THE PLACE OF THE
It is the duty of all nations to embrace the Biblical doctrines outlined in the Westminster Standards. It is the duty of all men to join themselves to a church body that fully subscribes to the Biblical doctrines outlined in the Westminster Standards and that reasonably implements those standards. And it is the duty of the church to uphold the doctrine, worship, and government outlined in the Westminster Standards. But we must keep in mind that only the Bible is essential; the Westminster Standards are but a useful tool. The Apostolic church of the first century and the Protestant Church of Scotland formed and led by men such as Knox and Melville prove that it is possible for a church to be fully subscribed to the Biblical doctrines outlined in the Westminster Standards without having the Westminster Standards themselves. This is analogous to the different ways nations may embrace English common law. Some may do it more informally, by requiring judges to pledge to rule according to the historic common law; while others may do it more formally, by recognition of the common law in a written constitution sworn to by the judges of the land.*
Given that the church now has the useful tool of the Westminster Standards, I would not recommend that the church fail to use this tool, any more than I would recommend a man abandon his eating utensils and revert back to eating with his hands. But just as one may eat without eating utensils, so it is possible for a church fully to subscribe to the Biblical doctrines outlined in the Westminster Standards without the Westminster Standards themselves. We must therefore conclude that the Westminster Standards are useful but not essential, whereas the Bible is both useful and essential.
* There is an important obvious distinction between the Free Church passage of the Declaratory Act in 1892, releasing that body from full confessional subscription to the Westminster Standards, and Knox’s Church of Scotland lacking subscription to the Westminster Standards. The former did so because they disagreed with the Westminster Standards; the latter did so, not because of doctrinal differences with the Standards, but because the Westminster Standards had not yet been composed. The latter agreed with the doctrines later outlined in the Westminster Standards, but it expressed this subscription in a manner appropriate to its historical context.