Practical Polity

Subordinate Standards

The government of our church is determined by certain documents called "subordinate standards". These standards are subordinate to the ultimate authority of Scripture, the "supreme standard" of church polity. The other subordinate standards that we have, all in agreement with the Confession, are:
Regarding Church Government

Second Book of Discipline 1578
Westminster Form of Presbyterial Government 1645

Regarding Worship

Westminster Directory for Public Worship 1645
Westminster Directory for Family Worship 1647

Regarding Catechisms

Westminster Larger Catechism 1648
Westminster Shorter Catechism 1648

The Westminster Confession of Faith - The Principal Subordinate Standard

The principal subordinate standard of the PCEA is the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), formulated by the Westminster Assembly of Divines. Now this document has stood the test of time in being “most agreeable to the Word of God”, “most orthodox” and “so excellent a Confession of Faith”[1]. And this orthodoxy has provided an important foundation for the Presbyterian and Reformed faith for over 300 years.
Still, just as there are various interpretations of Scripture, some orthodox and some heterodox, leading to schisms and splits, heresies and sects, so too this principal subordinate standard has been interpreted and applied in various ways. At its reception by the Church of Scotland, as it came fresh from the Westminster Assembly in London, an Act was passed by the Assembly in Scotland to declare to  its own church the way in which the Scottish Church should understand and use the Confession. The Westminster Assembly was made up of various groups with differing views on how the Church should be governed.[2] While all were convened with the understanding that Popery and Prelacy (I.e church government by Archbishops, etc.) was to be done away with, some members of the Assembly were Episcopalian, some Erastian (accepting that the Church is essentially a department of the State), some were congregationalist (or Independents,[3]), and some Presbyterian. So, while the general tendancy of the gathering was favourable to Presbyterianism over the course of the formulation of the Confession, it was never fully avowed by all as the accepted form of government and therefore does not appear in the Confession. The Confession is therefore understood by our church in the light of the Acts of The Church of Scotland Assembly and It remains as our primary subordinate standard of life and doctrine, but we have other standards which define our church government an



[1] Quotes from the Act Approving the Confession of Faith of the General Assembly at Edinburgh, August 27, 1647
[2] “Of the 121 who were invited to sit in the Assembly: 4 were from London, 2 from the channel islands, 2 from each English county, 1 from each Welsh county, 2 from each university, and 2 from the French Reformed church in London. Men of widely diverse views were selected: presbyterians (like Twisse and Reynolds), episcopalians (like Brownrigg and Ussher), erastians (like Lightfoot), and independents (like Goodwin and Nye). Following the signing of the Solemn League and Covenant, 8 commissioners from Scotland were assigned to sit with the Westminster Assembly (the best known being Henderson, Baillie, Rutherford, and Gillespie). They were especially astute in theology and exercised important leadership in the deliberations of the Assembly, even though they had no formal vote in its decisions.” {Bahnsen 1986}
[3] Independents exerted a strong influence on the Assembly especially from Parliament, particularly through the power of the Army under Cromwell in the Commonwealth and parliament. See {Spear 2013}

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