What does the “free” mean in Evangelical Free Church?
The term “Free” has two meanings. First, in reference to history, it refers to the fact that in Europe, the Free Church was free from the state church control. Second, in reference to theology, it refers to our local church polity in that each local church is autonomous, i.e. free from ecclesiastical and hierarchical control.
Here is how this is explained in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America (261):
Though not included among our central doctrinal convictions, the Evangelical Free Church of America is congregational. That is, Evangelical Free Churches are autonomous and self-governing. [The Articles of Incorporation of the Evangelical Free Church mandate that the EFCA “shall be an association and fellowship of autonomous but interdependent congregations of like faith and congregational government” (II.A.)] We hold this as an integral part of our history and tradition, and on the basis of our understanding of biblical teaching.
Does the EFCA have a position on the age of the universe, either young-earth or old-earth?
In Article 1 of our Statement of Faith, we affirm the following: We believe in one God, Creator of all things [who has] limitless knowledge and sovereign power [and who] has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.
These are the explicit essentials of creation we affirm. When addressing the age of the universe, i.e. the timing question, we have intentionally placed that in the category of silence. What this means is clarified in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, (34).
Genesis 1 expresses truth about God as Creator and His creation, but because of the uncertainty regarding the meaning and literary form of this text and the lack of Evangelical consensus on this issue, our Statement does not require a particular position on the mechanics of creation. However, to be within the doctrinal parameters of the EFCA, any understanding of the process of creation must affirm:
- God is the Creator of all things out of nothing (ex nihilo)
- He pronounced His creation “very good”
- God created with order and purpose
- God is the sovereign ruler over all creation which, by His personal and particular providence, He sustains9
- God created the first human beings—the historical Adam and Eve—uniquely in His image
- That through their sin all humanity, along with this created order, is now fallen (as articled in Article 3)10
9 We deny the notion that God is simply the Creator of the universe but is no longer active in it, as is espoused by deism.
10 This Statement does not speak to the precise process of creation or to the age of the universe. To be acceptable within the EFCA any views on these specifics must completely affirm this Statement of Faith and align within these essential parameters.
Is the EFCA Arminian/Wesleyan (Lutheran) or Calvinist/Reformed regarding the doctrine of salvation?
Historically, Evangelicals affirm that because of sin God initiates salvation. For one theological stream (Arminian/Wesleyan), they affirm that God initiates through prevenient grace. For another theological stream (Calvinist/Reformed), they affirm that God initiates through effective grace. Though there are differences, in both streams God initiates and affirms that He must do so because of the state of all of humankind after the fall of being spiritually dead. Evangelicals deny Pelagianism (condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431) and semi-Pelagianism (condemned at the Council of Orange in 529).
The framers of our 1950 EFCA Statement of Faith wanted to create a statement that was consistent with both Arminian/Wesleyan and Calvinist/Reformed views of salvation, but which required or endorsed neither. The same is true in our 2008 Statement of Faith in which we state “He [the Holy Spirit] regenerates sinners” (Article 6).
What this means regarding the doctrine of salvation is the EFCA allows Arminian/Wesleyan, Calvinist/Reformed and Lutheran views of soteriology. The fact of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is essential. Both regeneration (the Spirit’s work) and faith (our response) are essential for salvation, and our Statement of Faith affirms both without giving logical priority to either. Whether regeneration precedes faith (Calvinism) or faith precedes regeneration (Arminianism), we have placed in a secondary category. On a doctrine related to this question, we also allow both perspectives of the possibility of apostasy (one can fall away and lose one’s salvation) and the perseverance of the saints (eternal security).
This does not mean that each local church has an equal number of those positions represented. Each local EFC church leans in one theological direction more so than another. But whichever way the church leans, the church ought to be welcoming to the person who leans in the other theological direction.
In the EFCA this theological doctrine falls into the category of the “significance of silence,” or that area in which we affirm “unity in the essentials, dialogue in the differences,” without division.
What does the expression the “significance of silence” mean?
