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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When asked the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:37-40).

When we hear the exhortation to love our neighbor, it reminds us of the parable of the Good Samaritan. In Luke’s account of this lawyer’s question, he includes more of the conversation between Jesus and the lawyer. After Jesus’ responded, the lawyer, seeking to justify himself, asked another question: “And who is my neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29).

This is the right biblical context to learn about our neighbors known as Muslims. In the past, one would generally spend time studying world religions, Islam being of them. In fact, when looking at the various religions of the world, in order of numbers here are the top five: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Folk Religion. However, today much of our study and discussion is around culture and cultural engagement, the Benedict Option, or some other alternative Option, how we engage in and seek to transform our culture, or whether or not it is even the church’s responsibility to engage in and seek to transform the culture. Specifically, this confronts us most sharply with the sexual revolution and everything associated with it.

These issues are important to ponder, to process, to pray about and to address. But a discussion about world religions is often a thing of the past. With our global life, with an intermixing of devotees of various religions, it is critical for us to understand various religions, and more specifically today, Islam.

History

Muhammad (570-632) is the founder of Islam, and he is considered the “seal of the prophets,” a title used in the Qur’an. The key confession, referred to as the shahada, “the testimony” or the Islamic creed, is “there is no god but God” and “Muhammad is the messenger of God.” After Muhammad’s death, there was debate over who would be the rightful heir. As a result, two groups arose, which exist to this day, the Sunnis, the majority, and the Shia, the minority.

Over time, advances were made into Christian lands. This led Pope Urban II to launch the first Crusade in 1095. In all, there were eight Crusades, the last one, occurring in 1270. This was an effort of western European Christians to go on military crusades to the Middle East to free the Holy Land from Muslims, specifically the focus was on Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulcher. Most do not recognize the Crusades as a historical highpoint of the Christian church. However, despite the flawed attempt of the Crusades, it was a response to what was happening in Islam, and they were not without fault either. One of the sad days for Christians was when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453.

We are familiar with Islam in one of its more recent versions through al-Qaeda, which is a militant Sunni Islamist multi-national organization founded by Osama bin Laden in 1988. And in an unprecedented terrorist act committed against the US in 2001, forever etched as 9/11, and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, tensions have increased and understanding of and relationships between the two have suffered significantly. Added to this is the migration and immigration of Muslims into Western nations.

Another branch consisting of Sunni Islam, is ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, began in 1999. They were devotees of al-Qaeda, and became prominent in 2014 when they drove the Iraqi government out of key cities. We have heard and seen some of the atrocities committed by both al-Qaeda and its more aggressive sister, ISIS. This is what many know about Islam. But is this the only picture? Is it the complete picture?

Present Context

Since many Muslims are now living here and are our neighbors, it is important for us to take the Lord Jesus’ command seriously and learn about our neighbors, Islam, and discern ways we can love them.

The Pew Research Center notes a number of interesting and telling results of their survey (cf. “Most White Evangelicals Don’t Believe Muslims Belong in America,” with a brief summary addressing our theme of neighbors, “Pew updates its comprehensive survey of what US Muslims believe and do, and how their neighbors feel about them.”) It is estimated that there are approximately 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States, which makes up about 1% of the total population. Population projections indicate that number will likely double by 2050. As far as world religions, even though Islam is the second largest religion of the world, after Christianity, there is not a large population here. There are fewer Muslims than there are Jews, but more Muslims than Hindus.

More specifically, many do not believe Islam is part of our mainstream culture and society, and that it is a religion of violence. Both Evangelicals and Muslims conclude there is a conflict between Islam and democracy, though the percentage is higher among white Evangelicals.

Rather than having studied Islam and having met a Muslim, we draw our conclusions through social media, those tracking the persecution of Christians, and the perpetual news updates reporting another terrorist attack. As stated by our speakers, “These are the multiple voices feeding evangelicals and with little or no contact with only 1% of the population, there is little or no contact with Muslims to give a real-life impression.”

It is important for us as we love God and love our neighbors, to understand Islam, and discern ways we can love a Muslim.

