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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Westminster Wasn’t Sufficient | Wanting God

ABSTRACT: Ten years after the English Parliament printed the Westminster Confession, a bunch of Reformed ministers, together with John Owen and Thomas Goodwin, met to draft a brand new confession: the 1658 Savoy Declaration. Utilizing Westminster as their information, they honed and clarified doctrinal statements and likewise hooked up thirty articles on congregational polity. In contrast to the unique draft of Westminster, nonetheless, they didn’t embody polity inside the confession itself, satisfied that such issues must be left to Christian liberty. In doing so, Savoy not solely improved upon Westminster but additionally took a stand that speaks a well timed phrase to Christians right now.

On October 14, 1658, Thomas Goodwin and a deputation of English congregational ministers offered a confession of religion and church order to the brand new Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell’s son, Richard. Recognized to historical past because the Savoy Declaration of Religion and Order, it has been each uncared for and misunderstood. On the one hand, with the demise of Richard’s Protectorate six months later, the instability of successive parliaments in 1659–1660, and the restoration of each Charles II in 1660 and the Church of England in 1662, no matter import was meant by its authors was shortly overtaken by occasions. Alternatively, from the start, its detractors, Presbyterian and radical alike, sought to marginalize the declaration as a slim try to both implement congregationalism or intrude with liberty of conscience.

However actually, the Savoy Declaration ought to in all probability be thought-about “the excessive water mark of English Calvinism.”1 That the authors hooked up a transparent and convincing rationalization of congregational polity was a bonus that may not be misplaced on Baptists, who would use this doc as a foundation for their very own confessions in 1677 and 1682.

Ripe for Reform

The story of the Savoy Declaration is a part of the lengthy and tortured try to “settle” the church of England as a totally Protestant and Calvinist church. Whereas Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556) had achieved a lot after Henry VIII’s break with Rome via the Thirty-9 Articles, many thought the church however “halfly-reformed.” Beneath Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I, Puritans in each church and authorities had agitated and labored for extra biblical types of church authorities and worship. On the identical time, Reformed theology continued to refine its understanding of the import of the covenants, the importance of the federal headship of Christ within the believer’s justification, and the hazards of each Arminianism and Amyraldianism. The Thirty-9 Articles had been ripe for each theological and ecclesiological reform, however Puritan hopes had been repeatedly dashed and blocked by their Tudor monarchs.

Their first actual likelihood at additional institutional reform got here when the Lengthy Parliament summoned the Westminster Meeting of Divines in June 1643. What started as a “minor tweaking” of the Thirty-9 Articles would turn into, for quite a lot of political and theological causes, a totally “new confessional assertion.”2 What we all know right now because the Westminster Confession of Religion, along with its Bigger and Shorter Catechisms, is taken into account by some to be the head of confessional requirements within the English language. However the English actually didn’t suppose that on the time. When Parliament lastly printed the confession in 1648 (with out formally adopting it), they omitted the 2 chapters that may have established a presbyterian type of church authorities, they usually additionally made different adjustments associated to marriage, the Justice of the Peace, and the conscience.3 Clearly, extra work wanted to be finished if settlement on a brand new basis for the church was to be established.

Among the many Meeting’s main conflicts had been disagreements over each the church’s polity and the function of the federal government in relation to the church. Whereas the Erastians noticed the church as a part of the federal government, and the Presbyterians understood the church to face alongside the federal government (and in the end over it, for the reason that king might be excommunicated!), a bunch referred to as “the Dissenting Brethren argued for a center approach.”4 These early congregationalists included Thomas Goodwin, William Bridge, Sydrach Simpson, and Philip Nye. Whereas they had been unsuccessful of their arguments on the Meeting, it could be this group, with the addition of John Owen, who would proceed to press for church reform.

Meeting at Savoy Palace

With the execution of Charles I and the institution of the Commonwealth in 1649, the Church of England ceased to exist, however the church buildings of England remained. Functioning presbyteries existed in and round London and Lancashire County. Congregational and Baptist church buildings had been all through the land. Some parish church buildings continued as if nothing had occurred. Different teams successfully grew to become a church inside a church, relying on the convictions of their pastor. And a bunch of sects, radicals, and heresies burst into view, not least the Quakers and the anti-Trinitarian Socinians.

