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”]).