In his pamphlet The Westminster Confession and Creeds, R L Dabney explains the role of confessions in defining the church. He upholds the right of particular branches or denominations to limit their clergy to the boundaries of chosen confessions, but he then denies that this in any way defines the boundaries of the catholic church. Instead, he offers up a vision for unity and diversity among denominations:
But once more, we expressly repudiate the claim of right or authority to dismiss, exclude or repel any person, lay or clerical, from the catholic or universal church of Christ on the mere ground of his dissent from or rejection of parts of our creed. All we claim is the right to separate him therefore from among the teachers of our branch or denomination of the catholic church, leaving him free to join any other denomination whose creed he can heartily adopt. Should any dissentient from our doctrine refuse to us this method of self-protection, he would be invading our spiritual liberty and not defending his own. For when we have freely associated ourselves unto what we conscientiously believe to be a faithful witness-bearing to the testimony of Jesus, he who should claim to impugn our doctrinal testimony by our own authority would be only perpetrating a gross outrage upon our equal rights and liberty of conscience, and we accordingly declare that we do not limit the being and rights of “the holy catholic church” to that company of believers holding with us our Standards and scripturally denominated by the term Presbyterian. But we recognize as other denominations in the sacramental host all who teach the fundamental doctrines and uphold the morals of Christ’s gospel. We believe that the visible unity whereby God is to be glorified is to be found in the faithful recognition of each other’s sacraments, orders, and church discipline (limited to admonition and spiritual penalties), by each denomination in the church catholic; and not in a fusion and amalgamation of all into one visible ecclesiastical body; a result only made feasible by one or the other criminal alternative, popery or broad churchism.
~The Westminster Confession and Creeds (Presbyterian Heritage Publications, 1983) p 16- 17
Steven Wedgeworth is the pastor of Christ Church in Lakeland, Florida. He writes about theology, history, and political theory, and he has taught Jr. High and High School. He is the founder and general editor of The Calvinist International, an online journal of Christian Humanism and political theology, and a Director for the Davenant Trust. A graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS), Steven lives in Lakeland, FL with his wife, son, daughter, and two terriers.
The Calvinist International is a forum for research, resourcement, and renewal of Christian wisdom.