Thursday, August 9, 2012

How Has God Revealed Himself? (Part 1)

In this series I'd like to explore how the Westminster Standards answer the question "How has God revealed himself?"  But before we dive into the Standards a few words about them are in order.

The Westminster Standards are documents that were produced by the Westminster Assembly in 1646 and 1647. The Assembly was a group of 119 ministers called together by the English Parliament on June 12, 1643 for the purpose of "settling of the government and liturgy of the Church of England, and for vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the said Church from all false calumnies and aspersions" (Alexander Mitchell, The Westminster Assembly, 108-9, cited in Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly30). Most were English Presbyterians. All were Non-conformists, also known as Puritans. They met in London at Westminster Abbey (hence the name) for nearly six years from July 1, 1643 to February 22, 1649, though official business was concluded on March 25, 1652. The documents that make up the Westminster Standards are the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), the Larger Catechism (1647), and the Shorter Catechism (1647). The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP) are contemporary U.S. denominations that include the Westminster Standards in their constitutions.

The Standards have undergone several revisions among Presbyterians since the founding of the United States. In 1788 the Presbyterian Church in the USA revised WCF chapters 20.4, 23.3, and 31.2, properly distinguishing the power of the state from the power of the church. It also removed the phrase "tolerating a false religion" from LC Answer 109 and replaced "depopulations" with "depradation" in LC Answer 142. In 1887 the teaching that forbade marriage to the close kindred of one's deceased spouse in chapter 24.4 was removed. For better or worse more revisions were made in 1903. The version of the Westminster Standards adopted by the OPC in 1936 includes the 1788 and 1887 revisions. It also includes two of the 1903 revisions, i.e. the removal of reference to the pope as the Antichrist in chapter 25.6 and the removal of the teaching that forbade refusing to take an oath when imposed by a lawful authority in chapter 22.3. Revisions have also been made to the proof texts appended to the Standards, though the proofs have never been considered part of the Standards.

The teaching of the Westminster Standards on how God has revealed himself has remained unchanged since it was first laid out 365 years ago. We find that teaching in WCF chapter 1, LC 2-4, and SC 2. We'll begin an examination of that teaching in part 2.

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