Highland Goodman is chaplain emeritus with Elim Care and former pastor of two EFCA congregations. He is currently a member of Snohomish EFC in Snohomish, Washington.
Are We Premillennial? Or Amillennial?
How one church navigated its pastors’ differing positions
In July 1975, after serving three years as a youth pastor in an Evangelical Free Church, I found myself preparing to candidate at another EFCA church as its senior pastor. That church had started in 1897 as part of the Danish-Norwegian Evangelical Free Church, until its 1950 merger with the Swedish Evangelical Free Church.
While reviewing the information I was sent about the church, I made an interesting discovery. Its doctrinal statement was the one adopted at the merger conference, with one major exception: It was missing the word premillennial.
The church’s statement read, “We believe in the personal and imminent coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” They had chosen not to take a stand on one of the three prevailing views regarding the millennium.
My wife and I stayed with the church chairman and his wife during the weekend we candidated. All day Saturday I was interviewed by various boards and committees, and that night I had some one-to-one time with the chairman. I knew it was the right time to ask about the missing word.
I told him that I would be approaching the Scriptures from a premillennial point of view and so needed to know if that would create a problem for the church and my ministry.
A look to the church’s past
Before addressing my concerns for the future, the church chairman provided me with an overview of the church’s history that would help explain why premillennial had been omitted from its doctrinal statement.
The church had really been blessed through the ministry of its third pastor from 1912 to 1949. Then, on one Sunday morning, he preached a sermon, returned home, sat in his easy chair after lunch and woke up in the Lord’s house. It took the church about a year to process his loss and to call a new pastor.
That new pastor began his ministry in June 1950 while the merger conference was taking place. When the 12-point doctrinal statement was adopted—with its premillennial view of the Lord’s return—church members suddenly found themselves facing a major problem: Their new pastor, who was still unpacking, held to an amillennial view, even though his predecessor had held to a premillennial view.
Specific millennial views had not been a concern prior to the conference. The church had simply held to the Danish-Norwegian doctrinal statement: “We believe that Jesus Christ, who ascended into heaven, shall come again in great power and glory.”
The church’s decision? To adopt the new EFCA doctrinal statement minus the word premillennial.
A commitment to the future
After providing me with the rationale for the missing word, the church chairman then spoke to me from his heart. “Highland, I don’t believe your premillennial approach to the Lord’s Second coming will ever be a problem.”
As we continued to discuss our possible partnership in ministry, he said in so many words, “We have decided to focus on the glorious truth that our Lord is coming back and that we need to live our lives in such a way that we will be unashamed when He returns.”
Based on his words of encouragement to me, I decided to accept the church’s subsequent call to serve as pastor. I enjoyed 12-½ years of ministry there and there was never a problem with my premillennial approach to the Lord’s second coming. The word was still missing from the doctrinal statement when God called me to another EFCA congregation in 1988.
As the EFCA prepares to consider removing the word premillennial from the current doctrinal statement in 2019,1 I must confess that I have mixed feelings because, on a personal level, I continue to hold to a premillennial approach.
I also remain in full agreement with what the premillennial return of Christ does and does not mean as presented in Evangelical Convictions: A theological exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America.
However, as my friend had said to me, maybe we need to simply “focus on the glorious truth that our Lord is coming back and that we need to live our lives in such a way that we will be unashamed when He returns.”
And when our Lord “comes again in great power and glory,” it will be far more important for us to be ready than to be right.
Stay tuned for more information about the EFCA One conference in Chicago, June 18-20, 2019—an opportunity to discuss this decision about the Statement of Faith as well as to receive powerful training and participate in valuable networking with other EFCA leaders.