“Of the Church” An Historical Overview of the “Westminster Confession of Faith”, Chapter 25 -- By: R. Dean Anderson Jr.

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 59:2 (Fall 1997)
Article: “Of the Church” An Historical Overview of the “Westminster Confession of Faith”, Chapter 25
Author: R. Dean Anderson Jr.

“Of the Church”
An Historical Overview of the “Westminster Confession of Faith”, Chapter 25

R. Dean Anderson Jr.


I. Introduction

The doctrine of the Westminster Confession of Faith (henceforth WCF) on the church has been a focal point for many Reformed thinkers particularly in the last century. It has been praised by such men as Abraham Kuyper for its broad vision of an invisible church, a pluriform church of pure and less pure elements. It has been equally castigated by others for the same reasons. Its doctrine of the church has even recently been blamed for the development of “open” communion in Presbyterian circles.2

It shall be the purpose of this paper to place certain propositions of the Westminster Confession on the church within their historical setting. An attempt will be made to show why the Confession may have been worded in the way it was, and what these statements of the Confession implied in their original context. Finally, it will asked what relevance this Confession on the church has for international Reformed scholarship today.

II. The Context of the Westminster Assembly

Before turning to the Confession itself a few words are in order concerning the work of the Westminster Assembly. This Assembly should not be viewed apart from the political context within which it was commissioned. Parliament, at war with the king and having abolished the episcopal structure of the Church of England on June 12, 1643, commissioned an assembly of Divines “for the settling of the Government and Liturgy of the Church of England, and for vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the said Church from false aspersions and interpretations.”3 The ordinance itself made what was desired more explicit when it stated that there should be “nearer agreement with the Church of Scotland, and other Reformed

Churches abroad.”4 As a consequence of this commission by far the greater part of the work and debate of the Assembly was concerned with church government and the doctrines and issues immediately arising therefrom.5 Books, pamphlets, and other publications were by and large devoted to issues within this sphere. As a result it is difficult to find explicit discussions on the nature of the church dating from this period. Work on the Confession itself was not begun until Aug. 20, 1644, but due to other pressing issues, the work was sever...

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