A Question About Redeemer’s Multi-Site Model

In response to a December article in USA Today on multi-site churches, in which Redeemer Presbyterian (NYC) was featured, Tim Keller offered a brief clarification of Redeemer’s version of the multi-site model. As part of that explanation he articulated a premise that strikes me as something that should be controversial among Presbyterian folk but which has not received much attention thus far.

The post is in two parts. In the first part he explained what Redeemer NYC is not doing. In the second part he explained what they are doing. The second point of that explanation says:

Second, the multi-site model is a transition design for us. Redeemer has a timetable for turning each site into a congregation in its own neighborhood, with its own pastoral leadership. I was the main preacher at all sites, but two years ago we went from four to five services at three sites, which is too many for me to preach in a Sunday. Rather than beaming me in by video, we determined that other pastors on the staff would always preach at least that fifth service. When we get to six and seven services, about two years from now, each site will have its own Lead Pastor who will share the preaching with me.

We will then transition from a ‘multi-site’ to a ‘collegiate’ model. Though still under one unified board of elders, each church will have its own pastoral team, elder team, and set of lay leaders. Other collegiate models in our PCA denomination include Harbor Presbyterian in San Diego and Brooklyn Presbyterian here in New York City.

As one who has participated in a couple “failed” (one started and then died, another never really started) church plants and one “successful” church (it’s still going!) plant I understand how difficult it is to plant a new congregation and to do it in a way that does not compromise the faith. If “church” is defined as the “Christ-confessing covenant community” (Derke Bergmsa’s wonderful phrase), i.e., a community of Christ confessors (and inquirers) gathered around the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments and governed by discipline normed by the Word) then we may say that  there are lots of “visions” for church planting that don’t result in “churches” but rather that result in vaguely entertaining religious societies of one sort or another.  So any model for church planting which enables congregations to come into being that are truly churches, Christ-confessing covenant communities gathered around Word and sacrament ministry is a good thing.

I can see the value of a multi-site approach to planting churches, i.e., a single session or consistory supervises the establishment of discrete communities of believers gathered around Word and sacrament, disciplined by the Word as confessed by the Reformed churches. In the initial stage each new site would be an extension of the “mother” church drawing upon the resources (manpower, funds, leadership etc) of the established church until the new site is mature. In that sense a multi-site approach would be truly transitional. Each site would, as it matures, develop its own elders and deacons and call its own pastor and go on some day to give birth to new congregations of its own. This seems like wonderful, organic, healthy way to advance the Father’s mission for Christ’s Church using the ordinary means through which the Spirit works ad gloriam Dei. So far, so good.

The last paragraph of Tim’s explanation, however, stops short of the “vision” I sketched above. When Tim says that Redeemer’s multi-site plan is “transitional” he means that it was transition from multi-site to a “collegiate” model whereby each “church” would have it’s own “elder team” and pastors but remain under one unified board of elders.

Wait a minute. In Presbyterian polity we have a word for that unified board of elders: presbytery, i.e., the regional assembly of pastors and elders. It seems, from Tim’s brief account, that their plan is that the local session of Redeemer will do the work of a presbytery (in Dutch and German Reformed terms, a classis). As I understand Reformed (i.e., both European and Presbyterian) polity each particularized or organized congregation has its own pastor(s), its own elders (not just a delegated team from a super session or super consistory) and its own deacons (a term Tim didn’t use (what are “lay leaders” in Presbyterian polity?). The elders and pastors (in the PCA they are denominated ruling and teaching elders) gather regularly in a regional assembly (called a “broader assembly” in Dutch Reformed Churches) to bear one another’s burdens, to examine candidates for ministry, and to work together for the advancement of the mission of the Kingdom of God through his church.

The collegiate model that Tim articulates sounds like a sort of parallel presbytery where one session is the presbytery or classis for multiple “collegiate” congregations. How does this model relate to what we’ve traditionally considered presbyteries and classes? What oversight does the presbytery or classis actually have over these various bodies that are de facto congregations but nominally a single congregation?

