The Bible, Theology, Essentials and Non-Essentials (The Significance of Silence) and The Church

Greg Strand – October 20, 2015 4 Comments

One of the commitments and distinguishing marks of the EFCA is what we refer to as “the significance of silence.” It is our commitment to affirm gospel essentials without equivocation, while granting loving charity on non-essentials. This challenge is, of course, distinguishing, discerning and determining the essential from the non-essential.

An added challenge is defining what it means to claim something is essential and something is non-essential. Essential or non-essential for what? For salvation? For orthodoxy? For Evangelicalism? For the EFCA? Etc.

We are neither the first to think this through, nor the first to be committed in principle (doctrine/truth) and practice (life and ministry) to have such doctrine and life practices. We have examples in church history of this, with greater and lesser “success’ and faithfulness.

I have previously attempted to summarize this, EFCA Theology Preconference: Soteriological Essentials and the “Significance of Silence” (3): What Does the Expression Not Mean?, which I also presented at the introductory message at this past year’s Theology Conference preconference. This past summer I also included this as one of the FAQs that is now included on our EFCA website: The Significance of Silence (Unity in Essentials, Dialogue in Differences)

James Emery White, pastor at Mecklenburg Community Church, recently wrote about how they as a local church are committed to this principle and he further explained how they attempt to live this out in practice: Unity, Liberty and Charity (HT to Paul Schliep). This is a local church, which in many ways, reflects a similar commitment as the EFCA. This is a local church example of what we are committed to, both in principle and practice, in the EFCA as a denomination. And, importantly, this commitment is grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Jn. 17; Eph. 2:11-22).

To give this further thought, if the definition of “essential” is not determined, then it causes all kinds of problems. For example, when I teach on our SOF, although Article 2 on The Bible is an essential, it is not a soteriological essential. That is, someone can truly be saved without believing the Bible is inerrant. So if it is not a soteriological essential, is it an essential at all? Yes. It is an epistemological essential. When you begin to nuance it in this way, it begins to make sense. Otherwise you fall off the horse on one side, in which everything is considered to be an essential, or you fall off the horse on the other side, in which virtually nothing is considered to be an essential

And the other important nuance, is raising the issue of “essential for what/whom.” Is premillennialism an essential? What kind of an essential? Although not a soteriological essential or an epistemological essential, it is, however, an essential to affirm our EFCA SOF, and to be credentialed in the EFCA.

It can get confusing when you have different nuances to the same term, but without the nuance, it loses its significance. And at the end of the day, theology matters and theological distinctions matter, such that the presence or absence of an iota can make the difference between an orthodox view of Christ (“homoousios” [“consubstantial” or “of the same substance”]) and a heretical view of Christ (“homoiousios” [“of like substance”]).

Greg Strand

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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.

4 responses to The Bible, Theology, Essentials and Non-Essentials (The Significance of Silence) and The Church

  1. Greg, I find your 3 different examples very interesting. Your first two: soteriological and epistemological seem to be of a very different quality than your last example, which seems primarily pragmatic as you explain it.

    • Thank you for your reply and observation, John. I would not call it pragmatic. That was your word! However, it is certainly at a different level than the first two, as you note. Needless to say, it is, nonetheless, a denominational and credentialing essential. It does reflect the tension with which we live in the EFCA. Our Statement of Faith mostly affirms the first two essentials. The third is more of a denominational distinctive, which many conclude is the best understanding of the biblical evidence. But in the EFCA, premillennialism is, unlike some of the other doctrines, e.g. age of the universe, faith and regeneration, baptism, etc., an essential with no “significance of silence” (though there is on the tribulation). John, it seems we often end up here, doesn’t it!

      • Yes, it does Greg, because ever since I was a student at TEDS, I’ve always scratched my head at what seemed like a dichotomy between the stated emphasis on essentials only in the Statement of Faith by the EFCA and the requirement of premillenialism. I, of course, was anxiously hoping for a change a few years ago, mostly for the sake of TEDS which would open the faculty up to many qualified and fully orthodox, in any historic sense, faculty members who are now shut out by the SOF.

  2. Hi Greg,
    Thanks for the post on an interesting subject.

    With respect to where you said that someone can be regenerate without holding the bible to be inerrant, would you as a pastor/teacher be content if that someone was to remain of that opinion, even after many years of teaching?

    What i mean to say is, would such a long term and abiding confession of biblical fallibility square with the kind of spirit we see expressed by David, Paul and of course, Christ Himself?

    At the beginning of ones new life in Christ there can certainly be confusions of one sort or another, but what are we to say regarding to long run?

    yours in faith and brotherly spirit
    james

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