Our convictions are stated in a confession that is catholic, Reformed, and biblical.
CATHOLIC: When we say our confession is catholic, that doesn’t mean we have a bishop enthroned in St Peter’s. When the men who wrote the Westminster Confession of Faith gathered in Westminster Abbey, they weren’t intent on coming up with anything new. Parliament had instructed them to revise The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.
The minutes of the Assembly show that as they went about their task, they were steeped in the writings of earlier theologians, from the first centuries right up to their own time. They wanted to be faithful to the teaching that had been handed down by faithful leaders since the time of the apostles. In other words, they wanted their teaching to be catholic—to represent the universal understanding of the church across nations and generations.
REFORMED: There is no guarantee that particular churches will be faithful to catholic doctrine. In the century before the Westminster Confession of Faith was written, the church had just gone through the Reformation because the Reformers believed that the Western Church had departed from catholic teaching, both by adding to it and subtracting from it.
Even if the Reformed Church emerged in the sixteenth century, it wasn’t a new church. It was called reformed simply because the Reformers wanted to reform the existing church by weighing its teaching against Scripture and historic Christian orthodoxy. For that reason, those who followed the Reformers, like the Westminster Divines, could call themselves Reformed Catholics.
BIBLICAL: Many churches claim to teach the Bible or to have a biblical ministry, but who decides what is biblical? Some evangelical Christians think it’s up to them as individuals. With Bible in hand, they stride across the centuries, tossing aside every creed and confession like a losing lottery ticket.
We believe that what is ‘biblical’ is to be settled corporately, by a representative assembly of the whole church, in submission to the Word of God and in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. It’s not for individual leaders to determine what is biblical and then become despotic cranks, or worse, start a cult. The Westminster Confession of Faith does not deny that such assemblies may err, but their ambition was to write a confession that was biblical. We think they succeeded.