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Evangelical “Free” Church

Greg Strand – September 23, 2015 Leave a comment

What does the “free” mean in Evangelical Free Church?

The term “Free” has two meanings.

First, in reference to history, it refers to the fact that in Europe, the Free Church was free from the state church control.

Second, in reference to theology, it refers to our local church polity in that each local church is autonomous, i.e. free from ecclesiastical and hierarchical control.

Here is how this is explained in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America (261):

Though not included among our central doctrinal convictions, the Evangelical Free Church of America is congregational. That is, Evangelical Free churches are autonomous and self-governing. [The Articles of Incorporation of the Evangelical Free Church mandate that the EFCA “shall be an association and fellowship of autonomous but interdependent congregations of like faith and congregational government” (II.A.)] We hold this as an integral part of our history and tradition, and on the basis of our understanding of biblical teaching.

 

 

Regarding salvation, what do you believe about the death of infants and those who have never heard the gospel?

 It is clear in our EFCA Statement of Faith “that God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ” (Article 10, Response and Eternal Destiny). Jesus Christ and his claims are exclusive, and apart from hearing and receiving the gospel one will be judged and condemned to “eternal conscious punishment” (Article 10, Response and Eternal Destiny).

These exclusive claims of Christ and the necessity of hearing and responding to the gospel often raise the question as noted above. It is important to note that this question really consists of two, and each must be addressed separately and appropriately nuanced biblically if we are to gain biblical, theological and pastoral clarity to these important questions.

Here is what we have stated in response to these questions in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 242-244 (highlight not in the original, but for the purpose of the question):

 First, what is the destiny of those who die in infancy or who may be mentally incompetent and unable to respond to the message of the gospel in conscious faith? Some difference of opinion exists among us on this issue. Almost all would contend that God can accept such people into his eternal presence, though the grounds on which this is possible differ. Some believe that even though all are sinful by nature in Adam, those who die in infancy or who may be mentally incompetent are incapable of conscious and deliberate sin, and, therefore, their sinful nature has not been personally ratified. Consequently, Adam’s guilt is not attributed to them. (All, however, would agree that both infants and the mentally incompetent are still subject to a corruption of nature flowing from the fall and that Christ’s saving work of restoration is still necessary.) Others believe that though all humans at any stage of development or level of mental capability are guilty by virtue of their union with Adam, God can apply the saving work of Christ to them without conscious and deliberate faith through the regenerating work of the Spirit. How many God may choose to save in this way, we cannot know, but we do have confidence that God is gracious, especially to those who are the weakest and most vulnerable.

 Second, we ask, what then is the destiny of those who have not heard of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ, that is, the unevangelized—can they be saved? Since the coming of God’s final work in Jesus Christ, Scripture speaks clearly of the need to hear and to believe the gospel (cf. Rom. 10:13-15; Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 26:16-18). And among those capable of understanding the gospel, we affirm that we have no clear biblical warrant for believing that, since the coming of Christ, God has saved anyone apart from conscious faith in Jesus. Paul’s statement referring to the Christian Ephesians’ previous state as pagans without a faith in Jesus is straightforward and comprehensive: “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Further, we find nothing in Scripture that suggests that the nations may find God somehow present in a redemptive way within their own religious practices, theological outlooks, or cultural structures.

 And again, while God could reveal Christ to some apart from the normal means of the ministry of the Word (e.g., through dreams or visions), we have no biblical warrant for believing that he will reveal himself in that way to anyone. The Bible speaks instead of the mandate given to Christ’s followers to preach the gospel to all nations (cf., esp., Rom. 10:14-15), and we are woefully remiss if we fail to engage in that great task when so much is at stake.

 The “benevolent impulse” in Christian believers that desires and seeks eternal life for as many as possible is good and right. Abraham pleaded with God for the salvation of the city of Sodom (Gen. 18:23-24), and Jesus’ disciples were rebuked for being more zealous to punish evildoers than their Lord (Luke 9:54-55). As we humbly consider this question of the unevangelized we are confident that God’s ways are always just and right, and in the end they will be seen to be so. As Abraham reflected, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). At the same time, we must remain faithful to the clear and insistent message of the Bible—Jesus Christ is the Savior of the whole world, and the whole world needs to hear about his saving work. Because all have sinned and are deserving of God’s condemnation, we believe that we can be saved only by the atoning work of Christ, and we believe that we can be sure that people can be saved by that work only if they are told about it.

EFCA and Ecumenism

Greg Strand – August 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Is the EFCA ecumenical? 

Our primary commitment in the EFCA is to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mk. 1:15; Rom. 1:16) and the oneness that this gospel creates (Jn. 17; Eph. 2:11-22; 4:1-6). Based on this commitment, we are also desirous to partner with others who share this commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

On the one hand, we are not ecumenical based on the way the term is understood by many. That carries the connotation of a federation model that downplays doctrine and evangelism and emphasizes social and political engagement/action. On the other hand, we are ecumenical based on the cooperative model that emphasizes doctrinal unity and gives priority to evangelism in the church’s mission.

