The Significance of Silence (Unity in Essentials, Dialogue in Differences)

Greg Strand – July 16, 2015 2 Comments

What does the expression the “significance of silence” mean?

On a number of doctrinal issues in the EFCA we allow beliefs within certain acceptable theological parameters. We focus on the essential truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ as articulated in doctrine while allowing differing views/understandings of the position to be acceptable. For example, this is true regarding the issue of the age of the universe, time and mode of baptism, whether faith precedes regeneration or regeneration precedes faith (the Arminian and Calvinist discussion).

We refer to these theological differences as the “significance of silence”: “This expression does not mean that we will not discuss and debate these issues but simply that we will not divide over them (Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 24, n. 18).

Here is how we have defined/explained this in Evangelical Convictions, 24-25:

Once [the early Free Church leaders] began to put in writing what was commonly believed among them, they were silent on those doctrines which through the centuries had divided Christians of equal dedication, Biblical knowledge, spiritual maturity and love for Christ.’ This ‘significance of silence’ reflected our strong concern for Evangelical unity in the gospel.

Because many misunderstand this expression today, another way to refer to this commitment is “Unity in Essentials, Dialogue in Differences.” It might be helpful to spell out what this means and what it does not mean.

What it does mean – we affirm the following truths and commitments:

  • the gospel is central and essential to who we are as the people of God and what we believe;
  • we are committed to the essentials of the gospel in principle and practice, in belief and behavior, in orthodoxy and orthopraxy;
  • we acknowledge there are differences in theological views, what we would consider non-essentials, but they are secondary and ought not to distract from or prevent our shared commitment to the gospel and a ministry of the gospel;
  • we are committed to the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ and we acknowledge differences, although we do not believe these differences are absolute, either as it relates to unity or purity (doctrine);
  • from the foundation of the essentials we will engage in robust dialogue regarding the differences, without dividing.

What it does not mean – we clarify the misunderstanding:

  • the notion that this commitment means we cannot embrace and teach our view strongly and with conviction;
  • we must remain quiet and passive so that we are not allowed to talk about either my theological view or the differences that exist between views;
  • this is a lowest-common-denominator theology that values unity at the expense of doctrine;
  • one cannot affirm a position but must meld them all together (in which everyone feels theologically compromised);
  • we expect that the local church will reflect in practice what we state in principle, viz. the church will be equally represented by each view, overlooking the reality that the “big tent” is reflective of our denomination, not each local church, or because of this liberty we do not have to allow a voice from the other perspective to be heard.

Greg Strand


Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

2 responses to The Significance of Silence (Unity in Essentials, Dialogue in Differences)

  1. There is a tension in scripture that I have noticed all my life, and as I have gotten older, I have begun to realize that this tension has, at least in my opinion, through time resulted in differing non-essential positions, concerning our faith. As the human finite mind grapels with understanding the infinite mind of God, differences have developed in how one handels the tensions, and tries to codify them in theological positions. Sometimes I wonder if both sides of an arguemt may be true, well, at least each positons certainly emphasizes particular truths over other, or casts them in different lights. The wisdom of God is beyond human understanding, and that is why respecting different apoproaches with respect whithout dividing may actually help us understand the infinate a little better. For sure it helps us understand our inadecuacy in the face of our God, and it is not sto bad to admit humility saying I thinki this is true but I am not sure I have the whole truth. Just a thought

    • Thank you for your comments, Jim. We affirm the absolute authority of the Scriptures. Doctrine and theology arise from Scripture. The former is the foundation, the latter is the fruit. The latter is revisable, while the former is not. Having said this, it is critical to acknowledge that some doctrinal truths are settled, e.g., that Jesus is fully God and fully man, one Person in two natures, among many others. Often what happens is that one equates their affirmation of the absolute authority of the Bible with their own personal interpretation. That is problematic. We must affirm the absolute authority of Scripture, which alone is the norma normans, and we must derive our interpretations from the Scriptures but affirm our interpretations with conviction and humility.

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