Though the EFCA is premillennial, we embrace the breadth of premillennialism, including the various positions of Dispensationalism, Progressive Dispensationalism, and Historic Premillennialism.

The broader view of premillennialism, including the breadth noted above, also has specific nuances of the tribulation including the following views:

  • pretribulation – the church will be raptured before the seven year tribulation;
  • midtribulation or prewrath – the church will be raptured at the midpoint or sometime after the midpoint of the seven year tribulation;
  • posttribulation – the church will be raptured at the end of the seven year tribulation.

This means that regarding the seven year tribulation that precedes the millennium, the EFCA does not take a position, thus allowing various views, viz. pretribulation, midtribulation, prewrath and posttribulation. What is stated is that regardless of one’s views of the tribulation, we are all to live with ”constant expectancy” and this sure and certain return of Jesus Christ, this “blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.” (EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 9, Christ’s Return)

An Important Question With Immediate Response

This is a very important question for all of us. Immediately after the decision I posted on this, including a number of links listed at the bottom of the post. Those were all written in the immediate wake of the decision, so there are others that have been written that would reflect more careful thought after the fact.  President Kompelien has also sent a letter to our EFCA family. This gives a good, strong biblical statement of the fact that we trust our good, sovereign God, we stand firmly on the biblical truth regarding marriage, and we live and proclaim with truth and grace the gospel and its transformative power, evidencing that in our lives.

Additionally, one of the documents written by the Spiritual Heritage Committee a few years ago, to which President Kompelien links, is still very helpful. Even though it needs to be updated/revised, the content and the bibliographic resources in the document are still invaluable.

A Broader Perspective of Being Citizens of Two Cities: The City of God and The City of Man (with thanks to Augustine)

We thank God, first and foremost, that we have been made free by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Jn. 8:32; Eph. 2:8-9). We acknowledge that this makes us citizens of the heavenly city (Col. 3:1-4) while being aliens and strangers here on the earth (Eph. 2:19; 1 Pet. 2:11). The amazing truth is that in Christ we have already come to this city: “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Heb. 12:22-24). And this truth which we have experienced transforms everything.

We also acknowledge that we are citizens of an earthly city, one that is passing away (Heb. 11:10-16; 13:14; 2 Pet.3:10-14) . But until that time, we are called to be faithful in that city. In fact, Christians, those who are first and foremost citizens of the heavenly city, are to be some of the best, most faithful citizens in the earthly city. Though we are not to be afraid of speaking and acting against Caesar when our heavenly citizenship is compromised, which means there are times when we must obey God rather than man (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29), neither are we afraid or reticent to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, as that is the structure God has temporarily ordained (cf. Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-6; 1 Pet. 2:11-17) and our Lord Jesus’ commands (Matt. 22:21; Mk. 12:17; Lk. 20:25).

So today we are reminded that God is sovereign, his unfolding providence is good, being assured that God is good and does good, that we live in a fallen world, that we have one Lord, that our true home is the city of the living God and because of that we know how to live and engage in the earthly city. In the Statement of Faith, Article 1, God, we confess our belief in God that he has “graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.” Or in the table prayer we learned as children, the depth of the theological truth grasped through a lifetime, “God is great; God is good.”

Some Initial Responses

In writing on behalf of the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy sought to respond to some of the concerns raised by religions and those with religious convictions. Those who do not agree with the new law that legalized same-sex “marriage” will be protected under the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”).

Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.

Knowing religious liberty has been narrowed over the years, and with concern regarding possible implications of this new law on religious liberty, and to ensure Kennedy’s words are not just rhetoric, The First Amendment Defense Act was introduced to clarify, strengthen and defend religious liberty. As part of this defense this bill prevents federal intrusion and government retaliation, specifically against those individuals and institutions who support traditional marriage.

The First Amendment Defense Act  (S. 1598, H.R. 2802) would prevent any federal agency from denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license, or certification to an individual, association, or business based on their belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. For example, the bill would prohibit the IRS from stripping a church of its tax exemption for refusing to officiate same-sex weddings.

It is interesting to note, that two legal issues that strike at the heart of key biblical truths and central issues of living out our Christian faith – abortion and same-sex “marriage” – are both rooted in the 14th Amendment: In 1973, Roe v. Wade, it was made law that the “right” to privacy extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion; in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges, it was made law that the “‘right’ to marry is a fundamental ‘right’ inherent in the liberty of the person.”

There are things we can learn from these two laws that we believe compromise biblical truth and convictions, how we have responded in the past, and how we ought to respond in the future. In the first few days after the decision a number of Christians have begun to think along these lines as they ponder further how we ought to process this and how we ought to respond.

A Few Thoughts About Next Steps

Theologically and pastorally, we affirm God is the sovereign one who remains sovereign as he unfolds his providential plan in this fallen-redeemed-not-yet-glorified world. We also affirm that we do not have a definitive answer to the practical questions of “what do we now do?” It is not that there are no answers or responses, but wise, and discerning responses that will be faithful and fruitful take some time to think through, ponder and pray over.

This will impact believers, churches and church-related institutions, but we do not know in what way. It is most likely that church-related institutions rather than churches themselves will be most affected by this new law. Many individuals and organizations are researching, consulting, pondering and praying about next steps and how to help God’s people to know how to navigate through them. One of those organizations is the National Association of Evangelicals, of which the EFCA is a member.

You can be assured we in the EFCA will work prayerfully and diligently to provide instruction, guidance and resources for pastors and churches. It is not as if this is catching us completely unaware, but it is a new day that will require a new way of thinking about and responding to this. Our biblical and theological commitment remains the same!

