The Reformed Faith and the Westminster Confession
Gordon H. Clark
Editor’s note: This address was originally delivered in Weaverville, North Carolina, August 17, 1955. It was first printed in the second edition of God’s Hammer: The Bible and Its Critics (1987 & 1995). Although written 55 years ago, the content of this address is very applicable to the church today. There are many presbyterian denominations that claim to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) and Catechisms, but by the decisions of their general assemblies and presbyteries, and by their practice, these churches deny the system of doctrine taught in these standards. Witness the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s (OPC) 2003 General Assembly decision to exonerate John Kinnaird, after the Presbytery of Philadelphia had found him guilty of teaching the error of justification by faith and works. Additionally, the OPC’s “Report of the Committee to Study the Views of Creation” presented to the 2004 General Assembly stated that widely divergent teachings on the nature and length of the days of creation in Genesis 1 all fall into the category of “literal” and “historical” interpretations; therefore, contradictory views of the days of creation can be held as orthodox within the OPC. Witness also the Northwest Presbytery of the Synod of the Bible Presbyterian Church (BPC) and its recent report wherein it agrees with the OPC’s decision to overturn Elder John Kinnaird’s heresy charges. And most recently, witness the Pacific Northwest Presbytery (PNW) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and its exoneration of Federal Visionist Peter Leithart, and its refrain that the PNW committee “does not judge Dr. Leithart’s views to be out of accord with the WCF.” Do these churches and other churches that claim the Westminster Standards as the constitutional standards of their church truly subscribe to them, or merely pay lip service to them?
By the invitation of The Southern Presbyterian Journal I have the privilege of addressing this distinguished and consecrated audience on the subject of “The Reformed Faith and the Westminster Confession.” This title is not to be interpreted as introducing and exposition of the Confession’s thirty-three chapters with their several articles. Nor does it announce an historical account of the Westminster Assembly and the later role of its creed. On the contrary, I propose to speak of the significance of the Westminster Confession as an existing document, a document to which ministers and churches subscribe as defining their policy and stating their reason for existence, a document that distinguishes Biblical Christianity from all other forms of thought and belief. Moreover I hope to indicate, all too briefly, its significance with reference to contemporary circumstances. For this purpose it seems best to divide the document into two parts, Chapter I and all the rest.
Chapter I of the Westminster Confession asserts that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God written. Its sixty-six books are all given by inspiration of God. The authority for which Holy Scripture ought to be believed and obeyed depends wholly upon God, the author thereof. In these books the whole counsel of God for man’s salvation is either expressly set down or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from its statements. Therefore, concludes Chapter I, the Supreme Judge, by whom all decrees of councils and doctrines of men are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other than the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.
One day I stood beside a small lake in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming. Water flowed out of the lake from both ends. The water that flowed out one end descended into stifling canyons and blistering deserts of Utah and Arizona; the water that flowed out the other end of this lake went through the fertile fields of the Midwest. I was standing on the great continental divide.
Metaphorically the first chapter of the Westminster Confession is a continental divide. Although the written Word of God has been the touchstone of pure doctrine in all ages, the twentieth century shows still more clearly that this chapter forms the great divide between two types of religion, or to make it of broader application, between two types of philosophy. Perhaps it would be plainer to say that the acceptance of the Bible as God’s written revelation separates true Christianity from all other types of thought. In order to be specific and in order to face our immediate responsibilities, let us select two contemporary schools of philosophy, each of which in its own way contrasts sharply with the first chapter of our Confession.
The first of these two – and the more obviously anti-Christian movement – is variously called naturalism, secularism, or humanism. These names are simply more complimentary titles for what formerly was bluntly called atheism. The purpose of this meeting may not seem to call for a discussion of atheism; with its denial of God and therefore of revelation, naturalism may appear to be a philosophical development that the church can afford to ignore. But a church that ignores secular humanism is simply shutting its eyes to the situation around about and failing to maintain the first chapter of the Confession against all opponents. Unfortunately brevity is required, and therefore without any reference to Communism, the most blatant form of atheism, mention will be made only of certain political and certain educational events on the American scene.