Amid this confusion, the Dissenting Brethren had been a part of repeated makes an attempt to supply these church buildings, and the nation, with each a construction and a confession that might unite the “godly” and defend in opposition to error. Goodwin, president of Magdalen School, Oxford, and Owen, vice-chancellor of Oxford, collaborated with different main clergy to provide a sequence of foundational confessional paperwork, starting with The Ideas of Christian Faith (1652) and The New Confession (1654). The paperwork had been meant to function the premise for approving or rejecting ministers, whereas on the identical time leaving room for liberty of conscience regarding lesser issues and permitting for a range of church polity. Whereas pretty broad at first, as time went on and heresy and dysfunction multiplied, every successive confession grew to become extra precise in its doctrinal definitions and extra Calvinist in its formulations.5

The final of those confessional efforts was The Savoy Declaration (1658). In contrast to the primary two, this was the work of congregational ministers alone. Spearheaded by Philip Nye with Cromwell’s approval, round 200 divines gathered on the Savoy Palace in London from September 29 to October 12. Whereas the majority of the corporate handled numerous complaints and instances, a committee composed of Goodwin, Owen, Nye, Bridge, William Greenhill, and Joseph Caryl — all Westminster Meeting alumni apart from Owen — drew up the articles of confession.6 However they didn’t begin from scratch. On the primary day of the meeting, the physique determined to begin with the Westminster Confession of Religion, as printed by Parliament in 1648, and revise from there. Every morning, the committee would current its work to the bigger synod for debate and approval.7 Along with the confession, additionally they put ahead a “Church-order” consisting of thirty articles outlining congregational polity, the roles and limits of voluntary associations of church buildings, and the connection to different true church buildings that aren’t congregational.8

It could be tempting to interpret the Savoy Declaration as a seize for energy and an try to impose congregational polity on the nation. However that may be a mistake. Doubtless, the assertion on church polity is “denominational” in its argument for congregationalism.9 Oliver Cromwell died earlier than the synod was finished, and his son Richard, who acquired the deputation, was sympathetic to the Presbyterians. Contemplating shifting political winds, there was must make a case for his or her inclusion. Nevertheless it’s additionally clear that the Savoyans considered their assertion on polity as secondary. Within the preface, usually attributed to Owen however extra doubtless written by the committee, they state,

We’ve got endeavoured all through, to carry to such Truths on this our Confession, as are extra correctly termed issues of Religion; and what’s of Church-order, we dispose in sure Propositions by it self. To this course we’re led by the instance of the Honourable Homes of Parliament, observing what was established, and what omitted by them in that Confession the Meeting offered to them. Who thought it not handy to have issues of Self-discipline and Church-Authorities put right into a Confession of Religion, particularly such particulars thereof, as then had been, and nonetheless are controverted and below dispute by males Orthodox and sound in Religion.10

“Unity in religion is as a lot a piece of God as religion itself.”

They then reference the 2 chapters on presbyterian authorities, in addition to issues pertaining to marriage, divorce, and the Justice of the Peace. As they noticed, whereas most individuals had the copy of the Westminster Confession printed in Presbyterian Scotland, they had been following the Confession “authorized and handed” by the Parliament in England.11

Bettering Westminster

In what methods does the Savoy Declaration enhance upon Westminster such that it deserves to be referred to as “the excessive water mark of English Calvinism”? To start with, the whole confession is explicitly framed inside a developed covenantal framework that displays the maturing considered Reformed theologians. The autumn is explicitly defined inside the context of a “Covenant of Works and Life” versus merely the permissive will of God in Westminster.12 The covenant of redemption between the Son and the Father is made the express foundation for the mediatorial work of Christ in chapter 8.13 Probably the most notable addition is chapter 20, “Of the Gospel, and of the extent of the Grace thereof.” There’s nothing akin to it in Westminster. It begins,

The Covenant of Works being damaged by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was happy to offer unto the Elect the promise of Christ, the seed of the girl, because the technique of calling them, and begetting in them Religion and Repentance: on this promise the Gospel, as to the substance of it, was revealed, and was therein effectual for the conversion and salvation of sinners.

Lastly, in chapter 21, “the entire Authorized administration of the Covenant of Grace,” described as a “yoak,” is eliminated within the liberty purchased by Christ.14 Whereas a few of that is implicit in Westminster, and the construction of the covenants is defined in chapter 7, Savoy thinks about redemption in additional nuanced and developed phrases of covenant theology.