In the EFCA we allow beliefs within certain acceptable theological parameters on a number of doctrinal issues. We focus on the essential truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ as articulated in doctrine while allowing differing views/understandings of the position to be acceptable. For example, this is true regarding the issue of the age of the universe, time and mode of baptism, whether faith precedes regeneration or regeneration precedes faith (the Arminian and Calvinist discussion).
We refer to these theological differences as the “significance of silence” and believe “this expression does not mean that we will not discuss and debate these issues but simply that we will not divide over them (Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, 24, n. 18).
Here is the definition/explanation in Evangelical Convictions, (24-25):
Once [the early Free Church leaders] began to put in writing what was commonly believed among them, they were silent on those doctrines which through the centuries had divided Christians of equal dedication, Biblical knowledge, spiritual maturity and love for Christ.’ This ‘significance of silence’ reflected our strong concern for Evangelical unity in the gospel.
Because many misunderstand this expression today, another way to refer to this commitment is “unity in essentials, dialogue in differences.” It is helpful to spell out what this means and what it does not mean.
What it does mean – we affirm the following truths and commitments:
- the gospel is central and essential to who we are as the people of God and what we believe
- we are committed to the essentials of the gospel in principle and practice, in belief and behavior, in orthodoxy and orthopraxy
- we acknowledge there are differences in theological views, what we would consider non-essentials, but they are secondary and ought not to distract from or prevent our shared commitment to the gospel and ministry of the gospel
- we are committed to the essentials of the gospel of Jesus Christ and we acknowledge differences, although we do not believe these differences are absolute, either as it relates to unity or purity (doctrine)
- from the foundation of the essentials we will engage in robust dialogue regarding the differences, without dividing
What it does not mean – we clarify the misunderstandings:
- the notion that this commitment means we cannot embrace and teach our view strongly and with conviction
- we must remain quiet and passive so that we are not allowed to talk about theological views or the differences that exist between views
- this is a lowest-common-denominator theology that values unity at the expense of doctrine
- one cannot affirm a position but must meld them all together (in which everyone feels theologically compromised)
- we expect that the local church will reflect in practice what we state in principle, viz. the church will be equally represented by each view, overlooking the reality that the “big tent” is reflective of our denomination, not each local church, or because of this liberty we do not have to allow a voice from the other perspective to be heard
How is it that the EFCA allows both infant (paedo) and believer baptism (credo)?
We affirm the ordinance of baptism as a biblical/theological essential. The Lord Jesus mandated that the church celebrate the ordinances. It is not a matter of indifference (adiaphora), since it is a clear command given by the Lord Jesus for the church to celebrate (Matt. 28:19-20). But the timing (paedo and credo) and the mode (sprinkling and immersion) we have placed in a category of silence, i.e. we will not divide over this issue.
The EFCA is primarily believer baptism by immersion in both belief and practice. Some churches do practice infant baptism, though not considered for salvation. We are baptist with a small “b” in that what is critical for membership in a local church is true salvation. The fact that both credo and paedo baptism are allowed is a “significance of silence” issue, i.e. we will debate it but not divide over it.
With this position, we do not want to portray that the Scriptures are unclear or baptism does not matter. Instead, we state that there are some significant differences, which we neither deny nor conceal, but as godly evangelicals with a strong commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture can affirm these positions, and we “allow” either/both. (This is a similar rationale for the discussion/debate between Arminians and Calvinists).
The key is not the command to be baptized but the time and mode of baptism. It is on this matter that we grant a charitable parameter The EFCA (Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America, (170, n. 40) explains how it is we can “allow” both infant (paedo) and believer (credo) baptism:
We recognize that the interpretations of Scripture on the relevant points regarding the two positions on baptism differ with one another and are in some ways incompatible. We allow different interpretations, not because we think Scripture is intrinsically ambiguous on the matter, nor because we think Scripture provides so little information that it is unwise to hold any opinion, but because some of us think the credobaptist position is in line with Scripture and that the paedobaptist position is mistaken, and some think the paedobaptist position is in line with Scripture and that the exclusively credobaptist position is mistaken. In other words, both sides hold that Scripture speaks to the matter, but each side holds a view that excludes the other. However, we do not believe that our differing views on this matter (among others) should prevent our unity in the gospel in full local church fellowship. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that the Statement of Faith “allows” both views.
