Westminster Presbyterian Church
Westminster Presbyterian Church
A brief account of its origin, history, nature, and privileges ⤒🔗
The first congregation bearing the name "Westminster Presbyterian Church" came into being in Western Australia in late 1970. Organizationally, therefore, WPC is very young; but in what it believes and teaches it is quite old, for it holds to the old truths of the Bible. No matter how rapidly and radically modern technology changes our society and our daily routine, it cannot change our hearts. It cannot point us to God. It cannot tell us of the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: but the Bible can, and does.
A Confessional Church←↰⤒🔗
Those associated with the founding of WPC in 1970 knew there were other churches that believed the Bible and proclaimed Christ as the only Saviour. The founders did not pretend that WPC was the only true church, or that it was a perfect church. They were convinced, however, that the teaching of the Bible was most accurately expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith. They acted to form a church which would recognize the supreme authority of God's written Word, the Bible, and use the Westminster Confession of Faith as a help in expressing the Bible's teaching about faith and life and in assisting enquirers to understand the church's doctrinal position before committing themselves to association with it. Being a confessional church helps to save people from deception.
A Reformed Church←↰⤒🔗
In the 1st century A.D., following the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Church in its new organisational form entered upon its long history. It has by no means always been a peaceful and honourable history. Along the way, at various times, significant departures from the Scriptures have occurred. The degree of purity of churches has varied. No church has ever been perfect. Some, in their life and preaching, have been more obedient to God's Word than others, and in some the light of the Gospel of Christ has been largely obscured. The work of Martin Luther in the early 16th Century set in progress the movement known as the Reformation in which there appeared new churches that repudiated the authority of the Pope and the distinctive teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. These new churches sought to be obedient to God's Word. Both the Lutheran and Calvinistic streams of the Reformation carefully formulated their beliefs in confessional statements.
The Westminster Confession of Faith ←↰⤒🔗
In England, in 1643, the Parliament called "an Assembly of learned and godly Divines, and others", and instructed them "to meet and assemble themselves at Westminster, in the Chapel called King Henry the VII's Chapel". This Assembly's task was to deal with matters concerning the liturgy, discipline, government, and doctrine of the Church of England. From its deliberations there came in 1647 the extensive and detailed Westminster Confession of Faith, described as "a part of the covenanted uniformity in religion betwixt the churches of Christ in the kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland". It is immensely important to understand, from this last statement, that the Westminster Confession of Faith does not represent the theological speculation of a tiny and eccentric minority. Westminster Presbyterian Church, by employing the Confession as a statement of Christian truth, makes use of a major ecumenical theological document of the Protestant reformation and, in so doing, affirms its glad submission to the supreme authority of God's Word and to the doctrines inherent in that Word. Therefore, although, as we have said, WPC is organisationally quite young, what it teaches is firmly within the main stream of those truths of the Bible that were revealed afresh, after centuries of obscurity and superstition, in the Reformation.
A Presbyterian Church←↰⤒🔗
Presbyterian churches are governed by men who are called presbyters or elders. They may also be called bishops, because a New Testament bishop is the same as a New Testament elder. Variations occur within Presbyterian government. Some forms are more centralised than others. Some make a sharp distinction between a "minister" and an elder", and hold to the "three- office" position of minister, elder, and deacon. Others, such as WPC, adopt the "two-office" position, of elder and deacon, while recognising that within the eldership there are men specially gifted of God for the ministry of teaching and preaching. Though elders may differ as to function there is complete parity as to authority.
Levels of government←↰⤒🔗
In Westminster Presbyterian Church, government by elders occurs at three levels: the local church's council of elders (the "session"); the regional council of elders (the "presbytery") consisting of elders from several churches in an area; the synod, or national assembly, consisting of elders nominated by the presbyteries to meet as "commissioners". The presbyteries and synod are "wider" rather than "higher" assemblies, with a heavy "grass-roots" emphasis. Local churches own their properties. The fundamental principle at work is cooperation, not coercion. Nevertheless, it is understood that all the assemblies of elders – the sessions, the presbyteries, and the synod – are parts of the one government, reflecting the unity of the church under Christ the Head.
Admission to membership and to office←↰⤒🔗
The Shorter Catechism, at Question 86, asks, "What is faith in Jesus Christ?" And it answers,
"Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as He is offered to us in the gospel". A credible profession of such faith is the basic qualification for church membership. Those who seek admission to office, through ordination as elders or deacons, are required also to make a series of vows in which they pledge loyalty to the church's doctrinal standards.
All church members have ready access to any assembly of elders. Any church member who is dissatisfied with a session's treatment of a complaint he might have made may appeal his case to the presbytery for review, and if necessary to the synod. A system of checks and balances operates.
Agreeable to Scripture←↰⤒🔗
Westminster Presbyterian Church does not claim biblical justification for every detail of its polity but maintains it is faithful to Scripture in its broad outlines. It points to the forms of government in the synagogues in New Testament times, and the practices in the New Testament, as models.
Behind the formation of the first WPC congregation in Western Australia in 1970 lay many years of devoted service by Miss Mary Jones amongst Aboriginal people in Brookton and nearby towns. Miss Jones was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. Though her work was independent of any connection with a church or a mission society she wanted it to be established as an evangelical Presbyterian work. Extensive correspondence with World Presbyterian Missions, the mission arm of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), in the USA, led eventually to the arrival in 1970 of the Revd David Cross and his wife, Barbara, to commence 10 years of church-planting in W.A. Mr Cross worked in Brookton and other country areas. He also commenced Bible studies in the Perth metropolitan area at the request of several families of mixed denominational backgrounds and took up residence there.. Out of these Bible studies, in late 1970, came the first congregation with the name, "Westminster Presbyterian Church". No rapid spurts of growth occurred in the 1970s, but by 1981 five WPC congregations in Western Australia agreed to form a presbytery and to move to incorporation as a denomination. The elders compiled a Book of Church Order and a denominational Constitution, and on the basis of these documents incorporation was effected in 1982. The inclusion of the Brookton Calvary Presbyterian Church meant that in the fledgling denomination that small church of Aboriginal people was the oldest congregation.
In the 1980s and 1990s WPC, aided by church planters from Mission to the World, mission agency of the Presbyterian Church in America (which the RPCES had joined), was enlarged by the establishment of congregations in Queensland, NSW, and Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory. The Queensland churches formed the Presbytery of Queensland, and the churches in NSW and the ACT followed by forming the Presbytery of South East Australia.
Just as the formation of several congregations in three regions had led to the establishment of presbyteries in those regions, so the existence of more than one presbytery made it possible to form a synod, or national assembly, and the First Synod of Westminster Presbyterian Church met in Western Australia in January 1990.
It might seem that adding another denomination to the number of Australian denominations (especially Australian Presbyterian denominations) was not the wisest of moves. Why not just attach new congregations to one of the Presbyterian denominations already well-established in Australia? After all, World Presbyterian Missions had instructed the Revd David Cross not to form a new denomination in Australia and he, accompanied by Australian elders, made several trips by road across Australia to see if the new WPC congregations could be added to an existing denomination. The survey proved unsuccessful – but not because the WPC elders were looking for a perfect church. One prominent factor was that most of the people in the WPC congregations in Western Australia did not have Presbyterian backgrounds. WPC had not been born from any major "split" in the Presbyterian Church in W.A. Though some were well- grounded in the Reformed Faith many were not, and the WPC elders finally reached the decision that to do the best for their people they ought to provide ministry to them in a denominational framework that reflected that to which they had already become accustomed in the local congregations. That decision to begin a denominational life as Westminster Presbyterian Church was accompanied by an equally firm decision against assuming a negatively "separatist" stance, and for affirming fellowship with Christians in other denominations. As stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 26, "Of the Communion of Saints", "All saints, that are united to Jesus Christ their Head, by His Spirit, and by faith, have fellowship with Him in His grace, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory: and, being united to one another in love, they have communion in each other's gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, as do conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man."
Westminster Presbyterian Church in the 21st Century←↰⤒🔗
The Church of the 21st century is not sheltered from the errors of doctrine and practice that have attacked it at various times in its history. The most damaging of these errors are those that draw professing Christians away from the supreme authority of God's written Word, the Bible, and consequently weaken the Church's testimony. Such errors show themselves in different ways. Church leaders in high places make statements that many accept as authoritative, even when contrary to Scripture. Theological speculation embraces paganism. Congregations are swayed by pronouncements purporting to be new revelations of the Holy Spirit. Some professing churches completely repudiate the authority of Scripture. God's Law is opposed. The Lord's Day is dishonoured. Sexual immorality and perversion are viewed as demonstrating Christian love. Entertainment pretends to be worship. Large numbers of the unborn are killed in their mothers' bodies by their mothers' choices. Governments legislate for the murder of the unborn and for the destruction of family life. The list could easily be extended.
Nothing would seem to be more important for Australia than the prayerful, clear, powerful, teaching and proclaiming of the Word of God by God's people. Officers and members of Westminster Presbyterian Church have the great privilege of being in congregations where God's Word is believed and taught. They also have the privilege, through the Westminster Confession of Faith, of being exposed to those doctrines of God's Word that in the Reformation pulled down strongholds of unbelief and since the Reformation have been prominent in several great religious revivals.
Much is expected of those to whom much is given, and although Westminster Presbyterian Church is a very small denomination by human standards, God has blessed it by equipping it with His Word, and with faith in His Word, and with those doctrines of His Word that show that He is sovereign and that all mankind is accountable to Him, and that the only way of escaping God's wrath and curse due to mankind for sin is through repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ. Existing, as it does, in a decentralised and flexible system of local churches linked together under one cooperative government, open to fellowship with other Christians in the "communion of saints", able to adjust itself to local conditions, Westminster Presbyterian Church has a unique opportunity, in the providence of God, to proclaim His truth, to see people turning to Him in saving faith, and to plant more congregations faithful to His Word.
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