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.
When it comes to Matthew 18:15ff, most Christians just cannot seem to find the balance. On the one hand, when it suits their purposes, the principles and procedures of Matthew 18 are largely ignored in the average American church, even Reformed ones. To go privately to a brother when one is offended, or when one believes the brother to be in sin, is personally threatening and uncomfortable. Hence, the most common response is to gossip behind the person's back, conduct "prayer" sessions for the offender, or even to ask the pastor or elders to confront the person. But rarely will the average person actually go to the person in private and deal with the issue.
On the other hand, when certain sins ARE confronted in public, almost always the first cry will be "Was Matthew 18 followed?" I have witnessed this personally for years at Presbytery. No matter how grievous the sin, or how public the matter; presbyters will still insist that the court can take no action unless Matthew 18 was first followed. Sadly, these same men themselves will often not go privately to someone to resolve differences, speak the truth in love or deal with an offense. It seems the real, underlying motivation is not to have to deal with "messy" situations, either personally or corporately. The end result is that often Biblical justice is subverted, the truth obscured, and unwitting people are led astray because the mechanism that God has given for dealing with sins, offenses and problems is just not understood or followed.
At the Auburn Avenue Pastor's Conference in January of this year, PCA Pastor Steve Wilkins announced in his lecture The Legacy of the Halfway Covenant, "...reading the Bible this way, and in this sense, we can speak of baptismal regeneration."
What exactly did he mean when he used the term "baptismal regeneration?" What did he mean when he said "reading the Bible this way, and in this sense?" He went on to clarify the "sense" in which he was referring to "baptismal regeneration" when he said, "What I mean is that baptism unites us to Christ, and thus gives us new life."
Meaning it this way and in this sense, his statement approaches the Roman Catholic doctrine of baptismal regeneration, which has always been viewed as an aberrant teaching by the Reformed churches because of its effect of diminishing a cornerstone of Reformed doctrine, justification by faith alone.
My heart hurts as I write this, but I must because the truth of the gospel is at stake (Galatians 1:6-10). In the winter of 2002 the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church Pastors' Conference took place in Monroe, Louisiana. The speakers were Steve Wilkins, Steve Schlissel, Douglas Wilson, and John Barach. Norman Shepherd was supposed to be one of the speakers but he was providentially hindered in the loss of his wife. Since then we have often prayed that God would bring him comfort.
I have carefully listened to all the lecture tapes of this conference and have read related material by some of the lecturers. I have spent hours studying the roots of the perspective presented at this conference. I earnestly and sadly believe that what was presented by these men, all of whom have made major contributions to the advance of the Reformed Faith in the late Twentieth Century, represents at best a blurring of the gospel of Christ, and at worst, a betrayal of that gospel. This is not to say that all they presented was in error, but it is to say that misrepresentations, caricatures, reckless statements, deceptive statements and departures from the truth of God were intermixed with the good things they said. This makes their statements all the more dangerous, since careful discernment is necessary to distinguish truth from plausibly expressed falsehoods.
Editor's Note: On the weekend of February 22-23, 2002, Covenant Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States (RPCUS) met at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Tazewell Virginia and, after examining its officers, accepted it and its mission work in Wytheville, VA into the RPCUS. Henry Johnson was the organizing pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church and has served there 23 years. He is a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary. Providence Reformed Presbyterian Church, the mission work in WYtheville, Virginia, began in 1997 and is served by Trinity Associate Pastor Jeff Black. Jeff preaches there and hopes to assist in its eventual organization as a church. The congregants of Providence currently have their church memberships under the care of Trinity.
What a privilege to take our stand with the godly elders, deacons and congregations of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States (RPCUS). A stand firmly planted upon the Word of God, the Bible. A stand unashamedly founded upon the Rock of Ages, our Lord Jesus Christ. A stand determinedly fixed upon the faith once for all delivered to the saints. A stand deliberately resolved upon the Westminster Standards as an accurate and glorious summary by godly men of what the Scriptures teach. To join the RPCUS has been the express desire of our Session for many years. God has granted this prayer in His good time and we rejoice together with the whole congregation.
Chalcedon Presbyterian Church recently launched The New Southern Presbyterian Review, a theological journal meant to continue in the tradition of the The Southern Presbyterian Review, published from 1847 through 1885. Its editors along the way included James H. Thornwell, Benjamin M. Palmer, George Howe, and Robert L. Dabney, among others. The inaugural issue of the new Review was published online and in print the first week of July, 2002. We are reprinting two articles from that issue here. First, the original editor's note and second, an article about the history of the original review.
At the 2002 Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Pastors Conference various positions were advocated, like paedocommunion, which directly contradict the Reformed faith and practice as it is represented in such historic confessions as the Westminster Standards. Covenant Presbytery of the RPCUS responded to the Conference by issuing a call for repentance. The Consistory of Messiah's Congregation, where Rev. Schlissel (one of the Conference pastors) labors, has issued a reply to the charges of Covenant Presbytery; Christ Church where Rev. Wilson (another Conference pastor) labors has issued a response; and the session of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church, where Rev. Wilkins labors, has issued their response. Additionally, Rev. Andrew Sandlin defends the ministers of this Conference against the charge of 'heresy' in various articles. The responses and Rev. Sandlin's articles are posted on their various web sites.
Before commenting upon the Conference speakers and the response of the RPCUS to them, it is important that we have a sound, Biblical definition of the term "heresy," since the Conference speakers are charged with promoting heresy. Scripturally speaking, heresy is an aberration in doctrine and course which wrongly causes division in the visible church of Christ is a heresy. This definition is perhaps most clearly seen in I Corinthians 11:18-19: "...I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." All heresies involve issues about which the Bible does not permit the Church to compromise. Of course, some heresies are much more serious in nature than others. Indeed, some heresies are damnable heresies. ("But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.") But given the importance of the unity of Christ's body, we should not underestimate the importance of avoiding heresy of any kind, whether damnable or not.