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.
At our upcoming Theology Preconference, we will address the importance of the “significance of silence” as it pertains to the doctrine of soteriology (salvation). Because of a new day, the original meaning of that expression has been lost. Today it would be more accurately described as “unity in essentials, dialogue in differences” (without division). We will look closely at the various views of soteriology – Arminian/Wesleyanism, Calvinism/Reformed, Lutheranism – and learn about and discuss commonalities (essentials) and differences (non-essentials).
This is both part of our history and a mark of the EFCA. Regarding our history, there have been times when Arminianism was more prevalent than Calvinism; but then again, there have been times when Calvinism was more prominent than Arminianism. Both are our heritage. So is Lutheranism, although it is not explicitly acknowledged or discussed. But that does not mean the theological perspective has not influenced those in the EFCA.
If you read A. T. Olson’s The Significance of Silence (1981), you will find that then (1950) and before in our history both theological positions have been represented in the Free Church. Certainly there has been, and continues to be, a stronger emphasis one way than the other, but that has shifted through our history as well. In the Part Four, “Eternal Security,” Olson writes (p. 135):
The Evangelical Free Church went through three phases: (1) A period when Arminianism was the order of the day, (2) the decade when the proponents of Calvinism sought to make the Church Calvinist, (3) the time when cooler heads and warmer hearts prevailed and a moderation in this controversial doctrine joined the moderation on the time and mode of baptism to become some of the identifying policies of the Church.
The last stage, the time when cooler heads and warmer hearts prevailed, he considered to be the time prior to the merger conference. (Interestingly, Olson, like most who address these sorts of controversies, placed himself in the middle position, the time at which “cooler heads and warmer hearts prevailed.”) He concluded this section with these words (p. 162):
One is privileged to hold either view and still be a member in good standing of a local congregation. It is only in a strict adherence to this principle of freedom, respect for the views of others, and restraint in teaching one view as though it is the official view of the denomination when it is actually silent on the subject, that this unity can be maintained. We must recognize that while some may be Arminians, others Calvinists, others deploring the use of such names, none are heretics!
Our sense is that this was the ethos of the merger work and the merger SOF, the 1950 SOF. If that is true, which we believe it is, then the article on how this biblical and theological truth is stated could be stated better to focus on the key truths without making in an explicit statement in the Arminian or the Calvinist direction.
Statement of Faith
The Swedish EFC originally had one article in their SOF, which consisted of a statement on the Bible. The Norwegian/Danish Free Association had a 12 point SOF adopted in 1912. In light of the forthcoming merger in 1950, the Swedish EFC Ministerial Association expanded their SOF. This was done with a view to the forthcoming merger SOF which is made evident in that a number of their statements became the statements in the 1950 EFCA SOF. One change that is significant but not commented on addresses soteriology.
The (Swedish) Evangelical Free Church Ministerial Association (1947)
IV. We believe that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, and during this age to convict men of sin, regenerate the unbelieving sinner, indwell, guide, instruct and empower the believer for godly living and service.
Evangelical Free Church of America (1950)
4. We believe that the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, and during this age to convict men, regenerate the believing sinner, indwell, guide, instruct, and empower the believer for godly living and service.
The Swedish Ministerial’s SOF is more explicitly Calvinist, “regenerate the unbelieving sinner,” i.e. regeneration precedes faith; the EFCA’s SOF (1950) is more explicitly Arminian, “regenerate the believing sinner,” i.e. faith precedes regeneration. What was actually written in the 1950 SOF must be matched against the stated principle of those who worked on the 1950 SOF: to craft a statement that would affirm similar truths of both theological views without mandating or requiring either. Interestingly, I find nothing in what I have read of our history that explains or gives a rationale for this change from the view espoused in 1947 to that stated in 1950. That is astounding in light of the significance of the change!
When we worked through the revision of the EFCA SOF we (Spiritual Heritage Committee) asked the question if the goal of the original framers was accomplished. If it was not, then we asked whether or not it could be stated in a better way to match the goal. We concluded it could be and ought to be stated in a better way to make that intention clear. We desired to be sensitive and welcoming to Calvinists, Lutherans and Arminians, with their different soteriological understandings without mandating or excluding one theological view or the other.
EFCA Statement of Faith (2008): The Holy Spirit
6. We believe that the Holy Spirit, in all that He does, glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. He convicts the world of its guilt. He regenerates sinners, and in Him they are baptized into union with Christ and adopted as heirs in the family of God. He also indwells, illuminates, guides, equips and empowers believers for Christ-like living and service.
This means that being sensitive to our history and heritage, keeping in mind the principle behind the statement on soteriology, we believe that from the one side of “regenerate the unbelieving sinner” (article 4, Swedish, 1947), to the other side of “regenerate the believing sinner” (article 4, EFCA, 1950), we have captured it best by the statement “He regenerates sinners” (article 6, EFCA, 2008).
EFCA Theology Preconference
This will be the focus of our EFCA Theology Preconference. As stated in an earlier post, we will address the doctrine of salvation and how it is understood biblically, theologically and pastorally. This is particularly pertinent to those in the EFCA since we allow and welcome these various views on the doctrine of salvation and its application in the life of a believer. We will debate this doctrine but not divide over it. This position, we believe, allows us to thrive and flourish in a way greater than embracing one view denominationally. In this way we seek to reflect our unity in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that this truth is of “first importance” in doctrine, ministry and life.
Plan to join us!