How should local churches respond to the Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage?
Writing on behalf of the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy sought to respond to some of the concerns raised by religions and those with religious convictions. Those who do not agree with the new law that legalized same-sex marriage will be protected under the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”).
Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered.
Knowing religious liberty has been narrowed over the years, and with concern regarding possible implications of this new law on religious liberty, and to ensure Kennedy’s words are not just rhetoric, The First Amendment Defense Act was introduced to clarify, strengthen and defend religious liberty. As part of this defense this bill prevents federal intrusion and government retaliation, specifically against those individuals and institutions who support traditional marriage.
The First Amendment Defense Act (S. 1598, H.R. 2802) would prevent any federal agency from denying a tax exemption, grant, contract, license, or certification to an individual, association, or business based on their belief that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. For example, the bill would prohibit the IRS from stripping a church of its tax exemption for refusing to officiate same-sex weddings.
It is interesting to note, that two legal issues that strike at the heart of key biblical truths and central issues of living out our Christian faith – abortion and same-sex marriage – are both rooted in the 14th Amendment: In 1973, Roe v. Wade, it was made law that the “right” to privacy extended to a woman's decision to have an abortion; in 2015, Obergefell v. Hodges, it was made law that the “‘right’ to marry is a fundamental ‘right’ inherent in the liberty of the person.”
There are things we can learn from these two laws that we believe compromise biblical truth and convictions, how we have responded in the past, and how we ought to respond in the future. In the first few days after the decision a number of Christians have begun to think along these lines as they ponder further how we ought to process this and how we ought to respond. Theologically and pastorally, we affirm God is the sovereign one who remains sovereign as he unfolds his providential plan in this fallen-redeemed-not-yet-glorified world. We also affirm that we do not have a definitive answer to the practical questions of “what do we now do?” It is not that there are no answers or responses, but wise, and discerning responses that will be faithful and fruitful take some time to think through, ponder and pray over.
This will impact believers, churches and church-related institutions, but we do not know in what way. It is most likely that church-related institutions rather than churches themselves will be most affected by this new law. Many individuals and organizations are researching, consulting, pondering and praying about next steps and how to help God’s people to know how to navigate through them. One of those organizations is the National Association of Evangelicals, of which the EFCA is a member.
You can be assured the EFCA will work prayerfully and diligently to provide instruction, guidance and resources for pastors and churches. It is not as if this is catching us completely unaware, but it is a new day that will require a new way of thinking about and responding to this. Our biblical and theological commitment remains the same.
It is likely that the Spiritual Heritage Committee will be enlisted to work on how best to guide our thinking and responding, biblically, theologically and pastorally. We have also provided resources and policies.
What is the EFCA position on homosexuality and same-sex marriage?
The EFCA affirms the inerrancy and authority of the Bible (cf. Article 2) which grounds and guides our understanding of and response to homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
We have a policy for those pursuing credentialing in the EFCA regarding “Homosexual Belief and Conduct” that states the EFCA will not credential one who engages in homosexual conduct or one who does not believe that homosexual behavior is sinful, even though remaining celibate.
We also have a statement on same-sex marriage that provides guidance to local churches who are writing a policy on this issue: “A Church Statement on Human Sexuality: Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage – A Resource for EFCA Churches.”
In sum, the EFCA is “welcoming but not affirming.”
How does the EFCA view marriage?
This Statement is drawn from Scripture as our ultimate authority. It sets forth a Christian vision of human sexuality as a good gift of God. The divine design for sexual expression within the commitment of marriage between a man and a woman is fundamental to the well-ordering of human society and is integral to human flourishing. We desire to articulate this ethic as moral truth binding on us all while recognizing our need of God's grace and forgiveness in the ways that we all fall short of this divine ideal.
