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Westminster Confession Approved by Church of Scotland

You may ask upon reading the title of this contribution, why are we thinking about adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith, when the whole This Day in Presbyterian History blog deals with Presbyterian history in the United States?  And that is a fair question.  But it is quickly answered by two considerations. First, this Reformed standard—The Westminster Confession of Faith—was, with few changes, the subordinate standard of all the Presbyterian denominations in the United States.  And second, the Scots-Irish immigrants who came over to this country in its earliest days held strongly to this Reformed creedal statement.

The Westminster Confession of Faith was formulated by the Westminster Assembly of divines (i.e, pastors and theologians) in the mid-seventeenth century, meeting at Westminster Abby in London, England.  To the one hundred and twenty divines, primarily from the Church of England, were added nine Scottish divines from the Church of Scotland.  While the latter were seated as non-voting members of that Assembly, still their presence was felt in very effective ways during the six-year study that produced this confessional standard.

When it was adopted by the Parliament in England, it then went to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, where it was adopted without amendment onAugust 29, 1647.  It then became the summary of the teachings of the Old and New Testaments which was adopted by both the teaching and ruling elders, as well as the diaconate in each local church, in every Presbyterian and Reformed church deriving from that tradition. Small changes have been made by conservative Presbyterian bodies in our United States which do not affect the overall doctrinal contents of the Confession. The majority of those changes were made in 1789. You can ask your pastor for more information about those changes.

The historic importance of this document is one reason why we have daily reference to it in this devotional guide, as we seek to make our friends more knowledgeable of its magnificent statements.

Words to live by: Most of the Presbyterian denominations do not require their lay members to take vows which speak of their adoption of these historical creedal standards in order to join the church.  Yet a careful study of, and acceptance of this Confession of Westminster will give you a solid foundation for understanding the doctrine and life of the Word of God.  We urge you to do so, perhaps asking for a class in your church on it, or just studying it yourself for your personal and family benefit.

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Usurpers, Pretenders, and the One True King.

It was an ancient issue in many respects. Who was the king of the church? Was it the king of the British Isles, or was it Jesus Christ? There was no doubt in the prelacy party that the first answer was the correct one. And equally in the Presbyterian church, there was no doubt that Jesus is the king of the church. What was a turning point between the Crown and the Presbyterians was the passing of the Five Articles of Perth on August 25, 1618.

It all took place at a General Assembly on this date in Perth, Scotland. Yes, it was the national assembly of Scottish Presbyterians. Yes, there were various elders from the church of Scotland. Yes, there were faithful Presbyterians who were relegated to inferior positions, without the possibility of voting, even though they were elders sent by their Presbyterian parishes. Yes, there were many people present who were hand picked and not even ruling elders in the churches. The constitution of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland would be null and void in this gathering.

It was King James I who laid the five articles before the delegates. The five articles of this document were: (1) that Communion must be received in a kneeling posture; (2) Private Communion was permitted in cases of sickness; (3) Private baptism was permitted when necessary; (4) Children should be catechized and blessed by bishops (confirmation); and (5) Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost were declared as holy days for the whole church.

Even though it was declared beforehand that those who voted in the negative against its adoption would have their names sent to the King for future action, actions such as the withholding of stipends, nonetheless forty-five ministers held to their convictions and voted in the negative. The total vote was 86 in favor to 45 against, and thus it was passed.  The Articles of Perth were confirmed by the Edinburgh Parliament on August 4, 1621.

Brian Orr, on his blog, “thereformation.info”, from which most of the above was used by permission, wrote in conclusion, “standing back a pace, it should be recognized that the Articles of Perth, and particularly the kneeling at Communion, affected the whole Church in a direct and visible way. Opposition was not total, but it was strong enough to give rise to a permanent nonconformist group within the church.  It also gave rise to the holding of conventicles in Edinburgh and other places in opposition to the new rites that signaled defiance of the king; and retribution followed.” (p. 3)

Words to Live By:
One of the blessings which we have in this nation of America is the separation of church and state. It is sadly true that this has been high-jacked by countless citizens to be equal to the separation of God and state. But in reality, it originally meant that no one religious denomination would be the one and only faith group recognized by the  government. Our early Scots-Irish citizens did not wish to see a repeat of England and Scotland’s state priority over the Church of England.  Let us as Christian citizens do our work of explaining this true meaning of the phrase “separation of church and state” among our neighbors and friends.

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Today we come to Chapter VIII of PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE. In this chapter our author, Rev. Robert P. Kerr, gives us a glimpse of a late nineteenth century ecumenical effort among Presbyterians world-wide. How the ecclesiastical landscape has changed in the intervening years! Today, the World Reformed Fellowship and the International Conference of Reformed Churches are the two global ecumenical works formed by conservative Presbyterian and Reformed denominations. 

