Archives For Pastoring

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15).

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” (Throughout I refer to Billy by his first name, and I do so out of loving respect for him, as he was a friend to all of us.)

These words were spoken by Billy when he lived. Today we read that Billy, at 99 years of age, is dead. Based on being grounded in the Word of God, which led to his famed expression, “the Bible says,” he could explicitly say not to believe it. Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25-26).

Billy lived his life based on the truth stated by Paul, that “for to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Billy lived by Christ and for Christ, who was his  “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Now, through his death, he experiences gain. Even though he is now dead physically, he is now more alive than he has ever been. He is now in the presence of the Lord.

Billy was one of those men used of God in so many ways and in so many places. The memories, the tributes, the influences, recollecting the ways God used Billy in one’s life personally will be shared over the next days and weeks. This influence includes many in the EFCA, including the EFCA as a denomination. In all of it, Billy always deflected back to Christ. Remember – as we remember – to do the same.

Christianity Today, a publication begun under Billy’s initiative and leadership in October 1956 has collected much about Billy, his life and ministry. I include a link announcing Billy’s change of address to being “with the Lord,” along with a number of additional articles. There will be many more of these posted today and in days to come. This is a good place to begin.

Billy Graham (1918-2018): “Billy Graham was perhaps the most significant religious figure of the 20th century, and the organizations and the movement he helped spawn continue to shape the 21st.” This link consists of numerous articles addressing the issues related to Billy’s life and his ministry as an evangelist: In Memory Of; Early Years; Evangelism; Family; Behind the Scenes.

A number of years ago I wrote about An Interview with Billy Graham. At the conclusion of that post I wrote, “I thank the Lord for Billy Graham. I am also grateful that the Lord, in His faithfulness, preserved Graham so that he remained faithful to Him in carrying out his call as an evangelist and as evidenced in his commitment to the gospel in proclamation and life.”

Today, at the news of Billy’s earthly death, I give thanks to the Lord for a life faithfully lived to the end. Paul’s words are a fitting tribute: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

And a fitting final exhortation to all Christian brothers and sisters in the EFCA are words spoken by Paul and lived by Billy: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

EFCA Theology Conference: Prayer

Greg Strand – January 28, 2018 1 Comment

This week is our annual EFCA Theology Conference. This year’s theme is The Gospel, Compassion and Justice and the EFCA.

These are important and weighty issues we are discussing. We affirm and give thanks for the doctrinal truth of God’s compassion resulting in redemption and reconciliation with him “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Rom. 5:1). This doctrinal truth is becoming an experiential reality, as we seek to live out this doctrinal truth horizontally with others. It is an affirmation and living out with others both orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice). And as we do this, we confess we stumble toward maturity.

As we approach this topic of compassion and justice, especially as we focus on racial reconciliation, we acknowledge that apart from Christ we can do nothing (Jn. 15:5), and “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1). And yet, we are also keenly aware that this Conference is one in which the enemy would love to “kill, steal and destroy” (Jn. 10:10), one in which the beast will make war on the saints those from “every tribe and people and language and nation” (Rev. 13:7). He will do any and everything to work against the “one new humanity” (Eph. 2:15) God has created through the work of his Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit.

This spiritual life, this new humanity is a work of God (3:3, 5; 1 Cor. 3:6; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:15; Tit. 3:4-7). We do not create new birth or spiritual life, as this life is not on the basis of “of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn. 1:13). God creates one new humanity. But the work God did, the one new humanity he created, as we keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 18, 25), we will be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). This is part of how we fulfill Paul’s exhortation to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

And, this manifests the truth and power of the gospel not only to those in the world, but also to those principalities and powers, those demonic forces attempting to undo what God has done. God and his grace triumph, so we we live out the truth of the gospel “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).

With this in mind, please join us in prayer as we seek to work and live out what God has created, being eager to see the fruit of the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaimed and manifested. Here are five specific prayer requests.

  1. Pray for the theology conference theme The Gospel, Compassion and Justice, and the EFCA to come to life and result in justice, righteousness and compassion rolling down like a mighty river in and through the EFCA (Amos 5:24).
  1. Pray for God’s blessing and leading to be upon the speakers, leaders and our corporate worship (Zach. 4:6).
  1. Pray that God will prepare the hearts of pastors and leaders coming, and for the Lord to strengthen and guide all those serving at the conference (Jms. 1:5).
  1. Pray for rich and meaningful connections, conversations, and community as we learn, worship, pray and fellowship together (Eph. 4:29).
  1. Pray for God’s ongoing work of reconciliation, hope and healing in the EFCA, growing the oneness of our hearts, heads and hands as we live out the gospel with compassion and justice (2 Cor. 5:14-19).

