Welcome to Seasons of the EFCC Blog!
This will be a “somewhat weekly” set of posts on a variety of topics written by EFCC leaders. Since we just completed our “Theology Symposium” last month our theme for this first quarter will be “theology”. Speaking of theology, what better place to start than the EFCC Ten Article Statement of Faith (SOF). It has been almost 14 years since we adopted the new SOF. After working with the old Twelve Article SOF for 58 years, it was understandable that some felt a sense of loss when conference voted to adopt something new. However, after working with this new SOF for over a decade, I believe that we have a significantly strengthened document stating the doctrinal issues that are essential to the EFCC. Yet, some churches have hesitated to adopt the new SOF. Here is why I think it is a good idea to adopt the 2008 EFCC SOF.
Statement of Faiths are crafted in a historical and cultural context. If they were inspired by God and He dropped them out of heaven for all of us to adopt, then we wouldn’t need to reevaluate or change them every 58 years (or so!). Hence, it makes good sense for us to periodically refresh a SOF to address the following realities:
I. SOFs are designed by humans who choose what to include as essential doctrines and what to be silent on.
I highly recommend all Free Church folks to read Arnold T Olson’s Significance of Silence. In it he articulates how the founders of the EFCA chose what to include and what was intentionally left out of the original 1950 Twelve Article SOF. The same principles were followed for the writing of the Ten Article SOF in 2008. Check out Gospel Truths to see how the Free Church motto of “In essentials unity, in non-essentials charity, in all things Jesus Christ” is intentionally reflected in which doctrines are included and excluded from the new SOF.
II. Assumed truths change over time.
There are many issues that were assumed to be true in 1950, that are now being questioned. The 2008 SOF has clarified and strengthened statements on a number of issues that are now “up for grabs theologically”.
- Article One declares that our God has “limitless knowledge and sovereign power”. This is a strong affirmation that stands in contrast to weaker views stressing the “openness of God”.
- Article Two states that the Scriptures are “verbally inspired”, emphasizing that the very words that God uses in the Bible are important. While we do not hold to “dictation theory” and believe that God used the words of human authors, we do believe that He supernaturally ensured that those words authoritatively communicate His will for salvation and are “the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged.”
- Article Three affirms that Adam and Eve and Satan are all historical beings and not simply mythological stories communicating…well, whatever we would like those stories to communicate!
- Articles Four reminds us that Jesus was “Israel’s Promised Messiah” and that He was crucified under Pontius Pilate. This affirms that Jesus lived and died, a Jew, in first century AD Palestine.
- Article Five firmly embraces Jesus’ “atoning death” and victorious resurrection as the “only ground for salvation”, a strong challenge to those who wish to downplay or refute the doctrine of “substitutionary atonement”.
- Article Seven teaches that the ordinances are “not means of salvation” but that they are worthwhile celebrating in genuine faith for they confirm and strengthen us in our faith. Sometimes we are so “memorial only” when it comes to the ordinances, that we merely “tack them on” to the end of our worship services!
- Article Eight is a new article that reminds us that orthodoxy and orthopraxy work hand in hand – our faith must lead us to carry out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. Yes, “faith without works, is dead” and we are not our own, “we are bought with a price” and are slaves of the Master!
- Article Nine states that only God knows when Jesus will return (in light of some who insist on setting dates and embarrassing the rest of us when they are wrong, that is a good reminder!).
- Article Ten declares that “God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ.” This reinforces the crucial nature of repentance and of responding to the unique person of Jesus Christ.
III. We also choose categories to organize the theological essentials around – they are not inspired!
One of the real strengths of the 2008 SOF is the gospel headers. When one remembers how Paul placed the gospel of Jesus as his most important, central message (I Corinthians 15:1-8), it makes great sense to organize our essential theological beliefs around the gospel! After all, we are Evangelical Free!
IV. Language and words change over time.
Think of how even a term like “autonomy” has changed in the past 20 years! Thus, Statement of Faiths need to have the language updated every 58 years or so! The tone of the new SOF is also so much more doxological – so much more of a worship inspiring creed than the 1950 SOF!
V. The Free Church family voted to adopt the refreshed SOF.
Belonging to the association means we should honor that family decision and follow through by adopting and implementing that decision. “Opting out” of implementing “family decisions” ought to be rare indeed. Local churches are self-governing, but that “autonomy” needs to be exercised in ways that recognize a unity and accountability to the rest of the family.
For these reasons it makes sense to adopt the 2008 Ten Article SOF. It is an improvement over the old SOF. It strengthens core, essential doctrines. It maintains intentional silence on non-essentials. While our SOF is intentionally silent on many issues the EFCC has traditionally deemed to be non-essential (allowing Calvinists, Arminians, Charismatics, non Charismatics, immersed, sprinkled, complementarian, egalitarian etc.to serve and fellowship together) it is important for us to affirm in a fresh way what truths are essential to hold as members of the Free Church family. I believe that the new SOF speaks to the doctrinal debates of our day in a stronger manner, while still helping us to maintain that charitable spirit on minor issues that has allowed us to serve alongside other evangelicals in Canada and around the world!
EFCC Executive Director