As the Reformed churches emerged in sixteenth and seventeenth centuries from various episcopal (bishop-run) polities one of the basic principles articulated in the various church orders is that each congregation is to have its own pastor(s), elders, and deacons and each congregation is to respect the jurisdiction of the other. Congregations are not to “lord it over” other congregations. How does this collegiate model really meet this concern? If the pastor of a congregation is usually the most influential of the members of the session or consistory and a single session or consistory has governing authority over what are essentially multiple congregations (even if nominally one) how does such a model not become effectively episcopal or hierarchical? In the collegiate model, even if the congregations are nominally one, how is one session not really lording it over others?

I have  theory as to why the multi-site/collegiate model is attractive. One of the driving principles of the church-growth literature that read in the 80s was “efficiency.” In obedience to that principle church-growth types counseled pastors to trade off writing sermons so that one minister wrote the sermon to be shared by another one week and back and forth so a minister now had 50% more time to work toward church-growth. We were taught to respond to letters by writing on the back of the original letter. This was before email, of course. This way we not only saved time and paper but we implicitly demonstrated how busy and important we were—we had no time to take out and type a whole new letter on a new sheet of letterhead! The “business model” was the the model for those who wanted their churches to grow (buildings, bodies, and budgets baby!).

Until recently most successful businesses were basically episcopal in structure. In episcopacy a single person governs persons and committees. Of course the whole history of episcopal polity whether in the church or in government or business has been the story of the struggle between the one (e.g., the pope or the CEO) and the many (e.g., councils or board of directors). Under the influence of the church-growth model, in the 80s, pastors began to describe themselves not as “pastors” (shepherds of flocks) but as CEOs and as “ranchers.” Metaphors are powerful things. To change a metaphor and to make it stick is to change a culture, to change a theology and a practice if not a piety.

In the Reformed churches the reformation of church polity was one of the last and lasting achievements. The English reformers did not succeed in reforming the polity of the church and among the English the Westminster Confession was essentially DOA. The Scots reformed their polity. The undoing of the Church of Scotland was not obviously due to its presbyterial polity but can the same be said for the English? Where has episcopal polity ever served to advance the Reformation for more than a generation? Americans are pragmatic people and despite their republican roots they are tempted by the pragmatic advantages of episcopacy. The truth is that when there is an orthodox, strong bishop much good can be done in a short period of time but where there is a bad bishop much evil can also be done with equal speed.

Presbyterial polity, i.e., governance by elders and pastors is inherently slow and inefficient. In that respect it is “un-American” (even if our founding fathers intended the federal government to be small and all government to be slow, each branch held in check by the other). America is not the Kingdom of God, however, and the Kingdom of God is not America. I believe that it is the divine intention (de iure divino) that church governance be slow, inefficient, each assembly (i.e. session/consistory, presbytery/classis, GA/synod) accountable to and held in check by the other. Remember, the Third Reich was efficient. Yes, the railroads ran on time and we know where that led. No, I’m not saying that episcopacy or the “collegiate model” is fascist or totalitarian but the history of episcopacy and totalitarianism serves to warn us about the dangers of efficiency and about central command of anything (civil or ecclesiastical). Human beings are sinful, profoundly wicked and, in this life, they will always remain thus. The Wesleyans and Nazarenes are wrong. We are not perfected in this life and never shall be. Presbyterial polity is premised on divine sovereignty and human corruption.

The mutli-site model is rightly transitional but collegiate model is not obviously the right end of the transition. It may be efficient but I doubt that God is much interested in efficiency. There’s precious little evidence in Scripture that God cares for efficiency. If efficiency is such a virtue in the church why was God so wonderfully inefficient in the history of redemption? Barren woman, a wandering people, and a suffering Savior were terrible ways to establish a kingdom but they were not too terrible for Jesus.

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  1. Thanks for this post, Scott- it is indeed VERY disturbing. The only stop above the local congregation in proper Presbyterian polity is the Presbytery – and what’s more, the Presbytery does NOT act in a supervisory role as it sounds like the mother ship/plant would in this case. How would this church interact with Metro NYC Presbytery, which it is currently a member of? Would they propose later on to be their own presbytery within a presbytery? How far off the Westminster polity do they want to go? Disturbing – very disturbing (but not the only disturbing thing about Redeemer by any stretch – just another data point).

