Clearly, conscience plays a very important role. But with that said, a person’s conscience is not an inerrant or infallible guide, for it is possible for one’s conscience to be mistaken…as the Westminster Confession of Faith rightly says, the Bible alone is to be our “Final Umpire.”
The Wesleyan Quadrilateral vs. The Presbyterian Pentagon
There’s a helpful and well-known method for indulging in theological reflection called ‘The Wesleyan Quadrilateral’. Consistent with its geometric shape, each of its four sides represent four different aspects of ‘authority’, namely; Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. The point is that when it comes to deciding an issue, one of these things will be determinative.
But I’ve recently come to see—especially through COVID—that the model is insufficient and that there is a fifth side which should be added. This is the aspect of ‘Conscience’ and as such, I’d like to suggest renaming the paradigm to The Presbyterian Pentagon. The reason I’ve made it denominationally specific is because the doctrinal standard of the Presbyterian Church—Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)—is somewhat unique in its emphasis upon the place of conscience in the Christian life.
This is seen in Chapter 20: Christian Liberty, section 2 which states:
God alone is lord of the conscience, and has left it free from the teachings and commandments of men that are in any way contrary to his word, or beside it, in matters connected with faith or worship. As a result, to believe such teachings, or to obey such commandments, as a matter of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience. And the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason as well.
And in the Australian edition of the WCF there is an additional section found in the addendum of The Declaratory Statement regarding the Civil Magistrate (vi) which adds the further clarification: