Thursday, April 05, 2007

Westminster and Catechisms, 1647

Thanks to the Rev. Peg True for this post: The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms are the best known of the Reformation era creeds among Presbyterians. For over three centuries they were the sole doctrinal standards of British and American Presbyterianism, until it was included in “The Book of Confessions” that was created in 1967 by American Presbyterians.

The Westminster Assembly, so named since it met at Westminster Abby, was appointed by Parliament to work on a confession that would be agreeable to the many ideologies that existed in England at that time. Members included representatives from the Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Puritans and Presbyterians from Scotland. It was a time of great unrest between the Church of England and the Puritans who were reformed and wanted a representative form of government as described in the Bible. The Confession was passed by parliament and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms were developed to instruct adults and children in what the Westminster Confession taught.

One of the most important beliefs outlined in this confession is the sovereignty of God. In our scientific times we are quick to dismiss the idea that God causes everything that happens but that is not what the Divines were saying. The meaning they gave to the sovereignty of God is that we are created in relationship with the living God. Reformed theology presented here says we glorify God by listening to what God asks of us in Scripture and using the many gifts and talents we are given in creative activity. By living as we are called we are free to be actively engaged in the world as we live out our faith. The first question in the shorter Catechism is, “What is the chief end of humans? And the response is, “The chief end of humans is to glorify God and enjoy God forever.”

Interpretation of Scripture is another part of the Confession that is relevant today. There are seven rules of biblical interpretation given in The Westminster Confession that were used in the Presbyterian Church USA document “Presbyterian Understanding and Use of Holy Scripture” written twenty years ago. This confession continues to influence our lives and define our history as a denomination. While it contains some things we may not choose to believe it gives us a firm foundation for believing we are children of a God who loves us and walks with us through life.

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