God created human beings as male and female (Gen. 1:27). The complementary, relational nature of the human race as “male and female” reflects the created order given by God when He created human beings “in His image” (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1, 3; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jms. 3:9; cf. Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10).
Scripture grants two life-enhancing options for sexual behavior: monogamous marital relations between one man and one woman (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:18, 21-24; Matt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:5-8; cf. Heb. 13:4) or sexual celibacy (1 Cor. 7:7; Matt. 19:12).
In Scripture monogamous heterosexual marriage bears a significance which goes beyond the regulation of sexual behavior, the bearing and raising of children, the formation of families, and the recognition of certain economic and legal rights. Marriage between a woman and a man is emphatically declared in Scripture to create a “one flesh” union (Gen. 2:23-24; Matt. 19:5), which in turn signifies the mystery of the union between Christ and His body, the Church (Eph. 5:22- 33). This means that the foundational understanding of marriage is as a covenant grounded in promises between a man and a woman which finds its divinely intended expression in the “one flesh” union of husband and wife, and between the “one flesh” union of husband and wife and God (cf. Prov. 2:16-17; Mal. 2:14; Eph. 5:31-32).
We regard marriage as a good creation of God, and marriage within the Church as a rite and institution tied directly to our foundational belief of God as creator. We also regard marriage as a sacred institution which mirrors the mysterious and wonderful bond between Christ and His Church. Marriage is much more than merely a contract between two persons (a secular notion). It is a covenant grounded in promises between a man and a woman which finds its divinely intended expression in the “one flesh” union of husband and wife, and between the “one flesh” union of husband and wife and God (the divine design). We therefore only authorize and recognize heterosexual marriages.
This is an excerpt from the document A Church Statement on Human Sexuality: Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage – A Resource for EFCA Churches.
We define marriage in the following way: “Marriage is the original and foundational institution of human society, established by God as a one-flesh, covenantal union between a man and a woman that is life-long (until separated by death), exclusive (monogamous and faithful), and generative in nature5 (designed for bearing and rearing children), and it is to reflect the relationship between Christ and the Church.”
Does the EFCA believe in “once saved, always saved” or that one can “lose their salvation?”
The EFCA as a denomination attempts to focus on the essentials of the gospel which means we have a parameter on some doctrinal issues. One of these issues is whether or not one affirms eternal security (perseverance of the saints) or apostasy (one can fall away and lose one's salvation). The former view is generally held by those who would be more Reformed in their leanings, while the latter would be held by those more Arminian and Lutheran.
Because the EFCA is a place for both Arminians (including Lutherans) and Calvinists, there is no official position mandating or prohibiting either position. Our official position is that we are a place where both can serve and minister together. It is not to be a doctrine that causes division in the EFCA.
Local EFCA churches lean in one theological direction more than another on this doctrine. But the church ought to be welcoming to the person who leans in the other theological direction. This means this issue is local church specific and a local church distinctive.
In the EFCA it falls into the category of the “significance of silence,” or that area in which we affirm “unity in the essentials, dialogue in the differences,” and without division.
What is the view of the EFCA regarding the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper?
The EFCA believes (cf. Article 7, The Church) that one is saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone (key Pauline and Reformation truths). When participated in by faith, there is a strengthening of one’s faith, although there is no salvific efficacy in the ordinances in and of themselves.
Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church of America (181-182) summarizes our understanding of the ordinances and affirms:
- Christ has given His church two ordinances, baptism and the Lord's Supper, and the practice of these ordinances is an essential distinguishing mark of a church
- these ordinances are signs, that is, visible and tangible expressions, of the gospel, and as such they serve to strengthen our faith—“confirming and nourishing the believer”
- the signs (water in baptism, the bread and grape juice or wine in the Lord's Supper) must be distinguished from what they signify (God's saving work in the gospel and Christ's presence with us) [n. 79. Thus we deny baptismal regeneration and the doctrine of transubstantiation]
- the practice of these ordinances does not save us, and we receive spiritual benefit from them only when they are celebrated in “genuine faith” in Christ
- the ordinances serve to separate the believer from the world and to give a visible designation of those who belong to the body of Christ
Our Statement denies that:
- either baptism in water or participating in the Lord's Supper is the instrumental cause of regeneration
- the grace of God is automatically and effectually conveyed through the administration of the ordinances themselves
In addition, our Statement does not prescribe the “time” or “mode” of baptism (allowing for both credo- and paedobaptist practices) nor does it define the precise manner in which Christ is present in the Lord's Supper (allowing for a variety of historic Evangelical views).
