Belfast Telegraph

A centuries old rift that created two disciplines

By Joanne Sweeney

A decision by 18th century Presbyterian ministers not to sign the Westminster Confession of Faith at their ordination lies at the heart of the difference between subscribing and non-subscribing Presbyterian churches on the island of Ireland.

The Westminster Confession was based on the doctrines of John Calvin and Scottish ministers were required to "subscribe" their names to it upon ordination as a token of belief.

It opens with these words: "Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence, do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation."

It controversially refers to the Pope as an Antichrist and that the Roman Catholic Mass is a form of idolatry.

Its origins date back from the English Civil War and the centuries-old England-Scotland problem.

The Confession was produced in order to secure the help of the Scots who had recently overthrown their bishops and adopted Presbyterianism.

It was drawn up by the 1646 Westminster Assembly to be a confession of the Church of England but it was later nullified in 1660 upon the restoration of the British monarchy.

However, when William of Orange replaced the Roman Catholic King James VII of Scotland on the thrones of Scotland, England and Ireland, he gave royal assent to the Scottish parliament's ratification of the Confession, again without change, in 1690.

A dispute arose once these ministers tried to enforce subscription on Ulster Presbyterian ministers and eventually led to 17 ministers and their congregations being excluded from the Synod and forming the Non-Subscribing Presbytery of Antrim in 1726. The Westminster Confession is fundamental to the Presbyterian Church throughout the world.

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