More specifically, it would be accurate to say that the EFCA is ecumenical in spirit, viz. that we will join with others of like precious faith, but not in structure, viz. we will not formally support or hierarchically align with any other denomination or organization.  The key is that we will partner with others who are committed to the Word of God and faithful gospel ministry calling people to the Lord Jesus Christ.  That is what is meant by “like precious faith.” 

Here is how this is stated in the third of our Distinctives:

 3. The Evangelical Free Church of America embraces a humble orthodoxy in partnership with others of like faith.

 We believe in the spiritual unity of the Church though not necessarily in structural union. We join with other Christians and other denominations of like, precious faith in common goals and ministries to accomplish the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. But we believe that there is strength in diversity and that it is important to preserve our distinctives. We recognize that union in structure does not guarantee unity of spirit.  Our foremost concern is unity of spirit with our Lord, with each other and with other Christians.

Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage

Greg Strand – August 12, 2015 3 Comments

What is the EFCA position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage?

The EFCA affirms the inerrancy and authority of the Bible (cf. Article 2). That grounds and guides our understanding of and response to homosexuality and same-sex marriage

We have a policy for those pursuing credentialing in the EFCA regarding “Homosexual Belief and Conduct.” The policy states that the EFCA will not credential one who engages in homosexual conduct or one who does not believe that homosexual behavior is sinful, even though remaining celibate.

We also have a statement on same-sex marriage that provides guidance to local EFC churches who are writing a policy on this issue: “A Church Statement on Human Sexuality: Homosexuality and Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ – A Resource for EFCA Churches.”

Because we affirm the inerrancy and authority of the Scriptures, we must never compromise the biblical standard for sexuality and marriage, while at the same time we must treat everyone, including those who differ with us on this issue, and those who identify as LGBT, with gentleness, compassion, and love, while pointing them to the only hope any of us have, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In sum, the EFCA is “welcoming but not affirming”.

Eternal Conscious Punishment

Greg Strand – August 11, 2015 3 Comments

Article 10 of the Statement of Faith states that unbelievers will experience “eternal conscious punishment.” Why use the word “conscious”?

What we affirm of this biblical truth and why we do so is grounded in the Bible. We believe this statement because we believe it is taught in the Bible, which we have attempted to capture in our doctrinal statement in Article 10, Response and Eternal Destiny.

This phrase, “eternal conscious punishment,” occurs in the longer statement that addresses the eternal destiny of believers and unbelievers. The complete statement is important to include in order to give this phrase its proper context: “We believe that God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment and the believer to eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heaven and the new earth, to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.”

What we note in this statement, which reflects Jesus’ statement in Matthew 25, is that there is an opposite symmetry between the eternal states of the only two groups of people that exist: unbelievers and believers. For unbelievers, those who have not responded to the gospel of Jesus Christ, they will be condemned and experience “eternal conscious punishment.” For believers, those who have believed and received the gospel of Jesus Christ, they will experience “eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord.” Both states are eternal; both states are conscious. And ultimately, this bodily resurrection and judgement of all will be “to the praise of His glorious grace.”

The meaning of the specific phrase is expounded in Evangelical Convictions: An Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 249-250:  

Some, especially in recent years, have taken this language of death and destruction in a more literal sense and have argued that though God’s punishment of the wicked is real, it is not eternal. This view, known as “annihilationism” (or “conditional immortality”), holds that the unrighteous will cease to exist after they are judged. In this sense, the punishment for sin is eternal in its effect (that is, it is irreversible), but not eternal in the experience of the one judged. Our Statement denies such a view, contending that the Scripture teaches the continuing existence of persons—both believers and unbelievers—after the judgment, and that the experience of hell is eternal. Hence, we include the expression “eternal conscious punishment.”

Though the term “conscious” is not commonly used in historic confessions, what it expresses has been the almost universal view of the church through history, with, until very recently, only a few theologians and smaller sects standing in opposition. The church has held that the language of Scripture assumes that the destinies of believers and unbelievers, though very different, stand in parallel, and both will continue to experience the consequences of their choice through eternity.

Jesus himself established this connection when he spoke of the Son of Man separating two classes of human beings on the day of judgment as sheep and goats and saying to the goats on his left hand, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels… Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt. 25:41,46). It is true that the word translated “eternal” here (aiōnios) means “pertaining to the age to come.” But it is precisely because the age to come was perceived to be without end that the word is most commonly translated in this way. Because this verse uses precisely the same word to describe both the blessedness of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked, we must affirm that both enter into an unending conscious state.