What is the EFCA’s position on the miraculous gifts (generally including tongues, healing, prophecy, and miracles)?
Although the EFCA does not have an official policy on miraculous gifts, we do have a boundary stated in our Statement of Faith and a position rooted in our ethos.
We believe that regeneration/conversion (Tit. 3:5) and Spirit-baptism (1 Cor. 12:13) occur simultaneously when one by grace through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8-9) becomes a Christian. This is affirmed in our Statement of Faith, Article 6, where “regeneration of sinners” is the time at which they “are baptized into union with Christ and adopted as heirs in the family of God.” We do not believe that a post-conversion baptism of the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in tongues is required to live a full life. Other than this theological conviction, the EFCA is on a continuum from cessationist to continuationist, on this side of classic Pentecostalism.
We know that the Christian life, including the beginning, middle and end, is impossible apart from the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9; Galatians 3:2-3). Therefore, we are committed to “be being filled” (Ephesians 5:18)—a present continuous command—and to “live by the Spirit” and to “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25). Practically this means:
- on this issue the EFCA does not have an official policy
- the EFCA allows a parameter of belief and expression, but wherever one falls on that continuum that person/church is anchored in the inspired, inerrant, authoritative and sufficient Scripture
- Some churches within the EFCA are cessationists, i.e. they believe the miraculous gifts have ceased. They were signs to authenticate the message/messenger, but once the canon was completed they were no longer necessary.
- Other churches within the EFCA are continuationists, i.e. they believe the miraculous gifts continue to operate in that they were a mark of the presence of the kingdom of God – in the person of Jesus Christ the King – and they are an ongoing mark today of the presence of the kingdom.
- no churches within the EFCA are Pentecostal, i.e. they believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit which happens after conversion and is evidenced by speaking in tongues
Within the parameters stated above, belief and expression are determined by and dependent on the local EFCA church.
What is the EFCA's position on women in ministry and credentialing?
The EFCA does not ordain women, which is a general conference decision (1988) based on our understanding of the biblical text (cf. Gen. 3; 1 Cor. 11:3-16; 14:33b-36; Gal. 3:28; Eph. 5:22-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Tim. 2:11-15; 1 Pet. 3:1-7). This is stated explicitly in our Ministerial Credentialing in the Evangelical EFCA of America booklet under the Certificate of Ordination (p. 5, V.C.): “This credential is designed for qualified males who serve in pastoral ministry in the local church whose primary ministry responsibility is preaching and teaching the Word.”
Women can and do serve in vocational ministry, and the EFCA recognizes this by offering a Certificate of Christian Ministry (cf. Ministerial Credentialing in the Evangelical EFCA of America, p. 4, V.B) to those engaged in vocational ministry. (This certificate is available for men and women who are in a qualifying ministry and are not ordained.) These are the only official statements regarding women in ministry made by the General Conference of the EFCA.
Regarding questions about women in leadership in the local church, woman usually do not serve as an elder in the EFCA, as most EFCA churches recognize that the biblical qualifications for the pastor (serving vocationally in this capacity) are the same qualifications for all other elders as well (serving in a non-vocational capacity). Our official EFCA policy for those ordained also becomes the policy of many/most EFCA churches, even though there is no official EFCA policy for local churches. However, it must also be stated that because of our congregational form of church government, the local church is free to make its own decision on this matter.
What is the position of the EFCA regarding the historicity of Adam and Eve?