We are grateful for your partnership in the ministry of the gospel, and for engaging in this vital ministry through prayer.

 

 

In conclusion, it is always true that “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1), and yet we are especially aware that this Conference is one in which the enemy would love to “kill, steal and destroy” (Jn. 10:10), one in which the beast will make war on the saints, those from “every tribe and people and language and nation” (Rev. 13:7). He will do any and everything to work against the “one new humanity” (Eph. 2:15) God has created through the work of his Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit.

This “one new humanity” created by God we desire to understand and work toward. We are “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). This is not an entity we create, but rather something God creates and we are eager and committed to work it out. There is a right understanding and living out God’s work in our lives, and discerning the vital difference between God’s creative work and our eagerness to maintain the unity he created. As we live out this new life in Christ, individually and corporately, this is a testimony to the enemy that God triumphs. One of the results of God creating one new humanity is “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10).

We, the people of God, the church of Jesus Christ, reflect and manifest what and who we truly are in Christ. We manifest and live out the reality of those who have been ransomed by the blood of Christ “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9; cf. 7:9; 14:6). We are an outpost of heaven, a manifestation in the present-time of the end-time eschatological people of God – what we will become, we have become, as the kingdom has come in the person and work of Christ (the now), his rule and reign are embraced and lived out by those who have received Christ by faith, and the kingdom will come (the not-yet) fully when he returns in glory.

Please plan to join us for our Theology Conference as we address this important issue. Please join us in prayer for the speakers, attendees, those who are considering attending, all the administrative details, and anything else the Lord leads you to pray. We are also praying not only to be encouraged and edified, we are also praying to be challenged and through all of this the Lord will produce lasting gospel fruit. We eagerly desire to be faithful, and as we are, we also recognize our dependency on the Lord to do the work. With Paul, we recognize these important truths: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

You can find information on the Conference at the following link: EFCA Theology Conference: The Gospel, Compassion and Justice, and the EFCA. Registration is found here. Please do not come alone. Instead, plan to come as a ministry team to learn and grow together!

Following the flow of Article 8, we chose the theme of our Theology Conference for these reasons.

First, it is important to address this historically. Even looking at our Free Church history is reflective of the discussion that was taking place among Evangelicals. Silence in 1950 was not unusual. It certainly does not mean nothing was being said or done in these realms, but it is important to notice historically why our 1912 Statement of Faith contained the Article it did, why there was no Article in 1950, and then why we again included the Article on “Christian Living” in our present Statement of Faith. It reminds us how we are influenced by history and context, and it also reminds us why it is absolutely necessary to be driven by the Bible and a commitment to biblical and doctrinal fidelity. It is one reason why we are committed to the Reformation principle, The Church Reformed and Always [in need of] Being Reformed According to the Word of God (Ecclesia Reformata Semper Reformanda secundum verbi Dei).

Second, this topic, as all topics, must not only be understood historically, but must be centered in the Scriptures and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Although this is a biblical issue, it is also culturally trendy. It does not make it wrong for us to address, but it does mean we must ground it biblically. Long after the trend passes, we remain faithful to the Scriptures and committed to compassion and justice as fruit-bearing of the gospel. It is not the gospel, but it is an outworking of the gospel in our lives, it is an entailment of the gospel. This is especially important today because some treatments of this issue contain little to no biblical grounding, and are more culturally and/or sociologically driven. And yet, a problem in the other direction is that often too many Evangelicals consider this topic a matter of indifference, particularly those with a majority voice. There is not entailment of the gospel, so that there is no connection between “God’s justifying grace” and his “sanctifying power and purpose,” contrary to the connection made in the Bible and articulated in our Statement of Faith. It is both a critical moment and a critical topic to address biblically, theologically, historically, and pastorally.

