The Bible is the one and only supreme document for Christian belief and practice. But in God’s kind Providence, the church has been led into attainments as to what the Bible teaches, and these have been recorded in creeds and confessions. Also, in defending the truth against its enemies, the church’s witness in contending for various Biblical principles has likewise been recorded.
Among these creeds, the Westminster Confession of Faith is the official, subordinate standard of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The Church adheres to it unwaveringly, believing it to be entirely Scriptural in all that it says, and sees it as the absolute minimum around which the whole visible Church should unite.
The early centuries of the Christian era saw a number of historic creeds, recording the Church’s understanding of the basic elements of the gospel, and the doctrines of the Trinity and the Person of Christ. Four main ones were: the so-called Apostles’ Creed; the Nicene Creed; the Athanasian Creed; and the Definition of Chalcedon. The doctrines of these are included in the documents accessible from the links below. These summarise a rich and precious heritage bestowed upon the church of Jesus Christ in the twenty-first century.
Of all the national reformations from Popery in the 16th century, none was as thorough for its return to Scripture as the Scottish. Three notable constitutional documents arose from that period:
The Scots Confession – This summary of doctrine was drawn up in 1560 by John Knox and five others (John Douglas, John Row, John Spottiswood, John Winram and John Willock). It was adopted by the Scottish Parliament on 17th June 1560 as “wholesome and sound doctrine, grounded upon the infallible truth of God’s Word”.
The First Book of Discipline – Drawn up in 1560 by the same six ministers as the Scots Confession, this was the first attempt to set out the polity and discipline of the Kirk of Scotland and also of the reforms needed in the nation. It should be read in the light of the unsettled state of the Reformed Kirk in the nation at the time of her infancy.
The Second Book of Discipline – Passed by the General Assembly in 1578, with Andrew Melville at the helm, this document reflects the more settled state of the Reformed Kirk of Scotland 18 years after it had been established.
The Second Reformation
Reformation attainments met many setbacks at the hands of the enemies of truth, until the Lord intervened to restore those attainments during the period known as the Second Reformation.
The National Covenant – in opposition to King Charles I’s attempts to overthrow the attainments of the Protestant Reformation, this document was signed by thousands in 1638, to affirm their continued commitment to Biblical, Reformed and Presbyterian principles.
The Solemn League and Covenant – This document was signed in 1643, whereby the three nations (as they were then) of England, Scotland and Ireland bound themselves to Reformed religion: to preserve it as it was already established in Scotland; to reform it in England and Ireland according to the Scottish pattern; and to rid the land of Popery and Episcopacy.
The Westminster Assembly
The Westminster Assembly of Divines began meeting in London in 1643. Most of its members were from England, but there were a few notable commissioners from Scotland, including Samuel Rutherford and George Gillespie. The documents that the Assembly produced, commonly called the Westminster Standards, together with a few that have always been associated with them, have formed the backbone of Reformed Christianity in the English speaking world ever since, and wherever British Presbyterianism has reached.
The Westminster Confession of Faith – The greatest of all the creeds of the Christian Church. Since its first publication in 1646 it has remained unsurpassed as an accurate and concise statement of Christian doctrine. It was approved by the Church of Scotland in 1647 as being “in nothing contrary to the received doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of this Kirk”, and continues to be the unqualified creedal statement of belief throughout the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
The Larger Catechism – Drawn up by the Westminster Assembly and adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1648, and rightly recognised for its comprehensive nature, this Catechism puts the Reformed faith into helpful question and answer form.
The Shorter Catechism – Drawn up by the Westminster Assembly and adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1648, this was originally designed for those of “weaker capacity”, but has proved over the centuries to be an incomparable means for establishing young and old alike in the foundational teachings of Scripture.
The Directory for Public Worship – Avoiding a liturgy with prescribed wording for prayer, this general and helpful guide for worship was produced by the Westminster Assembly, and was adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1645.
The Form of Presbyterial Church Government – This document setting out the Presbyterian form of church government was adopted by the Church of Scotland in 1645.
The Sum of Saving Knowledge – This document, which applies the Westminster doctrine of salvation for the reader’s benefit, was not produced by the Assembly, but by David Dickson and James Durham, notable Scottish ministers of the 17th century. It is usually included with the Westminster documents. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the saintly minister of the 19th century, traced to this document the beginnings of a work of grace in his own soul.
The Directory for Family Worship – Again, this document was not produced by the Westminster Assembly itself, but it was approved by the Church of Scotland in 1647. It deals most helpfully with individual, private worship as well as family worship.
The Free Church of Scotland Disruption
In 1843, 450 ministers, together with many office-bearers and people, broke away from the established Church of Scotland, to preserve the independence of the Church of Christ from interference by the state. In this way the Free Church of Scotland was formed.
The Claim Declaration and Protest – This document, prepared in 1842 and presented to Parliament, set out the spiritual independence of the Church of Christ, and her rights from Christ to govern herself according to His Word, without interference from the state.
The Protest – When the 1842 request was rejected in January 1843, this Protest was the document by which the separation from the Church of Scotland was effected.
The Free Presbyterian Separation
As the 19th century continued, the Free Church of Scotland departed increasingly from her constitution, culminating in the passing of the infamous Declaratory Act, which allowed men to be appointed to office who did not agree in an unqualified manner with the Westminster Confession of Faith. In protest against that, and to preserve the original constitution of the Reformed Church of Scotland, the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland was formed in 1893. More can be read at Declaratory Act controversy.
The Deed of Separation – This was the document that effected the separation of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland from the Free Church in 1893.