CHAPTER VIII.

THE GENERAL COUNCIL.

This assembly is composed of delegates from the various Presbyterian or Reformed churches throughout the world. It held its first regular meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland, in July, 1877, and will meet triennially in different countries. It has no authority over the churches belonging to it, but can only advise. It is intended to show the world that the various branches of the Presbyterian family are one, to bring their united influence to bear against sin, to help and encourage feeble churches, and to arrange for the formation of native churches among the heathen, gathering into them the converts of the missions of the various Presbyterian churches.

The formation of this body was earnestly desired by the Reformers of the sixteenth century, but was not effected until quite recent times. Much good has already come from the alliance of very many of the divisions of the Presbyterian body, and still greater results are confidently expected.

The following is a catalogue of the organizations holding the Presbyterian faith and order represented by this council:

CONTINENT OF EUROPE.

AUSTRIA.
Evangelical Reformed Church of Hungary.
Reformed Church of Moravia.
Reformed and Evangelical Church of Bohemia.

BELGIUM.
Union of Evangelical Congregations.

FRANCE.
Synod of the Union of Evangelical Congregations.
National Reformed Church.

ITALY.
Waldensian Church.
Free Church of Italy.

GERMANY.
Free Reformed Church of Germany.
Old Reformed Church of East Friesland.

NETHERLANDS.
Reformed Church of the Netherlands.
Christian Reformed Church of the Netherlands.

SPAIN.
Spanish Christian Church.

SWITZERLAND.
Berne French Church.
Evangelical Church of Neuchatel.
Reformed Church of Canton de Vaud.
Free Church of Canton de Vaud.
Reformed Church of Geneva.

UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND.

ENGLAND.
Presbyterian Church of England.

IRELAND.
Presbyterian Church of Ireland.
Reformed Church of Ireland.

SCOTLAND.
Established Church of Scotland.
Free Church of Scotland.
United Presbyterian Church
Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Original Secession Church.

WALES.
Calvinistic Methodist (Presbyterian) Church.

BRITISH COLONIES AND DEPENDENCIES.

CANADA.
Presbyterian Church in Canada.

CAPE OF GOOD HOPE.
Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa.

CEYLON.
Presbytery of Ceylon.

EASTERN AUSTRALIA.
Synod of Eastern Australia.

NATAL.
Dutch Reformed Church.

Presbytery of Natal.
Christian Reformed Church of South Africa.

NEW HEBRIDES.
Mission Synod of New Hebrides.

NEW SOUTH WALES.
Presbyterian Church of New South Wales.

NEW ZEALAND.
Presbyterian Church of New Zealand.

ORANGE FREE STATE.
Dutch Reformed Church of Orange Free State.

OTAGO AND SOUTHLAND.
Presbyterian Church of Queensland.

SOUTH AUSTRALIA.
Presbyterian Church of South Australia.

TASMANIA.
Presbyterian Church of Tasmania.

VICTORIA.
Presbyterian Church of Victoria.

UNITED STATES.
Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. (Northern).
Presbyterian Church in the United States (Southern).
Reformed (Dutch) Church in America.
Reformed (German) Church in the United States.
Associate Reformed Synod of the South.
General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America.
United Presbyterian Church of North America.
Welsh Calvinistic Methodist (or Presbyterian) Church in America.

These Presbyterian bodies scattered all over the globe, including above forty millions of people, have at last, in “The General Alliance of Reformed or Presbyterian Churches,” found a tie which binds them together. It is proposed thus to combine our forces, to magnify our grand institutions of government and theology, and to remove the stigma of discord which has so often been affixed to the Presbyterian name.

But there is a higher name than Presbyterian. It is CHRISTIAN. Under that name all the followers of Christ at last shall be ONE.

Next Saturday, with Chapter IX, we will come to the topic of Deacons.

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Chapter V. – Post-Apostolic Presbyterianism.

The order of apostles was a temporary one, just as the priesthood had been, both having grown out of the exigencies of their respective periods. The priests passed away with the completion of their work, when Christ came. The apostles were chosen to be eye-witnesses of the great fact that Christ rose from the dead. The order, therefore, could not exist after those died who were contemporaries of Christ. To be an apostle it was necessary to have been appointed to that office, and to have seen the Lord after his resurrection. This is plainly set forth in 1 Cor. ix. 1, where Paul is vindicating his apostolic authority. He says, “Am I not an apostle? . . . Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?”

