The Westminster Assembly of Divines was a council of theologians and members of the English Parliament appointed to restructure the Church of England which met from 1643 to 1653. Several Scots also attended, and the Assemblys work was adopted by the Church of Scotland, as many as 121 ministers were called to the Assembly, with nineteen others added later to replace those who did not attend or could no longer attend. The Confession and catechisms were adopted as doctrinal standards in the Church of Scotland and other Presbyterian churches, amended versions of the Confession were also adopted in Congregational and Baptist churches in England and New England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Confession became influential throughout the English-speaking world, but especially in American Protestant theology, the Assembly was called by the Long Parliament before and during the beginning of the First English Civil War. The Long Parliament was influenced by Puritanism, a movement which sought to further reform the church. They were opposed to the policies of King Charles I and William Laud. As part of an alliance with Scotland, Parliament agreed that the outcome of the Assembly would bring the English Church into closer conformity with the Church of Scotland. The Scottish Church was governed by a system of elected assemblies of elders called presbyterianism, rather than rule by bishops, called episcopalianism, Scottish commissioners attended and advised the Assembly as part of the agreement. Disagreements over church government caused open division in the Assembly, despite attempts to maintain unity, the party of divines who favoured presbyterianism was in the majority, but political and military realities led to greater influence for the congregationalist party. Congregationalists favoured autonomy for individual congregations rather than the subjection of congregations to regional and national assemblies entailed in presbyterianism, Parliament eventually adopted a presbyterian form of government, but it lacked the power the presbyterian divines desired. During the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660, all of the documents of the Assembly were repudiated, the Assembly worked in the Reformed Protestant theological tradition, also known as Calvinism. It took the Bible as the word of God, from which all theological reflection must be based. The divines were committed to the Reformed doctrine of predestination—that God chooses certain men to be saved, there was some disagreement at the Assembly over the doctrine of particular redemption—that Christ died only for those chosen for salvation. The Assembly also held to Reformed covenant theology, a framework for interpreting the Bible, Parliament called the Westminster Assembly during a time of increasing hostility between Charles I, monarch of England and Scotland, and the Puritans. Puritans could be distinguished by their insistence that worship practices be supported implicitly or explicitly by the Bible, while their opponents gave greater authority to traditional customs. They believed the Church of England, which had separated itself from the Catholic Church during the English Reformation, was too heavily influenced by Catholicism. They sought to rid the church and nation of any of these remaining influences and this included the Churchs episcopal polity, or rule by a hierarchy of bishops. Puritans, unlike separatists, did not leave the established church, Puritans were forced to keep their views private or face fines and imprisonment
Image: Assertion of Liberty of Conscience by the Independents of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, 1644
This 1645 satirical print depicts Archbishop William Laud and Puritan Henry Burton. Burton's ears have been cut off as punishment for criticizing Laud. Their dialogue references Laud's impending beheading following his trial by Parliament.