Greetings, church family!
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This update follows the announcement from Sunday about the amended Statement of Faith for the Evangelical Free Church of America. The EFCA has asked all of its churches to consider adopting the new Statement of Faith.
The EFCA Statement of Faith Amendment
The EFCA was formed in 1950 through the merger of two Evangelical Free Church organizations. They formed a unified statement of faith that focused on essentials and left out what they considered nonessential for Christian fellowship in their churches. They took seriously the Apostle Paul’s instruction to remain united in Christian love even though we may have different views on secondary issues.
In 2008, the EFCA National Conference adopted an amended statement of faith that brought more clarity, precision, and updated language to the list of essential beliefs.
In 2019, the EFCA National Conference again voted to amend the statement of faith but this time, changing only one word from “premillennial” to “glorious” when referring to the return of Jesus Christ.
EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 9, 2008:
We believe in the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.
EFCA Statement of Faith, Article 9, 2019:
We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.
It is important to note that to be a voting delegate, one had to affirm the 2008 Statement of Faith. That means that every person who voted to change the word “premillennial” to “glorious” did so having affirmed a premillennial position.
You can watch a video from EFCA President, Kevin Kompelien, endorsing the proposed amendment to the statement of faith here.
What is premillennialism?
In brief, adherents to this view believe that Christ will return before an intermediate literal kingdom between this present age and the eternal age to come. This kingdom will last 1,000 years according to Revelation 20, a millennium. Hence, the view is called “premillennialism” because Christ’s return will be before the millennial kingdom.
There are two main views that stand in contrast: postmillennialism and amillennialism. In postmillennialism, the work of the gospel and the influence of the Holy Spirit will bring about a massive revival and moral conditions will improve dramatically in the world. After this time of earthly blessing, Jesus Christ will return.
In amillennialism, the 1,000-year reign of Revelation 20 is viewed as operating in this present age. Jesus is already ruling at the right hand of the Father, he has been given all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18), and His return will bring about the new heaven and new earth, not a literal millennial kingdom. Since there is no literal millennial kingdom, this view is often called amillennialism (“a” being the Greek prefix negating what follows). This is somewhat of a misnomer since adherents believe that the millennial rule of Christ has already begun. Thus, they sometimes prefer the term, “inaugurated millennialism.” This position is the most commonly held view throughout the history of the church.
As you can imagine, it actually gets a lot more complex and nuanced than my descriptions here, but this gives you an idea of the main arguments concerning the millennium. All three are based on Scripture and have support from Christian scholars. If you would like to read more about these views and the other beliefs of the EFCA, I recommend the book Evangelical Convictions (Paperback, Kindle).
Why did the EFCA change “premillennial” to “glorious?”
One distinctive of the EFCA is that we work hard to not divide over secondary issues. This statement describes the attitude of the EFCA well: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials charity; in all things, Jesus Christ.”
We choose to safeguard unity in the body of Christ instead of dividing over the secondary beliefs that many churches divide over. This was the teaching of the Apostle Paul in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10.
The statement of faith is supposed to contain the core beliefs that we hold as absolutely essential for fellowship in the local church. It’s the primary collection of beliefs in our “doctrine” bucket. Watch the Undivided series to learn more about buckets of belief.
Some beliefs are absolutely essential for faith in Jesus, some are essential for unity in a local church, some are personal convictions that we should follow individually but not force on others, and some are simply preferential beliefs that we should hold very openly and graciously.
Is premillennialism an essential belief or is it secondary?
This was the question before the EFCA over the last several decades as members have held a variety of views concerning eschatology. It was also the question I had when I joined our EFCA church two years ago. Although I hold a premillennial view myself, I would not consider it an essential belief for salvation or unity in the local church.
I would never expect a person to understand and affirm premillennial eschatology before acknowledging them as a believer in Jesus. I have never seen premillennialism as a view worth quarreling over in the local church.
When I evaluated the EFCA statement of faith two years ago, I immediately saw a disconnect between the requirement for premillennialism and everything else. I held a premillennial view and could without reservation affirm the EFCA statement of faith personally. But would I put my belief in premillennialism on the same level as the deity of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth, or the work of the Holy Spirit? Certainly not!
