Rev. John Armstrong has proclaimed Rev. Norman Shepherd to be a minister of the gospel and not a heretic. I suppose that is his right, after all Rev. Armstrong’s ACT 3 is a very ecumenical organization that if it ever proclaimed anyone to be a heretic that would be a headline. However, what is the basis of this clearing of Rev. Shepherd’s name? Well, Rev. Armstrong fails to provide us with anything. Instead he freely admits that Rev. Shepherd teaches:
that the faith by which we are brought into union with Christ in salvation, i.e., the faith that brings justification in the present and at the final judgment, is vital, living, penitent, obeying faith.
That is the crux of the debate. Is it faith alone or faith and the obedience and repentance? Shepherd tries to merge the three and Protestantism has always kept them separate. So, no real vindication is provided instead just a re-statement of the problem at hand followed by a magical declaration that frees Rev. Shepherd from heresy. Why does this bother me? Well because Rev. Armstrong takes a shot at me through my denomination. He states,
Several very small and conservative Reformed denominations have drafted statements calling Rev. Shepherd's teaching heresy. As I listened to Norm teach this weekend, and then heard him answer question after question faithfully, I was struck once again at how clearly biblical his theology of salvation is. It is so easy to put a label on someone's ideas and then refuse to actually hear them and really deal with what they teach. By this kind of attack on Shepherd many wonderful people in the churches are confused and do not understand what is actually being taught in many cases.
It is true the RCUS is a small denomination, but it is untrue that we did not listen to what Rev. Shepherd said and wrote. In fact, the RCUS had Shepherd out to try and clear up the issues at hand all the way back in the 70’s when he first started getting in trouble at Westminster. So, in one sense not only did we listen we took 30 years to condemn his teachings. Plus, if you read the RCUS report, we actually have quotes of troublesome theology. You would think that if one were to brush aside the small reformed denomination one would want to at least deal with their concerns. But, alas, Rev. Armstrong feels no need to do that because of his powerful experience this past weekend. I suppose others can follow suit and put their confidence in the wonderful striking experiences, but do not pretend that his words have been cleared. They have not. The controversy remains are we saved by faith alone, or by faith, repentance, and some obedient non-meritorious works.