  2. I like the model as far as planting goes- but how can one session determine to be permanently the governing body of mulit-congregations? It really does not make sense to me. The only way that it does make sense is if Keller and the Metro-NY presbytery believe that Presbyterianism is ‘the best church government’ instead of ‘government by divine right’. It essentially does become a bishopric (or a college of bishops) running a presbytery within a presbytery.

    I appreciate much of what Keller does- actually quite a bit; but this is far from presbyterian.

  3. What about the implications of the 5th, 6th and 7th services? I get the traditional, Sabbatarian, two services: one in the morning and one in the evening. But the fact is that there are simply too many people to fit in one room at the same time. That creates the felt need for duplicating the morning service ad infinitum. One of the unfortunate effects of such a duplication is the creation of subcultures within one local congregation, depending on which ONE of the MANY services one attends. Besides, if one were truly an “observant Protestant,” one would attend all the public worship services duly called by the elders, and at Redeemer, that would mean one would be in up to seven services on one Lord’s Day! I cannot fathom how that qualifies as rest.

    • Chris C – it’s not quite what you imagine. Each of the current 5 services is at a different place and a different time. Redeemer church is currently a 5-campus model. Some of the services are in the AM, some in PM. Keller typically preaches 4 of the 5 services. So amongst the other things this model is, it is a model for Single-Sabbath-Service, or however to call it when the Session/Consistory only calls the Congregation to assemble before the Lord once per Lord’s Day for corporate worship.

      The multi-campus approach at Redeemer seems to be a recognition that it’s prohibitively expensive in Manhattan to have a single, centralized facility that could accommodate all the attendees of the 5 separate services at the same time, or even in 2 services. So they avoid the unwise attempt to build one huge program around one pastor’s ministry. This is a good thing, capitalize on Keller’s gifts to build out these multiple locations into distinct churches.

      But if the session of Redeemer never cuts the apron strings, and in some way presumes to continue as as a “super-session” over these groups, they will fall from wisdom, fall into tyranny of lording it over the other churches. They would not be a Presbytery within a presbytery so much as an episcopalian bishopric within a presbytery. That would be most unwise and uncharitable: a repudiation both of the “local congregation’s” rights and liberty in Chris and a repudiation of the broader church they claim to be a part of: the PCA and its regional church.

      Just some observations from one who has lived both Canadian Reformed & OPC, from the hinterlands of Ambler, PA.

  4. Thanks Dr. Clark, these are certainly important points to consider. We all have a tendency, I think, to gravitate towards these churches because of their charismatic (in the non-theological sense!) leadership. Not that it is wrong on the part of the leader, but people want their super-apostles…

    I have another concern here; what kind of long-term effects are we going to see from these centralized church networks? Whether it be Rev. Keller, Driscoll, Piper, or what have you, I have to wonder what will occur when they die 10, 20, 30 years from now. Without another charismatic leader to take over, will people stay? Will these churches stay as large as they are? And what will their eventual fragmentation yield?

  5. It’s good to see that the troubles with this model are finally being recognized by others outside of the PCA. I’ve had concerns with this approach ever since I saw it in southern California.

  6. I just posted this comment on Tim’s blog post:

    Will these 6-7 worship sites eventually petition to be their own congregations, becoming direct members of Metro-NY presbytery rather than just sub-congregations under the elder board of Redeemer? It seems that would be the best way to accomplish goal #1 (which I love). And I can’t think of any disadvantage to it, once they have their own “elder team” (i.e. a Session) in place, at least not from a presbyterian point of view.

  7. I have been making the point to many friends lately that when non-denominational churches do this, they are in effect, starting a new denomination. Especially when they cross state lines.

  8. Our PCA church has recently moved to a multi-site model. One twist is that there is no central Pastor–each congregation has its own TE. We only share a common session, diaconate, and administrative staff. The decision to move in this direction was made after seeing a number of our church plants fail to multiply. They are all still around as far as I know, but none of them have planted their own churches, and so the previous model was considered a failure.

