Westminster Assembly

Gospel Dividends for Future Generations – The Value of Our Church’s Standards

Thinking about a certain young person of the congregation who recently recited the entire First Catechism in only two settings gave me cause to encourage all of us to be so diligent.  This piece is an adaptation of an introduction recently written for another member of the congregation who has labored incessantly to make these Standards available for his home country, see endnotes.  

                                  Concerning the Value

                                                of the  

                  Church’s Confessions and Catechisms

It is a folly in human nature to approach life as if we were the first to have lived.  Generally, men count it as wisdom to learn from those living before us.  To our own hurt, the church has not always understood the usefulness and abiding value of her historical confessions and creeds.   So, of what value are we speaking and what dividends do they yield for the believer today?

  • They Take Stock of God’s Ways Among Us

Our confessions and creeds are carefully worded affirmations of generationally shared Christian beliefs.  Beliefs which have been founded upon the Word of God.  Beliefs written down for all the world to see, a belief bearing witness to the wonderful grace of God at work in history, an evidence of God’s covenant faithfulness from ancient times to the present.  These are God’s work within us at a given point of time that then become a way of marking the foot prints of God across history, enabling us to take stock of God’s ways among us.

  • Our Standards are Meant to Serve Us as We Glorify God

Beyond a testament to God’s work, it is worth noting that a church’s creeds serve the church in a variety of offices.  Our creeds serve as instructors pointing us to the Bible to see Christ alone as our hope and salvation.  They are historians calling us to accurately remember the great works of God in redeeming a people for His name’s sake.  They are communicators with our people and particularly our youth since those who take the pains to acquire this knowledge find a language filled with rich biblical vocabulary to communicate the gospel.  They are watchmen to inform us when the church strays or is threatened. They are evangelical soldiers which battle false teaching.  They serve as apologists to a mocking and often jaded world.  They are evangelists promoting gospel truth wherever they go.  To us, they are friends sharpening friends. They are accountability partners from the past holding the church’s under-shepherds accountable to God’s word.  From them the voice of a comforter points out the security of the gospel.  While they are not the cause of our praise, they are leaders in our praise drawing confession of intelligent and instructed gratitude from our mouths to God our Savior.

  • A Key of Learning Giving Access into the Vast Riches of Christ in the Scriptures

The catechism is not a replacement for the Scripture, rather, it is a way into the length, and depth, and width, and height of Holy Scripture.  These are wholesome words which accord with the doctrine of godliness serving as a Divine pedagogy and theology which has been forged on the anvil of time and truth, by tested and trusted Christians.  It is a tool for the mind, an orderly means of categorizing truth and providing a mnemonical method perfectly suited to thinking minds, both young and old.

  • The Westminster Standards have Joined the Cloud as a Witness to King Jesus

Among the great cloud of literary witnesses to Christ since the first century of the church, the Westminster Standards have come to take an honored place among the creeds of the Christian church.  The Westminster Confession of Faith published in 1647 and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms published in 1648 are products of the Westminster Assembly of Divines meeting in London, England from 1643 to 1653.  The assembly consisted of over 120 ministers of the gospel and from this body of men Biblical truth was distilled into doctrinal statements and teachable portions for doctors and babes alike.  In a play upon words that remind us how easily a word or term can change from age to age, the Standards have joined the digital cloud as well.  Thus, D.v., ensuring our Standards will easily pass on to yet another generation downstream.

  • A Magnetic Like Influence Orienting the Church Toward Christ

The Westminster Standards have left an indelible mark on history and the souls shaped by the gospel of our great God.[i]  The influence of the Westminster Standards over the last 370 years is demonstrated by the vast number of Biblically faithful churches worldwide adhering to the Assembly’s work.  Benjamin Warfield comments,  “It is honor enough for the Westminster Assembly that is has provided this multitude of voluntary adherents with a practicable platform of representative government on Scriptural lines, and a sober and sane directory of worship eminently spiritual in tone; and above all, with the culminating Reformed Confession of Faith, and a Catechism preeminent for the exactness of its definitions of faith and the faithfulness of its ethical precepts.”[ii]

However, the lasting value of the Westminster Standards is perhaps best attested to by what Warfield called, “sound presentations of the truth, not derived from extraneous sources.[iii]  In other words, the standards commend themselves because of their closeness and dependence upon God’s word.  The resulting triumph is seen in, “the voluntary adhesion of multitudes of Christian men[iv] acknowledging and submitting to this doctrinal and ecclesiastical expression of the Word of Christ.  

  • Certainty of Gospel Hope 

My hope, and I believe it a reasonable expectation, is that by providing faithful and scholarly translations of The Westminster Confession of Faith, The Shorter Catechism, and The Larger Catechism that the labor of our own church’s diligent Pastor-Missionary-Author[vi] , will greatly further the work of Christ in his homeland.  These labors, which were the product of his loving and painstaking attention to detail and skillful wording will yet be used by God to bless the church existing now and yet to be born.  May these works draw together scores of believers and teachers by grounding them in the faith of Christ which was once and for all delivered to the saints.[v]

Greg Stiner ~ Shawnee, Kansas USA

[i] Is the Shorter Catechism Worthwhile? ; Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol 1, p. 382.

[ii] The Westminster Assembly and Its Work; The Works of Benjamin B Warfield, Vol. 6, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI; p 72.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Jude 1:3 “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3 NKJ).

[vi] This blog is adapted from a recent introduction written for Missionary-Pastor-Author Dr. Eliah Massey and his translation of the Westminster Standards into the Urdu language – Entitled “Our Firm Foundation.