We affirm God created all from nothing (ex nihilo). Adam and Eve are unique and special in that they are created in the image of God (imago Dei). These are biblical/theological essentials.
Regarding the creation of Adam and Eve as recorded in Genesis, the significance of their uniqueness as historical figures, and that they are the first created beings in the image of God, it is important to note the following theological truth from Article 3, The Human Condition, as articulated in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical EFCA of America (76-77):
There are legitimate differences of opinion about how one understands the nature of the language used in the early chapters of Genesis to describe the actions of God in the world. However, our Statement affirms that Adam and Eve were historical figures16 in the following sense:
- from these two all other human beings are descended (Acts 17:26)17
- these two were the first creatures created in God’s image such that they were accountable to God as responsible moral agents
- these two rebelled against God, affecting all their progeny.18
What is essential to the biblical storyline is that the problem with the world is not ontological (not a result of the material nature of creation itself nor is sin an essential part of our humanity19). The problem is moral. The first human beings, in a distinct act of rebellion, chose to turn away from God, and this act not only affected all humanity (cf. Rom. 5:12-21), but creation itself (cf. Rom. 8:18-25). This leads us from considering the dignity of humanity to acknowledging our depravity.
16 The historical reality of Adam and Eve has been the traditional position of the church (so Tertullian, Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin) and is supported elsewhere in Scripture. Particularly, Paul compares the “one man” Adam with both Moses and Jesus (cf. Rom. 5:12, 15-19; 1 Cor. 15:20-22). In addition, Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam (Luke 3:23-37; cf. also 1 Chron. 1).
17 We take no position on the manner in which the human soul is passed on, either by natural heredity (“traducianism”) or by a unique work of God in each life (“creationism”).
18 Consequently, no human beings existed prior to these two, and, consequently, no human beings were sinless and without the need of a Savior.
19 This also gives us hope that human beings can be redeemed from sin.
Article 10 of the EFCA Statement of Faith states that unbelievers will experience “eternal conscious punishment.” Why use the word “conscious?”
We affirm this biblical truth expounded in Evangelical Convictions: An Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical EFCA of America (249-250):
Some, especially in recent years, have taken this language of death and destruction in a more literal sense and have argued that though God’s punishment of the wicked is real, it is not eternal. This view, known as annihilationism (or “conditional immortality”), holds that the unrighteous will cease to exist after they are judged. In this sense, the punishment for sin is eternal in its effect (that is, it is irreversible), but not eternal in the experience of the one judged. Our Statement denies such a view, contending that the Scripture teaches the continuing existence of persons—both believers and unbelievers—after the judgment, and that the experience of hell is eternal. Hence, we include the expression “eternal conscious punishment.”
Though the term “conscious” is not commonly used in historic confessions, what it expresses has been the almost universal view of the church through history, with, until very recently, only a few theologians and smaller sects standing in opposition. The church has held that the language of Scripture assumes that the destinies of believers and unbelievers, though very different, stand in parallel, and both will continue to experience the consequences of their choice through eternity.
Jesus Himself established this connection when He spoke of the Son of Man separating two classes of human beings on the Day of Judgment as sheep and goats and saying to the goats on His left hand, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels… Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matt. 25:41, 46). It is true that the word translated “eternal” here (aiōnios) means “pertaining to the age to come.” But it is precisely because the age to come was perceived to be without end that the word is most commonly translated in this way. Because this verse uses precisely the same word to describe both the blessedness of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked, we must affirm that both enter into an unending conscious state.
Is the EFCA ecumenical?
Our primary commitment in the EFCA is to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mk. 1:15; Rom. 1:16) and the oneness that this gospel creates (Jn. 17; Eph. 2:11-22; 4:1-6). Based on this commitment, we are also desirous to partner with others who share this commitment.
We are not ecumenical based on the way the term is understood by many. That carries the connotation of a federation model that downplays doctrine and evangelism and emphasizes social and political engagement/action. We are ecumenical based on the cooperative model that emphasizes doctrinal unity and gives priority to evangelism in the church’s mission.
