Why Reject the Added Chapters of the Westminster Confession?
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…
Anselm on God’s Foreknowledge and the Freedom of Human Sin
You may say to me: ‘”You are still not removing from me the necessity of sinning or not sinning since God foreknows that I am going to sin or not sin, and it is therefore necessary that I sin, if I sin, or that I not sin if I do not sin.” But then I, in turn, respond: “You should not say: ‘God only foreknows that I am going to sin or not.’ You should say: ‘God foreknows if I am going to freely sin or not.’ From this it follows that I am free to sin or not to sin because God knows that what shall come to pass shall be free.”
-Anselm, De Concordia §1. This is the opening of his argument for the compatibility of human choice and God’s foreknowledge.
On Nonchalance and Unconditional Election
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…