THE INTERPRETATION OF THE CONFESSION
I have said that this inherent right to interpret, which is also a duty, applies to the confessional standard which our own Church adopts, and adherence to which is required of ministers by their signature to the formula. Again, to understand implies to criticize, to interpret, to recast where necessary in new forms of thought, so that its truth may be made available to the spiritual life of a very widely different age.
The Westminster Confession is a link with the past history of Presbyterianism. Here is a historic document in which the Presbyterianism of a great formative epoch expressed its own conception of its particular witness to the truth. It is a monument of a great, an active, but not a particularly happy age. It was born in controversy, as most credal statements were. It reflects the nature of its origin in every chapter. It endeavours to cover summarily the whole field of Christian doctrine and Church polity. It is a manifesto of a very definite and clearly articulated theological system, and as such it is not so much concerned to set forth a simple, central and unifying statement of what all Christians believe, as rather to proclaim and justify in detail the reasons for its separatism.
All the post-Reformation confessions, articles, and doctrinal decrees, Protestant and Roman alike, reveal the same general characteristic. They are elaborate apologies and justifications for divergent policies and beliefs. They are partial witnesses. And the longer and the more elaborate they are the more partial they become. This character is not confined to the Reformation Confessions. It is true also of the decrees of the Roman Councils subsequent to the Reformation. As Bishop Headlam writes of the Council of Trent: "It transformed the Catholic Church of the West into the Roman Church. Instead of presenting to the aggressive sectarianism of the separated bodies an example of historical catholicity, it followed their example by modifying and narrowing its creed. The decrees of the Council of Trent. . . built up a well-ordered separated society which can never hope, so long as its basis remains as it is, to be more than one among a number of competing units." I cannot help thinking that the Creed of the future will set forth in simple language and within very short compass the things which unite Christians, rather than those which divide the sects.
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