President Kompelien and I have been and remain in discussion. It is likely that the Spiritual Heritage Committee will be enlisted to work on how best to guide our thinking and responding, biblically, theologically and pastorally this fall. It is important that we attempt to provide resources sooner rather than later, but we do not want to do this in a knee-jerk manner so that it is not carefully and prayerfully considered.

Although I am not convinced that things will change immediately for our pastoral ministry and our churches, it will eventually. We do not know how, it what ways or the extent to which these changes will occur. We do, I believe, have some time to think this through but think it through biblically along with some possible responses we must.

As we do so be reassured that our EFCA motto “where stands it written?” is stated today in the declarative, “it stands written!”

Might we, individually as believers and corporately as the local church, reaffirm our commitment to the authority of the Scriptures, specifically in the realm of marriage and sexual morality, and might we do so with “grace and truth,” and with courage, compassion, conviction and kindness, speaking the truth of the gospel while manifesting the transformative power of the gospel in our lives.

Premillennialism

Greg Strand – July 30, 2015 Leave a comment

How is premillennialism understood in the EFCA?

The EFCA affirms the premillennial view of Christ’s return (cf. Article 9, Christ’s Return). In affirming premillennialism, we affirm the breadth of the premillennial view including Dispensationalism, Progressive Dispensationalism and Historic Premillennialism.

The specific answer to this question is found in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America (pp.221-222). Here is what it means minimally to affirm premillennialism, along with a statement of what our affirmation does not mean.

In summary, our affirmation of the premillennial return of Christ in this Statement entails the following:

1. The kingdom of God will not reach its culmination and fulfillment on earth before Jesus Christ comes in glory.

2. God’s purposes include the public vindication of Christ. He will be seen to be the King of kings and Lord of lords by all, and he will establish his reign on this earth.

3. God’s people will be vindicated with Christ in a public and visible way.

4. The coming of Christ will not simply usher in some spiritual heaven divorced from this created order. In an intermediate stage, Jesus must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet, before he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, ushering in the new heaven and the new earth in the eternal state.

5. Evil will not be overcome fully and completely when Christ returns in glory, but only after an intermediate kingdom which must precede that final victory of God. There will be one more uprising of the evil one at the end of the millennium, before the dawning of the new heaven and the new earth.

Further, we can also say what this Statement affirming premillennialism does not mean:

1. It does not require a specific position on when Christ will come in relation to a time of great tribulation.

2. It does not require a certain way of reading the Bible regarding the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament, whether that fulfillment is found in the nation of Israel, in Christ, in the church, in the millennium or in the new heaven and the new earth.

3. It does not entail a particular understanding of Israel and the church or of the current nation-state of Israel.

4. It does not necessarily mean that Christ’s earthly reign must be a period of precisely one thousand years.

Perseverance and Apostasy

Greg Strand – July 29, 2015 Leave a comment

Does the EFCA believe in “once saved, always saved” or that one can “lose their salvation”?

The EFCA as a denomination attempts to focus on the essentials of the gospel which means we have a parameter on some doctrinal issues. One of those issues is whether or not one affirms eternal security (perseverance of the saints) or apostasy (one can fall away and lose one’s salvation). The former view is generally held by those who would be more Calvinist/Reformed in their leanings while the latter would be held by those more Arminian/Wesleyan and Lutheran.

Because the EFCA is a place for both Arminians/Wesleyans (including Lutherans) and Calvinists/Reformed, there is no official position either mandating or prohibiting either position. Rather, our formal, official position is that we are a place where both are allowed and proponents of either position can serve and minister together. It is not to be a doctrine that causes division in the EFCA

It is true that local EFC churches would lean in one theological direction more so than another on this doctrine. But whichever way the church leans, the church ought to be welcoming to the person who leans in the other theological direction. This means this issue is local church specific and a local church distinctive.

In the EFCA it falls into the category of the “significance of silence,” or that area in which we affirm “unity in the essentials, dialogue in the differences,” and without division.

Ministry of Women and Credentialing

Greg Strand – July 28, 2015 Leave a comment

What is the EFCA’s position on women in ministry and credentialing?

The brief answer to the question is that the EFCA does not ordain women, which is a Conference decision (1988) based on our understanding of the biblical text (cf. Gen. 3; 1 Cor. 11:3-16; 14:33b-36; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Tim. 2:11-15; 1 Pet. 3:1-7). This is stated explicitly in our “Ministerial Credentialing in the Evangelical Free Church of America” booklet under the Certificate of Ordination (p. 5, V.C.): “This credential is designed for qualified males who serve in pastoral ministry in the local church  whose primary ministry responsibility is preaching and teaching the Word.”

Women can and do, however, serve in vocational ministry, and the EFCA recognizes and celebrates this by offering a Certificate of Christian Ministry (cf. “Ministerial Credentialing in the Evangelical Free Church of America,” p. 4, V.B) to those engaged in vocational ministry. (This Certificate is not just for women but also available for men who are in a qualifying ministry and are not ordained.) These are the only official statements regarding women in ministry made by the Conference of the EFCA.

Regarding the question about women in leadership in the local church, it is not the norm to have a woman serve as an elder in a local EFC church, as most churches in the EFCA recognize that the biblical qualifications for the pastor (serving vocationally in this capacity) are the same qualifications for all the other elders as well (serving in a non-vocational capacity).  Thus, our official EFCA policy for those ordained also becomes the policy of many/most EFC churches, even though these is no official EFCA policy for local churches. However, it must also be stated that because of our congregational form of church government, the local church is free to make its own decision on this matter.