Saturday, December 31, 2005

Any Given Sunday (part one)

Mark Noll writes in Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, “on any given Sunday in the United States and Canada, a majority of those who attend church hold evangelical beliefs and follow norms of evangelical practice,” (10). At an earlier point Noll refers to what one historian has noted as the beliefs essential to evangelicalism:

1. conversionism
2. Biblicism
3. crucicentrism

Noll does not identify what the “norms of evangelical practice” look like, perhaps this is because he also writes, “these evangelical impulses [the three points listed above] have never by themselves yielded cohesive, institutionally compact, easily definable, well-coordinated, or clearly demarcated groups of Christians” (8).
The writers of the proposed revision of the EFCA Statement of Faith seek to defy Noll and history by becoming the cohesive, institutionally compact, easily definable, well-coordinated, and clearly demarcated group of Christians for the 21st Century. Two questions emerge: is it possible and is it necessary?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Return to Ye Olde Fudge Shoppe

The case against fudging and for revisions was made earlier with some help from imminency. Faithful expositors of Scripture generally agree that written documents need to be understood as their authors intended, thus the case for revision with respect to the understanding of the word “imminent.”

Lest confusion fill our ranks, let’s be frank – a complete rewrite is NOT the same as revision, and furthermore previous fudging does not necessitate dropping imminency out of the EFCA Statement of Faith. A complete rewrite is done when nothing is salvageable from the original, thus the US deep-sixed the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union in favor of the Constitution (which has been amended since it was originally written).

A revision that includes imminency could be written with the intention of reflecting both possible meanings. After all, the great defender of the Post-Tribulation Rapture, Doug Moo, defended both the significance of imminency and Premillennialism. At the end of his chapter in Three Views of the Rapture, Moo wrote, “The truth of the imminent coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is an important and indispensable element of biblical truth. That this coming is to be premillennial the Scriptures plainly state.”

Friday, December 23, 2005

Who's that a writing?

If you’re like me you may be fumbling through the pages of Revelation these days as part of one of the many read-the-entire-Bible-in-a-year programs. John’s Apocalypse is always confusing, but always a blessing! I’m convinced that a fundamental mark of all believers and all true churches is a yearning for the blessed hope, the return of Jesus Christ. If our hearts don’t accelerate when Jesus tells us that he is coming soon then we need to call an ambulance and hope they’re carrying some syringes full of Atropine.

So when I read, in what I’m touting as the very best EFCA Today to hit the newsstands in its printing history, the emphasis of eschatology in our everyday lives it makes me very excited about the state of our churches. The theme comes up several times, to include Bill Kynes article, “The Gospel We have Embraced”, the pastor of Cornerstone EFC in Annandale, Virginia takes some time to make a few confessions.

Pastor Kynes admits,

“Living out the truth of the gospel is not easy. I struggle particularly with the biblical notion of “inaugurated eschatology” – that is, that in the gospel, the age to come has already dawned…. as those united with Christ, we are already seated with Him in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6); that we have been given every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3); and that we have died to sin, so that it no longer has power over us (Romans 6:1-10).
These are theological truths, but I struggle with how they are to be fleshed out. I see too little power to overcome sin, I see too little power to overcome sin, too little resurrection life in our midst. I want to have more of the ‘already,’ even as we await the glory that is still to come.”

Catching a glimpse of the coming Kingdom can be equally delightful and frustrating. We pray that His Kingdom will come, and when He gives us a sweet taste of it we naturally want more. But then there’s the not-yet, the fact that though the Kingdom has been consummated we must still wait for it to arrive in its entirety.

Good intentions aside, I think our brothers who wrote the current proposed Revision to the Statement of Faith fault in wanting something that we can’t have this side of the eschaton: a visible Catholic Church. If you have not yet read the proposal then read it and judge for yourself. I’ll be reading Evangelical Truth by John Stott, The Church: One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic by Richard D. Phillips, Philip G. Ryken, and Mark E. Dever, One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus by J.I. Packer and Thomas C. Oden, and Revelation by John the servant of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

mmm fudge!

Fudge-makers, what’s not to love about them? Assuming of course that we’re talking about the guys who always let us have free samples of the more exotic flavors even though we always end up buying either maple walnut or plain chocolate. Then there’s the other kind of “fudging” – the kind where someone says one thing but means another, you don’t want to buy that kind of fudge no matter the variety of flavors to sample, which brings us to the EFCA Statement of Faith and the proposed Revision.

The writers of the Revision state “some consider it ‘fudging’ when people sign a Statement that uses the word ‘imminent’ when those people no longer use that word in the way it was originally intended.” There are three types of people who have a hard time with this fudging:

1. Dispensationalists who hold to the original meaning of imminent, 2. Those who think that a document should hold the meaning understood and communicated by the original author(s), and 3. A combination of the first two types (sorry, I don’t have a legitimate third type).

Hopefully we can agree that not finding ourselves in one of those three categories could land us in potentially hot water. The writers of the Revision couldn’t have said it better when they wrote “that that kind of erosion of a doctrinal statement is dangerous because of where it could lead – for if the words do not mean what they say as defined by those who wrote them, then they could mean almost anything.”

