Revision of the Confession of Faith

T. V. Warnick
Stated Clerk

During the closing session of the 147th General Assembly in Tampa, FL a very crucial action was taken: the Assembly voted to "appoint a Commission to begin work on a revision of The Confession of Faith . . ." (MINUTES, pp. 162, 201). This could well be the most significant action of the 1977 meeting, even the most significant Assembly action during this decade. The decision, which appeared to be unanimous, was in response to a memorial from the Platte-Lexington Presbytery.

What has been done since last Assembly? The action of the Assembly authorizing the appointment of a commission to begin revision was referred to the Assembly's Executive Committee. The following month the Executive Committee reviewed the action and concluded that the appointment of the commission was crucial and should be considered carefully and prayerfully. It feels that the final choice of those who do the work of the revision should be an action of the entire Assembly.

In order to give sufficient consideration to such an awesome venture and to prepare itself to make recommendations for consideration of the forthcoming Assembly the Executive Committee selected a steering committee to plan for the revision composed of Robert Prosser, chairperson; John E. Gardner, Joe Overton, Beverly St. John, and L. C. Waddle. The Stated Clerk served as a resource person to the steering committee.

The above named steering committee did its work well by outlining a possible approach, the scope of work, a timetable, and also suggested a large list of persons it felt would be worthy of consideration for the revision committee. The Executive Committee, at its November 27-29 meeting, received the report of the steering committee and presently is studying it.

One possible recommendation being considered by the Executive Committee is that the work on the confessional statements be first so that policy matters may be based on the confessional statements. Another consideration is a possible timetable that would allow for adequate revision work by a committee, including input by the Church, further revision by the General Assembly in session, circulation for study by the Church, adoption by the General Assembly and referral to the presbyteries, with returns to come before the 1983 meeting of the General Assembly--one hundred years from the last revision.

The above are just two of several possible recommendation being considered by the Executive Committee.

What is required constitutionally? According to our Constitution, Section 61, changes to the Confessional statements, Catechism, Constitution, and Rules of Discipline require the following:

1. A three-fourths vote at a stated meeting of the General Assembly providing, that when the vote is taken, there be present and voting not less than seventh-five percent of the full membership of the Assembly based upon the complete representation of each and every presbytery of the Church, and,

2. Approval by three-fourths of the presbyteries.

The General Regulations, the Directory for Worship, and the Rules of Order may be amended or changed at any meeting of the General Assembly by a vote of two-thirds of the entire number of commissioners enrolled at that meeting, provided there is no conflict with the Confessional statements, Catechism, or Constitution.

The General Assembly has acted to initiate the necessary process. It may seem a bit frightening to some of us, but we owe such an effort to our generation and to future generations. There is a sense in which we owe it to the past also. We must never permit these great God-truths to day up among us.

(Continued in another article in the next issue.)

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, February 1, 1978, page 8]

Revision of the Confession of Faith

T. V. Warnick
Stated Clerk
General Assembly

(Continued from February 1 issue.)

The 147th General Assembly in Tampa, FL voted to "appoint a commission to begin work on a revision of the Confession of Faith."

It is no surprise that the Cumberland Presbyterian Church would take such a step. It was the first church in this country to revise the Westminster Confession of Faith. The revision, which removed from the Confession the concept of unconditional election and enlarged the scope of human freedom, was adopted by Cumberland Synod in 1814. It was this revision, with some governmental change, that was adopted by the General Assembly when it was constituted at Princeton, KY in May, 1829. Another major revision, the one we use today, was done in the early 1880's and declared adopted by the General Assembly in 1883, by vote of 100 of the 116 presbyteries. The 1883 revision is much briefer than the 1814 Confession of Faith.

Only 69 years intervened between these two major revisions. It is interesting to note a statement by J. M. Howard in the May 17, 1883, issue of THE CUMBERLAND PRESBYTERIAN concerning "The New Confession":

Let it be understood, in short, that ours is not a fixed and changeless, but a progressive creed; and through all the decades we are to seek a more and more nearly exact statement of the truth revealed in Scripture, and believed by our own people.

