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.
The EFCA strongly affirms that dictum that we “major on the majors, and minor on the minors.” As Rupertus Meldenius stated in the midst of the tragic Thirty Years War (1618-1648), “in essentials unity, in non-essentials charity, in all things Jesus Christ” (with some variation of the last statement).
In the EFCA we refer to this as “the significance of silence,” which means that on those non-essential matters we will debate issues but we will not divide over them.
It is one thing to state this as a policy. It is another thing to live this policy out in practice. It requires a great deal of grace and maturity, without compromising truth.
One of the doctrines that appears to lead perpetually to questions, concerns, and tensions is that of salvation: does faith precede regeneration (generally referred to as the Arminian/Wesleyan position), or does regeneration precede faith (generally referred to as the Reformed/Calvinist position)?
This doctrine has, once again, become a hot-topic issue in the Southern Baptist Convention. Last year at their annual Convention there were “heresy accusation” claims. (This discussion does not remain in the SBC alone. It affects all denominations that are a place for both of these understandings of salvation, including the EFCA. I will write about our EFCA commitment and practice at a future date.)
Because of this discussion in the SBC, a “Calvinism Advisory Committee” was formed by Frank Page, President, SBC Executive Committee, to respond to the questions being raised, the tension the SBC is presently experiencing. This Committee, made up of 19 members with David Dockery, retired president of Union University, serving as chair, released their statement as they approach their annual Convention meeting: “Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension: A Statement from the Calvinism Advisory Committee”:
Here is one of the key conclusions they made of their time together, which is stated as part of the introduction to this Statement, each of the four components – truth, tension, trust and testimony – being delineated thoroughly:
Four central issues have become clear to us as we have met together. We affirm together that Southern Baptists must stand without apology upon truth; that we do indeed have some challenging but not insurmountable points of tension; that we must work together with trust; and that we must encourage one another to testimony.
Dockery affirms this work with these words:
For several years, Southern Baptists have been asking important questions about our identity and our future. At times we have struggled with trying to grasp the breadth of our doctrinal and historical differences, particularly related to matters such as Calvinism. What has been needed is a new consensus that will help point us toward a new sense of cooperation and renewal for the sake of the Gospel. It is our hope that Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension, while not a perfect statement, will, nevertheless, provide a significant and positive step in that direction. The statement reflects the efforts of many diverse voices who have attempted to speak as one with a sense of convictional civility and Spirit-enabled charity toward and with one another. We pray that these efforts will enable us to serve collaboratively and work faithfully, while offering a joyful and Gospel-focused witness to a lost and needy world.
As would be expected, the document has been and will be variously considered. For some, it will be considered good and necessary. For others, it will be considered bad and unnecessary. And one knows there are all kinds of varied responses in between and outside those! Christianity Today has included a brief update.
Because we in the EFCA live with the same doctrinal parameters on the doctrine of salvation, I would encourage you to read the whole document. There is much for us to learn in the EFCA about living and ministering together from the common foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.