, , , , , , ,

For those of you who did not know, I spent some time in an Evangelical Free church and actually married a lady who grew up in that same church. I have a lot of respect for the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), though I had always had concerns about their doctrinal statement. It was purposely broad to promote the sense of unity in the essentials. But doctrinal statements are revised because times and contexts change, and new heresies arise that need to be addressed, and what were clear statements in one day must be clarified for a new day. So the EFCA decided to revise their doctrinal statement. I think that many who love the Truth will be pleased.

Here is the previous statement of faith, which was accepted in 1950.

Here is the revised statement of faith.

Here is Colin Hansen’s commentary on the revision.

I’m particularly interested in five things concerning the revision. First, it is interesting how the revision has included much more Reformed statements like these:

  • “Having limitless knowledge and sovereign power, God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.”
  • “In union with Adam, human beings are sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from God, and under His wrath.”
  • “[The Holy Spirit] regenerates sinners” (omitting the word “believing”, which was in the previous statement, and implies that faith precedes regeneration).
  • “We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone.”

Second, it is interesting how the revised statement shifts the focus from regeneration to justification by faith and union with Christ. Consider these statements from the 1950 statement:

  • “the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ and, during this age, to convict men, regenerate the believing sinner”
  • “man was created in the image of God but fell into sin and is, therefore, lost, and only through regeneration by the Holy Spirit can salvation and spiritual life be obtained.”
  • “That the true Church is composed of all such persons who through saving faith in Jesus Christ have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and are united together in the Body of Christ of which He is the Head.”

Now notice the shift in the 2008 statement:

  • “We believe that the Holy Spirit… regenerates sinners, and in Him they are baptized into union with Christ and adopted as heirs in the family of God.”
  • “We believe that God created Adam and Eve in His image, but they sinned when tempted by Satan. In union with Adam, human beings are sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from God, and under His wrath. Only through God’s saving work in Jesus Christ can we be rescued, reconciled and renewed.”
  • “We believe that the true church comprises all who have been justified by God’s grace through faith alone in Christ alone.”

Third, I’m glad to see that both statements contain a note about regenerate membership. 1950: “That only those who are, thus, members of the true Church shall be eligible for membership in the local church.” 2008: “The true church is manifest in local churches, whose membership should be composed only of believers.” Looks like they’ve got 58 years over 16 7 million member SBC.

Fourth, I’m thrilled to see the inclusion of a statement on Christian living, not found in the original statement:

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.

Such a statement seems to have been influenced by the Gospel Coalition, which is led in part by D.A. Carson, who teaches at the EFCA seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. The Coalition has more members who are in some way connected with TEDS and/or the EFCA.

Fifth, I’m also interested in why they removed the autonomy of the local church from being an actual article in the statement to the introduction: “The Evangelical Free Church of America is an association of autonomous churches united around these theological convictions”. Contrast that with the previous statement: “That Jesus Christ is the Lord and Head of the Church and that every local church has the right, under Christ, to decide and govern its own affairs.” I don’t want to read too much into it, but it seems like the 1950 statement gave more of an explanation as to why they believed in autonomous local churches. Is it becoming more peripheral?

Overall I think that the statement is good. It is more defined in its approach, which should tighten up the reigns when it comes to what the EFCA believes. It is also broad in that it still opens up for differences in opinion, as evidenced in the omission of “believing” in the line on Holy Spirit regeneration. Some may be concerned about the lack of statements on requirements for baptism, gender roles and spiritual gifts, and some may be alarmed that the phrase “the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ” is still there, though it does preserve the historical identity of the EFCA. Those things notwithstanding, it is a good statement, and I’m looking forward to seeing the fruit in their churches’ work for the Gospel.