Another concern with requiring this view in our statement of faith is whether a person needs to have studied and endorsed premillennialism without mental reservation before they can become a member of the local church. Even if it is our majority view (in the EFCA, it is), should it be a test for membership or even for ministry for one to take a position on the timing of the return of Jesus or the nature of the millennium?
There are many in our local church and other EFCA churches around the country who do not disagree with premillennialism, they simply do not feel they have enough knowledge or evidence to take a position on what they see as a widely debated secondary belief. So while they do not reject premillennialism, they cannot sign our statement of faith because they cannot without mental reservation affirm that premillennialism is truly a belief of theirs. This alone seems to indicate that premillennialism should be viewed as a secondary belief. There is room for disagreement or even not taking a strong position while maintaining unity in the local church.
Another problem with premillennialism in our statement of faith has been the weakening of the document as a whole. Since much of the EFCA has not viewed premillennialism as belonging on the same level as the rest of the items in our statement of faith, some have felt forced to downplay the importance of the statement of faith entirely. In our church and many others, people have been told in years past that becoming a member and signing our statement of faith does not indicate a personal belief in our statement of faith. It simply indicates one understands that these are the beliefs of the church and agrees not to speak against them.
This is problematic for many reasons. One is that our members vote on the most important decisions of our church. If the primary standard for membership, signing our statement of faith, simply indicates acknowledging what our church believes and not affirming those beliefs personally, we could have many members who do not agree with the more crucial aspects of our statement of faith such as salvation by faith in Jesus alone and not by works.
Some of you are already familiar with this practice, some may be shocked to hear of it, but it has happened in churches across the country trying to deal with the realization that one of these beliefs is not on the same level as the others.
Why isn’t premillennialism an essential belief?
Many years ago, I began to study biblical prophecy as a personal hobby. I was fascinated by the end times and adopted the premillennial view that, from my perspective, offered the best explanation of the mysterious and vague eschatological prophecies of Scripture.
However, the more I studied and evaluated various perspectives on the end times, the more I realized that our different views are really theories about how we think God will fulfill His prophecies.
If this is an area of strong belief for you, I ask that you seriously consider that point. Our beliefs concerning end times prophecy are actually theories about how God might do things in the future. For us to assume that we have perfectly predicted exactly how God will fulfill prophecies in the future seems a bit arrogant on our part.
The Jewish people had many prophecies in the Old Testament. They thought they knew a lot about how God would fulfill them through the coming Messiah and the Kingdom of God. They expected a mighty warrior king who would overthrow Rome and establish a new Jewish state in Israel.
But then Jesus showed up and spent years explaining that they had it all wrong. God would perfectly and completely fulfill His prophecies concerning the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. However, it would be bigger and better than they ever could have imagined. The clues were all there in hindsight, but their theories could not have anticipated the astonishing way in which God would fulfill His prophecies.
So here’s what I ask you to consider:
What if God’s prophecies about the end times are not given to us so that we can know with certainty how exactly He will fulfill them?
What if God didn’t give prophecy so we can attach ourselves to one theory with such dogmatism that we fight against those who hold to a different theory or try to keep them out of our church?
What if God’s prophecies are given to us so that after He accomplishes them, we can look back and marvel and praise Him for what He fulfilled in ways we never could have imagined?
That certainly looks like what He did with the Israelites and the prophecies of the Old Testament.
In our discussions of end times prophecy, we need to acknowledge that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.
What we should affirm without mental reservation is that God will fulfill His prophecies His way in His timing.
There can be no debate about the trustworthiness of God when it comes to His promises. This is the issue we should hold without mental reservation. This is the line we should draw concerning end times prophecy. God will do what He has said He will do.
However, where we sometimes see strong stances among Christians is not whether God will fulfill prophecy, but how exactly He will do it. That is not where we should plant our flag. Our theories about How God chooses to fulfill His prophecies should not be a dividing line among believers.
One day, we will know exactly how God fulfilled all of the prophecies of Scripture. One day, we will look back and marvel at the incredible masterpiece that God was weaving throughout human history. We may even learn that some of our theories were wrong. Imagine that! We may not have everything figured out yet!
