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CONFESSIONS & CATECHISMS

Overview

Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary is a confessional institution. By this we mean that our instruction, founded foremost on the inerrant Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is secondarily based on the great creeds and confessions of the Calvinist Reformation. For the purposes of teaching, the confessional standards of the Seminary are the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms as adopted by the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and the so-called Three Forms of Unity of the Reformed churches, the Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort as adopted by the Synod of Dort in 1619 with the commonly received revision of article 36 of the Belgic Confession. In any perceived tension between the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity, the Westminster Standards shall be the final interpretation.

As part of this commitment, faculty members are required to sign a subscription which says, in part, "Reformed Theology as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith & the Larger and Shorter Catechisms as adopted by the Presbyterian Church in America and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, is the system of doctrine taught in Scripture, and therefore is to be learned, taught, and proclaimed for the edification and government of Christian people, for the propagation of the faith and for the evangelization of the world by the power of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ."

To bring these magnificent, time-honored summaries of the Christian faith to greater use and understanding in today's world, we provide the complete texts of each document for your reference and use.

Westminster Standards Reading Calendar

Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)

This confession is arguably the most influential of the classic Reformed (Calvinist) confessions in the English-speaking world. It has been widely adopted by British and American Presbyterian bodies as well as by many Congregational and Baptist churches. The confession is well known for its depth, precision, conciseness, and balance in setting forth the great doctrines of the Christian Scriptures.

Westminster Larger Catechism (1647)

When the Westminster Assembly created its great Confession of Faith, it also called for the writing of a catechism for instructing the church on the teachings of the Confession. Two such catechisms were written, the Larger being a "more exact and comprehensive" version than the Shorter.

Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647)

This succinct outline of central Christian teachings promulgated by the Westminster Assembly was intended to be "easier to read and concise for beginners." The simple question-and-answer format was to facilitate memorization. Its purpose was to educate lay persons in matters of doctrine and belief.

The Belgic Confession (1561)

This Reformed confession was prepared in 1561 by Guido de Bres (c.1523-1567), who was later martyred for his active part in the Reformation in the Low Countries. "During the sixteenth century the churches in this region were exposed to the most terrible persecution by the Roman Catholic government. To protest against this cruel oppression, and to prove to the persecutors that the adherents of the Reformed faith were not rebels, as was laid to their charge, but law-abiding citizens who professed the true Christian doctrine according to the Holy Scriptures, de Bres prepared this confession in the year 1561. In the following year a copy was sent to King Philip II, together with an address in which the petitioners declared that they were ready to obey the government in all lawful things, but that they would 'offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire,' rather than deny the truth expressed in this confession" (cited from www.crcna.org, ©1987, CRC Publications, Grand Rapids Mich., reprinted with permission).

The Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

The Heidelberg Catechism was composed in Heidelberg at the request of Elector Frederick III, who ruled the Palatinate, an influential German province, from 1559 to 1576. Tradition credits Zacharius Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus with being coauthors of the new catechism. The Synod of Dort in 1618-1619 approved the Heidelberg Catechism, and it soon became the most ecumenical of the Reformed catechisms and confessions. The catechism has been translated into many European, Asian, and African languages and is the most widely used and most warmly praised catechism of the Reformation period. (cited from www.crcna.org, ©1987, CRC Publications, Grand Rapids Mich., reprinted with permission).

The Canons of Dort (1619)

The Decision of the Synod of Dort on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands is popularly known as the Canons of Dort. It consists of statements of doctrine adopted by the great Synod of Dort which met in the city of Dordrecht in 1618-19. The Synod of Dort was held in order to settle a serious controversy in the Dutch churches initiated by the rise of Arminianism, whose adherents questioned the teaching of Calvin and his followers on a number of important points. The Arminians presented their views on five of these points in the Remonstrance of 1610. In this document or in later more explicit writings, the Arminians taught election based on foreseen faith, universal atonement, partial depravity, resistible grace, and the possibility of a lapse from grace. In the Canons, the Synod of Dort rejected these views and set forth the Reformed doctrine on these points, namely, unconditional election, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of saints (cited from www.crcna.org, ©1987, CRC Publications, Grand Rapids Mich., reprinted with permission).

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