On this episode, we’re going to continue a conversation that we started last week. Last week we were talking about 5 things everyone should know about Westminster Abbey. And we ended that conversation by mentioning the Jerusalem Chamber. The Jerusalem Chamber is the place in Westminster Abbey where the Westminster Assembly met during the 1640’s. What they produced during that decade of the 1640’s is called, “The Westminster Standards.” The Westminster Standards actually consists of four documents: the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the Larger Catechism, and the fourth document is the Directory for Public Worship. These were all written there by the gathering of the Westminster Assembly in the 1640’s in the Jerusalem Chamber.
This week, we’re going to look at 5 things everyone should know about the Westminster Standards. So, here we go.
The first thing we should know about the Westminster Standards is what drove the Assembly. What drove them to meet? Why did they meet in the first place? Well they were actually called by Parliament. And they were called to meet to discuss church government and church life. That was really the driving issue. It’s funny that the standard that has sometimes become the forgotten standard of the Westminster Standards is the Directory for Public Worship. And that was actually the original intention of calling the assembly in the first place.
This idea of church government and church life was so crucial because it gets to the heart of being the church. And it gets to the heart of some of the debates that were circling in the 1640’s. So that’s what actually drove the assembly to meet.
The second thing that we need to know about the Westminster Assembly and its documents is that the Westminster documents offer a systematic expression of Reformation thought and theology. Think about this—when Westminster meets in the 1640’s, we are a full three generations after Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses. This thing called Protestantism and the Reformation has been around for three generations. There have been books, there have been catechisms, there have been confessions, there have been all sorts of meetings and synods and assemblies, but here we have the Westminster Standards that represents the mature thought of the Reformation, and presents this 100 years or so after Calvin wrote his first edition of the Institutes, and a 120 years or so after Luther posts the 95 Theses.
American historian Philip Schaff back in the nineteenth century said the Westminster Standards are the “fullest and ripest expression” of the Reformation and Reformation thought.
The third thing we need to know about the Westminster Standards is that they cast a vision for life. This of course comes mostly from the catechisms and especially the famous question, question 1 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?”—To glorify God, and enjoy Him forever. This is a thoroughly theological, not to mention a persuasive and compelling vision for life. So there we have it, the Westminster Standards cast a vision, a theological vision for life.
Well, the forth thing that we should know is that these standards offer very helpful constructs for us to think about biblical ideas. This is theology at its best; when theologians step in and help us make sense of Scripture and understand the big picture of Scripture. This is all through the Westminster Standards. For instance, there is a great section in there on Christ as our Prophet, Priest, and King. Now that idea goes back to Eusebius. But it was mostly dormant through church history. Calvin picked it up and used it to talk about Christ, and then the Westminster Assembly puts it right there in the Catechisms. So we can look at Christ, his earthly ministry, and even his ministry today, along the categories of Prophet, Priest, and King.
And lastly, I think what is important about the Westminster Confession is where it begins. It begins with reminding us of the Word of God. That the Word of God is central to the life of the church, it’s central to Christian life, and it’s central to all of our theologizing.
So, there we have it—5 things everyone should know about the Westminster Standards.