The Westminster Confession Of Faith And The Sin Of Neglecting Baptism -- By: Jonathan D. Moore

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 69:1 (Spring 2007)
Article: The Westminster Confession Of Faith And The Sin Of Neglecting Baptism
Author: Jonathan D. Moore


The Westminster Confession Of Faith And The Sin Of Neglecting Baptism

Jonathan D. Moore

Jonathan Moore is a member of Loughbrickland Reformed Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland and holds a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Cambridge University.

I. Introduction

The teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith ought, at the very least, to be of great interest to all theologically responsible members of a confessional Presbyterian church, and especially to office bearers who have subscribed to it or are about to subscribe to it as the condition of their admission to office in Christ’s church. The teaching of the Confession needs to be understood in its historical context and with due regard to the usage of the English language in seventeenth-century England. Only then can it be reliably concluded what the intent of the authors was in formulating its expression of orthodoxy in the way finally agreed upon. The meaning of the Confession is inextricably linked to this historical context, and interpretations of the Confession ought never to be dislocated from it or be presented in an anachronistic or a historical manner. A responsible reading of the Confession will, therefore, also be sensitive to areas where the Westminster divines pursued uncompromising and rigorous precision in the interests of purity and orthodoxy, as well as where they pursued a principled ambiguity in the interests of unity and catholicity.

The purpose of this article, therefore, is to examine just one clause of the Confession found in Section 5 of Chapter 28, the chapter devoted to the sacrament of baptism. The whole section reads:

Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it, or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.1

The clause of particular interest here is the claim that it is “a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance” of baptism. At the outset, we should recognize that in the seventeenth century “to contemn” meant “to treat as of small value, treat or view with contempt; to despise, disdain, scorn, slight”—it is not to be confused simply with “to condemn.”2 Nevertheless, the question still remains as to what exactly the Westminster Assembly actually meant and intended by this statement. What moved them so to highlight the serious moral implications of neglecting baptism? What exactly is it to “contemn or neglect” baptism?

II. Those to Whom the Confession Is Not Prin...
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