If you’re looking to make a case for a revision, whether it be the one presented to us or something else, look no further than this issue… The proof is in the pudding, or is it in the fudge?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

First Things First

The tagline for 28 Days Later is “the days are numbered.” Twenty-eight days remain until the Midwinter Ministerial Conference, which is plenty of time to articulate what we think about church polity in the New Testament (I’m sold on congregationalism and I’ll be making a case for it), the millennium (I’ll be taking historic pre-mill to the bank – many thanks to Doug Moo), and the other issues brought up in the Revision, but I for one think that there are still issues that need to be addressed regarding the “Preamble” to the Revision. So if everyone can just hold on for another day or two, let’s talk some more about the goals and ideas of the Committee on Safeguarding the Spiritual Heritage (you’ll note that I said “the Spiritual Heritage” not “our Spiritual Heritage” that’s because the By-Laws use the definite article).

First, I stand by what I said earlier: it is the responsibility of the church, not an office or committee, to frame the debate, but since we know what is on their minds we might as well let them know what is on our minds. It is easy to agree with the Committee on a number of issues:

1. Evangelical bodies “without a written creed are experiencing difficulty establishing and enforcing appropriate boundaries for belief and behavior.”

2. Periodic review of the Statement of Faith is important because “Scripture alone is our final authority” and if the Statement of Faith is to be a guiding document then its language should be updated to reflect contemporary vocabulary.

3. Times are changing and there are new issues that need to be addressed. Certainly “the reality of the spiritual battle, open theology, postmodernism, and even our mission to all people” are significant issues.

A quick reading of the Preamble will reveal that I don’t agree with the Committee on all of their reasons (hint: they listed five). Before I jump into how I disagree and why, I want to know what you think. Do you agree with all of their reasons? Do you agree with the reasons that I listed above? And here’s the part of every exam that I always hated: why or why not?

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Modest Proposal?

The Committee considered whether our statement of Faith, our doctrine, could be more clearly focused on the evangel, the gospel and those theological issues that are central to the gospel such that it could be affirmed by all whom we recognize as fellow Evangelicals today.
- except from “Draft Revision of the EFCA Statement of Faith: We believe in God’s Gospel,” 4.

The proper question is not “could” our doctrine “be more clearly focused on the evangel” but should it be more clearly focused on the evangel. Given the structure and organization of the EFCA this appears to be a very responsible question for the Committee for Safeguarding the Spiritual Heritage to ask churches, and yet it hardly seems possible for such a committee to actually safeguard our spiritual heritage by determining what the questions are and then answering those questions themselves. The Committee has proposed to eliminate references to the autonomous and congregational nature of our church, but they fail as a committee when they do this without interacting with us or even asking for our consent.

The proposal should be discarded not because of what it says or does not say but because the Committee has undermined the local church and by doing so they have damaged our spiritual heritage. The churches should invite the Committee to a conversation where changes to the statement of Faith may be considered, and the churches not the National Office should set the agenda in regard to what questions need to be asked. For the Statement of Faith exists for the churches and not for the National Office as a means to determine how the denomination might bring additional churches into the fold.

There is much more that could be said about “EFCA SOF Draft Revision (12/09/05)” (and much more will be said), nevertheless the Committee has a responsibility to restart the process of revision with the consent of the churches it exists to serve and preserve. The revision could easily been seen by those who have been in the denomination for a long time as leading the EFCA from “the foundations of the Word of God, loyalty to Jesus Christ, the EFCA Confession of Faith, and the Distinctives of the EFCA” (EFCA By-Laws) and thus violates the very purpose behind the creation of the Committee on Safeguarding the Spiritual Heritage.

Twin Dangers

Carson and Woodbridge give us some good ground rules in their Preface to Scripture and Truth, they write:

Twin dangers confront the Christian concerned with defining and
promulgating biblical truth. The first is pugnaciousness.... A Christian can almost unknowingly develop a boisterous rhetoric and a caustic spirit, neither of which are helpful for the advance of the kingdom. The evangelical community suffers when its embers lack humility and grace.
The second danger is less easy to recognize, but is not less insidious. It is a kind of arrogant apathy that bolsters a mindset less interested in the truth than in its pursuit. It involves a fine balancing of all opinions in such a way that a person is somehow impolite to insist that one opinion has the ring of truth, and, conversely, the others are to that degree false.

Before we even get started I admit that I have a tendency to drift toward the first danger rather than the second. I've avoided starting a blog in the past because it seems that it often provides a caustic campground for those who love to argue over all-things-debatable in Christendom, yet there is undoubtedly something at stake now. Unfortunately the second danger is currently winning the day, only a handful of bloggers have had anything to say about the Revisions to the Statement of Faith and those blogs have been brief and relatively unengaged.

As the debate unfolds let’s keep the Spirit in spirited debates. In other words, we want to challenge one another to think, but let's do so in a loving way rather than verbally abusing each other. When we present our cases let’s do it in a way that is honest. In other words, churchmen are invited to participate but please don’t bring any straw men to the discussion. Finally, when any of us fail in these areas let’s be mature enough to own up to our mistakes and then move on.

For the church...