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2nd Draft Revision of the EFCA SOF, Pt. 9

February 27, 2007


9. God’s gospel will be brought to fulfillment by the Lord Himself at the end of this age—

We believe in the personal and glorious coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with His holy angels, when He will establish His kingdom fully and exercise His role as Judge of all. This coming of Christ at a time known only to God requires constant expectancy and should motivate the believer to godly living, sacrificial service, and energetic mission. This is our blessed hope.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2007 12:08 am

    *tumbleweed slowly bounces across the screen*

  2. February 27, 2007 7:52 am

    From the Commentary of the Committee:

    This statement on the return of Christ presents the most substantive change in the doctrinal statement, replacing the words “premillennial” and “imminent” with “glorious”.

    First, with regard to the elimination of the word “imminent”, our Committee observed that at the time of the merger in 1950, the EFCA was almost entirely pretribulational. In that context, the word “imminent” was assumed by many to mean an “at-any-moment rapture of the church” before the Great Tribulation. This position also had very important implications in the outworking of the saving plan of God in history and in the interpretation of the Old Testament, particularly in the way that passages referring to Israel were to be understood.

    Now many of our pastors hold to a posttribulational position, and this position was given official sanction in 1977 in a decision of the Committee on Ministerial Standing. In a memo of December 1 of that year, President Tom McDill, on behalf of that Committee, recommended that district ordination councils allow a candidate for ordination “to interpret imminency within his convictions as long as such interpretation remains within the framework of premillennialism.” This policy has prevailed since that time.

    Among those who hold this posttribulational view, the word “imminent” is commonly not understood in the way that the original framers would have used it, and the millennial kingdom has a different sort of theological significance. In addition, the posttribulational position does not require the same approach to interpreting the Old Testament or the same role of Israel in the plan of God.

    This change in theological understanding raises an important issue. Some consider it “fudging” when people sign a statement that uses the word “imminent” when those people no longer use that word in the way it was originally intended. We believe that that kind of erosion of a doctrinal statement is dangerous. The elimination of the word “imminent” effectively deals with this already recognized theological shift in our midst and clears away the confusion caused by the different ways this word “imminent” is now used.

    We should note, however, that in the final sentence we have retained the biblical emphasis which the framers of the current statement held dear—that the coming of Christ (whether that coming is in one stage or two) ought to motivate the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission. The Bible speaks of our need for constant vigilance and self-control, being constantly prepared as we eagerly await the coming of Christ (cf. esp. Matt. 24:36-51; Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Thess. 5:1-11; 2 Pet. 3:10-12; Rev. 3:3). We can affirm this without specifying an eschatological timetable.

    Second, with regard to the elimination of the word “premillennial”, we appeal to one of the central features of the spiritual heritage of our movement—our concern to preserve evangelical unity in the gospel, a concern embodied in a beloved phrase from our past: Evangelical Free churches “major on the majors and minor on the minors.” Or to quote a phrase often attributed to the fourth century bishop John Chrysostom: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials charity; in all things, Jesus Christ.” This principle of evangelical unity in the essentials of the gospel, perhaps more than any other, has provided the EFCA with its distinctive identity, and it has been among the most attractive aspects of our movement.

    Arnold T. Olson emphasized this principle in the introduction of his book, The Significance of Silence. He quotes the early Free Church leader E. A. Halleen from 1934:
    “This new organization was established on a very broad basis. The idea was to make room for all who believed in Christ and who accepted the Bible as the Word of God. It sought no separating shibboleths in doctrine or confession to which applicants for membership had to subscribe. The simple statement of the New Testament was the guiding principle.” Or J. L. Pedersen from 1931: “The Evangelical Free Churches stand for the unity of all Christians.” “To them,” Olson writes, “the local church was a voluntary association of convinced believers. Once they began to put in writing what was commonly believed among them, they were silent on those doctrines which through the centuries had divided Christians of equal dedication, Biblical knowledge, spiritual maturity and love for Christ.”

    In that book, Dr. Olson notes that what is unique about the EFCA Statement of Faith are the omissions when compared with other creeds. He recognizes that some will not be comfortable with the silence of the EFCA Statement on some matters. He notes: Some will not accept placing doctrines which they consider of primary importance and the principle tests of orthodoxy in the category of minor tenets when compared to the essentials of faith in the inspiration and final authority of the Bible and faith in Jesus Christ as the only source of redemption, rebirth, and hope for the future. As one critic told me, ‘I cannot accept an openness on a doctrine for which I would give my right arm!’ I replied that though I could call upon God for grace to die for Christ should that become necessary, I would not give my smallest finger for doctrines over which theologians, equally knowledgeable, dedicated, and evangelical, have disagreed throughout the history of the Church.

