Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
On June 19, 2019, the EFCA Conference adopted a revised Statement of Faith. This was the second step to a single process of revising our Statement of Faith. The initial step in this revision was adopted by the Conference in 2008. This revision strengthened every Article in our Statement of Faith. With this second step in this single process, the Conference adopted a change of one word in Article 9. Rather than giving temporal specificity to the return of Christ as being “premillennial,” that word was removed and the term “glorious” was inserted. So now we confess, “We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Since a number of churches will be discussing and adopting our EFCA 2019 Statement of Faith, we provide this post as an additional resource for this important discussion and decision. Below you will read the rationale presented by Bill Kynes to the Conference prior to the discussion and decision to adopt the revised Statement of Faith. Bill presented this rationale as a member of the Spiritual Heritage Committee and on behalf of the Board of Directors.
This rationale has been slightly edited, since this is now being presented by Bill to the members at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church (Annandale, Virginia), where Bill serves as the senior pastor, for their discussion and decision to adopt the 2019 EFCA Statement of Faith. We believed this statement could also be helpful to other churches who are engaged in the same discussion. There will be a few other resources forthcoming. If there are other resources that would be of help to you as you discuss adopting the 2019 Statement of Faith, please let us know.
by Bill Kynes
In proposing this amendment, we are in agreement with the rationale that emerged in the discussion in the EFCA regarding the change to the EFCA SOF in 2019. Central to that rationale was a tension with who we say we are in the EFCA and what was in our SOF. The insistence that you must be premillennial was in conflict with our strong value of unity in the gospel in which we major on the majors. In addition, it was argued that what is central to the gospel—and ought to be central in our SOF—is that the coming of Christ will be glorious. In the discussion at the Conference in 2019, this central rationale was unpacked.
One of the great strengths of the EFCA is that we major on the majors—we come together around the central doctrines of the faith. And we agree that issues of secondary importance will not divide us.1 In our Statement of Faith, we are silent on those doctrines which through the centuries have divided Christians of equal dedication, biblical knowledge, spiritual maturity and love for Christ. We were silent except in this one place—where we came down on one particular view—and we required that only those who are premillennialists could be full members of our association. You could be Covenantal or Dispensational; you could be Calvinist or Arminian; you could be baptistic or paedo-baptistic; but you had to be premillennial. Many saw a significant conflict here.
It is very clear that the nature of the millennium is one of those doctrines over which theologians, equally knowledgeable, equally committed to the Bible and equally Evangelical, have disagreed through the history of the church. For many, this was a tension that needed to be addressed. We had to either quit saying that we major on the majors or we had to quit requiring premillennialism as the one position that is allowed among us. This amendment was designed to resolve this conflict.
On the other side of this amendment, it was argued that the central and fundamental way that the coming of Christ is described in the New Testament is not as “premillennial” but as “glorious.” In the Gospels, Jesus speaks repeatedly of the Son of Man coming in his glory—to sit on his glorious throne.2 Three times Peter refers to the glory of Christ that is to be revealed.3 And in Titus 2:13, Paul writes, ”we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,”4
This is the often-repeated and clear teaching of the Scripture; it is fundamental to the gospel; it is what has been central in the teaching of the church, and in the church’s confessions of faith; and it is central to what we preach in our churches, for this is where our hope lies5—in the glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There were some who had theological objections to broadening our eschatology. Some were concerned that abandoning premillennialism as a required position would mean abandoning the inerrancy of the Bible. But some of the strongest proponents of inerrancy in Christian history and today have not been premillennialists—Augustine, Calvin, Wesley, Warfield, Packer and Sproul, to mention a few.
Others were concerned that this change would radically alter the interpretive framework, the hermeneutics, through which we understand the Bible. That might be have been true if we were all traditional Dispensationalists in our theology, but that is no longer the case. Within the various forms of premillennialism already accepted within our movement, there is great variety, for example, in the way the Old Testament promises to Israel are understood to be fulfilled. Broadening our views on the millennium would not change the hermeneutical frameworks that are already widely accepted in the EFCA.
If we really do major on the majors, as we say we do, then our statement of the central matters of the gospel should not be limited to one position on the millennial issue, but instead should focus on what the Scripture focuses on—the coming of Christ in glory.6 This change allows us to be consistent with who we say we are, and it allows us to speak with greater integrity when we affirm that our essential theological convictions are all vitally connected to the gospel.
1 Cf. Arnold T. Olson’s book, The Significance of Silence. In that book, Dr. Olson notes that what is unique about the Free Church statement of faith are the omissions when compared with other creeds. He wrote, “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." He recognized that some will not be comfortable with the silence of the EFCA statement on some matters. But he asks, "Why should believers separate themselves from each other over differences which had existed unresolved for centuries?" (p. 27).
2 Mt. 16:27; 19:28; 24:30; 25:31; Mk. 8:38 and parallels.
3 1 Pet. 1:7; 4:13; 5:1
4 Cf. also Col. 3:4; 2 Thess. 1:10.
5 This statement reflects our criteria for determining theological rank: exegetical clarity, biblical prominence, theological significance, historical consensus and practical application to the believer.
6 “Since the first days of the Christian church, evangelicals have been looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ. They may have disagreed as to the timing and just what events are on the eschatological calendar. They may have differed as to a pre-tribulation or post-tribulation rapture; the pre-, post- or non-millennial coming. They may have divided as to a literal rebirth of Israel, but all are agreed that the final solution to the problems of this world are in the hands of the King of Kings, who will some day make the kingdoms of this world His very own. At times in history the flame of hope has been burning brightly in the darkness of persecution. At other times the entire church has been asleep, but asleep while waiting. As Bible believers we are united in looking for a personal return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." - Dr. Arnold T. Olson's address at the International Prophetic Conference in Jerusalem in 1971.