  9. Now I understand why you must not like rap music. It’s too efficient and effective a form of communications for such sensitive presbyterian tastes as yours.

  10. Dr. Clark,

    Great insight. One note of clarification: you mentioned the lack of “Deacons” and the role of “lay leaders” at Redeemer Pres. To quiet down the controversy over deaconesses in the PCA, some congregations are foregoing the title deacon/deaconess. In this way no one can accuse them of actually having a deaconess, although in reality that is what they are. The bigger issue is the refusal to abide by the BCO which clearly states that the offices of elders and deacons are for men only (BCO 7.2) and that these two offices are to be represented in the church if at all possible. The fact that some congregations in the PCA are not abiding by this is one more slap in the face of true Presbyterian government.

  11. Dear RSC,

    Why don’t you spend your time going after Roman Catholicism and their converts from Presbyterianism, than attack good men like Keller over church polity? If you keep biting your Pressie brothers it’ll come back and bite your cherished tradition.


    • Marty,

      Was Machen wrong to challenge Charles Eerdman? Robert Speer? Isn’t useful for Presbyterians to think about polity?

      ps. You might not be aware of it Marty but experiments such as Redeemer’s multi-site model have had unhappy consequences in American presbyterianism. Further, this model seems to be gaining adherents thus now seems to be a good time for folk in the Reformed and Presbyterian world to think about it a little more before it really gets going. Finally, from a de iure divino presbyterian view, episcopacy/prelacy has often been a step toward Rome, so this post could be seen as preventative akin to spraying weeds before they have a chance to grow.

      You’re not suggesting, are you that I have dealt here with the issue of evangelicals and Reformed folk either importing Romanism into the evangelical and Reformed churches or leaving them for Rome, are you?

  12. I’m wondering if I’m missing something. If every site has its own elders team (that’s a session, right?), isn’t having an extra super-session over everyone another layer of bureaucracy and therefore less efficient?

  13. Watch, in 50years they will instigate a celibate magisterium in order to inhibit mini dynasties among her brood of satelites.

  14. “Presbyterian doctrine and presbyterian polity go hand-in-hand. The former depends more on the latter for its proper demonstration than many realize…The study of Church government, therefore, involves the study of how to exalt the Name of Christ…For the study of Church government is nothing less than the study of the ordinary ways and means by which Jesus Christ is now at work in this world glorifying Himself.”

    — Jay Adams, Preface to Lawrence R. Eyres’ ‘The Elders of the Church’.

  15. I don’t know why but dr c’s couple of failure stories were enouraging to me, a church planter.
    One thing that bothered me with pca and redeemer church planting center was that they “assess” candidates with secular methods. And on the last day of assessment couples were notified in secret whether they have passed or not. And only the ones who passed came back for orientation after lunch in that way the privacy of failed ones would be protected. It was just like those reality shows. Sure you need to screen people so that they may have a correct or more objective view of themselves. But to me the methods were not Christian way. oh yes I did pass tho. Driscoll’s acts 29 does the same thing. Cannot agree with those models. Btw multisite and video venues are nothing new from Korean American perspective. I don’t know if you know that model was pioneered an used by yeiodo full gospel church in Korea since late 70’s. Yes they have actual million members thru that model.

  16. Scott,

    Having previously served on the pastoral staff at Harbor PCA in San Diego, I can tell you from personal experience that you absolutely nailed it in your assessment of the franchise/multi-site model. It is fundamentally an “ends justifies the means” approach to church planting; an approach, by the way, that allows for substantial lapses in congregational care and pastoral accountability.

    Lord willing, Presbyteries will begin to see this model for what it is and reject it as a violation of our vows and our polity on multiple levels.

    Thanks for taking on this issue.


  17. Dr. Clark:

    I’m not an adherent to Presbyterian polity, so this isn’t my battle. In fact, I’m pretty sure I agree with you, as does the Cambridge Platform which states that each local worshipping congregation should have its own ruling elders.