At that moment, when we learn that not all of our predictions about how God would fulfill prophecy came true the way we thought they would, will our faith in Jesus be ruined? Will our righteousness be taken away if we didn’t connect the dots perfectly concerning eschatology?
Or will we look back in astonishment at how God accomplished exactly what He said He would do in ways we never could have predicted? Perhaps we will be brought to unimaginable expressions of praise as we begin to understand what God was really doing all along that we were unable to see – minds blown.
This is not to say we should not study the prophecies of Scripture and do our best to understand them. We can appreciate the study of the end times while not believing we have figured out exactly how it will all go down. I don’t believe that was ever God’s purpose in giving us prophecy. God’s prophecies give us hope for the future. They let us know that He’s got the end in mind.
God has a plan that will set everything right even if we do not yet know how it will all happen. We can trust in Him to bring about an incredible ending to this cosmic redemption story. We can believe that his return will be glorious, and His prophecy fulfillment will be incredible. But we need not argue with, judge, or ostracize believers who hold a different theory about how God will fulfill prophecy.
Why make this change now?
There are many people in churches across the EFCA who have not joined their church because they cannot confidently affirm a premillennial view of the return of Christ. They do not disagree with anything in the statement of faith, but they do not feel they can claim to believe in premillennialism when they simply aren’t sure or hold a different view of the timing of the return of Jesus.
There are many others who have become members in EFCA churches under the idea that they were not actually affirming the statement of faith, just acknowledging that it is what the church officially believes. We do not want this practice to continue. Joining an EFCA church and signing the statement of faith should indicate a belief in the entire statement of faith.
There are many pastors and churches who align with everything in the EFCA and would like to join the EFCA but cannot with good conscience require their members to affirm a premillennial belief. They do not necessarily reject premillennialism, but they do not feel it should be a required essential.
If we truly believe in clear lines between essentials and nonessentials, if we value unity in the local body of Christ over secondary disagreements, and if we want to pursue clarity in what we believe and teach concerning essential beliefs, we must ensure that our statement of faith reflects these values.
Where do we go from here?
The EFCA has already adopted the amended statement of faith. Now, it asks each member church to consider adopting the revised statement of faith as well. When joining the EFCA, each church agreed to maintain a common statement of faith with other EFCA churches.
We plan to vote on the 2019 Amended EFCA Statement of Faith at our Annual Congregational Meeting on February 9, 2020.
However, we do not feel a need to rush this if there is significant pushback from our members. We want to hear from you if you have any concerns, questions, or want to express your support. To make this easier, a feedback form is available at the bottom of this page.
For anyone who has concerns, we will gladly hear them. Additionally, we always hold a pre-annual meeting where we discuss items of church business in greater detail for those who want to invest more time in the specifics. The statement of faith amendment will be an available topic of discussion at the pre-annual meeting. If enough people express disagreement with the proposed change, we will schedule a time for a separate and dedicated forum to discuss the proposal with a larger group of people.
Other Questions
Does this mean we are rejecting a premillennial view?
Not at all. Premillennialism is the end times view held by most EFCA churches, pastors, and members. All voting delegates at the national conference affirmed a premillennial view. That means it was exclusively premillennialists who voted to not require premillennialism in the EFCA. This change does nothing to limit premillenialists in the EFCA.
Does this open us up to cults and dangerous beliefs about the end times?
No more than our previous statement of faith did. The reality is that many people in our EFCA churches do not hold a premillennial view but affirm everything else in our statement of faith. These are not people in a cult or who hold dangerous beliefs. They simply hold a different theory concerning when Jesus will return and the millennial kingdom or they are unsure what will happen. If an individual or church presents a clearly unbiblical belief, the EFCA and our church can address that the same way after this amendment as before.
Does this mean we are weakening our view on the inerrancy and authority of Scripture?
Absolutely not! Article 2 of our statement of faith reads:
“We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.”
This change acknowledges the fact that there are different plausible interpretations of Revelation 20 and related Scriptures while not in any way rejecting the authority, inerrancy, or fulfillment of this passage according to God’s methods and timing which are beyond our current understanding.
You’re still reading?
Wow, I’m impressed. You made it all the way to the end! I promise, most updates won’t be this long. 😉