Review: The Pastoral Epistles by Clark.
By Dr. W. Gary Crampton, Ph.D.
The Text as edited, Copyright 2003 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

Dr. Gordon Clark was a scholar of high repute. He is considered to be “one of the profoundest evangelical Protestant philosophers of our time” (Carl Henry), and “one of the greatest Christian thinkers of our century” (Ronald Nash). It is no exaggeration to say that “his philosophy is the most consistently Christian philosophy yet published” (John Robbins).[1] The system of philosophy elaborated by Dr. Clark is best known as “Scripturalism,” a system that insists that the starting point of Biblical Christianity is that the Bible alone is the infallible, inerrant Word of God, and it has a monopoly on truth.[2] This view, as admirably expressed in the words of the Lutheran theologian Quenstedt, maintains that:

The canonical Holy Scriptures in the original text are the infallible truth and are free from every error; in other words, in the canonical sacred Scriptures there is found no lie, no falsity, no error, not even the least, whether in subject matter or expressions, but in all things and all the details that are handed down in them, they are most certainly true, whether they pertain to doctrines or morals, to history or chronology, to topography or nomenclature. No ignorance, no thoughtlessness, no forgetfulness, no lapse of memory can dare be ascribed to the amanuenses of the Holy Ghost in their penning of the sacred writings.

The Scripturalist view espoused by Dr. Clark adheres to the Biblical teaching of sola Scriptura (“by Scripture alone”), which is aptly summarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith (1:6), as follows: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either explicitly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.” Thus, as the Larger Catechism (Q. 3) teaches; “The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.” Dr. Clark’s uncompromising devotion to the truth of God’s Word as “the only rule of faith and obedience” is what makes his many volumes so refreshing to read.

In The Pastoral Epistles,[3] which is Volume 15 of The Works of Gordon H. Clark (published by The Trinity Foundation), Gordon Clark gives us his commentary on Paul’s three letters to Timothy and Titus. These letters, he opined, are the Holy Spirit’s divine instructions for the management of Christ’s church: “Paul wrote these pastoral epistles to instruct ministers how to live and serve” (61). The Apostle wants us “to know how to conduct [ourselves] in church affairs, and how the church should be conducted. The church is the house of God, and God gives it direction” (64). This is what the pastoral epistles are about.

In his analysis of these epistles, Gordon Clark deals with a number of issues, to include: the proper means of worship in the life of the church, the proper view of the sacraments, the proper view of the gospel and its relationship to the law, the church’s responsibility to care for souls, the combating of error which might threaten the church, the stark contrast between Roman Catholicism and Biblical Christianity, the impor-tance of logic and rational thought in the Christian life, the difference between subjective faith and objective faith, Paul’s five “faithful sayings,” the difference between orthodox and neo-orthodox (and liberal) doctrine, the teaching that love is defined Biblically (not as an emotion, but) as obedience to God’s commandments, and so forth. All of these are worthy of further study. But only two major issues will be covered in this review.

First and foremost, recognizing that “Paul wrote these pastoral epistles to instruct ministers how to live and serve” (61), throughout the commentary Dr. Clark stresses that the primary duty of pastors is to preach and teach the Word of God. This was the focus of the Apostle Paul, and it should also be the focus of pastors today: “First…let us note that Paul’s main concern was the true doctrine. Correct theology has first place. Today some seminary professors would insist that a young minister’s first duty is to be a marriage counselor. Theology, doctrine, intelligible teaching are held in low repute now. But it was not so with Paul” (5). According to the Scriptures “God administers His household [the church] by means of faith. False doctrine is the contrary of faith. God guards His church by true doctrine” (7).

It must be understood, Dr. Clark goes on to say, that Scripture teaches that the church is “the pillar and seat, the mainstay, the bulwark, the support of the truth.” A true church is one that “proclaims, defends, and propagates the gospel. Its task is to declare all of God’s revealed truth….If the church is not the bulwark of the truth, there is no church” (46). Because of this, “Timothy, and his conscientious successors, must preach the doctrine, in season and out of season, i.e., always. That is their main duty” (135).

Second, Gordon Clark calls on “conscientious” ministers to teach that a faithful church is bound to follow the form of government established by the teaching of the apostles in Holy Scripture.[4] This form of government is that of Presbyterianism, wherein the government of the church rests with the elders (or bishops), who are to rule according to Biblical law. This is true on the local level as well as in the broader court system established by Scripture (119, 127, passim).

Further, according to the New Testament, within the Presbyterian form of church government, there are three church officers: teaching elders, ruling elders, and deacons (38-45, 69-70), all of whom are to be ordained (194-210). The primary duty of the teaching elder (pastor/teacher), as noted, is that of the ministry of the Word of God, along with the administration of the sacraments, and prayer for the church. The ruling elder, on the other hand, has the primary responsibility of ruling (ministerially) or governing the church with the teaching elders. And the deacons of the church are to be involved chiefly with the help and welfare aspect of church ministry.

Dr. Clark also stressed that all of the church officers are to be men; godly men to be sure, but men. It is the “left wing position” of the liberal church which has opted for women elders and deacons (179-193). Having studied the Biblical data on the subject, Dr. Clark concluded: “Since Scripture explicitly forbids women to teach or exercise authority, it is a violation of divine law to ordain a woman” (210). Gordon Clark would fully agree with the comment of Robert Reymond, that “a church that would ordain a woman to the eldership is flying in the face of the consistent testimony of Scripture opposing such an action as well as thirty-five hundred years of Biblical and church history.”[5]

In conclusion, we should note that the church at the beginning of the twenty-first century, like the church in its earliest years, is (sadly) beset with various heresies. All too frequently today, the alleged church of Jesus Christ is not concerned for the truth. But Paul was concerned for the truth. And he gave instructions to Timothy and Titus as to how to combat the heresies, and how to apply God’s Word in the battle. Christian ministers are to preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Paul’s message is clear; it could hardly be more clear. May the pastors and teachers of our day pay heed to the teaching of the Apostle. Dr. Clark, himself a teaching elder in Christ’s church, did understand and obey Paul’s message. And he has given us a commentary that will help us to do the same.

[1] John Robbins, “An Introduction to Gordon H. Clark,” The Trinity Review (July 1993).

[2] For more on this, see W. Gary Crampton, The Scripturalism of Gordon H. Clark (The Trinity Foundation, 1999).

[3] Gordon H. Clark, The Pastoral Epistles (The Trinity Foundation, [1983], 1998). The pagination in this review is from Dr. Clark’s book.

[4] For more on the doctrine of the church, see W. Gary Crampton and Richard E. Bacon, Built Upon the Rock (Blue Banner Ministries, 1999).

[5] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 901n.