Brief changes, or revision, of course, are made from time to time. (A Constitutional change is being voted on by the presbyteries at present.)

The action of the 147th General Assembly is certainly in keeping with our heritage. Some may even wonder why the Assembly has waited almost a century before attempting a major revision of the 1883 Confession. But a Church does not revise its creeds routinely or easily. It is worthy of note that the General Assembly rejected several overtures during the 1840's and early 1850's calling for a revision of the 1814 Confession. And though it did act positively in 1853 on such an overture from West Tennessee Synod, and appointed a committee to prepare a revision, the next year it rejected the committee's report which recommended a limited revision.

It is important to remember that the 1977 meeting of the Assembly proceeded toward a revision of our present Confession of Faith, not the writing of a new statement of faith. We shall begin with what we already have believing that our Confession of Faith is a good one, worthy of revision, and does not need to be replaced after 100 years. It does need to be updated in language, concepts, and ideas. Amendments sometimes used terminology inconsistent with the body of material into which they were inserted. The entire Constitutional Section 60, Of Relations Between Churches, appears tacked on for it is in a different form.

One of our ministers has noted that the membership, licensure, and ordination covenants all require an affirmation of belief in the Scriptures inconsistent with the confessional statements. The Confession of Faith states that the Scriptures are "given by inspiration of God to be the rule of faith and practice . . ." (Section 1). The covenants require affirmation of the Scriptures as "the only infallible rule of faith and practice." This last wording is identical to the last line of the Preface which was never adopted by the presbyteries, though the covenants in the Constitution were adopted. Actually the concept is from the Reformation when the reformers endeavored to strike down the view of the infallibility of the Church.

Words like "consanguinity" and "affinity" (Section 97, Confessional statements) are unfamiliar to most people today.

The choice of Scriptures which support the Confessional statements probably need attention. This work originally done by one person, James Smith, was included in 1834.

For many years we have been perplexed concerning the requirements for ordination of ministers because the educational requirements in the Constitution use scholastic standards of another period. When the Assembly has endeavored to interpret these requirements into modern educational achievements, some presbyteries concluded the Assembly was doing what could only be done by constitutional amendment. The result has been confusion and, sometimes, lessening of the standards.

The Rules of Discipline, Section 80, concerning appeals needs clarification. The Directory for Worship needs more development.

The above are only examples. But, perhaps more important than a few words and phrases, there needs to be a new look at our great doctrines so they may have fresh meaning for us today. Time often results in false understanding and interpretation of ideas and systems. Being a Reformed Church we feel that the Church must ever hammer out what it believes and state it in a language understandable to its people. To do less is to fail to do justice to the great truths of our faith.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, February 15, 1978, pages 8 & 12]

Developments in the Revision of The Confession of Faith

By T. V. Warnick
Stated Clerk

There are several extraordinary happenings in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church these days. One is the revision of the Confession of Faith. Every Cumberland Presbyterian should be vitally interested in a venture of such far-reaching consequence.

The 151st General Assembly June 15-19 in Denton, TX and the 107th GA of the Second CPC June 10-13 in Jeffersonville, IN reviewed the Proposed Revision of the Confession of Faith as submitted by the Revision Committee. Both assemblies received and referred the document to the church-at-large for study and response. The two assemblies plan for all Cumberland Presbyterians very carefully to study the document and to submit concerns and suggestions they wish for consideration so that it truly may be a Confession of and for Cumberland Presbyterians.

How did all this come about? What standing does the proposed revision have? Has the Revision Committee gone beyond its assignment? If the present Confession of Faith was good enough for our forefathers, isn't it good enough for us?


Four years ago, in response to a memorial from Platte-Lexington Presbytery, the GA in Tampa, FL directed that the Church's Confession of Faith be revised. The Assembly assigned its executive committee with the detail work, particularly the selection of revision committee members.

Realizing the awesome challenge of the revision work, the General Assembly's Executive Committee appointed a steering committee with members other than its own. The committee's duties included: to consider what would be involved in the revision, how best to proceed and to suggest some names for consideration for membership on the revision committee. This steering committee, comprised of experienced clergy and lay leaders, did its work in Jackson, TN November 7, 1977.

