On October 1, 1977, formal charges were brought on the floor of the Presbytery of Philadelphia against the Rev. Norman Shepherd, a minister of the presbytery and a professor at Westminster Seminary. The charges did not stand as the evidence adduced for the charges was disallowed.
The doctrinal controversy revolved around the doctrine of the covenant and the question whether the believer's good works are necessary for justification. In the previous two years, students of Prof. Shepherd seeking licensure in the Presbytery of Ohio and the Presbytery of Philadelphia had answered questions on the doctrine of justification that raised suspicions for some presbyters.
In November 1978, Prof. Shepherd presented to the Presbytery of Philadelphia Thirty-four Theses on Justification in Relation to Faith, Repentance, and Good Works. The presbytery held ten special meetings in the next year to study the theses, many of which were approved. However, at its January 1980 meeting, the Presbytery first defeated a motion to reject the theses. It then by a tie vote of 34 to 34 defeated a recommendation to approve the theses.
The Trustees of Westminster Seminary removed Dr. Shepherd from his teaching position in 1982, and Dr. Shepherd requested and was granted transfer to the Christian Reformed Church.