The apostles all passed away, and the government of the Church remained what it had been from the beginning—a government by assemblies of elders, or “presbyters.” It was a spiritual republic, admitting of no distinctions of rank; and even Peter, whom Roman Catholics claim as the first of the popes, said of himself in his First Epistle (v. 1), “I who am also an elder” (presbyter).

After the apostles we have historical proof of the true Presbyterian organization of the Church.

Clemens Romanus, writing in the first century, says, “It is a shame, my beloved, and unworthy of your Christian profession to bear, that the most firm and ancient church of the Corinthians should be led to rise up against the elders. Let the flock of Christ enjoy peace with the elders which are set over it.”

Again, in the third century, Hippolitus writes, “The elders cited Noëtus, who was charged with heresy. Having summoned him a second time, they condemned him and cast him out of the church.” Here is a trial by Session too plainly set forth to need argument.

It is with peculiar pleasure that the testimony of a great Episcopalian is here introduced. Dean Stanley, of Westminster Abbey, London, writes, “The most learned of all the bishops of England, whose accession to the great see of Durham has recently been welcomed with rare unanimity by the whole Church of England, has, with his characteristic moderation and erudition, proved beyond dispute, in his celebrated essay attached to his edition of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, that the early constitution of the apostolic churches of the first century was not that of a single bishop, but of a body of pastors indifferently styled bishops or presbyters, and that it was not until the very end of the apostolic age that the office which we now call episcopacy gradually and slowly made its way into Asia Minor; that Presbytery was not a later growth out of Episcopacy, but that Episcopacy was a later growth out of Presbytery; that the office which the apostles instituted was a kind of rule, not by bishops, but of presbyters; and that even down to the third century presbyters as well as bishops possessed the power of nominating and consecrating bishops; and, besides, there were, from the commencement of the Middle Ages down to the Reformation, large exceptions from the principle of episcopal government which can be called by no other name than Presbyterian.

This testimony, coming from Bishop Lightfoot—“the most learned bishop of the Church of England”—endorsed by Dean Stanley (who for his scholarly attainments and elegant diction was the pride and favorite of the British aristocracy), is of immense value in establishing our claim to apostolic Presbyterianism.

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We digress today to present the following post by our co-author, Rev. David Myers, and will return to our current Saturday schedule of posts by the Rev. Robert P. Kerr, from his work, Presbyterianism for the People. Next week’s Saturday installment is Chapter 3 from that work and is titled “The Bible Origin of Presbyterianism.”

Happy “Presbyterian Rebellion” Day

If you are reading this July 4, 2015 post as an ordained minister, you can simply turn to Loraine Boettner’s book “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination,” Chapter 28, Section 7, on page 383 for what I am about to write. Don’t have the book in your pastoral library! Go out and buy the book immediately, and let the following quotations be a incentive to do so.

Or if you are reading this national holiday post as a member in a Presbyterian church, borrow the book by Boettner on “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” from your pastor, turn to Chapter 28, Section 7 entitled “Calvinism in America,” and read the rich history of the beginning of your country which past and current school books have left out of the beginnings of our country. Then go out and buy one for your home and office!

The Reformer theologian Loraine Boettner writes “It is estimated that of the three million Americans at the time of the American Revolution, nine hundred thousand were Scotch or Scotch-Irish origin,” or Presbyterians.

Further Boettner writes on page 383 that “Presbyterians took a very prominent part in the American Revolution.” Quoting Bancroft, he writes “The Revolution of 1776, so far as it was affected by religion, was a Presbyterian measure.” Further, Boettner states “So intense, universal, and aggressive were the Presbyterians in their zeal for liberty that the war was spoken of in England as ‘The Presbyterian Rebellion.’ An ardent supporter of King George III wrote home that he fixed all the blame for these extraordinary proceedings upon the Presbyterians. The prime minister of England, Horace Walpole said in Parliament that ‘Cousin America has run off with a Presbyterian parson,’ referring to John Witherspoon, signer of the Declaration of Independence.”

Last, Boettner quotes a J.R. Sizoo who tells us that “when Cornwallis was driven back to ultimate defeat and surrender at Yorktown, all of the colonels of the Colonial army but one were Presbyterians elders. More than one-half of all the soldiers and officers of the American Army during the Revolution were Presbyterians.”

Loraine Boettner concludes on page 386 by simply stating “The United States of America owes much to that oldest of American Republics, the Presbyterian Church.”

Words to Live By:
How many of our readers were instructed with these truths in their schooling in either the public school or colleges and universities when they studied American History? I dare say not many would assent to the question. But it is time that we re-study the question, and rejoice in God-glorifying Presbyterian elders and people who sought at the expense of their own lives and liberties to proclaim liberty throughout the land. Let us be knowledgeable descendants of them this Happy “Presbyterian Rebellion” Day, July 4, 2015.

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