    The question arises: Has what was assumed to be held by “all believers” and was considered a “major issue” at the time of the merger changed such that these are no longer viewed in that way today? We believe that these things have changed. One’s position on the millennial kingdom of Christ no longer seems to be a point of doctrine that ought to divide believers and which ought to preclude people from full fellowship in our churches. As a result, removing “premillennialism” from our statement would better express the spirit of our founding principles. This is a case in which, in affirming this principle of evangelical unity in the gospel, the Statement of Faith must change to remain the same.

    Our Committee agreed that if we are to be a fellowship of historic, Bible-believing Evangelical Christians, seeking to preserve evangelical unity in the gospel, we ought not to refuse to recognize those who are not premillennialists in their eschatology, when we do not take a position on such significant issues as Arminian vs. Calvinist soteriology or the proper recipients of baptism and the specific time and mode of baptism which have divided Christians through the centuries. Similarly, we propose that a position on the millennial kingdom is one about which our Statement of Faith should be silent.

    We recognize that some may contend that though one’s position on the millennial rule of Christ may not be central to the gospel, it represents a larger hermeneutical concern. One concern for those of pretribulational convictions is the way that the Old Testament, and particularly the role of Israel, is understood. Removing premillennialism would, it is argued, change the way we in the Free Church interpret the Bible.

    However, a posttribulational position does not operate with the same hermeneutical framework as pretribulationalism, and, in fact, many who hold this position interpret the Old Testament in almost exactly the same way as amillennialists, even with regard to the role of Israel. Since the posttribulational position is already both held among us and consistent with the current doctrinal statement, the proposed change will not introduce any significant new hermeneutical issues in this regard.

    Another argument is that removing premillennialism would “water down” the authority of the Bible in the EFCA. The premillennial position serves as a kind of “test case” which keeps out of our churches those who are less literal in their interpretation of the Bible.

    We recognize the appeal of this argument, and the last thing that we want is to undermine the authority of the Bible in our midst in any way. It is for this reason that we have, in fact, strengthened the already strong statement on the Scriptures by adding the affirmation that the Bible is “the ultimate authority which stands over every realm of human knowledge and endeavor” and that “the Bible is to be believed in all that it affirms, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.” This we believe, and it must continue to be true in our churches as the Word of God is taught, believed, and obeyed.

    With regard to “literalism” in biblical interpretation, we contend that responsible and faithful biblical interpretation is not about the literal understanding of words but of meaning. The central question is, what is the literal reality intended by the author through the particular words and literary forms that he uses? Moreover, one must ask how that intended meaning of the biblical author is to be understood within the canon of Scripture. Such a biblical hermeneutic involves an informed and sensitive literary understanding of the biblical texts, appreciating genre, and the use of metaphor and symbol as well as straightforward history. Judgments on some of these issues may vary, as they do, for example, in the interpretation of the “days” of creation in Genesis 1. Further, it includes the principle that Scripture must always interpret Scripture, for we believe that ultimately the Holy Spirit has inspired it all.

    This does not mean that any kind of interpretation is allowable. The Statement of Faith gives us clear bounds within which our interpretations must fall to be orthodox, but we ought not to make those indisputable boundaries that define our fellowship within the local church more narrow than they ought to be.

    Premillennial eschatology is not a part of the “Evangelical Consensus” documented recently by J. I. Packer and Thomas Oden in their book One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus (IVP, 2004) nor was it a part of the 1999 evangelical statement entitled “The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration” formulated by the Committee on Evangelical Unity in the Gospel. Removing premillennialism brings us more in line with the global evangelical community. Already our EFCA mission works in close partnership in church planting with indigenous churches that are not premillennial.

    Some may conclude that in making this change we are simply following contemporary trends in evangelical theology. We believe, however, that removing premillennialism brings our Statement of Faith in line with historical confessions of Christian doctrine, for such a position has never been defined in any other major ecclesiastical creed or confessional statement.

    This revised statement emphasizes what the church through history has emphasized in its eschatology—that Christ’s coming will be personal, that is, that it is Christ himself and not some divine force who comes, and that it will be glorious, that is, that it will reveal Christ’s glory in contrast to the humility of His first coming. And this statement declares that when Christ comes, He will be revealed as King and Judge (clearly stated, e.g., in 2 Tim. 4:1,2). This formulation certainly allows for a millennial kingdom (and for a pretribulational rapture), but it does not require it. It puts the EFCA Statement more in line with the spirit of the Vincentian Canon, affirming as true what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.

