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.
Our 2017 Theology Conference will be held February 1-3 on the campus of Trinity International University. In the introduction to the conference, we will focus on the EFCA’s roots in the Reformation and the Reformation’s legacy in the EFCA.
We are excited for this Theology Conference. Not only are we addressing the Reformation, a timely and important theme in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of Luther posting the 95 Theses, but we have some of the foremost scholars addressing the various themes/topics of the Conference.
In our first two lectures we focus on common Reformation themes, that of sola Scriptura and justification. Most are familiar with these truths, along with the other solas of the Reformation. However, the Reformation addressed more than these issues. In our following lectures we address a few important and related topics of the Reformation, which are not often known or addressed. Our goal is that we will all learn more about the Reformation and its theology, and also its legacy, up to and affecting those of us serving in the EFCA in the present.
Kenneth N. Young, Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ministries, University of Northwestern, will address the important topic of creeds, confessions and catechisms. In our Free Church history, creeds have been formative, but also considered a concern. This relationship is summarized by one as follows: “Creeds can become formal, complex, and abstract. They can be almost illimitably expanded. They can be superimposed on Scripture. Properly handled, however, they facilitate public confession, form a succinct basis of teaching, safeguard pure doctrine, and constitute an appropriate focus for the church’s fellowship in faith.” The same could be said for the relationship with the Free Church and confessions. Although they are foundational, the concerns of their abuses have often resulted in their lack of use.
The concern is that either the creed or the confession supplant or replace the Scriptures. That is a legitimate concern, but not a result that is inevitable. One must recognize the difference between and the different roles played between the Scriptures, which is the norma normans, which is consistent with sola Scriptura or absoluta Scriptura, and the norma normata, that which is normed by the norm, the Bible. One explains it in this way: “All creeds are more or less imperfect and fallible. The Bible alone is the rule of faith (regula credendi), the norma normans, and claims divine and therefore absolute authority; the creed is a rule of public teaching (regula docendi), the norma normata, and has only ecclesiastical and therefore relative authority, which depends on the measure of its agreement with the Bible. Confessions may be improved (as the Apostles' Creed is a gradual growth from the baptismal formula), or may be superseded by better ones with the increasing knowledge of the truth.”
Finally, a catechism is the manner in which the Creeds and Confessions, the truth once for all entrusted to the saints, are passed on to others. Once again there are fears that are real, such that knowing certain doctrinal truths does not necessarily equate with spiritual birth or maturity. Neither of the latter issues will be realized apart from doctrinal truths. But the former does not equate with spiritual birth. Even the demons believe (Jms. 2:19), which means, they are, in a sense, orthodox. But they shudder before God, in that they do not believe such that they are born again, and they are condemned to eternal damnation (Jude 6). Luther and the other Reformers and post-Reformers, believed it important to equip God’s people with doctrinal truth. This was the means they used to propagate the faith. Luther summarized the effects of introducing his catechism in this way: “I have brought about such a change that nowadays a girl or boy of fifteen knows more about Christian doctrine than all the theologians of the great universities used to know.” Evangelicals in the Free Church today need to ask what role Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms play in our own lives and in the ministries to God’s people in local EFC churches. They are being spiritually formed by something. We need to ensure they are being formed to the truth once for all entrusted to the saints, in both head and heart (Matt. 22:37-39).
The Reformation, Creeds, Confessions and Catechisms
A supernatural work of God in renewal and revival is often accompanied and sustained by structures in order to sustain the fruit from the good work God is doing. If no structures are put in place, God’s work among humans often dissipates or implodes. The long-lasting fruit that can and should be born is lost. One of the important ways the truths of the Reformation, those major truths of sola Scriptura and justification by faith that were rediscovered, were taught and passed on was through creeds, confessions and catechisms. These were written to be used in the church and in families at home. Consider the Augsburg Confession (1530), the Belgic Confession (1561), The Thirty-Nine Articles (1571), The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), and others. Consider Luther’s Small Catechism (1529), The Catechism of the Church of Geneva (1545), The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), and others. These tools, rooted in the Scriptures, profoundly grounded, formed and shaped the children of the Reformation. And yet, as good and right as this was, something was missing if one attempted to look to the structure of creeds, confessions and catechisms to produce spiritual fruit apart from spiritual life. The Pietists responded to this. And yet, Pietism gone too far emphasized the internal and subjective at the expense the creed, confession and catechism. Both of these movements make up the historical and theological stream of the EFCA. In this lecture we will focus on the proliferation of confessions and catechisms, how they were used, their strengths and weaknesses, and what sort of tool/structure the church needs to foster and sustain the good work God is doing today.
Kenneth received his D.Min. in Biblical Counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary, and he also received his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Luther Seminary. He presently teaches at the University of Northwestern, a role he has had for the past many years. Although Kenneth’s primary ministry at the moment is in the academy, he is a pastor theologian who is a committed churchman. This is validated in that in addition to his theological ministry in the academy, he has served for many years as a local church pastor. Many of those years in pastoral ministry have been with the EFCA, both as a church planter and a sr. pastor, where is also is ordained. He has also served in other leadership roles within the EFCA. Much of his ministry has focused on the intersection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, particularly in the realm of racial reconciliation. I am grateful Kenneth will join us to address this important topic.
You can read more about the Conference, the speakers and the schedule here. Please register here. Plan to attend, and plan to bring other staff members, elders and/or leaders from the church.
John Wiers: Greg, will these lectures be available later online?
Greg Strand: Yes, just as we have done in past years. If possible, it would be great to have you present, as there is something gained when being a part of the live learning/experience.
John Wiers: Greg, any word yet on when this lecture from the theology conference a month ago will be available online? I look forward to being able to listen to it, since i was unable to attend the conference. Thanks!
Greg Strand: Hello John. The resources are posted. You will find the messages to be excellent! Once you have heard them, let me know your thoughts, what you learned and that with which the Lord challenged you.
John Wiers: Greg, do you have a link? Thanks.
Greg Strand: The link is in today’s post: EFCA Theology Conference 2017 Resources: Reformation 500: Theology and Legacy – God’s Gospel and the EFCA