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.
In 1997 the EFCA Board of Ministerial Standing (BOMS) began a five-year reaffirmation process for all those credentialed in the EFCA, requiring that they reaffirm belief in the Statement of Faith (SOF). The reason is that often doctrinal drift occurs after one has been credentialed. If those shifts are not tracked and there is little to no accountability, it has a huge effect on the local church, and if left unchecked it will eventually influence, infect and affect negatively the denomination.
Included in the reaffirmation was the expression pertaining to the complete SOF, “without mental reservation.” Where did this expression originate?
In the midst of the Fuller Seminary debate of the 1960s, some faculty were shifting their position from belief in the inerrancy of Scripture to a view of “limited inerrancy,” or more accurately errancy. (This is why the further definition of affirming inerrancy in matters of faith and practice is problematic. It potentially falls into the limited inerrancy view. No proponent of inerrancy ought to be content with that definition. Affirming inerrancy means it is also true in matters of history and science [although not a science textbook, when addressing matters pertaining to science, it is inerrant].) Thus, although their confessional statement clearly and explicitly stated belief in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, some of these faculty signed the confessional statement but they did so with “mental reservations.”
Ken Kantzer attended these meetings, along with other TEDS professors, Gleason Archer and John Warwick Montgomery. These three were the contingent representing TEDS which was rooted in a strong commitment to the inerrancy of the Word of God, a position originating in the EFCA’s SOF, since TEDS is a confessional school of the EFCA. (To read of some of this history, cf. George M. Marsden’s Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995], 47, 224-228.)
During this time in 1997 when BOMS carried on this discussion about the importance of reaffirming the SOF, Ken Kantzer was serving on BOMS as the TEDS tenured faculty representative. This, or he, is the genesis of the expression and expectation of what the EFCA now requires of all those initially credentialed and when they reaffirm their commitment to the SOF every five years: "Do you subscribe to and affirm without mental reservation each article of the EFCA Statement of Faith?"
This provides some history to yesterday’s post on what BOMS means by the expression. BOMS will get questions about Article 9 and “premillennialism,” and whether or not it is necessary to reaffirm that belief “without mental reservation.” This is included in our SOF which means it must be affirmed as one affirms and reaffirms the SOF. This is the SOF affirmed by the Conference and it must be upheld until or unless the Conference makes a decision to revise it.
This is one reason why that until or unless the Conference revises the SOF, and in this case removing premillennialism, we cannot credential those who have mental reservations on premillennialism. This decision is rooted in accountability and integrity. Most understand there are different issues between some statements in the SOF, and most would consider the SOF to consist of gospel essentials with the exception being premillennialism, which would be considered more of a distinctive. The majority of those in the EFCA concur: they would not want someone to have “mental reservations” on the Trinity, the Scriptures, the full deity and humanity of Christ, or any other article for that matter, though most, if not all, of those cannot say the same thing about premillennialism.
In a sense what we can say is that although premillennialism is not a soteriological essential, it is an EFCA distinctive and since it is in our SOF it does at least become an “essential” for the EFCA. This may be confusing, viz. how many essentials do we have?, but in the EFCA in discussing our SOF we need to discern what kind of essential we are discussing. (Our SOF has two major essentials, soteriological essentials (Articles 1, 3-10) and an epistemological essential (Article 2, the word of God), with two EFCA distinctives (congregational autonomy (preamble) and premillennialism (Article 9).)
Though this may well be an accurate description of those in the EFCA, and though there is a difference in doctrinal weight as noted above, it would be a dangerous and unwise step to allow people to affirm the EFCA SOF with “mental reservations.” If it is allowed on premillennialism, why not one or any of the others? I understand there may be and are reasons and rationales for making a distinction. But at the end of the day, one must not begin to make concessions to a SOF or it begins to be compromised. When affirming a SOF there ought to be no hedging, crossing of fingers or winking, affirming while denying. If any change is made, it must be discussed and decided by the Conference, and then once determined, that is what we affirm.