Westminster Assembly

The Westminster Assembly of Divines was a synod composed of theologians (or "divines") and members of Parliament appointed to restructure the Church of England. It was called during the lead up to the First English Civil War by the Long Parliament, which was influenced by Puritanism and opposed to the religious policies of Charles I and William Laud. As part of a military alliance with Scotland, Parliament agreed that the outcome of the Assembly would bring the English Church into closer conformity with the Church of Scotland, which was presbyterian. Scottish commissioners attended and advised the Assembly as part of the agreement. The Assembly met for ten years (1643–53), and in the process produced a new Form of Government, a Confession of Faith, two catechisms (Shorter and Larger), and a liturgical manual for the Churches of England and Scotland.Disagreements over church government caused open division in the Assembly, despite attempts to maintain unity. The party of divines who favored presbyterianism, or government by hierarchies of elected assemblies, was in the majority. However, political and military realities led to greater influence for the congregational party, which favored autonomy for individual congregations. Parliament eventually adopted a presbyterian form of government, but not to the degree the presbyterian divines desired. During the Restoration in 1660, all of the documents of the Assembly were repudiated and episcopal church government was reinstated in England. However, because of their acceptance by dissenting churches and the Church of Scotland, these documents became influential worldwide through missionary expansion.The Assembly worked in the Reformed theological tradition. It took the Bible as the authoritative word of God, from which all theological reflection must be based. Though the divines were committed to the doctrine of predestination to salvation, there was some disagreement over the doctrine of particular redemption—that Christ died only for those whom the Father chose to save. The Assembly also held to Reformed covenant theology, a framework for interpreting the Bible. The Assembly's Confession was the first of the Reformed confessions to include the covenant of works, in which God promised life to Adam on condition of perfect obedience.



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