My recent presbytery transferal exam included quite a bit of discussion on my opposition to the 1903 additions to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) still held by the EPC, namely the chapters “The Holy Spirit” and “The Gospel of the Love of God and Missions.” Though I’ve written about the revisions to the Westminster Confession of Faith at length here, I thought it would be helpful to present a concise summary of how to understand these chapters and why I think they ought to be rejected, not merely on the basis of being superfluous, but for failing to meet biblical muster. I draw heavily on the 1936 analysis and critique from Ned Stonehouse and John Murray, as well as the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church’s 2014 report on the additional chapters, which I recommend people read if they want a fuller picture of the doctrines taught and neglected in the additional chapters.
In short historical review, in 1890 the PCUSA began the process of revising the WCF. This effort culminated in 1903 with several alterations, including the addition of the two chapters in question. The express purpose of these revisions was to soften the Reformed and Calvinistic theology of the WCF. Confessionalists, such as B. B. Warfield, Abraham Kuyper, and Geerhardus Vos opposed the changes. After the changes, Arminians stated that the WCF could now be read in a way that was compatible with their doctrine, and by 1906 the majority of the Cumberland Presbyterian church (Arminian in doctrine) had rejoined the PCUSA because of the doctrinal revisions. When the OPC formed in 1936, they rejected these additions as being compatible with the WCF’s doctrine, which was the course followed by the PCA at its founding in 1973. The ARP had added the revisions in 1959, but removed them in 2014 on similar grounds. During the EPC’s formative years in the early 1980s the new chapters were kept, but no discussion of their compatibility with the rest of the WCF ever occurred.
There are several ways of reading the new chapters in relation to the rest of the WCF and Catechisms…
Christianity Today published a review on Protestant-Catholic relations that focused upon two books, the first written by Protestant-turned Catholic Peter Kreeft, the other co-authored by Protestants Kenneth J. Collins (Catholic converted to Wesleyanism) and Jerry L. Walls, a Baptist. Both books address the JDDJ, with Kreeft calling it, “the greatest ecumenical achievement in the five hundred years since the Reformation.” Collins and Walls dedicate an entire chapter to the JDDJ, in which they echo the concerns of the LCMS and hit the same points that I addressed in my previous post.
The World Methodist Council adopted the JDDJ in August, 2006, with some additions to reflect distinctly Wesleyan understandings of justification. It is interesting that the Methodists constantly cite John Wesley to express their theological points and scriptural interpretation; the Catholics, Lutherans, and Reformed all cite their exegetical tradition or confessional statements, not individual theologians.
The Methodist additions to the JDDJ, like the Lutheran comments, functionally defer to the Catholic structure of understanding justification. Any notable doctrinal difference between the Methodists and the initial JDDJ undercuts the common consensus on the foundational nature of justification that the Lutherans and Catholics are attempting to achieve….
It should be clear that if a doctrine is a) biblical, b) directly related to salvation, c) a critical and distinctive part of the Reformed Protestant tradition, and d) pastorally helpful in providing comfort for sanctification, that rejecting it is…