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2002 Issue 1 - Nineteen Erroneous Statements by Norman Shepherd - Counsel of Chalcedon

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Mr. Shepherd criticizes the evangelical mind for conceiving of the faith that justifies as being alone (p. 2). This criticism is misleading, and becomes the straw-man basis for repeated criticisms that confuse the issue of justification by faith alone. The statement is misleading first of all because Mr. Shepherd includes reformed theologians and their statements on justification in this evangelical mind (cf. p. 7, last paragraph). It is misleading secondly because Mr. Shepherd's hyphenated faith-alone may float ambiguously between two meanings. It may mean (1) a faith that is alone, or (2) faith as the only way to justification. Reformed as well as the majority of evangelical theologians have uniformly rejected the idea that a faith that is alone may justify. But they also have insisted that because justification is by imputed righteousness exclusively, faith alone is the way by which this righteousness may be appropriated.
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  I i Nineteen rroneous Or isleading Statements in Norman Shepherd's October, 1976 paper, (The Relation if Good Works to Justification in the Westminster Standards y O Palmer Robertson Editor} Note: For over 3 years nOli O Palmer Robertson has statfl1chfy difended the Biblical and histotic Reformed tfl1derstanding o the doctrine o justification y faith alolle. This paper vaS recentfy discovered in the PC Histoty Center archives at Cove lant Seminary in St. Louis, Missotlli. TV'hile the paper y Norman Shepherd Jvhich Mt: Robettson addresses is about 25 years old, this article remains a valid ctitique o Mr. Shepherd} current teachings and Jvritings incltlding his book The Call o Grace . By tmderstanding the content o this atticle, Olle can better understand the cttrrmt teachings o those at the At bum Avenue Pastors' Conference and others Ivho share their viem Mr. Shepherd criticizes the evangelical mind for conceiving of the faith that justifies as being alone p. 2). This criticism is misleading, and becomes the straw-man basis for repeated criticisms that confuse the issue of justification by faith alone. The statement is misleading first of all because Mr. Shepherd includes reformed theologians and their statements on justification in this evangelical mind cf. p. 7, last paragraph). t is misleading secondly because Mr. Shepherd's hyphenated faith-alone may float ambiguously between two meanings. t may mean 1) a faith that is alone, or 2) faith as the only way to justification. Reformed as well as the majority of evangelical theologians have uniformly rejected the idea that a faith that is alone may justify. But they also have insisted that because justification is by imputed righteousness exclusively, faith alone is the way by which this righteousness may be appropriated. Mr. Shepherd interchanges the concept of salvation with the concept of justification p. 2, paragraph 3). By conclusions based on this substitution, Mr. Shepherd misleads. A person's salvation includes a broader spectrum of concepts than those included in his justification. A person's 22 the COUNSEL ofCH LCEDON salvation may involve his calling, his regeneration, his justification, his adoption, his sanctification, his vindication at the last judgment, and his glorification. Salvation includes the benefits of Christ's righteousness from both an imputed and an infused perspective. But a person's justification is related more narrowly to the imputation of Christ's righteousness which is received by faith alone. Mr. Shepherd suggests that confusion with respect to justification on the part of the evangelical is proven by his answer to the question what does a man have to do to be saved? Since the evangelical answers that a person does not have to do anything, that he simply must believe, Mr. Shepherd says the evangelical is in error p. 2, paragraph 3). But it is perfectly legitimate to say that a person simply must believe to be saved, if the term saved is being interchanged for justified, as Mr. Shepherd is doing in this paragraph. Nothing but faith is required for the imputation of Christ's righteousness. A man is justified by faith alone. Mr. Shepherd misleads by implying that a person must do something other than believe in order to be justified. He misleads by substituting the broader term salvation for justification, and by implying that something is wrong with the assertion that the one condition of justification is not works of any kind, but faith alone p. 2, par. 3). Mr. Shepherd misleads by equating the instantaneous aspect of the faith that justifies with an abstract timelessness p. 2, par. 4). It is completely true that the instant a man believes he is justified, despite Mr. Shepherd's objection to this formulation. It is highly doubtful that any evangelical would affirm that this instantaneous aspect of the faith that justifies implies that the faith lasts only for an instant, and is timeless in the sense of being without duration. The statement that a man is justified the instant he believes emphasizes the fact that the legal act by God of imputing all of Christ's righteousness to the sinner takes no more than an instant. Because justification does not take into account the process by which the righteousness of Christ is worked into the sinner, it is a fact accomplished in an instant.  