Shepherd responds to OPC Report

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R. Scott Clark

Puritan Board Senior
From the URC list:

In Belgic Confession Art 24 we confess:

These works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all sanctified by His grace. Nevertheless they are of no account towards our justification, for it is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do good works; otherwise they could not be good works, any more than the fruit of a tree can be good before the tree itself is good.
When he was received into Classis Hackensack (?) CRC on fleeing the discipline of the OPC, Rev Shepherd was asked point blank whether (or how) he affirmed this clause of our confession. He affirmed it unequivocally. How?

We confess: "...they are of no account towards our justification...." We do not confess "there are of a little account" or "some account" or "should be of account" or "are so closely associated with faith in the act of justification that they are practically indistinguishable...." No. We confess "they are of no account...."

What do we hear from Rev Shepherd?

Now there can be no objection to calling good works the fruit and evidence of saving faith.
No objection? This is the language of concession not affirmation. Let's try this: "There can be no objection to speaking of the deity of Christ...." What? "No objection?" How about: "We confess that good works are ONLY the fruit and evidence of justification"? That is REFORMED language. That a trained theologian and minister of the gospel cannot get the ABC's of our doctrine of justification correct is really shocking.

To my fellow ministers, I beg you not to follow Rev Shepherd's example.

He continues:

In Gal. 5:6 Paul speaks of justifying faith as faith expressing itself through love; and James says in 2:18 that the believer shows his faith by what he does. At the same time we must say no less clearly and no less forcefully, and not simply by way of reluctant concession, that "Undeniably, `faith without works is dead' (James 2:26)," ...
Notice that he is not content to make Spirit-wrought sanctity only "fruit" and "evidence." He must include them in the definition of faith in the act of justification.

Nothing has changed. He concedes nothing after 32 years of controversy, even after Dick Gaffin, his most ardent supporter has abandoned him, even after the RCUS (who had defenders of Norm in 1980-82 -- I have contemporaneous notes from Eureka Classis from that period) rejected him and even after the OPC received and commended for study a report that is highly critical of his reformulation of the doctrine of justification. Apparently, no one, not even Dick Gaffin, understands him!

He continues:

and that, "True, `faith without its fruits and evidences is neither true nor lively.'" The reason for this is simply that faith without its fruit and evidence will not save and it will not justify.
There is no question about this, but as I keep saying "IS" does not equal "because" or "through." Why won't Rev Shepherd accept this distinction? Because it is fatal to his revision of the doctrine of justification.

He is bent on including Spirit-wrought sanctity into faith in the act of justification.

He continues:

Even if we were to insist (as Lutheranism consistently does) that faith first justifies and then has works added to it after justification, we still have to say that if there are no works (no fruit and evidence) then the faith is not true faith. And if it is not true faith at a later point, it never was true faith to start with, and could never have justified the sinner at any point.
Rev Shepherd wants us all to think that our confession in BC 22-24 and HC 21 and 60 is "Lutheran" and then caricatures the Reformation doctrine of justification.

The term "after" is a canard and a red herring, since the question is of the LOGICAL order not chronological order. Nevertheless I hasten to point out what we confess, that we are justified "EVEN BEFORE WE DO GOOD WORKS."

We do not confess that we are "being justified" as Rev Barach says.

Justification is not a process. It is a definitive/punctiliar event. Paul says, "having been justified." He doesn't say "we are being justified" or "we shall eventually justified if we are found to have a sufficient degree of sanctity associated with our faith" or some such.

Heavenly days McGee! I'm an academic and all for detailed discussion of the gospel and all important theological topics, but the gospel and the doctrine of justification isn't THAT DIFFICULT unless one is making it so. If one is making it so, why? To what end? Why is it that ONLY Rev Shepherd and his FV supporters can see this? Why is it that faculty at MARS, WSC, GREENVILLE, KNOX, and NEW GENEVA seminaries
cannot? Further, I just spoke with at a conference with Rick Gamble (now of the RPTS in Pittsburgh) and he made it clear that, despite his personal affection for Rev Shepherd, that he does not support this language. What is the statistical probability, in the ordinary providence of God, of that? Rev Shepherd and the FV supporters are the 7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal and the rest of are well, let's not put too fine a point on things.

We confess:

What is necessary for you to know that in this comfort you may live and die happily?

Three things: First the greatness of my sin and misery; second how I am to be redeemed from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to be thankful for such redemption.
I'm glad those who wrote our confessions were so heavily influenced by the dread Lutherans and not Rev Shepherd's version of the "Reformed" doctrine of justification.


R. Scott Clark, D.Phil
Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology
Westminster Seminary California
"For Christ, His Gospel, and His Church."
[email protected]
Associate Pastor
Oceanside URC

--- In [email protected], "John Barach" <[email protected]> wrote:
> Co-URCers --
> Because we have been discussing Shepherd, he has just "published" a
> response to the recent OPC report, and particularly to a footnote in
> it. It touches on a number of items we've been talking about.
> I'm not recommending that we get into a big discussion about it,
> though you're free to discuss it if you please. I suspect that
> we've gone around and around on this issue enough recently. But for
> those who want to read his latest presentation of his views in
> response to some recent criticism, here it is.
> Blessings!

> John
> John Barach (541) 531-2906
> Pastor, Reformation Covenant Church
> of Southern Oregon (CREC)
> 706 Beekman Avenue
> Medford, OR 97501

[Edited on 7-20-2006 by R. Scott Clark]

Me Died Blue

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Originally posted by R. Scott Clark
I'm glad those who wrote our confessions were so heavily influenced by the dread Lutherans and not Rev Shepherd's version of the "Reformed" doctrine of justification.
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