The GAEC seriously considered the steering committee's work and suggestions and reported to the GA in 1978. It submitted its vision of the scope of the revision, the Scriptural and confessional bases, a possible timetable, a proposed budget, nominated revision committee members and suggested a panel of readers to critique the work of the revision committee.

The GA 1978 in session in McKenzie, TN received the report and adopted its recommendations, with exception that the Second CPC was invited to participate fully rather then in an advisory capacity. The GA elected 15 members to the Revision Committee and appointed its Stated Clerk as an ex officio member. It also elected 20 members to the panel of readers. That same year the Second CPC GA elected 5 members to the Committee and authorized the appointment of readers.


The GA adopted recommendation was "that the scope of the revision include all items contained in the book entitled the Confession of Faith." The report noted that the GA authorized a revision, not a rewrite or a new confession. The GA's examples of legitimate revisions were:

"1. Language changes--The use, even meanings, of words change in the course of time. Since we use words as vehicles of communication, they should communicate our ideas and concepts as clearly as possible. In the revision, lay people, including children, should be considered as well as the person trained in theology.

"2. Updating concepts and ideas--The dividing line between updating and changing is difficult to describe. One of the problems of the revision process could be at this point. The Church has grown and has had new experiences in the past 100 years. This new understanding and experience cannot be ignored in the revision.

"3. Reorganization--Revision should be seen to include the possibility of rearranging, omitting, and adding.

"4. Further development--There may need to be new sections to cover a subject not now covered. We envision that the Directory for Worship, e.g., may need further development." (1978 GA Minutes, pp. 123, 197).

The General Assemblies of 1978, 1979, and 1981 referred specific items to the Revision Committee, one of which required the addition of a new section in the Constitution.

The first meeting of the Revision Committee, held on the campus of Bethel College, August 24-25, 1978, reviewed its task and made assignments for necessary research. Its progress report to the two general assemblies in 1979 states its perception of the assignment (Minutes, pp. 130-131).


The GAEC report to the General Assembly 1978 also stated that the integrity of the Confession of Faith is dependent upon the confessional statements which are subject to Scripture. The Assembly adopted the following recommendation:

"That all confessional statements have a Scriptural basis and that the pragmatics of policy matters be based primarily on the Confessional statements." (Minutes, p. 123, 197).

In response to the above direction the Revision Committee first revised the confessional statements. Thus, these statements of belief became the guide for work on the other parts of the Confession of Faith.


Though the Revision Committee has now had its eighth meeting and numerous sub-committee meetings, and though it submitted its proposed revision to the two general assemblies in 1981, there are two aspects of its work yet to be done. They are:

1. The proposed revision contains only the confessional statements, Constitution, Rules of Discipline and General Regulations (the last was consolidated into the Constitution and Rules of Discipline). The Directory for Worship, Rules of Order and Catechism are incomplete. The first drafts of the Directory for Worship and Rules of Order were considered by the Committee at its most recent meeting July 27-28. When these documents are sufficiently developed they will be submitted to the readers for their critique, then submitted to the two general assemblies.

2. Many responses from church people who read and study the document this year are anticipated and all of these responses will be considered. (Responses should be sent to the state clerk of either the CPC or the Second CPC. If possible, submit them before January 15, 1982, however, responses will be received for a limited period following that date.

The Proposed Revision of the Confession of Faith is just that, a proposed revision. By action of the general assemblies it is a study document for Cumberland Presbyterians. It is not now the Confession of Faith of Cumberland Presbyterians.

For the proposed revision to become the Church's Confession of Faith the GA's must vote to recommend approval by a three-fourths majority (three-fourths of the potential membership of the GA must be present and voting); then three-fourths of the presbyteries must vote its adoption. The Directory for Worship and Rules of Order, however, may be adopted at any GA by a vote of two-thirds of the commissioners at the GA.

The two denominations have agreed to the principal that the revision is to be approved by both general assemblies before being referred to the presbyteries for vote.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, October 1, 1981, pages 8 & 16]

Please Contact the Archives with Additions/Corrections

Updated on July 24, 2003