Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Shepherd and the Reformed Tradition Part II

Does Norman Shepherd have a place in German Reformed theology? I would answer no. I readily admit I do not have access to all of the great German leaders, mainly Martin Bucer (if anyone wants to donate some, I am always ready to accept), but I believe one can still conclude that Shepherd is out of place in German reformed theological history. It should be noted that Rev. Horne did not quote from the works of the German leaders such as the Heidelberg Catechism, and that the Reformed Church in the United States, the only German reformed church in America, is one of the leading opponents of Shepherd’s theology.

The Heidelberg Catechism goes out of its way to exclude works from any part of salvation, justification, or righteousness before God. Let us just quote the most germane questions.

Q60: How are you righteous before God?
A60: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ: that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.
Q61: Why do you say that you are righteous by faith only?
A61: Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God; and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only.
Q62: But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?
A62: Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment seat of God must be perfect throughout and entirely conformable to the divine law, but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.
Q63: Do our good works merit nothing, even though it is God's will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come?
A63: The reward comes not of merit, but of grace.

Here we can see Casper Oleianus and Zacharias Ursinus reject the idea of works having any merit or necessity for eternal life. Even the rewarding of our works on the last day is of grace, and thus the answer of question 63 is ‘Yes, our works merit nothing.’ If that were not enough to show that Ursinus did not agree with the teaching of Norman Shepherd regarding works as necessary for a continuing state of justification between the initial justification (which Shepherd seems to admit is of faith alone), and the final judgment and life eternal, he refutes it in his commentary as well.

Eternal life is not given on account of our works, whether present, or forseen; but only out of the free mercy, and love of God toward the human race, and from his desire to manifest his mercy in the salvation of the righteous, through the satisfaction and merits of Christ the mediator, imputed unto us through faith, for this end, that God may be eternally praised by us. (pg. 322)

Ursinus goes on when he comments on the questions listed above to deny that even faith is a work, which Horne hints he will show later. Ursinus points out that we are justified ‘by faith’ and never ‘on account of faith’. He actively defends the idea of faith only and claims that the idea of justification partly by faith and partly by works is a Romish invention. He even directly states that the idea of eternal life (not justification, but eternal life as Shepherd seems to indicate) being the reward of works is the doctrine of Rome according to Ursinus. His commentary on the subject is rather good.

As for the Covenant of Works, it is not mentioned specifically by the Catechism. Yet its existence seems understood. Question 4 states God requires man to love the Lord with his whole heart and his neighbor as himself, a summary of the law. It goes on to explain we cannot keep it. Question 60 makes explicit again that we fail to keep the law, and adds that Christ kept it for us, and that Christ’s obedience is imputed to us as if it were our own. This seems show that the idea of two covenants is in place. The names do not appear, but the theory is there.
Oleianus also appears to be one of the original fountain heads of Covenant Theology. He was the author a book on Covenant Theology, that again I do not have. Yet, it can easily be assumed that he agreed with the Heidelberg Catechism in its final form. He did after all subscribe to it, and co-author it.

The German Tradition seems to exclude Norman Shepherd from consideration as a legitimate strand of Reformed Theology. In later posts we will show the links to German Theology of the Federal Vision and New Perspectives, but calling it German Reformed Theology seems to be contrary to the Heidelberg Catechism.