March 07, 2004 Q & A

Which edition of the Westminster Confession does the OPC Use?


Why does the OPC use the version of the WCF with the American revisions (made prior to 1900)? If it's a confessional church, shouldn't it use the original version of the Confession, written during the height of Puritanism in Britain, as opposed to the one that was made to conform to particular "American" ideals regarding church and state? I don't believe truth changes depending on the continent or culture! And also, if the WCF was changed before, couldn't future changes be made to it if the OPC becomes apostate?


A number of changes had been made in the Confession by the American Presbyterian church. The OPC did not accept the 1903 revisions because we regarded them as unscriptural. We retained the earlier revisions because we agreed with them (considering (1) the long section on relationships forbidden for marriage to be unnecessary, (2) the identification of the Pope as "the Antichrist" as going beyond Scripture, and (3) the revised statements on church and state to be more scriptural). The reason for agreeing with the last is not that it is "American" (by no means has the OPC embraced all things "American" as true), but that it was and is considered to be more faithful to the Bible's conception of the relative authorities of church and state.

The 17th Century Puritans in England (and their Scottish brothers) represented a high-water mark of biblical understanding (the ripe fruit of 120 years of the Reformation). But they were not infallible on all matters. Truth does not change; but the church of Christ over the centuries may grow and has grown in its understanding of what the truth is.

Unchanging and infallible truth resides only in God's revelation in the Scriptures He inspired by the Holy Spirit. It does not reside infallibly in any human confession. With this the Confession itself agrees (WCF 1.10, 31.3, 20.2). (In the second sentence of this paragraph, "resides ... in God's revelation in ...", the "in" does do not imply that God's truth is found in Scripture mixed with other stuff that may not be true; all of Scripture, being God-breathed, is true.) It is for this reason that our Form of Government contains carefully drawn provisions prescribing the manner in which the Confessional standards may be amended; it is not easily done, deliberately so (Form of Government, Chap.32).

Certainly not all changes in conviction embraced by churches have brought them to a clearer and more faithful understanding of Scripture. Throughout history churches have accepted heresies, watered down sound doctrine, and even apostatized. There is no guarantee that future generations of the OPC might not amend the Confession again in heretical, diluting or apostatizing ways. At the same time an unchanged and unchangeable Confession is no guarantee against a church's drifting away from Scripture and from its Confession. If the OPC drifts into heresy and apostasy, it will be the duty of the faithful in her midst to call the rest to repentance and back to fidelity to the Word; and, failing that (which is not to prejudge what the Spirit may be pleased to do), to find or to form a faithful church—as our fathers did in 1936.

Thank you for your question. Feel free to respond or come back with more questions.



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