May 06, 2012 Q & A

Why was LC 109 changed?


Why was the Larger Catechism adopted with the deletion of the phrase "tolerating a false religion" in answer 109? The Bible seems to teach against tolerating false religion. I noticed the Free Church of Scotland has kept it in. Thanks for your help in understanding.


This change to WLC 109 is helpfully understood through comparison to other modifications of the original wording that the OPC has embraced. In 1788, the Synod of New York and Philadelphia (then the highest judicatory of the Presbyterian churches in America) officially revised parts of chapters 20, 23, and 31 of the Westminster Confession of Faith. These modifications had to do with civil magistrates and consistently denied them authority over the church's affairs and asserted their responsibility to protect the good name of all people. In light of recent events in America and the new kind of social order emerging there, American Presbyterians had been forced to think through the theological foundation of their views on civil authority. Though most Reformed people in earlier generations had affirmed a general obligation of civil magistrates to punish heretics and suppress false churches and false religions (as reflected in the original wording of the Westminster Standards), these American Presbyterians came to conclude that civil magistrates in the New Testament era, unlike kings under the Old Testament theocracy, were not given this kind of authority by God. Most Presbyterians, therefore, embraced the "American experiment" of granting a broad degree of religious freedom to all people and looked to magistrates to ensure the free exercise of religion according to each person's conscience.

The change to WLC 109 reflects this line of thought. Though WLC 109 as the OPC confesses it still maintains each Christian's obligation to separate himself from all false religious worship—and Christian churches to separate themselves from such—it does not countenance the obligation of civil magistrates (or others) to suppress false religion with force. It recognizes that a certain degree of toleration of other religious practices is required of us in civil society during this present age. It is important to remember, however, that such toleration does not mean approval.



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