than 300,000 reprints and a huge collection of books on evolution. So How Does the Confession Help? It gives us a quick overview of the difference between natural revelation and special revelation. It reminds us that natural revelation needs interpretation It provides the interpretation It states how special revelation augments natural revelation by giving us personal and saving knowledge of God It gives us a framework to understand and critique modern thinking.
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