    I do, however, wonder if you could spend a bit of time interacting with the history of such things as the RCA’s Collegiate Church of New York City, which at one time had dozens of local congregations with their own buildings under a single consistory, and the Dutch Reformed practice in the Hervormde Kerk for many years in which a single municipal consistory exercised jurisdiction over many local congregations within that city.

    I don’t like multisite churches for many of the same biblical and church government reasons you state, but it would appear to me that Rev. Keller’s collegiate church model has precedents going back all the way to Geneva, although they pretty much never took hold in America except for the RCA’s Collegiate Church of New York City.

    • Darrell,

      As Sgt Friday might ask in an episode of Dragnet: “Let me see if I have this right. You’re not exercised by the Federal Vision and you’re not exercised by the creation of a potential episcopal empire within an existing presbytery but you’re worried about what the pagans are doing to America. Is that about it?”

  18. Fair criticism, Dr. Clark.

    You’re doing an increasingly good job of convincing me of the problems with the Federal Vision theology. I’ve believed for a long time that the Federal Visionists had bad fruits, especially paedocommunion, but the fact that numerous URC people like Norman Shepherd because of the Canadian Reformed and Schilder ties was a big factor in me “holding my fire.” I’ll be paying a lot of attention to what the Canadian Reformed do — a great deal of the support for Norman Shepherd and his views will dry up if they produce a detailed and careful report proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Schilder and Shepherd very different in their theology.

    FWIW, I’m not going to say much publicly, but the upcoming issue in the Missouri Presbytery was a factor in me arguing strenuously against my own local church joining the PCA. Whatever the Federal Vision may or may not be, that’s not a fight I want to be involved with in the PCA, **ESPECIALLY** in the same presbytery. Why get into that fight when there are so many other good denominational options?

    As for the issue of a collegiate church, I agree with you, and I’ve written for the last twenty years, that the Bible does not give the rule of a congregation to anyone other than the elders of a local church.

    My question is not whether a collegiate church model is right or wrong — I believe it is wrong and unbiblical — but whether it has centuries-old historical precedents within the Reformed world.

    • Darrell,

      I doubt that Geneva counts. It’s at least anachronistic to describe it thus. It’s a seminal presbyterian (note the lower case) polity where there had been none. It is essentially presbyterial and not episcopal. The danger of what Tim and others are doing is that it is essentially or at least potentially episcopal. Comparing an infant to a grown man (contemporary Presbyterian polity with sessions, presbyteries, and a GA) seems odd.

      For you the multi-site movement may be theoretical but for those of us on the coasts (and elsewhere) it’s a reality and a movement with growing influence.

      On the FV. You need to read. Paedocommunion is just a symptom. The real disease is their corruption of the gospel. A temporary, conditional, election, union with Christ, and justification is not the good news. It is bad news. It is Pelagianizing.


      See Guy Water’s books and CJPM. See also B, E, & the C of G.

      • Dr. Clark, I think we’re on the same page about the multi-site model being unbiblical. Fair point about Geneva being a very early example before Reformed churches had worked out the details of their polity. But what about the Dutch Reformed, who had unified consistories ruling multiple congregations in the NHK’s urban churches for a very long time? And what about the RCA with at least one collegiate church dating back to the 1600s?

        Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s a bad idea, too, based on biblical principles of elder rule in one local church. (I am a Congregationalist by conviction, after all, and this is an issue on which the expatriate English Congregationalists criticized the Dutch all the way back to the late 1500s and early 1600s.)

        But I’m still not convinced that the collegiate church model is not compatible with Presbyterian polity. Unbiblical, yes… but it was practiced for a very long time by people who were Reformed.

        • Darrell,

          The history of the NHK suggests that it is not a model to be emulated, at least not much after the 17th century. To the degree the RCA followed the NHK in the new world…. (hence the formation of the CRC in the mid 19th century)

          Were these collegiate churches classes within classes? Were they a subversion of or substitute for the authority and oversight of the classis? Were they authorized by the classis?

          Is the multi-site really just like the multi-site model for just formally?

          I admit I don’t know the history of this polity so I’ll have to investigate before I comment further.

