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.
A work of God, the Holy Spirit in renewal, reformation or revival brings change and often creates a movement. A movement cannot stay a movement in the same way it was at the beginning; it implodes or becomes meaningless and useless. Moreover, any movement will eventually need some structure in order to maximize what the Spirit of God is doing. In fact, a movement demands structure, especially a local church if it is going to be biblical. And the Bible is not silent on that structure.
An Acts experience (Pentecost, conversions, the establishment of churches) will inevitably result in the Pastoral Epistles structure of elders and deacons and life together under the Lordship of Christ, the Head of the Church (how we live life together in the context of a local church, consisting of structure, order, leadership, worship, the use of gifts, etc.). This is essential not only to reflect God’s divine design for order in the church, but it will also ensure an intentional path for spiritual growth and sustainability over time, for both individuals and the church.
Fredrik Franson (1852–1908), one of the early founders and leaders in the Free Church, was a gifted preacher, evangelist, and missionary. He was truly a pastor-evangelist-missionary, since all three offices/ministries blended together in his life, and the Lord, in His mercy, blessed Franson’s ministry in all three areas.
In 1876, Franson was a part of D. L. Moody’s city-wide revival campaign in Chicago, igniting a Swedish-American Moody fever. Franson became proficient in Moody’s evangelistic methods of leading people to faith in Christ, especially during the after-meetings, those gatherings that followed an evangelistic outreach for those interested in receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. He learned Moody’s approach so well he was referred to as “Moody’s Swedish disciple.”
In 1878, Franson was the first missionary sent from “Moody’s” Chicago Avenue Church. In 1879, he cast the vision for the mission to Utah to reach Swedish Mormons. In 1880, he established free churches in Denver and Nebraska. He did the same in Scandanavian countries. In 189,0 Franson founded the Scandinavian Alliance Mission, today known as TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission).
In this brief historical survey, we glean six important lessons from this God-prompted vision and calling in Franson’s life.
First, he recognized the foundation of the truth of God’s Word and the importance of faithfully preaching it, that the Scriptures were what God used to change lives.
Second, he was acutely aware of the lostness of humanity and the need for all to hear and respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Third, he rightly believed that when people are regenerated/converted in a certain geographical area, the church was birthed. Through God the Holy Spirit’s ministry of conversion of individuals, the church was created.
Fourth, when the church was created under Jesus Christ, Lord and Head, preachers of the gospel were needed for the spiritual and doctrinal health and well-being of the church, since this is the God-ordained structure, so he was committed to the preparation of ministers of the gospel through offering/providing Bible courses and institutes.
Fifth, he recognized that all those committed to the truth of God’s Word, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the necessity for one to be born again should partner together in propagating the gospel. This is reflected in his numerous partnerships and alliances, e.g., the Scandinavian Alliance Mission/TEAM (emphasis mine).
And sixth, he was committed to Jesus’ final command and commission to all of his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:18-20). This is the perpetual mission until Jesus returns.
Franson’s life and ministry reflect many of the key traits of believers in the early church. And thankfully, those are commitments that remain in the EFCA to this day. We are Bible-believing and gospel-grounded believers. This is who we are, and who we ought to be. In fact, if we lose any of those emphases, we cease being salt and light (Matt. 5:16) and risk having Ichabod written over us (1 Sam 4:21).
For us in the Evangelical Free Church of America, who have in our name the evangel, we must never lose sight of or commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who preached the gospel (Mark 1:14-15) and the one about whom the gospel speaks (Rom 1:1-4), and we must never equivocate in our belief that the gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe (Rom. 1:16). If we ever lose sight of these truths, if we ever assume these truths, if we ever equivocate on these truths, it would be better if we were to cease to exist.
To ensure we do not lose sight, it is critical to remember these truths, and as importantly, it is critical that we live these truths. As brothers and sisters in the EFCA, one of the important ways we remember is to be intentional about reminding one another of these vital truths of the Christian faith and of the Christian life.
This is one of the reasons we focus one Sunday during the year on Church Multiplication Sunday—"New Churches to Reach New People."
As people committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we must also be committed to its bearing fruit in the planting of churches. One rightly concludes, “The relationship between gospel proclamation and church planting is so intimate it cannot be divorced without doing violence to the mission of the church.
"The primary mission of the church is to proclaim the gospel and gather believers into local churches where they can be strengthened in their faith and made effective in service. God has placed within all churches the potential to grow and reproduce. In fact, church planting is the most effective means of evangelism and church growth.”
Craig Ott, in his recent book The Church on Mission, an exposition of our EFCA mission statement, reminds us of the biblical truth that “planting and reproducing churches is integral to God’s purposes in salvation history.” And providentially, in God’s kindness, “we have the privilege of participating in God’s mission and being his agents in extending his glory by multiplying transformational churches among all people.”
On Sunday, October 6, we in the EFCA focus on and pray for the Lord to do a work such that the Holy Spirit will birth “new churches to reach new people.” Our humble, dependent, corporate prayer to God for him to do this work in, among, and through us will bring honor and glory to him. As our good heavenly Father, he delights to hear the dependent prayer of his children for the accomplishment of his will for the church. We courageously confess and boldly believe in the growth and advancement of the church since the Lord Jesus Christ promised: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).
We humbly acknowledge that some plant, others water—and we pray to be faithful in those tasks and for God to raise up others for the various task—but it is God who gives the growth (1 Cor 3:6-7). We pray for, trust in and long for the day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Hab 2:14; cf., Isa 11:9).
On this day, we pray for the Lord to build his church and our faithful engagement as the Lord’s appointed means and agents for the Holy Spirit’s building of the church under the Lord Jesus Christ. With one eye to the return of Christ when he will receive his bride, the church of Jesus Christ, to himself holy and spotless and blameless (Eph 5:27), we keep the other eye on the plow giving ourselves faithfully and fully to “godly living, energetic mission and sacrificial service” as the gospel is preached, people are born again, and churches are multiplied. Amen. May it be so.