Third, based on the present-day cultural context and pastoral necessity, it is necessary to address this Article and these topics. These moral issues are front-burner issues culturally, which makes it timely to address. But because these are culturally pressing issues, it is also important to address so that it does not merely become trendy. Matters of compassion and justice, and all that entails, are key issues in our contemporary culture and for the present generation. These are key issues of concern for the world. They ought also to be key issues for the church of Jesus Christ, and those committed to the authority of the Scriptures. Since this is a biblical issue, it ought to be grounded biblically so that when the cultural moment passes, the biblical truth and biblical structures remain. It is only the Scriptures and gospel-transformed believers who are empowered to live as members in the kingdom of God here and now, and remain committed for the duration.

Fourth, the ground of addressing this theme is justification and sanctification, with acknowledgement that “God’s justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose.” When studying theology it is appropriate to study and discuss these two doctrines separately. But experiential, the two doctrines, although not one and the same, are related. They go together. Too often, how we approach these truths remain theoretical doctrine, and not living doctrine that is both personal and existential. Many have gone awry on these matters, either ending up on the side of antinomianism, or on the other side of legalism. This has grave implications on how we understand truth, how we understand the Christian life, and how we understand love for God and love for others. The church’s history on this has too many examples of the pendulum and bifurcation such that those who professed faith in Christ and who submitted to the authority of the Bible but lived inconsistently with these truths. For example, some owned slaves, and believed – wrongly! – it was sanctioned by the Scriptures, or some do not care for the orphan, the widow, the abused, the marginalized, the immigrant, the other, the neighbor.

Fifth, the specific focus of sanctification in our Christian lives will be on God’s command “to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed.” When Jesus was asked the question about “which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36), he did not respond with a single commandment, but two: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:37-39; cf. Dt. 6:5; Lev. 19:18). Love for God is “the great and first commandment.” That will also result in love for others. Jesus summarizes these two teachings by stating “on these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40). We seek to love God supremely and others sacrificially. This leads us to the manner in which we do this by living out our faith.

Sixth, one of the specific issues to address as we “live out our faith” is that of “compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed.’ At the moment a couple of key issues are race and reconciliation and immigration. It is vital that we are grounded biblically and theologically on these issues, and that we engage pastorally with others personally, not just from a distance. We are all created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-17), all coming from one man, sharing the same parents (Acts 17:26). And though sin has broken relationships vertically and horizontally (Gen. 3), God in Christ has made it possible to reconcile and to overcome enmity and through faith in Christ that becomes experientially and practically true (Gal. 3:28), creating one new humanity (Eph. 2:14-15), reconciling us to God and others, and giving us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-21). This also effects our understanding and practice of immigration, of helping the orphan, the widow, the displaced, the marginalized, the oppressed, the taken-advantage-of, those for whom God has a special concern (Jms. 1:26-27; cf. Ps. 82:3-4; Prov. 31:8-9; Jer. 22:16).

The church has often emphasized biblical truth over against biblical application, one at the expense of the other. As we write in Evangelical Convictions, “When thinking of ministries of compassion and justice, the church has often vacillated between two extremes, either focusing on the physical needs of people while assuming or neglecting the spiritual or seeing people only as ‘souls to be saved’ and disregarding their tangible suffering in this world” (p. 199).  Added to this is the politicizing of these issues, and the politics surrounding these discussions and decisions. Certainly, we have responsibilities as those citizens living in two cities, the city of man and the city of God. But ultimately, since we are first and foremost citizens of the city of God, we believe and affirm that the notions of justice and righteousness are closely tied to the Bible such that these together point to a rightly ordered society under God’s rule.

Living in the tension between the now and the not-yet of God’s final and ultimate rule, this is one of the ways in which the enemy undermines the outworking of the gospel that has transformed us and which we preach. That gospel is being undermined and tarnished through the lack of reconciliation among believers, and the lack of care and concern for the immigrant. Grounded in God’s Word, guided by the Spirit’s power, and praying and working in Christ’s name, this is one of the ways we must “combat the spiritual forces of evil.” This is a gospel issue, and this is a matter of a spiritual battle, in that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).

Seventh, and finally, this issue is not just an issue “out there,” but one we must address within the EFCA. As people grounded in the gospel and tethered to the Text, as those who have been justified and are being sanctified/transformed, in this specific area we are committed to “make disciples among all people, always bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed.” This both adorns the Lord Jesus Christ and his gospel (Tit. 2:10), and carries the fragrance of Christ (2 Cor. 2:14).