Messages

Roy Oksnevad and Mike Urton, our speakers, both serve in the EFCA in ministry to Muslims. Roy serves with Immigrant Mission of the EFCA, while Mike serves with ReachGlobal. They also serve as Director and Co-Director of COMMA (Coalition of Ministries to Muslims in North America). They have co-authored Journey to Jesus: Building Christ-centered Friendships with Muslims, some of which will be the basis of what we learn in these sessions.

In our three sessions, we will address the following topics, based on responding to a question:

Session 1: What do Muslims believe? In this session, the focus will be on the four basic sources of Islam, six articles of faith, five pillars of Islam along with #6 jihad.

Session 2: Who are the real Muslims? In this session, 9 types of Muslims will be identified.

Session 3: How a local church can reach out to Muslims? If the other two sessions emphasize “understanding Islam,” in this session the focus moves toward the practical matter of “loving our neighbor.” Part of the teaching will come through witnessing scenarios done through professional dramas in the format of a real-to-life relationship. This is a resource pastors can use in the church to help others learn about Muslim relational evangelism.

Please plan to join us for the 2018 Theology Conference held Jan. 30 – Feb. 2, 2018. Register here.

I begin this post with a brief introductory comment, placing this specific issue in a larger context.

This is an attempt to connect our biblical and theological convictions with a current issue and to do so pastorally undergirded by prayer. Although it focuses on a specific issue for prayer, it is also an example of how we might consider a life of prayer, both personal and corporate, in the midst of the many other issues we face on an increasingly regular basis. For one example with multiple incidents, consider the many issues surrounding the racial tensions which face us daily, and the necessity of thinking biblically and theologically, engaging pastorally, and praying faithfully in a similar manner. God and the gospel are the ground, the guide and the goal, and our hope.

 

This past summer the EFCA conference (delegates from churches and other conference-approved roles, which makes up the highest authority in the EFCA, under the Lord Jesus Christ), unanimously approved the Resolution on Biblical Sexuality and the Covenant of Marriage. It is a statement that articulates and lives out Jesus’ declaration of the great commandment – “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbor as yourself”(Matt. 22:37-39).

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will hear oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

You may remember this is about Jack Phillips, a baker from Lakewood, Colorado. In 2012 he declined to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding, since it conflicted with his religious beliefs, it went contrary to his conscience (think religious liberty, which also meant he had in the past refused to make cakes for any violation of his conscience, which included, for example, divorce, anti-American messages, profanities, disparagement of the LGBT community). The Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled against Jack, claiming he was in violation of Colorado’s antidiscrimination laws. If Jack bakes cakes at all, he must bake them for all, including same-sex weddings.

On appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed the Commission’s ruling. When Jack appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, they refused to hear it. This ruling is being contested, which is why the case is now before SCOTUS. (Regarding the timeline, Colorado legalized same-sex marriage in 2014.)

In June 2015 SCOTUS determined, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that it is a fundamental right for same-sex couples to marry. That is now the law of the land, even though we as Christians believe that law of the land goes contrary to God’s law, which we affirmed this past summer (cf. Acts 4:19-20; 5:29).

The decision now before SCOTUS is whether or not a baker’s work is the same as an artist, a photographer, a singer, an actor a painter, and other creative professionals who create First-Amendment protected speech, and whether or not the baker has the right to decide which requests to accept and which to deny, and whether or not bakers will be be forced to comply or face prosecution, sanctions or legal coercion. Technically, here is how the issue is formally stated before SCOTUS: “Whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment.”

This is a major decision that will affect all of us. As SCOTUS hears these arguments, processes all the issues, and makes a decision, it is important for us to remember a number of key truths, and to pray.

Here is the context of our prayer: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:1-4).

And this is what we affirm of God, his Word, his promises, and how we live life before him in the presence of others in this country, seeking to be faithful citizens of two cities.

First, God is sovereign and he has a providential plan, which unfolds in time, the time in which we now live (Ps. 115:1-3).

“Our Father who is in heaven . . .”

Second, God’s ultimate desire is for his name to be honored, his Word to be upheld as he alone is the absolute determiner of what is good and what is not good, which is reflected in our ethics and morality reflecting him as image bearers,  and his glory to extend to the ends of the earth as the water covers the sea (Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14), which is also our desire.

“Hallowed by your name . . .”

