Confession of Faith
Question: Would you be so kind as to tell me the exact statements in the Westminster Confession that you have any problems with?
That’s quite an assignment you gave me! In my edition the Westminster Confession of Faith is about 50 pages long!
Let me say at the outset that this Statement of Faith is a classic statement of orthodox, Christian beliefs, and my heart says, “Amen” to most of what it contains. I’m sure the men who formulated this statement were godly saints and we owe a great debt to them in many ways.
But you did not ask me for the areas of agreement, but the areas of disagreement. In general my disagreements involve the distinctions between Covenant/Reformed theology and Dispensational theology. I will now share what these are. When I refer to the Westminster Confession of Faith I will abbreviate it as WCF.
In chapter III I would disagree with the usage of the term “predestination.” The WCF states: “some men are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.” In the Bible the emphasis of predestination is not upon WHO will go to heaven but upon WHAT glorious future God has marked out for every child of God (“to be conformed to His image” “adoption” etc.). See our notes on Romans Chapter 8. The above statement also implies the doctrine of reprobation which is not taught in the Scriptures, as seen by the following three passages:
1) See 2 Thessalonians 2:10,12--The Bible does not teach that God from the beginning has chosen some to damnation. Why are people damned? Is it because they are not chosen? No, this same passage in 2 Thessalonians says that they perish "because they received not the love of the truth." They are damned because they "believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:10,12).
2) See Matthew 25:41. Note: After reading verse 34, we might expect verse 41 to say, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared [by God] for you from the foundation of the world." But the Bible does not say this. Rather we read: "Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).
3) See Romans 9:22-23. Based on verse 23, we might expect verse 22 to say this: "The vessels of wrath, which He (God) had afore fitted to destruction." But it does not say this. Rather, it says: "What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction" (Rom. 9:22). [It does not say that God fitted these people to destruction]
In the WCF Chapter VI it says, “This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and all the motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.” This implies that God has pardoned our corrupt nature. It is true that God has pardoned and forgiven our SINS (when the Bible speaks of forgiveness of sins, it is always in the plural), but when it comes to SIN (our corrupt nature), God has not pardoned this. Rather, God has condemned it and crucified it (see Romans 6:6). The old nature has not been forgiven, it has been condemned and crucified.
Chapter VII refers to “the covenant of works” and the “covenant of grace.” This is the typical, non-Biblical language of covenant theology. I prefer to speak only of those covenants that are specifically mentioned in the Bible, such as the Mosaic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, the Davidic Covenant, the New Covenant, etc.
Chapter VII, Section III seems to imply that regeneration precedes faith. See our paper entitled, Does Regeneration Precede Faith.
Chapter VIII suggests that Christ’s work on the cross was only for those whom the Father had given to Christ (the elect). See our comprehensive document For Whom Did Christ Die?. Also Chapter VIII, Section VIII fails to make the proper distinction between redemption accomplished (for all) and redemption applied (only to the elect).
Chapter X, Section III says that “elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit.” Does this imply that some infants are not elect and will perish? See Robert Lightner’s book, “Heaven for Those Who Cannot Believe.”
Chapter XI teaches that in Ephesians 2:8, faith is the gift of God. See our paper, What is the "Gift of God" in Ephesians 2:8? where it is seen from Scripture that “salvation,” not “faith” is what Paul was referring to in this important verse.
Chapter XI, Section III teaches that the debt man owed to God was paid and fully satisfied not only by Christ’s substitutionary death but also by the obedience of His life. This idea of “vicarious law-keeping” is not in line with the teaching of the epistles. I would recommend the discussion of this point in William Newell’s commentary on ROMANS (see pages 190-193). This is an important point that is missed by many believers. See the following: Vicarious Law-Keeping.
In the chapter on Sanctification (Chapter XIII) nothing is said of the believer's positional sanctification in Christ and also nothing is said about the believer’s death to sin, which according to Romans 6 is one of the foundational truths of sanctification.
In chapter XV, Section II, repentance seems to be defined as “turning from sins” which is confusing the fruit of repentance with repentance itself.
In Chapter XIX and section III Israel is described “as a church,” thus blurring the important distinction between Israel and the church.
In Chapter XIX, Section VI, the WCF declares that true believers are not under the law as a covenant of works to be thereby justified or condemned, yet it is of great use to them as a RULE OF LIFE. See our booklet, What is the Believer's Rule of Life? Certainly when Paul mentioned the believer’s rule of life in Galatians 6:15-16, he was not referring to the Mosaic law or 10 Commandments. Nor is the law referred to in Paul’s great statement in Galatians 2:20. Paul did not say, “I live by the 10 Commandments.” He said, “I live by the faith of the Son of God.”
