Was the Westminster Assembly Legit?

Discussion in 'General discussions' started by bookslover, Jan 3, 2019.

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  1. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    W. Robert Godfrey, writing in the January, 2019, issue of Tabletalk, in his article, "The Reason for Dort," writes (page 8, bold is mine):

    "The Dutch Calvinists decided that the synod should be more than simply a national synod. They invited representatives from most of the Reformed churches of Europe to attend and to be full voting members of the synod. The result was the greatest and most ecumenical gathering of Reformed churches ever held. (Lest my Presbyterian friends feel that I am slighting the Westminster Assembly, let me remind them that that assembly was not properly a church gathering but a gathering of theologians to advise the English Parliament."

    Some questions:

    1. Is this true?
    2. If it is true, does that mean that the Westminster Assembly was not a gathering of the church, as opposed to the Synod of Dort?
    3. If Westminster was not an official gathering of the church, sanctioned and organized by the church, do its secondary standards actually carry any weight in the church as church-written and church-approved documents?

    I'm asking these questions honestly. I'm not trying to either denigrate the Westminster Assembly and its documents or to carry water for the Synod of Dort and its documents. My basic question is whether the Westminster Standards have any actual standing among the Reformed churches if, in fact, the Westminster Assembly was not a church-sanctioned and approved event.

    Any opinions? (Where's Chad van Dixhoorn when you really need him?)
  2. greenbaggins

    greenbaggins Administrator Staff Member

    Richard, the Parliament called the assembly of the best divines in the land to revise the 39 Articles (and for a few other reasons as well). It was a quasi-official church court, since they did approve ministers of the gospel. They started to revise the 39 articles, but then switched to start over with a brand-new document. The officialness of the Westminster documents is determined by any following church body as it adopts that document for its standards. In other words, the secondary-to-Scripture authority of the WS does not depend on their authorship, but on the authority of the adopting body. Similarly, the Heidelberg Catechism was not written by an official church court, but by the two theologians Ursinus and Olevianus. It has authority only as a church court adopts it as an authority.
  3. JP Wallace

    JP Wallace Puritan Board Sophomore

    This is maybe a simplistic answer - but I would imagine that regardless of whether the Assembly itself was a church-sanctioned and approved event that the Confession it produced becomes authoritative as and when it is adopted by a/the church e.g. as it was by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1647. Likewise it is has authority in our denomination (I mean mine) as adopted by the above with the clarifications on Cp 23,24 & 31.
  4. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    What Lane and Paul said.
  5. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    So, does the state have the right to subpoena the church today to produce a theological document?
  6. Harley

    Harley Puritan Board Sophomore

    That'd be the closest thing today yet to revival.
  7. Alan D. Strange

    Alan D. Strange Puritan Board Junior

    Where to start?

    As Lane noted, the HC was not the product of an ecclesiastical synod and the BC (Belgic Confession) even less so (one guy!). The Dutch Church, acting in concert with an Erastian state, called the Synod at Dort to deal with the Arminian errors, specifically as those errors came from misinterpretation of the BC and HC.

    So Dort was called as a kind of court to address a particular error, not a general theological advisory body (as was Westminster). Dort operated in a limited fashion with a narrow soteriological focus. Westminster sought ultimately to reform the church in England and Scotland, addressing theological matters broadly.

    The theologians in the Dutch church and in the English and Scottish churches were largely anti-Erastian, believing that neither the state is over the church nor the church over the state. Many at Dort did not appreciate the hegemonic claims of the state over the church (as Calvin did not either in Geneva). And most of the Westminster divines proved to be anti-Erastian and anti-Episcopal (like the Scots).

    Chad Van Dixhoorn (and many others of us) have, in fact, answered these questions in print. The Scottish GA, as noted, adopted Westminster as its own confession in 1647. The English church never did, for various reasons, not the least of them being Oliver Cromwell. But Westminster is every bit as "legitimate" as Dort: it's considerably broader and its biblical content commended itself not only to the Scottish church but to many churches later, including the Presbyterian Church in the American colonies (1729).

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  8. JP Wallace

    JP Wallace Puritan Board Sophomore

    With limitations and provisios, caveats etc. etc......maybe and perhaps! As noted above our denomination makes some comments on the Confession as follows in our Testimony,

    "In particular the Church has reservations regarding two
    sections of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
    1. Chapter 23, paragraph 3, and chapter 31, paragraph 2,
    should be interpreted in accordance with the decisi
    on ofthe General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
    receiving the Confession in 1647. "The Assembly
    understandeth some parts of the second article of the
    thirty first chapter only of kirks not settled or constituted
    in point of Government and that, although in such kirks a
    Synod of Ministers, and other fit persons, may be called
    by the Magistrate's authority and nomination without any
    other call, to consult and advise with, about matters of
    religion; and although, likewise, the Ministers of Christ,
    withoutdelegation from their Churches, may of
    themselves, and by virtue of their office, meet together
    synodically in such kirks not yet constituted, yet neither
    of these ought to be done in kirks constituted and
    settled." The Church's acceptance of this interpretation
    does not imply the granting of any authority to the
    magistrate other than the requesting of ministers and
    other fit persons to assemble together."
  9. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Professor

    I appreciate the answers. Things are clearer now. Thanks.
  10. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    If the WCF is not legit, neither is the "Authorized" KJV.
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