Westminster Assembly

1643. During the English Civil War between Charles I and Parliament, the latter continued its program of reforms and declared its intention of establishing a church government that would be “more agreeable to God's Word and bring the Church of England into a nearer conformity with the Church of Scotland and other Reformed Churches abroad.” To implement this design, Parliament convened “an Assembly of learned, godly and judicious Divines to consult and advise of such matters and things as should be proposed unto them. . . .” The Assembly consisted of 121 divines with ten lords and twenty commoners as assessors with equal debating and voting rights. The Church of Scotland was asked to send commissioners and appointed four ministers and two elders. The Assembly was representative of very different viewpoints in matters of church government.

Sessions were held from 1 July 1643 to 22 February 1649. The Assembly was not a church court, and possessed no ecclesiastical authority. It was simply a council summoned by Parliament to give advice and guidance to the civil authorities for the promotion of unity and uniformity in the work of Reformation. Average daily attendance ranged between sixty and eighty members, though only about twenty took a leading part in all the debates. The Westminster Assembly was early associated with the Solemn League and Covenant,* approved the document, and was joined at its meeting place, St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, by both houses of Parliament for a formal swearing of the Covenant.

Main work of the Assembly was the preparation of the Westminster Confession* of Faith, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, the Form of Church Government, and the Directory for Public Worship.* Rouse's metrical version of the Psalter was examined and approved for general use in the public worship of the church. The Westminster Standards were adopted by the Church of Scotland by a special act in 1647, and with minor adjustments became the subordinate standards of Presbyterian Churches throughout the English-speaking world. Some of these have in recent years relegated the standards to “historic document” status.

A.F. Mitchell and J. Struthers, Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (1890); B.B. Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and Its Work (1931); S.W. Carruthers, The Everyday Work of the Westminster Assembly (1943).