    Again, it is not our intention to remove premillennialism or, more specifically, pre-tribulationalism from our fellowship. These positions will continue to thrive among us, as they have in the past, but they should do so, as with Calvinism or Arminianism, or paedobaptism or believer baptism, on the strength of their arguments and not on an authority that comes from being a part of the doctrinal statement. Our denomination should be broad enough to include those who differ in all of those areas.

    This proposed change is not intended to deny the role that premillennial (and particularly Dispensational) theology has had as a part of our heritage, but it does remove premillennialism as an essential and prescriptive part of our identity. Instead, by allowing non-premillennial evangelicals to enjoy full fellowship with us in our churches, this revision elevates the cherished principle of preserving our evangelical unity in the gospel, and on that basis we recommend this change.

    with His holy angels—
    This addition provides a reference in the Statement of Faith to the existence of angels (cf. Matt. 24:30,31, 25:31; Mk. 8:38; Lk. 9:26; 1 Thess. 4:16; 2 Thess. 1:7). It also reflects a biblical emphasis that Christ’s coming will be glorious, and the entourage of angels reinforces that glory. This statement in no way precludes a pre-tribulational rapture of the church when Christ comes “for his saints”, nor a further coming of Christ “with his saints.” It only affirms that the glory of his final coming will include an angelic host.

    when He will establish His kingdom fully—
    This statement is intended to be compatible with all millennial positions but should not require any one of them. It does not imply that the kingdom is already present; only that it will come in its fullness when Christ returns. Nor does it deny that the kingdom may already be present in part; only that it will come in its fullness when Christ returns. This future consummation of the kingdom is supported by Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 15:23-38. A thorough-going preterist view that denies a future return of Christ in glory is not compatible with historic biblical evangelical theology or with this Statement of Faith.

    This coming of Christ at a time known only to God—
    This is a clear biblical teaching: cf. Mark 13:32—“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” 13:33—”Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” 13:35—“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn.” All eschatological views must be compatible with this affirmation.

    requires constant expectancy and should motivate the believer to godly living, sacrificial service, and energetic mission—
    This phrase clearly expresses the biblical emphasis on the proper attitude toward the coming of Christ (cf. esp. Matt. 24:36-51; Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Thess. 5:1-11; 2 Pet. 3:10-14; Rev. 3:3). It expands the current statement’s reference to the “vital bearing” that the coming of Christ ought to have in the personal life and service of the believer.

    our blessed hope—
    The expression “blessed hope” is no longer capitalized and put in quotation marks, since it is not considered a technical term but simply a biblical phrase taken from Tit. 2:13. In that passage this hope specifically refers to the “glorious appearing” of Christ (cf. also 2 Thess. 1:6-8). This statement affirms simply that we long for the coming of Christ, whether that coming be in two stages or in one.

  3. February 27, 2007 11:50 am

    That was a very interesting read. I especially liked the part that goes “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, charity; in all things, Jesus Christ.” I have run into a few situations where people whom I respect as teachers have had somewhat different opinions on certain subjects, and it kind of threw me for a loop because I felt stuck in the middle, not knowledgeable enough yet to have a good solid opinion either way. This is a good phrase for me to remember.

  4. Egana permalink
    March 2, 2007 1:46 pm

    very few people are knowledgeable enough to have good solid opinions at all…

    most of my opinions are like magic shell… solid looking on the outside, but sweetyl squishy maleable underneath…

  5. March 3, 2007 6:00 pm

    Again, this is a case where I said nothing, because it was pretty well said already. I think it was a wise decision on their parts, and don’t have much more to say about it… I tend to think that pre-, post-, etc. millenialism is one of the non-essentials that we should be very charitable about. I’m not going to stick it to someone because they’re pre- and I’m post- (or whatever, since I haven’t examined this issue enough to really have a very developed theology on it). So, I applaud them for being charitable about it :)

  6. March 4, 2007 11:46 pm

    I was looking at their .pdf’s with all the changes shown within the text. The changes look really good. I could see why isaiah543 is so happy because there are a lot of subtle changes that solidify Calvinism but not really ruling out any sort of Arminianism.

    I never understood the desire to put “in the original documents” in statements of faith. I’ve always believed that the Bible we have to day is representative of the original documents, and the divine inspiration has been Providentially preserved.

    I like the corrections they made on page 4, part 3 about “fell into sin” and “distorted”. You could probably be a Christian Scientist with those wordings. Also, page 6 #8 the change from “calls” to “compells”. Very nice.

    The people working on this are doing well.

  7. March 7, 2007 8:07 pm

    you guys are trying to recruit me into the EFCA, aren’t you? It’s just a big conspiracy :-)

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