          • Church polity within the Dutch Reformed changed dramatically before and after the post-Napoleonic reorganization of the church. What I’m saying here applies to pre-1800s church life before the Church Order of Dort was set aside, not the church of the 1800s with which the fathers of the Afscheiding and then later Abraham Kuyper had to deal.

            The fact that neither the Afscheiding nor the Doleantie reinstituted the old municipal consistory “collegiate” model, even in the large city churches, speaks for itself on what the conservative reformers of the 1800s thought about it.

            However, when you go back to the late 1500s, the 1600s, and the 1700s, it is my understanding that in many parts of the Netherlands, each city had a single consistory unless there were groups such as the Walloon churches or the English-speaking churches in a city which had their own separate consistory. In a small city or a rural area, the consistory would supervise only one congregation. In a larger city, the consistory might supervise many congregations, though as time went on, elders started to identify themselves more with an individual local congregation in one part of a city and become responsible mostly for that congregation, much as Dutch Reformed elders today in large churches may spend most of their time dealing with pastoral issues in their own district.

            I haven’t seen this in writing anywhere, but I’ve been told that by the 1800s, in many parts of the Netherlands local churches in urban areas had their own de-facto consistories even if they were still technically part of a single collegiate church. As far as I know, the collegiate system was abandoned entirely by Kuyper and by both the GKN and the CGKN.

            I think there are very good practical and pastoral reasons, as well as biblical reasons, not to have collegiate churches even in urban areas. However, it does seem to have been the practice of the Dutch Reformed for a very, very long time.

            • Darrell,

              So we’re talking apples and oranges (no pun intended). What the multi-site model is practicing is not really a city-wide consistory as existed in Geneva et al.

              Further, social and ecclesiastical conditions were rather different. There was a shortage of ministers, there was a shortage of elders, and these city consistories weren’t in competition with classes or presbyteries.

              In our time, the PCA has many more ministers than she has churches! There’s no shortage of ministers. I don’t know that there’s any great shortage of elders (though it’s always a challenge to find qualified ruling elders). The NAPARC churches have well developed presbyterial polities. They aren’t fledgling. They aren’t nascent.

            • Dr. Clark, you’ve given some additional good reasons for why not to have a collegiate church — as you correctly point out, the PCA does not suffer from a shortage of ministers, and while there may be a shortage of qualified ruling elders, a shortage of officebearers is not the reason for the collegiate church model being advocated.

              I’m still not convinced that a collegiate church model is incompatible with Presbyterianism, but we both agree that it creates a lot of potential problems. I asked my questions because I wanted to understand your objections as a supporter of Presbyterianism, and I appreciate your answer. For me, I have some strong biblical objections to elders ruling over anything beyond the local church, but I’d best bow out of that part of this discussion since I realize my views are not in accord with the Westminster Standards.

      • On Federal Vision: I have been reading and will continue to read.

        My basic underlying concern … and I think my views on this point were widely shared within the URC and conservative CRC circles in the 1990s … is that men of unquestioned conservative credentials in the Dutch Reformed world have been saying for a long time that Rev. Norman Shepherd’s views of the covenant, even if they’re ruled out by the Westminster Standards, are perfectly acceptable under the Three Forms of Unity.

        To name names: Dr. P.Y. DeJong stood up years ago at an Alliance of Reformed Churches meeting and said he’s happy to fellowship with the Presbyterians as long as they don’t try to force Westminster-style covenantal views down Dutch throats. A Canadian Reformed opponent of the Federal Vision has already cited Rev. Henry VanderKam on a different thread of this blog. Others could be named as well.

        One of Dr. Godfrey’s close friends in the Dutch Reformed world has said repeatedly that he’s never understood the fight over Rev. Shepherd and tried to “make peace” repeatedly between the two. That’s obviously not going to happen. Before Dr. Godfrey joined the URC, one of the prominent Southern Presbyterian leaders told me that he really wished that Rev. Shepherd’s followers would leave the PCA and join the URC, where he thought they’d be welcomed with open arms due to different views of the covenant. Today that’s not happening, but ten to fifteen years ago it might have been a viable possibility.

