Part 1 - What is the Confession?
The Free Church of Scotland - of which we are a part - is what is called a Confessional (or confessing) Church. This doesn’t mean a church which is always owning up to something, but a church which subscribes to a confession of faith, a document or standard which is held in common through the church, which lays out the beliefs and doctrines that church follows. The Westminster Confession is the standard to which we, and the majority of reformed churches throughout the English speaking world and beyond, subscribe. All office bearers within the denomination are required to be able to state that they hold the confession as their own.
So , what is it?
The confession is a subordinate standard. That means that is is secondary to Scripture. In the Roman Catholic tradition Scripture can only be properly interpreted through church teachings and tradition. We believe that only Scripture can throw light on Scripture and that all other standards must be read in line with God’s Word.
It is a summary and exposition of the Presbyterian understanding of the teachings of the Bible and the beliefs subscribing churches hold in common.
It is recognised and subscribed to by Presbyterian and other Reformed churches around the world and is the basis of the confessions of many more churches. It reminds us of the values we hold in common.
It is the product of many years of careful, scholarly work seeking to make it as accurate as possible.
It is old. The Confession was completed in 1646 and is, in many ways, a product of its time. The language, which was chosen very precisely to be clear at the time can be a bit daunting now. It focuses on issues which were important in the mid 17th century but seems strangely silent on some of what we would consider the burning issues of today.
It is relevant. In spite of its age and archaic language it is rooted in the Word of God, which does not change. Even on issues where it seems silent, there are principles in it which can be of use and it reminds us of the primacy of Scripture.
So, why does it matter? What difference does it make and why should we care? As members of a local church in a broader denomination it is good to know what we are aligning ourselves with. It’s also good to know what the common beliefs we share with our sister denominations are. It’s particularly important for those of us who are, or are considering becoming, officials or office bearers to know what it is we are swearing allegiance to! It is also useful to take advantage of the hard work of our forefathers who have done a lot of the heavy lifting for us. Sad to say, the Church of Scotland at its most recent Assembly actually started discussion towards the idea of abandoning the WCoF as it seems many of its ministers and elders no longer appreciate its importance.