We believe that the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Shorter and Larger catechisms accurately summarize the system of doctrine found in the Bible. Since these documents are rather long, click here for a short and simple summary of what we believe the Bible teaches.
Our official statements of faith are a bit longer than those of the average evangelical church, so perhaps some explanation is in order.
We appreciate simplicity. Simple statements of faith are important in order to quickly communicate basic Christian truths. For example, “I believe everything the Bible says” is a true summery of what we believe as a church and it is helpful to distinguish our church from churches that think the Bible is full of errors.
But the problem is that many Bible teachers have rather strange ideas as to what the Bible teaches. In the early church some teachers began to deny basic Christian teachings such as the divinity of Jesus Christ. These early church controversies gave birth to three ecumenical creeds: the Apostles Creed; Nicene Creed and Athanasian Creed. These short statements offered clarity on some important things Christians must believe. These statements are also true summaries of our Christian faith.
Throughout the years controversies multiplied and church leaders drafted Confessions of Faith to unify the church and to help Christians think clearly on such issues.
The Protestant Reformers were known for their rallying cry, Scripture Alone! But the Reformers recognized it was insufficient to only say, “I believe everything the Bible says.” They crafted careful confessions that distinguished the Biblical teaching from the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church and from radical sects. Some of these confessions quickly fell into disuse while others became widely used by Protestant Churches.
The Westminster Confession of Faith and its Shorter and Larger Catechisms represent the maturation of Protestant thought and crystallizes the theology of the 16th century Protestant Reformation. The Westminster Standards were the fruit of the labors of 121 Protestant scholars and pastors and 30 members of Parliament who, being commissioned in 1643 by the English House of Commons, gathered at Westminster Abby for this task. The pastors pursued their work in the midst of socio-political turmoil – even civil war, but the result of their work has proved to be of timeless significance. Since the Westminster Standards were first adopted in 1647 numerous Protestant Churches since have adapted them.
The Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield said that the Westminster Standards are “the most thoroughly thought-out statement ever penned of the elements of evangelical religion” and breathes “the finest fragrance of spiritual religion.”
The current trend is for evangelicals to pen their own simplified statement of faith. These statements are not always wrong, but they are more interesting for what they exclude rather than what they include. We appreciate simplicity, but such statements do not accurately communicate the breadth of Biblical teaching or the beliefs that are unique to a church.
Therefore, The Westminster Confession and Catechisms are long because we value accuracy and clarity as well as simplicity. We do not require the members of our churches to believe everything in our confessions. Even ministers and elders may take some exceptions. But these standards serve as unifying documents for our entire denomination. They are not museum pieces that represent to us a past heritage, but they are highly relevant documents that summarize the Biblical truth that we proudly preach, teach and confess.