Savoy additionally takes sides in controversies Westminster sidestepped. In chapter 11, our justification is achieved by the imputation of not solely the “obedience and satisfaction of Christ,” however of “Christ’s lively obedience unto the entire Legislation, and passive obedience in his loss of life for his or her entire and sole righteousness.” Removed from being afraid that the imputation of Christ’s lively obedience would possibly encourage antinomianism, Savoy makes it the bottom of our religion. In the identical chapter, Christ’s loss of life is defined explicitly as a penal substitutionary sacrifice, relatively than merely as making “satisfaction.”15 And whereas not coming down as infralapsarian or supralapsarian, Savoy goes out of its approach to place the autumn squarely inside the everlasting decree relatively than God’s basic windfall.16

All through, the Declaration by no means misses an opportunity to make specific the effectual name of God, the lack of man, and the precedence of union with Christ. It additionally underlines that the “Doctrine of the Trinity is the muse of all our Communion with God, and cozy Dependence upon him.”17 In these last small additions, Savoy is just not correcting or bettering Westminster, however “obviating some misguided opinion, which have been extra broadly and boldly right here of late maintained by the Asserters, then in former instances.”18

Guarding Christian Liberty

In all of those revisions and additions, we are able to see the affect of John Owen and Thomas Goodwin. Owen championed the imputation of Christ’s lively and passive obedience for our justification, refuting each the Socinians and Richard Baxter in Vindiciae Evangelicae. Goodwin delighted in exploring the prevalence of Christ the Mediator, rooted within the covenant of redemption.19 Owen and Goodwin collectively signify English scholastic Calvinism at its most interesting, exalting God’s glory in his sovereign work of salvation.

Each males had been additionally congregationalists, evident not solely in Savoy’s appended Church-order, however within the cautious remodeling of chapter 24, which corresponds to chapter 23 in Westminster, “Of the Civil Justice of the Peace.” It’s on this chapter that their center approach between the Erastians and Presbyterians is obvious. Westminster gave the Justice of the Peace authority “that unity and peace be preserved within the Church,” “that every one blasphemies and heresies be suppressed,” “all corruptions and abuses in worship and self-discipline prevented,” “and all of the ordinances of God duly . . . noticed.”20 Consequently, whereas the federal government was in the end topic to the church via its self-discipline, the federal government was additionally accountable to determine the church and implement conformity. In distinction, whereas Savoy agrees that the Justice of the Peace has a duty to advertise and defend the gospel, and to stop the publishing and promotion of heresies and errors that “subvert . . . the religion, and inevitably destroy . . . the souls of them that obtain them,”

But in such distinction concerning the Doctrines of the Gospel, or methods of the worship of God, as might befall males exercising a very good conscience, manifesting it of their dialog [i.e., way of life], and holding the muse, not disturbing others of their methods or worship that differ from them; there isn’t a warrant for the Justice of the Peace below the Gospel to abridge them of their liberty.21

The preface explains the motivation for this alteration. “There being nothing that tends extra to intensify dissentings amongst Brethren, then to find out and undertake the matter of their distinction, below so excessive a title, as to be an Article of our Religion.”22

The drafters of Savoy believed that their understanding of the federal government and order of the church was “the Order which Christ himself hath appointed to be noticed.”23 They weren’t pragmatists. They weren’t following their preferences. They believed that to behave in any other case was to sin in opposition to Christ. However, additionally they understood that these and different issues weren’t a part of “the muse” of the religion. And so, whereas they needed the Justice of the Peace to advertise and defend godly faith, additionally they needed to guard the freedom of a believer’s conscience from the Justice of the Peace and from themselves.

Towards Imposition

That liberty reveals some of the essential legacies of the Savoy Declaration. These strict congregational ministers, articulating “the excessive water mark of English Calvinism,” had been involved initially with what they referred to as “experimental faith,” or what we’d name “experiential faith.” They understood the significance of proper doctrine and biblical polity. However additionally they understood that unity in religion is as a lot a piece of God as religion itself. Human imposition, whether or not by authorities or church authority, has no place.

In our personal day, when some Christians could be tempted to wield the facility of presidency to implement a extra Christian society, we’d do nicely to take heed to those that wielded such energy in their very own. “No matter is of power or constraint in issues of this nature causeth them to degenerate from the identify and nature of Confessions, and turns them from being Confessions of Religion, into exactions and impositions of Religion.”24 Certainly that may be a well timed phrase for us right now.

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