Chapter XIX of WCF is a lengthy chapter dealing with “the law of God.” It is interesting that in this entire chapter not one word is said about the fact that the believer has died to the law (Romans 7; Gal. 2:19). Why is this key New Testament doctrine (the believer’s death to the law) ignored by Reformed men?
Chapter XX, Section I implies that while the believer is no longer under the ceremonial law, he is still under the moral law. See our booklet, What is the Believer's Rule of Life?
Chapter XXI deals with the question of the Sabbath. Section VII says that the Sabbath was the last day of the week; “and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week....and is to be continued...as the Christian Sabbath.” Nowhere in Scripture does it say that the Sabbath Day was changed from the seventh day to the first day. See our paper, The Sabbath and The Lord's Day. Section VIII of this chapter likewise confuses the Sabbath with the Lord’s Day.
Chapter XXIV–deals with divorce and presents the typical reformed view of divorce, which today can be found in the writings of Jay Adams, John Murray and Guy Duty, among others. Some dispensationalists are in agreement with this position; others are not.
Chapter XXV deals with the CHURCH and in Section I it implies that the church is made up of the whole number of the elect from all the ages. The New Testament teaches that the church “which is His body” began on the Day of Pentecost (Acts chapter 2). See There Really Is A Difference by Renald Showers, Chapter 15.
Chapter XXVII deals with the sacraments and says (in Section V) that “the sacraments of the Old Testament, in regard of the spiritual things thereby signified and exhibited, were, for substance, the same with those of the New.” This statement is puzzling to me. What in the Old Testament corresponds to water baptism? Covenant theology would say, “Circumcision” and this is why they baptize infants. Since Jewish infants were circumcised, and since circumcision and water baptism are both signs of the covenant of grace, then infants of believers should be baptized today. This is how they would reason. What would correspond to the Lord’s Supper? They would probably say, “The Passover.” Certainly the Passover and the Lord’s Supper both pointed to God’s great REDEMPTION, but the Lord’s Supper is distinctively a church ordinance. It was not observed until after Pentecost and its observance will come to an end when our Lord comes for His own (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Chapter XXVIII deals with baptism. Section III says that “dipping of the person into the water is not necessary but baptism is rightly administered by pouring or sprinkling water upon the person.” Section IV says, “Not only those that do actually profess faith in and obedience unto Christ, but also the infants of one or both believing parents are to be baptized.” The Scripture reference for this state-ment is Genesis 17:7,9 with Gal. 3:9,14, thus confusing water baptism with the sign of the Abrahamic covenant (circumcision). Infant baptism is nowhere taught in the N.T. and the only mode of baptism known in the N.T. is baptism by immersion.
Chapter XXIX, Section I says that the Lord’s Supper is to be observed in his church unto the end of the world. A more accurate statement would have been that it is to be observed “until the Lord come” (1 Corinthians 11:26) which actually will take place about seven years before the end of the age.
Chapter XXXII, Section I says that the souls of the wicked are cast into hell. This is accurate only if we understand “hell” to be a reference to “Sheol/Hades” not to the final lake of fire. Section II implies one general resurrection. See a discussion on the two resurrections: Discerning Between the Two Resurrections. Harry Bultema (1884-1952) pastored Christian Reformed churches in Iowa and Michigan. He was a reformed theologian but in his study of prophecy he came to realize that the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, did not teach one general resurrection. He published his findings in his book Maranatha--A Study of Unfulfilled Prophecy. This book was re-published by Kregel Publications in 1985 (it was originally published in the Dutch language). His discussion on the first resurrection is very insightful and more detailed than most of the writings of dispensationalists who treat this subject.
Chapter XXXIII is on the Last Judgment and presents ONE GENERAL JUDGMENT. It blends together the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14; 2 Cor. 5), the judgment of the nations (Matthew 25) and the Great White Throne Judgments, and these judgments do not take place at the same time, nor in the same place. See a disussion of the various judgment of the Bible: Discerning Between the Five Judgments.
I hope this answers your question. These are the major areas of disagreement. If you are interested in a copy of a sound statement of faith that is true to the Bible and which is soundly dispensational, I could send you a copy.
-George Zeller (Oct. 4, 1999, revised January 2000)
The Middletown Bible Church
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