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Third Draft Revision of the EFCA SOF, Pt. 7

March 11, 2007


The Third Draft is now online, so we’ll be working off of it.   You can read the whole third draft here.  

God’s gospel is now embodied in the new community called the church.

7. We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone.49 They are united by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, of which He is the Head. The true church is manifest in local churches, whose membership should be composed only of believers. The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which visibly and tangibly express the gospel. When celebrated by the church in genuine faith, these ordinances strengthen the believer, but they are not a means of justification.

49We have moved this central biblical truth of “justification by grace through faith alone in Christ alone” from the statement on the work of Christ, # 5, to this statement, which is more concerned with our appropriation of that work. We have also added a second “alone” after “Christ” for clarity and emphasis: “. . . justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2007 1:41 pm

    This statement combines what is affirmed in statements seven through ten in the current SOF, all of which concern the church. The order is changed, as the church is first defined, and only then are the ordinances introduced.

    new community—
    This description is not intended to make any judgment about the relationship between the Church and Israel. The word “new” simply points to the new work of God in the “new covenant” marked by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

    We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone.—
    This statement of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone in Christ alone is lacking in our current statement. This teaching is prominent in the New Testament, and it was rediscovered during the Reformation to become a central teaching of the Reformers. For these reasons it should be included in our statement. It is placed at this point for it defines those who belong in the true church—those who are “justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone.”

    They are united by the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ, of which He is the Head.—
    This language comes from the current statement #8. We have not spoken of regeneration at this point because it was mentioned in the previous article of this proposed revision.

    The true church is manifest in local churches—
    This connection is lacking in the current statement.
    whose membership should be composed only of believers—
    This restates the current #9, but seeks to do so humbly, recognizing that we do not have infallible knowledge of who is actually a member of the true church. We can only make a judgment on the basis of a credible profession of faith, hence the term “believers.” The word “should” in the revised statement also reflects this. We cannot demand what is impossible to accomplish in this regard. However, that the local church is to be a fellowship of believers is strongly affirmed here.

    The Lord Jesus mandated two ordinances—
    This phrase grounds these ordinances in the authority of our Lord Jesus, which link this statement of the ordinances directly to Paul’s reference to the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor. 11:23ff. (cf. Matt. 26:26-29; Mk. 14:22-25; Lk. 22:14-20). Because Jesus is Lord of the church, what he ordained for us, we must practice. The number “two” emphasizes that we believe that He mandated just these two ordinances and no more.

    visibly and tangibly express the gospel—
    This ties the ordinances to our central theme: God’s gospel. Their relationship with the gospel is part of what defines them as ordinances. They are “visible words” of God. Yet the ordinances are not only seen, they are also experienced physically—we “eat and drink” and we are “washed,” hence, the inclusion of the term “tangibly”. When the Word is preached, the gospel is heard through the ear; when the ordinances are celebrated in faith, the gospel is “proclaimed and seen” through the eye.

    When celebrated by the church—
    This change reflects a more positive assessment of the value of the ordinances.

    in genuine faith—
    To ensure that the ordinances are not perceived to be efficacious in and of themselves, we have included the necessity of genuine faith if they are to have spiritual value. In this way we believe that we have safeguarded the biblical teaching of justification by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone, and the concerns of those who framed our current statement.

    these ordinances strengthen the believer —
    Rather than merely speaking negatively (“are not a means of salvation”), we have chosen also to speak positively. We affirm that the ordinances are not a means of justification, but we wanted to affirm also their important place in the life of the church and of the Christian. Christ commanded them, so they must be taken seriously, and they have been throughout Christian history. Being commands, they are also beneficial. As we come in faith, God works through baptism and the Lord’s Supper to confirm the gospel of which they speak in our hearts – edifying the believer and the church. They are, in that sense, a means of grace. Specifically, we affirm that they strengthen believers who celebrate them in genuine faith. This phrase is fully compatible with a “memorial” view of the Lord’s Supper, and it also allows for a “spiritual presence” view.

    but they are not a means of justification.—
    We have changed “salvation” to “justification” because that seems to be the central issue at stake here. Participation in the ordinances gives a person no merit before God. As we have affirmed earlier in this statement, we are justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone.

    We have deleted the words “during the present age,” considering them unnecessary. They were included in 1950 to counter the view popularly known as “ultra-dispensationalism,” (“sometimes known as Bullingerism, O’Hair-ism, or the Grace Movement”) which denied that baptism was an ordinance for the church today. This view is rarely held today and the context makes it clear that this is what we mean. This reasoning applies also to the deletion of the word “water” before “baptism.”

    Significantly, the revised statement has omitted the distinctive element of our current statement #10: “every local church has the right under Christ to decide and govern its own affairs.” This is the only reference to the autonomy of the local church and our congregational form of church government in the current Statement of Faith. We suggest that this affirmation does not belong in our doctrinal statement as an article of faith, which is centered on the essentials of the gospel and which expresses the truth of the “Evangelical” part of our name. Matters of church polity are secondary to the gospel itself. We believe that there are other Evangelicals who are not congregational but whom we would not want to exclude from fellowship simply because they could not in good conscience sign our doctrinal statement affirming that congregationalism is the (one and only) biblical form of church government. This affirmation of church polity belongs, rather, in an explanation of the “Free” part of our name, which speaks of our structure and defines us as congregational. We have included a reference to our polity in the preface to this statement as a simple declaration that the EFCA is “an association of autonomous churches.”
    Not having this affirmation of the autonomy of the local church as an article of faith in our doctrinal statement will not affect our church polity, since our Articles of Incorporation declare that “The Evangelical Free Church of America shall be an association and fellowship of autonomous but interdependent congregations of like faith and congregational government” (II.A). Notice here the distinction between our “like faith” and our polity. These are treated as separate issues.

    Certainly there have been debates among us about exactly what form congregational government should take, but those debates have never been settled by what is stated in our Statement of Faith. Those debates will have to be settled in our broader discussions about how we want to order ourselves, not in the central statement of our “like faith.”

  2. March 13, 2007 8:55 pm

    this looks like a good revision of the SOF. Thanks for the explanation. :)

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