The Westminster Standards

WCFThe Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms were written in the 1640's. B.B. Warfield, professor at Princeton in the late 1800's, wrote of the Westminster Standards,

[T]hey are the final crystallization of the elements of evangelical religion, after the conflicts of sixteen hundred years. . . . [T]hey are the richest and most precise and best guarded statement ever penned of all that enters into evangelical religion. . . .[1]

Richard Gardiner, in his impressive collection of "Primary Source Documents Pertaining to Early American History, lists many sources which introduce the average Secular Humanist to the now-unknown religious foundations of American Revolution and Government. Among these sources are the Westminster Standards. Gardiner says of them:

indent.gif (90 bytes)The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) In addition to being the decree of Parliament as the standard for Christian doctrine in the British Kingdom, it was adopted as the official statement of belief for the colonies of Massachusetts and Connecticut. Although slightly altered and called by different names, it was the creed of Congregationalist, Baptist, and Presbyterian Churches throughout the English speaking world. Assent to the Westminster Confession was officially required at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Princeton scholar, Benjamin Warfield wrote: "It was impossible for any body of Christians in the [English] Kingdoms to avoid attending to it." [Link goes to chap.23, "On the Civil Magistrate."]
indent.gif (90 bytes)The Westminster Catechism (1646) Second only to the Bible, the "Shorter Catechism" of the Westminster Confession was the most widely published piece of literature in the pre-revolutionary era in America. It is estimated that some five million copies were available in the colonies. With a total population of only four million people in America at the time of the Revolution, the number is staggering. The Westminster Catechism was not only a central part of the colonial educational curriculum, learning it was required by law. Each town employed an officer whose duty was to visit homes to hear the children recite the Catechism. The primary schoolbook for children, the New England Primer, included the Catechism.  Daily recitations of it were required at these schools. Their curriculum included memorization of the Westminster Confession and the Westminster Larger Catechism. There was not a person at Independence Hall in 1776 who had not been exposed to it, and most of them had it spoon fed to them before they could walk. [Link to Q. 127 of Larger Catechism; cf. also Q. 129.]

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Westminster Confession of Faith John M. Frame, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell, ed., (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), 1168-9.

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