Question: "What is the Westminster Confession of Faith?"
Answer: The Westminster Confession of Faith, drawn up in the 1640s by an assembly of 151 theologians (mostly Presbyterians and Puritans) at Westminster Abbey, is the standard of doctrine for the Church of Scotland and many Presbyterian churches throughout the world. Several other denominations, including Baptists and Congregationalists, have used adaptations of the Westminster Confession of Faith as a basis for their own doctrinal statements. In each case, the Westminster Confession is considered subordinate to the Bible.
The Westminster Confession of Faith is a systematic exposition of Calvinism, written from a Puritan viewpoint. It was originally drafted to reform the Church of England and to unify the various Christian sects in England at that time. The document addresses doctrines such as the Trinity, the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, sola scriptura, and sola fide. The full Westminster Confession of Faith can be found at http://www.opc.org/wcf.html.
The Westminster Assembly first convened in 1643, and the Confession was published four years later. Also at that time, the Assembly produced two other important documents, the Westminster Larger Catechism and the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The Shorter Catechism contains 107 questions and answers concerning God as Creator, original sin and man’s fallen nature, Christ the Redeemer, the Ten Commandments, baptism, Holy Communion, and the Lord’s Prayer. The structure of the Westminster Catechism follows the earlier Heidelberg Catechism (1562) of the continental Reformed churches. The first and most famous of the questions in the Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The Westminster Larger Catechism can be found at http://reformed.org/documents/wlc_w_proofs/index.html, and the Shorter Catechism at http://reformed.org/documents/wsc/index.html.
From about 1537 Protestant Reformed groups in Europe had seen the need to draw up their own formal doctrinal confessions. This need arose in England after King Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome in 1536 and the 1545 convening of the Council of Trent, which marked the beginning of today’s Roman Catholic Church. Under the rule of England’s Charles I, many Puritans in England dispersed, and civil war broke out in 1642. The Puritan parliament then called a church synod—the Westminster Assembly—to lay the foundation for a Reformed Church of England. The resulting document did not solve all the religious and political strife in England, but it did provide a brilliantly written and influential statement of biblical doctrine. The Westminster Confession of Faith is considered by many to be the best statement of systematic theology ever framed by the Christian church. As an attempt to “correctly handle the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), the Westminster Confession of Faith has stood the test of time and remains a prime doctrinal standard for Protestants and evangelicals everywhere.