Nineteen Erroneous Or Misleading Statements In this connection, Mr. Shepherd objects to any reluctance to think of saving faith as lasting so many minutes or seconds before it effects justification p. 2, par. 4). By his objection he misleads. Faith lasts forever, but justification does not come after a lapse of time. Justification is instantaneous, because it centers exclusively on the judicial act of imputation. Mr. Shepherd misleads by implying error in an acceptable statement on the subject of justification by a current reformed theologian. A quotation from G . Williamson is interpreted to contain two errors (pp. 7f.). He is cited as one among many who sincerely subscribe to the reformed standards. Yet it is also asserted that it is doubtless that Mr. Williamson is among those who mis-interpret the standards. Mr. Williamson is accused of promoting a concept of faith-alone, meaning that he supports the idea that a faith that is alone justifies rather than just that faith is the only way to justification. Mr. Williamson also is accused of error in supporting the view that good works come only after justification rather than acknowledging that good works ever accompany justification, as Mr. Shepherd suggests the Confession indicates. This interpretation of Mr. Williamson's statement is misleading. Mr. Williamson says correctly that faith is not 'doing' but only dependence upon what Christ has done. Affirming that faith is not doing is not the same thing as affirming that faith is alone. Faith produces works, but faith must not be confused with the works it produces. Mr. Williamson does not say a dead faith will justify; he says explicitly that only a pure faith, which is not to be confused with the works it produces, will justify. When Mr. Williamson says that true faith will produce good works, he is not thereby denying that all other saving graces are present the instant a person believes, and thus ever accompany true faith. He simply is working with the distinction which the Westminster standards frequently make between graces that ever accompany , true faith and good works that are the fruits and evidences of faith L.e. 73, 75: w:e. XlII, 1; XVI, 3). The initial act of believing inevitably will be followed by a life of good works. By attributing errors to Mr. Williamson, Mr. Shepherd misleads. Mr. Shepherd errs by defining faith as acts of doing rather than acts of believing which issue in doing p. 9). The result of this definition of faith is that faith cannot be distinguished from the works it produces. Because he identifies faith with the works it produces, Mr. Shepherd ultimately can affirm that a person is justified by works just as well as he can affirm that a person is justified by faith. Wherever Mr. Shepherd says a person is justified by obedient faith, it is possible to substitute the idea that a person is justified by faithful obedience. Instead of affirming that a man is justified by faith that always has accompanying graces, he affirms that man is justified by a faith that always is works. To support his definition of faith as works, Mr. Shepherd cites the Westminster Confession XlV, 2: By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for authority of God Himself speaking therein: and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth: yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace. In supporting his position that faith is acts of doing rather than acts of believing which issue in doing, Mr. Shepherd notes the two-fold usage of the root act in this quotation. He concludes that faith is to be identified with the principal acts and the (secondary) acts of saving faith. Since these (secondary) acts of saving faith are stated specifically by the Confession to include yielding obedience to God's commands, Mr. Shepherd affirms that faith is identified with the various acts of obedience performed by the person being justified. This interpretation of the Confession is erroneous. The syntax of the paragraph clearly states that it is by faith that the Christian yields obedience. Even as faith is the instrument of justification, so also faith is the instrument of good works. But faith is not to be identified with the good works it produces any more than faith is to be identified with justification. the COUNSEL of CH LCEDON 23   i Nineteen Erroneous Or Misleading Statements Mr. Shepherd misleads when he says that if faith is receiving Christ, it is also obeying His commands cf. p. 9 par. 2). Indeed, from one perspective faith may be regarded as an act of obedience, or as a work. But faith cannot be defined as the works which it produces. The statement of the Confession that by faith a person yields obedience to Christ's commands is not at all in conflict with Williamson's assertion that faith is not doing but only depending on what Christ has done, as Mr. Shepherd asserts it is p. 9, par. 2). By faith man works, but faith is not works in the sense that the various acts of doing performed by the Christian are his faith. Yet Mr. Shepherd speaks of the actions of faith as the visible side of faith p. 9m, par. 4). It is this particular equation of faith with works that explains a great deal of the ambiguity of Mr. Shepherd's formulations. On the one hand, he appears to have offered a significant service to the current scene by emphasizing that true saving faith must be a living faith. But on the other hand his merging of faith with works has the effect of promoting the idea that a person is justified by the inwrought righteousness of Christ as well as by the imputed righteousness of Christ. Mr. Shepherd misleads when he says that the actions of faith do not come after faith or as a result of faith p. 9. par. 4). The denial of the priority of faith to good works is important to Mr. Shepherd because subsequently he intends to argue that good works are something more than simply fruits and evidences of faith in relation to justification. He intends to argue that justification is by works, even as it is by faith. For this reason, it is essential for him to posit at this earlier point that good works do not come merely as the product of faith, but are themselves the visible side of faith. Once more, Mr. Shepherd is asserting that faithful obedience essentially is interchangeable with obedient faith with reference to justification. 7 r. Shepherd misleads by caricaturing those who would affirm that a person is justified the instant he believes. He caricatures this viewpoint by speaking of faith as a virtually timeless (without duration), instantaneous act which is to be contrasted with some other kind of faith that takes time p. 9, last paragraph). 