        My point is this: Rev. Shepherd has been able to make a claim for many years that his views, even if they’re not good Presbyterianism, are within the spectrum of acceptable views in the Dutch Reformed world.

        I know you believe that’s wrong. You may very well be correct, and I am moving closer and closer to your views.

        But it is very, very difficult to convince people that a doctrine is heretical when it is tolerated or even supported by men with a reputation for being not just conservatives but ultraconservatives. Rev. Shepherd’s views are complicated, they’re difficult to understand, and for an awful lot of laymen and even pastors, the fact that “Rev. Vander Something” says a person’s doctrine is okay is enough of a reason to say it must be at least tolerable.

        That’s why what the URC and CanRC do at their synods will be important for a lot of people who simply do not understand the underlying theology of Federal Vision.

        • Darrell,

          Norm Shepherd got a pass in the conservative wing of the CRC because they mistakenly analyzed the problem in terms of conservative/liberal rather than as confessional/non-confessional. They viewed Norm as an ally in the fight against women in office etc. They didn’t ask many questions about his soteriology. In his colloquium doctum into the CRC he was only asked one pointed question about his views relative to BC 24. How he was able to affirm Belgic 24 on the floor of classis I’ll never understand. Norm Shepherd is a non-confessional “conservative” (on Scripture, women, culture etc but obviously not on justification!). Further, he was given a platform at MARS briefly and those recorded lectures did a lot of damage by influencing Barach and others.

          Whatever the case was in the 80s and early 90s Norm’s peculiarities and errors have been categorically and thoroughly rejected by the URCs. The vote in favor of the confessional understanding of justification in 2004 was without audible dissent. Those three points on sola fide and the imputation of the active obedience of Christ are a direct rejection of Shepherd. Cornel Venema has said publicly that Norm Shepherd’s views are no longer tolerated at MARS. He and Mark Beach and have publicly repudiated Shepherd’s errors.

          The vote at Synod Schereville (2007) on the 3 points (again) and the 9 Points of Pastoral Advice clearly rejected Shepherd’s theology root and branch. Where is the evidence of all the support for the FV/Shepherd you seem to see in the URCs? I cannot see why you keep saying that Norm Shepherd has many followers in the URCs. If he does and if you know who they are you should name them so they can be queried about it.

          • Synods take time to do their work, and a consensus usually has to build before a synod can act, and once it has acted, it takes time to percolate down to the local pastors and the pews.

            California is a completely different world from West Michigan, northwest Iowa, or Canada. Ten or twenty years ago, I think there was a fair amount of quiet support for Rev. Shepherd’s views, but much more importantly, there were a lot of people who said, “He can’t be that bad if Rev. X says he’s okay.” There is a huge difference between saying, “I agree with Rev. Shepherd” and saying, “I don’t understand what Rev. Shepherd is saying, but is he really that far off?”

            Changing the latter view to say, “Rev. Shepherd is definitely wrong, and his teachings cannot be tolerated” takes a lot of time. The URC is doing that, but doing it very slowly, and that’s not entirely a bad thing to act slowly and carefully. Where the rubber hits the road is when a church moves from saying, “We don’t agree with this” to saying “We will not tolerate this because it is heretical, and we will discipline people who believe this.”

            I’m aware of the two URC synod decisions you’re citing, as well as the situation with Rev. Barach. I wonder to this day if the specific actions taken with regard to Rev. Barach would have happened if he were Rev. Vander Something — and yes, I’m aware of later disciplinary action taken with Dutch ministers but without the Rev. Barach precedent I’m not sure they would have happened.

            These things take time.

            I’ve named names when the statements were public, but I have also had many, many private conversations over the years with ministers and elders about Rev. Shepherd’s views. My views on Rev. Shepherd have changed with time, and your writings are a factor in that. I would not want to be blamed publicly for things I said privately many years ago, and unless I’ve talked extensively to a URC minister or elder recently about his views on the Federal Vision, I’m not sure repeating publicly things they said to me privately would help anyone, and might well be violating Scripture since the people involved certainly had no intent to deceive or conceal their views.

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