Third, God’s good plan is being unfolded in a sinful and broken world, a broken world in which the kingdom of God has broken in through the person and work of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:13-14; 2:15; Tit. 2:14; 1 Pet. 1:17-19). Through our union with Jesus Christ we are people of that kingdom, which reflects how we live life as kingdom-people in this world (Rom. 13:11-12; 1 Pet. 1:3-9; 1 Jn. 3:2-3).

“Your kingdom come . . .”

Fourth, as our sovereign God unfolds this providential plan in the midst of this time and place, we know that he guides and governs the affairs of humanity, including kings, rulers and those in authority: “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov. 21:1).

“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven . . .”

Fourth, as Christians we live in the world, but we are not of the world (Jn. 17). We live as salt and light in this dark and decaying world (Matt. 5:13-16). We know that true transformation comes only from the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 1:9-10), and the ultimate enemy, the one who kills, steals and destroys (Jn. 10:10), seeks to prevent the progress of the gospel and the spread of the kingdom. Our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities, the cosmic powers of this present darkness, the spiritual forces of evil (Eph. 6:12). This means we pray: “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:18).

“Our Father . . . give . . . forgive . . . deliver”

Finally, we trust God and his promises. All the promises of God find their “yes” in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). God is both a promise-making and promise-keeping God. “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17), which means those who have been declared righteous by faith, they also live by faith. This reflects the Christmas story. God made a promise and even in the midst of 430 years of apparent silence, God was fulfilling his plan so that “at the right time” he sent forth his Son, Jesus Christ (Gal. 4:4). And God’s promises are always fulfilled in God’s ways, which is impossible for humanity, whether it is Mary’s miraculous virgin conception or Elizabeth’s pregnancy, who was barren and too old, “for nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk. 1:37; cf. Gen. 18:14 and the birth of Isaac). We trust God and live in a way that manifests his promises are true. We are a transformed and being transformed people. We are living out the truth of the Christ of Christmas.

“For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”

Advent Devotionals

Greg Strand – December 1, 2017 Leave a comment

This Sunday is the beginning of the season of the Christian year known as Advent.

Advent (from the Latin Adventus, meaning coming or arrival) is part of the larger season in the Christian year (think of the incarnation, which is celebrated at Christmas, and the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is celebrated at Easter), an aspect of the church’s gathered worship leading up to the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas.

Although not a biblical mandate for the church, Advent has been and remains an important aspect for many churches for most of Christian history. In fact, according to the Christian year, Advent marks the beginning for the people of God in their annual calendar, not January 1. Our lives are not only lived between Christ’s first and second comings, they are also marked, formed and shaped by His two comings.

This year I offer two possible resources for your advent devotional reading, study and worship. It may be worthwhile to make both available so people have an option. I include the links below along with an explanation of each of the series. May the Lord use them in your preparation for and in your worship of the Lord Jesus Christ, as you celebrate his first coming as a baby, and as you await his second coming as a King.

O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

Christmas In the Storyline of the Bible: Peace In the Midst of Tribulation

The advent devotional theme for this series comes from Jesus’ words at the conclusion of his farewell discourse. Jesus says to his disciples, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). If we are to understand these words of Jesus, it is important to understand who he is and what he has done. In the midst of sure and certain tribulation, Jesus promises peace and the peace comes from him. In this world we will have tribulation. That is certain. But for believers, it is also certain that we can take heart and be encouraged and hopeful, because we are in Christ in whom is peace, and he has overcome the world.

This is the truth of Christmas. In our devotional, we are going to go back to the beginning and follow the storyline of the Bible: creation, fall, redemption and consummation. What we celebrate at Christmas in the incarnation of Jesus Christ is the culmination of this story. But this is not the end of the story, as we await the return of Christ, which is the key truth we celebrate during Advent. As we remember the first coming of Jesus in the incarnation, we await and prepare for the second coming of Jesus.

  1. Introduction: The Meaning and Significance of Advent
  2. Theme: The Peace Christ Promises
  3. Week One: From Very Good to Enmity, Pain, Cursed and Banishment: Creation and the Fall (Genesis 1-3)
  4. Week Two: From Tribulation to Peace – The Prince of Peace: Redemption Promised (Isaiah 9)
  5. Week Three: A Birth, Glory and Peace: Redemption Experienced (Luke 2)
  6. Week Four: A Cradle, A Cross, and A Crown: Consummation (John 20; Revelation 21)

Songs of Christmas: Advent Readings From the Gospel of Luke

This Advent Devotional focuses on The Gospel of Luke and the Songs of Christmas. We will highlight four songs “sung” by four key people surrounding the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the God-man, the truth we celebrate at Christmas, yet experience every day throughout the year. Over the next weeks we will study, mediate and ponder these Lucan songs.