You can find information on the Conference at the following link: EFCA Theology Conference: The Gospel, Compassion and Justice, and the EFCA.Registration is now open, so please register today. And do not come alone. Please plan to come as a ministry team.

The Evangelical Free Church is committed to the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, and sufficient Word of God. We are grounded in the gospel and tethered to the text of Scripture. We also affirm the need to be born again, taking our lead from the Lord Jesus (Jn. 3). Our Evangelical history and heritage is as a gospel people, both in doctrine and in practice. That is to say, we affirm that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (Eph. 2:8-9). Nothing more, nothing less. But, we also affirm that we have been saved for good works (Eph. 2:10; Tit. 2:14; 3:8, 14; Heb. 10:24; contrast Tit. 1:16). Good works are not the basis of justification. They are the fruit of it.

In the merger of two Free Churches into the newly formed Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Free Church Association, Article 12 of the Statement of Faith emphasized our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, its proclamation to the whole world, to compassion and justice, and more.

  1. We believe that the sole duty of the Christian Church is to proclaim the Gospel to the whole world, and to assist charitable institutions, to work for righteousness and temperance, for unity and cooperation with all believers, and for peace among all people and nations of the whole earth.

This truth and commitment espoused in this Article are foundational to the Free Church. As an aside, it also evidences the reality that Statements of Faith are written in a historical context, which means some issues are addressed that are pertinent at the time, but do not have lasting significance. In this Article, working for “temperance,” makes sense historically, but it is not something that would be included in a Statement of Faith today.

In the 1950 merger between the Norwegian-Danish Free Church Association and the Evangelical Free Church (Swedish), there was no parallel statement. Since this was written in a historical context, as all Statements of Faith are, understanding the history explains its absence.

In our Statement of Faith revision in 2008 (https://go.efca.org/resources/document/efca-statement-faith), a statement was added that was more reflective of the 1912 Statement of Faith, under the heading “Christian Living,” and, we believe, the truth and teaching grounded in the Bible.

 

  1. We believe that God’s justifying grace must not be separated from His sanctifying power and purpose. God commands us to love Him supremely and others sacrificially, and to live out our faith with care for one another, compassion toward the poor and justice for the oppressed. With God’s Word, the Spirit’s power, and fervent prayer in Christ’s name, we are to combat the spiritual forces of evil. In obedience to Christ’s commission, we are to make disciples among all people, always bearing witness to the gospel in word and deed.

It highlights justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (noted in earlier Articles), and its connection with sanctification, i.e., God’s sanctifying power and purpose. Rooted in regeneration (Jn. 3:3, 5; Tit. 3:4-7), “justifying grace” (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:1-2), we are given a new life which is empowered by the Holy Spirit to live life for good works for the glory of God, “sanctifying power and purpose” (Acts 20:32; Eph. 2:8-10; 2 Tim. 1:9; Tit. 3:3-8; 2 Pet. 1:10).

We have sensed a strong need for some time to address this Article, especially since it is a more recent addition to our Statement of Faith, although it is more reflective of our history and our historical Statement of Faith. Within the context of the whole of the Article and the whole of the Statement of Faith, there are countless issues that could be, and in some way should be, addressed, important issues that affect God’s people in the church today. But in the midst of all these issues, we will focus on and highlight two key issues today, of which all ought to be aware, that of racial reconciliation and immigration.

There are multiple instances we could use as examples, with a new one to address most every Sunday morning we stand before the people of God to open the Word of God. Late this past summer, we think of the racial conflict that occurred at Charlottesville (cf. The Gospel, Racism and the EFCA: Resolution (1992) and Resolve ( https://go.efca.org/resources/document/efca-statement-faith) and The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the EFCA, and Racism (http://strands.blogs.efca.org/2017/08/17/the-gospel-of-jesus-christ-the-efca-and-racism/) and An Open Letter to Those Who Are Struggling (https://blog.efca.org/blog/all-people/open-letter-those-who-are-struggling), and early fall we think of the decision before Congress regarding Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Dreamers (cf. the EFCA ministry Immigrant Hope (http://immigranthope.org/).

You can find information on the Conference at the following link: EFCA Theology Conference: The Gospel, Compassion and Justice, and the EFCA.

Registration is now open, so please register today. And do not come alone. Please plan to come as a ministry team.