The United Reformed Churches In North America Reject Final Justification Through Works

Dear Fathers and Brothers in Christ:

On November 24, 2002 our pastor Rev. BBB preached a sermon entitled “The Lion Won’t Bite the Innocent.” In this sermon he taught both the doctrine of justification on the ground of Christ’s imputed righteousness and the doctrine of justification by our own intrinsic righteousness. As members in good standing of XXX Reformed Church of YYY (URC), we hereby appeal to Classis to review this sermon and make a judgement concerning its orthodoxy as judged by Holy Scripture as understood by the Three Forms of Unity.


1. This sermon overtly contradicted the Biblical doctrine of justification as understood by the Heidelberg Catechism Questions 21, 56, 60 and Belgic Confession Articles 22-24.

Belgic Confession Art. 22 says, “And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified ‘by faith alone’ or by faith ‘apart from works.’” In Art. 23 the Confession continues to say that “faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness.” The only ground of our justification before God is that we lean and rest “on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him.” In Art. 24, the Confession concludes that Spirit-wrought sanctity and our good works “do not count toward our justification– for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works.” This was also the teaching of Heidelberg Catechism Question 21. The Catechism interprets Scripture to teach that justifying faith is a “certain knowledge” and “hearty trust” that Christ’s righteousness is freely given and that we are justified “only for the sake of Christ’s merits.” Question 56 says that the only ground of our justification is the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. In Question 60 the Catechism says that sinners are justified, “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 sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.” From these statements, we conclude that the Scriptures as understood by our Confession and Catechism teach that the only ground of the justification of sinners before God is the perfect obedience of Christ for sinners which is imputed to them and the only instrument of justification is true faith which trusts, rests and leans only on Christ and his finished work. This was not the approach to justification taken by Rev. BBB in his sermon. He asked, “Would it be because you are clothed in Christ’s righteousness or because you live in covenant faithfulness?” He concluded that Daniel was “…found innocent, being judged on the basis of what he had done,” that “all his works appeared before the Lord, and in those works it was found that he was innocent….”

Slowly, as profound and true and comforting as our earlier insight was – Daniel standing in Christ’s righteousness – slowly we realise there’s more here. The innocence of Daniel that we are meant to consider and think about here, it cannot be reduced to the sacrifice of Christ and His imputed righteousness, not without doing violence to the story.

In this sermon, his thesis was that the righteousness of Christ imputed to sinners and received through faith alone is not the sole ground of our justification. Rather, Rev. BBB asked, “And so now again we’re asking ourselves how can I be innocent before God? What does that involve?” His answer is that “We start to realise that we are indeed found innocent in faith, clothed in Christ’s righteousness. But this faith is not a mere intellectual assent to some doctrinal truths. It is a living, dynamic in-grafting into Christ, whose power has been also at work in us, teaching us to fight against evil and to seek to do the good.” We agree heartily that a justifying faith is a faith that works, but Rev. BBB preached to us in his congregation that faith justifies because it works [we are found innocent before God in our works]. This is another gospel. As Rev. BBB said, “Daniel was not innocent as if he had paid for his own sins or as if he had earned his acquittal before the judgment seat of God. But he was still found innocent, being judged on the basis of what he had done.” The ground of his justification was “that he trusted God. He lived by faith when he served the king; he lived by faith when he was thrown to lions. He had been faithful to God’s covenant with him.” We continue quoting the sermon extensively so as not to take his words out of context:

Covenant keeping is the issue here. By faith, humbling ourselves and fulfilling our daily tasks as before God, as a mother, a father, a husband or wife, or whatever our tasks might be – by faith fulfilling these tasks as before the Lord, doing works of mercy as we are able, and seeking to keep ourselves unstained from the world. Covenant keeping is the issue.

Consider this, too. In the judgment we will all be judged on the basis of what we have done. Revelation 22:12. You say, why? How is that possible? Judged on the basis of what we’ve have done? We’re saved by grace through faith alone. Well, we’re judged in that way because true faith reveals itself in a life of humble service. Call upon God to indeed work in us that which is pleasing in His sight. See, we don’t mean this is of ourselves – when we look at this covenant issue, we don’t mean this is of ourselves. It is from God who is at work in us. He concluded and summarised the sermon saying,

Congregation, we read the story of Daniel escaping from the lions without a scratch on him. Understand that it means the lions won’t bite the innocent. That’s the point. And know for sure that we, too, are innocent before God and we are invited to come to the table of the Lord. But this invitation is given only as we call upon Him, both for His blood to cleanse us, and His Spirit to guide us in the paths of righteousness. Only as by faith we seek to turn away from evil and do what is good. We acknowledge that there is truth in the sermon and we do not disagree with every part of it.

We acknowledge that Rev. BBB desires to be faithful to Scripture and we honour that intention. Nevertheless, it is clear to us that in this sermon, Rev. BBB proclaimed that we are justified by grace through faith and on the basis of the sanctity, which the Spirit works in us. We told the congregation that Daniel was saved by his covenantal faithfulness, that is by his deeds in addition to his faith in

We believe that this teaching is contrary to the Word of God as summarised in the Three Forms of Unity. Specifically Heidelberg Catechism questions 21 and 60 as well as Belgic Confession Articles 22-24 reject the very position that Rev. BBB was teaching. We hasten to add that we are not antinomians. We believe heartily in the necessity of sanctification, but it is not the Gospel that we are finally justified in part because we are sanctified. We believe that the justified will be sanctified, indeed that they must be sanctified, but that does not mean that God accepts us because we are sanctified.

The appeal to Synod against the action of classis (which had supported the consistory of Neerlandia and Rev Hoekstra) continues by narrating the process by which the appeal came before Synod. The text of the sermon was included in the minutes and was provided to Synod so the delegates could judge it for themselves.

Synod ruled (pp. 25–26):

1. Synod affirms that the Scriptures and confessions (Heidelberg Q/A 59-62; Belgic Confession articles 20-23) teach the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, based upon the active and passive obedience of Christ alone.

2. Synod declares that the sermon under consideration (“The Lion Won’t Bite the Innocent”) is unclear and confusing on the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone.

3. Synod advise the consistory of AAA to work pastorally with Rev. BBB to bring any divergent view that he may have on this issue into conformity with what Synod here.

Minutes of Synod 2004 (pp. 203–05; Art. 66)


In 2007 Synod rejected explicitly the doctrine of a two-stage justification.

Synod affirms that the Scriptures and confessions teach the doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone and that nothing that is taught under the rubric of covenant theology in our churches may contradict this fundamental doctrine. Therefore Synod rejects the errors of those:

9.Who teach that there is a separate and final justification grounded partly upon righteousness or sanctity inherent in the Christian (HC 52; BC 37).

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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