The first we will look at is Mary’s Song, otherwise known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Next we will hear the song of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, also known as the Benedictus. As you will recall, Zechariah was stricken mute because he did not believe the angel Gabriel who said that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would have a son. After John’s birth, Zechariah’s tongue was loosed and he immediately praised God (Luke 1:68-79). Then we will celebrate with the angels as they sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14), the Gloria in Excelsis. After this we will worship with Simeon as he sings of salvation, the appearance of Christ (Luke 2:29-32), known as the Nunc Dimittis. We will conclude the series in the New Year when we sing “A New Song: The Song of Eternity” from Revelation 5 (cf. Psalms 96, 98).

  1. Introduction: Luke and the Songs of Christmas
  2. Week One: Mary’s Song, Part 1: The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
  3. Week Two: Mary’s Song, Part 2: The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)
  4. Week Three: Zechariah’s Song: Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79)
  5. Week Four: The Angels’ Song: Gloria in Excelsis (Luke 2:1-20, cf. v. 14)
  6. Christmas Day: Simeon’s Song: Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32)
  7. Conclusion: A New Song: The Song of Eternity (Revelation 5)

Often our praying becomes rote. We pray the same things over and over. (Sadly, that is assuming we do pray regularly. As a short personal quiz: How often do you pray? How long do you generally commune with the Lord in and through prayer? If married, do you and your spouse pray together?)

Often our praying is general. “Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care” or “Bless all the missionaries.” That is better than not praying at all, and at times we simply do not know what to pray so we pray more generally, and thankfully the Spirit intercedes for us (Rom. 8:26-27).
This was the experience of John Piper. He found that his praying would fall into a rut (rote), and in order for him to get out of the rut, it required discipline. What helped him was compiling a list of that prayers prayed by the church as recorded in the Scriptures: What Should We Pray For?

Piper confesses his own personal rut in prayer.

If you are like me, you find that from time to time your prayer life needs a jolt out of the rut it has fallen into. We tend to use the same phrases over and over. We tend to default to worn out phrases (like the word default). We fall into patterns of mindless repetition.

The devil hates prayer. Our own flesh does not naturally love it. Therefore, it does not come full-born and complete and passionate from the womb of our heart. It takes ever renewed discipline.

In order to address this “default praying,” Piper searched the Scriptures to discern those matters for which the church prayed. He compiled them and used them to guide his praying (he also included this list in his book Let the Nations Be Glad):

So when I wrote that book, I gathered into one place all the things the early church prayed for. I printed this out for myself, and it has proven to be one of those “jolts” that I need. I thought you might find it helpful. You might want to print it out and keep it for a while in your Bible to guide you in your praying.

Piper highlights the great and glorious mystery of prayer, that the God of the universe, the all-sovereign one, would exercise his sovereignty and providence through the prayers of his people is amazing (Piper uses the expression “mind-boggling”), which means that even though one is not physically present, one can touch, influence and affect people, families, neighborhoods, churches, institutions through prayer:

Prayer remains one of the great and glorious mysteries of the universe — that the all-knowing, all-wise, all-sovereign God should ordain to run his world in response to our prayers is mind-boggling. But that is the uniform witness of Scripture. God hears and answers the prayers of his people. Oh, do not neglect this amazing way of influencing nations and movements and institutions and churches and people’s hearts, especially your own.

If you want to pray for what the early church prayed for . . .

Piper follows this by including 35 prayers directly from the Scriptures. I encourage you to read through the list. Better yet is to pray through the list. Best is to memorize these prayers and to make them a regular part of your prayers, applied to specific situations. In this way our default praying is praying “according to the Scriptures.”

Let me conclude with this challenge. For those who profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, often in our prayer lives we live more like practical atheists than we do children of the heavenly Father. Dear adopted child of God, what will you do to change that? God, our loving Father, will give you the grace not only to change that, but his grace is also sufficient to change your heart to desire to change it.