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The Westminster Confession

Printed work

Westminster College, Cambridge




It is a reminder, that religious practices are not uniform. Some adherents like ceremony, while others want simplicity.

What does it look like?

It is handwritten in black ink, on good quality, cream paper and bound in a red leather book, together with other manuscripts from the same time.  It is 64 pages long, although some pages are blank and it is divided into thirty-three chapters.

The image shows a section of Chapter XXIX/29 “Of the Lord’s Supper”, where the scribe, Cornelius Burges, has inserted the words “bread and wine” into the text at line 6.  These are the elements referred to in the text, which Jesus shared with his disciples before his arrest and crucifixion (See the Gospel accounts in the New Testament). The bread and wine are always blessed and given to those who are present at a Communion service.

The Westminster Assembly of Divines were asked to come together in 1643, to reform the Church of England.

The Assembly happened during the English Civil War, when religion was one of several issues, where the king and parliament disagreed.

Who, what and where?

The Westminster Assembly, or council of Divines, were asked to come together in 1643, to reform the Church of England in its:

  • liturgy
  • discipline
  • government

This happened during the English Civil War, (although the kingdoms of Scotland and Ireland were also affected), when religion was one of several issues where the king and parliament disagreed.  Five members of the Assembly signed the document after the final chapter, which is headed “Of the Last Judgment”. The Confession also contains material, which disputes any claim that the Pope can be the head of the church (chapter 25).

Are there links to current religious practices or a modern equivalent?

It is a reminder, that religious practices are not uniform.  Some adherents like ceremony, e.g. wearing elaborate, embroidered clothes, while others want simplicity, e.g. a plain, black gown; some are happy with hierarchy, where decisions are made by a few people; while others wish for a voice in decision-making, where comments that are shared, assist all to reach a consensus; differences over doctrine e.g. how baptism/entry into the church is marked, also exist. The same divisions can still be found between and within churches today.

Why is it significant to the study of religion?

Oliver Cromwell’s Parliament did not adopt the Confession for England, as had been hoped. The Church of England was re-established in 1660, when King Charles II came to throne.  However, Presbyterian churches  were established in Scotland, after the Scottish Reformation in 1560, (even though bishops did not fully disappear from the Church of Scotland, until 1689).

The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland adopted the Confession of Faith as its doctrinal standard, in 1647.  It also became the standard confession for churches of Scottish origin around the world.  Revisions to the text have been made since then, so that few Presbyterians would accept the original version without modification today.

Where is it from, where is it now?

Unfortunately is not possible to view the document in person.



The Stuart Age, 1603-1714

B. Coward

2003, Longman