The Westminster Confession of Faith and Persecution
In my last post “John Calvin and Augustine of Hippo” I provided some background information on the large influence that Augustine of Hippo, the Christian-Platonist theologian, had on John Calvin. The exact extent of Augustine’s influence on Calvin can probably be debated from now until eternity but it cannot be denied. As far as I am concerned Augustine blended Platonism with Christianity (this is syncretism) and the fact that Calvin thought so highly should set off alarms for any Christian who holds to sola scriptura.
Of course this is leading me back to Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic and Charlie Clough’s Bible Framework series. John Calvin’s theology as expounded in the Westminster Confession of Faith was the bedrock of Van Til’s apologetic and if you have a rotten foundation it will lead to a rotten apologetic. As I will note in a later post it was Van Til’s goal to develop an explicitly Reformed (Calvinist) apologetic. I believe he succeeded and that is why I can no longer recommend Charlie Clough’s Bible Framework series.
While researching this I discovered some things that really upset me about what Charlie Clough taught in his Bible Framework. Throughout the Bible Framework Charlie Clough promoted the Puritans as defenders of freedom and really pushed the idea that the United States owes much of its freedom to Calvinism. To support this he particularly played up Samuel Rutherford, who was a Scotsman and a Westminster Divine, as a proponent of freedom. Because of Charlie Clough I purchased a copy of Lex Rex which was Rutherford’s treatise against the Divine Right of Kings. Of course there is no dependable freedom where the king, or any ruler, is above the law so I give Rutherford credit for that. However it is the other stuff that Pastor Clough left out that bothers me. Samuel Rutherford was no friend of freedom. The best that can be said for him is that he wanted freedom for certain Puritans but not for anyone that disagreed with his own particular brand of Presbyterianism.
I am going to leave a lot of those details for my next post. In the remainder of this post I will provide a quote establishing the Westminster Confession of Faith’s (WCF) Calvinistic bona fides (Samuel Rutherford helped write the WCF) and provide a link to a free online book that discusses the persecuting character of that document at length.
I found an interesting article at the Protestant reformed Churched in America website titled “A Comparison of the Westminster and the Reformed Confessions” which discusses the character of the Westminster Assembly:
There is no question about it but that the truth set forth in the Westminster Confession was Calvinistic throughout. The divines who produced these Confessions were not only, for the most part, strongly committed to the system of truth as set forth by the great Reformer, John Calvin, but they were also fully aware of the development of continental theology from the time of the Reformation till the time they met. Even more strongly, they were fully aware of the Arminian controversy which had raged only a few short years earlier in the Lowlands, and they were in basic agreement with the Reformed position.
Of course the article goes into more detail and you should read it if Calvinist Theology interests you. That the WCF is thoroughly Calvinist is never disputed that I know of.
It seems that at least since the late Nineteenth Century that some Presbyterians have been debating whether the WCF contains principles that compel the persecution of anyone who doesn’t hold to the WCF. I have found a very interesting book that goes into all the detail a person could hope for on this topic. It has probably been out of print for over a century but the miracle of modern technology has made it available to anyone with an internet connection. Via the Internet Archive “The Principles of the Westminster Standards Persecuting” is available online. In this book William Marshall in 1873 detailed not just how the WCF allowed for persecution but demanded it!
Of course of lot of the detail that Marshall provides is way beyond what I need for my series of posts. What I would like to point the interested reader to is Chapter VII of his book “Light Shed on the Persecuting Principles of the Westminster Standards by the Personal Writings of Their Compilers” which quotes Samuel Rutherford at length. What I found so interesting was that Samuel Rutherford, and the other Westminster Divines, believed that the Presbyterian form of church government was the only one sanctioned in the Bible and he was willing to persecute those who disagreed. It turns out that the New England Puritans wanted a Congregational form of church government which put them at odds with the writers of the WCF. Of course at the same time the New England Puritans wanted tolerance for themselves while trying to get Roger Williams killed. Tolerance my Aunt Fanny!
For those of you who are interested, the Congregationalists modified the WCF so that it allowed for their preferred form of church government. The modified confession is called The Savoy Declaration of Faith of 1658. Of course the other persecuting principles were left in place.
Charlie Clough is a good student and well read. I cannot believe that he was ignorant of all these issues. To put forth the Puritans or Samuel Rutherford as proponents of freedom is disingenuous. My next post will provide some quotes from Samuel Rutherford and you can judge for yourself his definition of freedom.