PMT 2013-028b by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In this article I will highlight the structure of the Westminster Confession in demonstration of its confirmation of six day creation.
In my last study, I began a brief study of creation as is found in the Westminster Standards. This is an important matter for ministers in confessionally-based, Presbyterian churches. The Confession of Faith is historically definitional of Presbyterianism, and must be approached seriously. Presbyterian ministers must “sincerely receive and adopt” the Westminster Standards in their solemn ordination vows.
It is apparent that the order and structure of the Confession of Faith are such that foundational issues of major consequence are placed first. The Confession of Faith is not a haphazard collection of doctrinal maxims, neither is it a systematic theological approach to doctrine. Instead it has an essential overall harmony that proceeds along a clear line of development: it first lays down foundational matters, then builds upon those in a logical and coherent fashion. As Philip Schaff notes: “The Confession consists of thirty-three chapters, which cover, in natural order, all the leading articles of the Christian faith from the creation to the final judgment” (Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom [Grand Rapids: Baker, rep. 1990], 1:766).
William Hetherington’s classic work on the Confession elaborates a little more fully:
“The first thing which must strike any thoughtful reader, after having carefully and studiously perused the Westminster Assembly’s Confession of Faith, is the remarkable comprehensiveness and accuracy of its character, viewed as a systematic exhibition of divine truth, or what is termed a system of theology. In this respect it may be regarded as almost perfect, both in its arrangement and in its completeness. Even a single glance over its table of contents will show with what exquisite skill its arrangement proceeds, from the statement of first principles to the regular development and final consummation of the whole scheme of revealed truth…. Thus viewed, the Confession of Faith might be so connected with one aspect of Church history as to furnish, if not a text-book according to chronological arrangement, in studying the rise and refutation of heresies, yet a valuable arrangement of their relative importance, doctrinally considered….
A few remarks may be made with regard to the plan according to which the Confession is constructed. A Confession of Faith is simply a declaration of belief in religious truths, not scientifically discovered by man, but divinely revealed to man. While, therefore, there may fairly be a question whether a course of Systematic Theology should begin with disquisitions relative to the being and character of God, as revealed, or with an inquiry what Natural Theology can teach, proceeding thence to the doctrines of Revelation, there can be no question that a Confession of Faith in revealed religion ought to begin with that revelation itself. This is the plan adopted by the Westminster Confession. It begins with a chapter on the Holy Scriptures; then follow four chapters on the nature, decrees, and works of God in creation and providence: and these five chapters form a distinct division, systematically viewed, of the Confession.” (William M. Hetherington, History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines [Edmonton, AB: Still Waters Revival, 1887, rep. 1991], p. 350, 351, 357).
In other words, foundational to the “system of doctrine” contained in the Confession and “sincerely received and adopted” by elders in the PCA (BCO 21-5, #2) are the first five chapters of the Confession. Note the foundational logic of the Confession:
Chapter 1 secures for us the infallible means whereby we know God, His will, and ways, i.e., through Scripture. May we deny God speaks infallibly and inerrantly in Scripture? May we deny any of the sixty-six books of Scripture? This chapter establishes for us our ultimate authority for framing our system of doctrine: the Word of God contained in the Old and New Testaments. All else fails in our doctrinal system if this chapter is not true.
A helpful book regarding creation
Should Christians Embrace Evolution?
by Norman Nevin
Chapter 2 moves quite necessarily to the nature and being of the God whom we worship and serve. Which elements of our statement regarding the being of Almighty God may we remove? He is our very reason for existence. Indisputably chapter 2 must also be foundational to the whole system of doctrine contained in the Confession.
Chapter 3 flows quite logically into a consideration of the decrees of God, which explain, uphold, and direct the entire universe. The God we worship and serve is a sovereign Who planned all things by His eternal decree. This sets Christianity against all forms of unbelief and establishes our reason for serving the Lord God: He is absolutely sovereign. It explains also the rationality, significance, and value of the universe as rooted in the eternal plan of God.
Chapters 4 and 5 turn to consider the very creation of the entire universe and all of its elements and the actual outworking of the decree of God in providence. This is the arena in which man will live in the service of God: a God-created, God-governed universe. Nothing other than God Himself accounts for the existence and control of all reality. The stage is set for considering the following doctrinal formulations of our faith and practice in the world God created and governs.
A denial of the Confessional position on creation is a denial of a foundational principle of the Confession and our “system of doctrine.” The Presbyterian Church in America deems “the doctrine of creation” to be one of “the fundamentals of our standards” (M19GA 2:479, 481). Not only so, but his denial of six day creationism is also a capitulation to the most significant unbelieving opposition to Scripture and Christianity today, a secular, humanistic-based science that proceeds from a chance oriented universe by means of uniformitarian science (although some states that they do not hold to any form of evolutionary theory).