4 the COUNSEL o CH LCEDON But to say that justification is instantaneous, as does Williamson, or that a person is justified the instant he believes hardly implies that this faith is without duration or to be contrasted with some other kind of faith. Mr. Shepherd misleads in this caricature because he desires to substitute a concept of faith that is to be equated with various acts of doing as the way to justification. But faith is not doing, but trusting someone else to perform the required act. Mr. Shepherd errs in his discussion of repentance by speaking in terms of definite actions of repentance that are not instantaneous in character but are necessary for justification p. 13, par. 2, 3). The repentance which is the other side of the faith that justifies indeed is instantaneous - not in the caricatured sense of being gutless and timeless, but in the sense of being effective instantly. The other side of trusting Christ for justification is repudiating self for justification. To posit that acts of repentance that take time are necessary for justification in any sense other than as fruits, and evidence of justification is to deny the finality of God's act of justification. Mr. Shepherd errs by positing that continuing deeds srcinating from faith and repentance (or identified with faith and repentance) are necessary for maintaining the state of justification p. 14, par. 1). Works of repentance and faith, understood as works of faithful obedience, possess a necessity of maintenance with respect to the state of justification, according to Mr. Shepherd. This concept of the necessity of works of faith and repentance is something quite different from a necessity of evidence or fruit with respect to the state of justification. Attributing a necessity of maintenance to works of faith and repentance involve these works in the ground of justification, despite Mr. Shepherd's explicit disclaimer elsewhere. The concept of maintenance of a state of justification by works of repentance and faith also introduces the question of the finality of God's justification. f the sinner is declared just, with all his sins forgiven, no need of maintenance exists. Only if a falling from the state of justification is possible may necessity of maintenance be asserted meaningfully.  Nineteen Erroneous Or Misleading Statements Mr. Shepherd errs when he suggests that continuing acts srcinating from faith and repentance, or identified with faith and repentance, are necessary to maintain the state of justification. It need only by remembered that David remained unrepentant for at least nine months after his sin of murder and adultery. Yet he never was outside the state of justification in all that period. He remained justified because all his righteousness was the righteousness of Christ, imputed to him and received by faith alone. 1 0 r. Shepherd misleads when he says faithalone does not justify because: Coupled with this faith there must be repentance .. and endeavoring to walk in all the ways of new obedience p. 15, par. 2). Indeed repentance as the other side of faith must be present for justification. But the chapter on repentance in the Confession deals not only with that repentance which is the other side of faith, but also with repentance in terms of the various specific actions of turning from various sins throughout the process of sanctification. The phrase has centered on this point. When Mr. Shepherd therefore says that the diligent use of the outward means of grace are required for this justification, and when he has referred by citation to the justification of the Westminster Confession XI, 1 in the immediately preceding sentence, it would seem apparent that he is referring to the justification of w e XI, 1 when he says that the diligent use of the outward means of grace are required for this justification. Mr. Shepherd's explanation in the paper of March 1, 1978 is helpful in that it makes explicit that he means that the diligent use of the outward means of grace will be required for a supposed justification at the judgment. But what does this language of requirement mean? Mr. Shepherd subsequently interprets the language of requirement as it relates to the diligent use of the outward means of grace with respect to the last judgment. It is not just these who are righteous by imputation that shall escape endeavoring to walk in all the ways of new obedience of the Confession describes the continuing life of good works of the believer. This aspect of repentance is required for justification only in the sense that these actions of repentance are fruits and evidences of justification. Yet Mr. Shepherd's treatment implies that they are required essentially in the Mr. Shepherd has departed from the concept that the only righteousness that shall stand in the day of judgment is the imputed righteousness of Christ. the wrath and curse of God. It is godly ones who will be saved p. 24). Clearly, at this point, Mr. Shepherd has departed from the concept that the only righteousness that shall stand in the day of judgment is the imputed righteousness of Christ. Our good same sense in which faith is required for justification. By describing the action of repentance characterizing the life of the believer as requirement for justification, Mr. Shepherd misleads. Mr. Shepherd errs where he says that the diligent use of the outward means of grace also is required for justification p. 15). This statement represents the first of the four misleading statements which Mr. Shepherd revised in his March 1, 1978 paper p. 4f.). As the statement stands in the srcinal context, Mr. Shepherd is adding the diligent use of the outward means of grace to acts of repentance as required for justification. To this point in the progress of his discussion, Mr. Shepherd has given no indication that he is speaking of anything other than justification as described in Chapter XI of the Westminster Confession. As a matter of fact, the whole discussion works, tainted with sin as they are, cannot stand the scrutiny of God's judgment. They are regarded as righteous only because the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them even as it is imputed to us. The diligent use of the outward means of grace may be required to escape the wrath and curse of God; but it is required only as fruit and evidence of the faith that justifies. Mr. Shepherd errs when he implies that this requirement means that only godly men shall escape the wrath and curse of God. In the last judgment our only righteousness shall be the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone. The works of the believer shall be admitted as good only because they also have imputed to them the righteousness of Christ. Faith alone in the work of Christ alone ever and always justifies -alone Our good works give evidence of our true faith, and only in that sense are required for justification. the COUNSEL of CH LCEDON 25
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