More specifically, it would be accurate to say that the EFCA is ecumenical in spirit, viz. that we will join with others of similar faith, but not in structure, viz. we will not formally support any other denomination or organization. We will partner with others who are committed to the Word of God and faithful gospel ministry calling people to the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is stated in our third Distinctive:
The Evangelical Free Church of America embraces a humble orthodoxy in partnership with others of like faith.
We believe in the spiritual unity of the Church though not necessarily in structural union. We join with other Christians and other denominations of like, precious faith in common goals and ministries to accomplish the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. But we believe that there is strength in diversity and that it is important to preserve our Distinctives. We recognize that union in structure does not guarantee unity of spirit. Our foremost concern is unity of spirit with our Lord, with each other and with other Christians.
Regarding salvation, what do you believe about the death of infants and those who have never heard the gospel?
It is clear in our Statement of Faith “that God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ” (Article 10). Jesus Christ and His claims are exclusive, and apart from hearing and receiving the gospel one will be judged and condemned to “eternal conscious punishment” (Article 10).
These exclusive claims of Christ and the necessity of hearing and responding to the gospel often raises the question as noted above. We have stated in response to these questions in Evangelical Convictions: A Theological Exposition of the Statement of Faith of the Evangelical EFCA of America (242-244):
What is the destiny of those who die in infancy or who may be mentally incompetent and unable to respond to the message of the gospel in conscious faith?
Some difference of opinion exists among us on this issue. Almost all would contend that God can accept such people into his eternal presence, though the grounds on which this is possible differ. Some believe that even though all are sinful by nature in Adam, those who die in infancy or who may be mentally incompetent are incapable of conscious and deliberate sin, and, therefore, their sinful nature has not been personally ratified. Consequently, Adam’s guilt is not attributed to them. (All, however, would agree that both infants and the mentally incompetent are still subject to a corruption of nature flowing from the fall and that Christ’s saving work of restoration is still necessary.) Others believe that though all humans at any stage of development or level of mental capability are guilty by virtue of their union with Adam, God can apply the saving work of Christ to them without conscious and deliberate faith through the regenerating work of the Spirit. How many God may choose to save in this way, we cannot know, but we do have confidence that God is gracious, especially to those who are the weakest and most vulnerable.
What is the destiny of the unevangelized who have not heard of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ—can they be saved?
Since the coming of God’s final work in Jesus Christ, Scripture speaks clearly of the need to hear and to believe the gospel (cf. Rom. 10:13-15; Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 26:16-18). Among those capable of understanding the gospel, we affirm that we have no clear biblical warrant for believing that, since the coming of Christ, God has saved anyone apart from conscious faith in Jesus. Paul’s statement referring to the Christian Ephesians’ previous state as pagans without a faith in Jesus is straightforward and comprehensive: “remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). Further, we find nothing in Scripture that suggests that the nations may find God somehow present in a redemptive way within their own religious practices, theological outlooks, or cultural structures.
While God could reveal Christ to some apart from the normal means of the ministry of the Word (e.g., through dreams or visions), we have no biblical warrant for believing that He will reveal Himself in that way to anyone. The Bible speaks instead of the mandate given to Christ’s followers to preach the gospel to all nations (cf., esp., Rom. 10:14-15).
The “benevolent impulse” in Christian believers that desires and seeks eternal life for as many as possible is good and right. Abraham pleaded with God for the salvation of the city of Sodom (Gen. 18:23-24), and Jesus’ disciples were rebuked for being more zealous to punish evildoers than their Lord (Luke 9:54-55). As we humbly consider this question of the unevangelized we are confident that God’s ways are always just and right, and in the end they will be seen to be so. As Abraham reflected, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). We must remain faithful to the clear and insistent message of the Bible—Jesus Christ is the Savior of the whole world, and the whole world needs to hear about his saving work. Because all have sinned and are deserving of God’s condemnation, we believe that we can be saved only by the atoning work of Christ, and we believe that we can be sure that people can be saved by that work only if they are told about it.
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