EFCA Theology Preconference: Soteriological Essentials and the "Significance of Silence" (5): Doctrinal Survey

The EFCA Conference adopted our present Statement of Faith in 2008. In conjunction with this discussion the EFCA Board of Directors affirmed a “process for safeguarding our spiritual heritage.” One aspect of this process was to conduct a theological survey every five years. It was a way the Board sought intentionally to value and safeguard the vital role of the Bible, theology and doctrine in the EFCA.

As we learned in the previous post, one of the doctrinal issues addressed in the 2008 SOF was soteriology. The 1950 SOF was more explicitly Arminian in its doctrinal perspective of soteriology – the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to “regenerate the believing sinner.” The intent in the 2008 SOF was to affirm the essential of soteriology that was consistent with Arminian, Calvinist and Lutheran soteriology, but which did not require or mandate any one position exclusively.

One of the questions/concerns raised during this aspect of the revision was that this was an intentional shift to become more Calvinist/Reformed in theology. My response, in brief, was that the reason one may sense this statement is more Calvinist/Reformed could be because it is less explicitly Arminian.  But one must be assured, that neither is it explicitly Calvinist. More specifically, the change from “regenerate the believing sinner” to “He [the Holy Spirit] regenerates sinners . . .”, is neither an attempt to accommodate Calvinism nor is it an attempt to move away from Arminianism.

The EFCA provides a home to both Arminians and Calvinists.  In fact, we believe this is one of our strengths, and serves as an identity marker of the EFCA.  This is one of the ways we manifest in practice that we do find our unity in the essentials of the gospel.  In all that we have done, our attempt is to craft a SOF that was compatible with both views, but which at no point required one or the other.  This is an appropriate correction that is consistent with the intent of our original framers of the 1950 SOF, which is more explicitly Arminian.

Last year we conducted our five-year EFCA Doctrinal Survey. All senior pastors of EFC churches (not all are credentialed in the EFCA), and everyone credentialed by the EFCA (not all are in EFCA ministries) were part of the survey. The Survey was sent to 1928 individuals, with 1074 responding, a 55.7% response. For any who conduct surveys, they grasp the significance of that high percentage of respondents. Not only is the response rate significant, but it was a response to a 46 question survey that took approximately 20-25 minutes to complete. What does this tell us? Doctrine matters to the EFCA! (Two other important assessments of our Survey that are relevant to our Preconference and Conference: (1) there is a strong agreement on essential doctrinal truths; (2) there is breadth represented in the areas of the “significance of silence.”)

In relation to the question/concern noted above, under Article 6 on The Holy Spirit, two questions were asked in the Survey about soteriology, the doctrine of salvation.

Q17. As you consider the logical order of a believer's exercise of saving faith and the Spirit's work of regeneration, which best describes your belief?

Assessment: Lean slightly in a Calvinist/Reformed direction on matters of salvation (38%; 35% Arminian/Wesleyan; 28% did not list any logical order)

Q18. Do you believe that those who have truly put their faith in Christ and have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit can lose their salvation?

Assessment: Strongly affirm (94%) that “those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit” cannot lose their salvation (3.4% believe you can; 2.6% don’t know)

In light of our forthcoming Theology Preconference, I include four observations.

First, we are truly committed to the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ and living with charity on the non-essentials. This is not a lowest-common-denominator theology but is grounded in and driven by our commitment to the gospel.

Second, the responses to the first question reflect that the soteriological views are quite evenly represented in the EFCA. This, at least for this group, validates my first point.

Third, the responses to the second question are more reflective of the Calvinist/Reformed view, not the Arminian/Wesleyan view. What this means is that Arminianism in the EFCA is nuanced, at least based on this Survey. Traditionally Arminians have affirmed one can lose their salvation.

Fourth, in our EFCA history, the doctrinal issue was about assurance and whether one can apostasize and lose one’s salvation. In our more recent history, until the present day, the major issue has been around the notion of the ordo salutis and the connection between faith/belief and regeneration. In the latter, the focus is on the beginning point of salvation (faith and regeneration), while with the former, the focus is on the end of salvation (final preservation/perseverance to glorification).

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