Wednesday, July 12, 2006

An Open Letter to Sean (from the Freechurchman)

Dear Sean,

As you know (because you are me) attending the EFCA National Leadership Conference was a good opportunity for me to think about a whole myriad of issues relating to the proposed rewrite of the Statement of Faith. While the only “formal” discussion I went to was the first session in which the SHC essentially rehashed what was heard at the district conference it still helped me process a number of things I’ve been thinking about for some time now.

First, it deepened my respect and appreciation for the members of the committee I’ve heard from (Bill Kynes and Greg Strand to be specific). Time and again they have explained the process they’ve gone through to this point and stated the reasons for the process. They have graciously admitted that the process has not been flawless, but have recognized that they’re onto something that can’t be abandoned simply because there has been a mistake or two along the way.

Now Sean, I know you’ve been reading my posts on this site since December so maybe that last statement of mine came as a bit of a shock; take a minute, slurp down some more coffee, and allow it to sink in a bit… Finished? Good. Allow me to go into greater detail regarding “they’re onto something that can’t be abandoned.” Our Statement of Faith needs to be revised. If the denomination fails to recognize the need for revision then we can either expect to become the Fundamentalist Free Church of America – we sit back and say “everything I ever needed to know about God and life in general was summarized in the 1950’s,” or we become the Liberal Free Church of America – and we declare “yeah, we have this statement from the 1950’s that we cherish as a historical marker, but we’ve decided to reinterpret it to mean what we think it should mean for today.” We must have a process for revision and that is precisely why the resolution we voted for at the conference was so important.

So yes, I’m in favor of revision. Does this mean I’m ecstatic about the proposed rewrite? Yes and no. I’m excited that we are having these conversations (and writing these letters to each other); that we’re discussing what it means to be a denomination/movement that is quintessentially evangelical and unashamed. I’m happy to see us thinking about the context in which we minister today (when heresies like open theism exist and the challenges of post modernism force us to examine our epistemology). I’m not excited about all of the proposed changes, but I am happy to know that the Spiritual Heritage Committee is listening to guys like us.

There’s one more thing that was on my mind at the N.L.C.: Classical dispensationalists. I’m not sure how many classical dispensationalists were around or how many there are in the EFCA in general, but I do know that they’re worried sick. In a way, I feel sorry for them. Many of them feel that the denomination they have been a part of for years is abandoning an essential component of what they hold dear theologically. There are a few things I would like to say directly to them like, “Don’t worry there are many other churches and denominations that don’t speak specifically about the tribulation or the millennium but still hold to Dispensationalism (like many Southern Baptist churches),” but this letter is written to you, a historic premillennialist, not to them. So here’s what I have to say to you: be kind and understand that Dispensationalism is an entire system for understanding the Bible. You wouldn’t like it if people in your church or denomination seemed to be moving away from the way that you understand the Bible (especially if it was the way that many of the key founders of the denomination understood the Bible). So do what the members of the Spiritual Heritage Committee have modeled so well – patiently listen to all and pray that God will be glorified in and through this process.

For the glory of Christ in His Church,

The Freechurchman

6 Comments:

Blogger Tim Reineke said...

While I can appreciate the Fundamentalist/Liberal (Revisionist?) dichotomy you've identified, I have to point out that in order for a Statement of Faith Revision to be considered, we have to conclude that either: the SoF was not written properly in the first place or that there has been some change in the perception of Christianity/the introduction of some new heresy that is so important that it has to be incorporated into the SoF.

As I don't see you arguing the first point, I have to ask - what is the new perception/heresy is that you would like to see addressed?

And with regards to removing something from the SoF, the standards would have to be much higher. For example: the removal of the doctrine of premillennialism from the SoF has been proposed - a move for which no significant (or relevant) explaination has ever been made by the Committee. (While they did make an appx. 2 page argument related to it - they failed to address the idea of whether pre-mil was Biblical, and whether any other position was or could be Biblical.)

Finally, I'm confused about your apparent excitement over the revision. Yes, it's always good to have people describing doctrine - but it is not a reason for revising the SoF. Rather doctrinal discussions should happen at conventions, in sermons, Sunday school, etc. You seem to indicate that just because the SoF has been unchanged for 50 years means it needs to be re-written - a non-argument that is beyond my comperehension.

I guess my concerns with the SoF revision go back to the Fundamentalist/Revisionist dichotomy identified earlier - I tend to think that "if it's not broke, don't fix it," and am concerned that the revision is going forth without a) demonstrating it's "broke" and without b) demonstrating that the "fix" is the best (Biblical) course of action. I look at the disturbing happenings in the UCC, the Methodist church, the Episcopal Church, and a variety of other churches and frankly, sometimes I worry that we may be starting down the slippery slope of Revisionism.

Thursday, July 13, 2006 3:11:00 AM  
Blogger Sean Dennis said...

Tim,
You have put your finger on the crux of the matter. It does come down to either
a.) the was something wrong with the original
or
b.) the original is inadequate for today and tomorrow

First of all, I need to mention that the founders of the EFCA were not infallible (neither are we). Because the rapture cannot take place both before and after the tribulation, and I am convinced of a post-tribulational rapture I believe the founders were wrong on this matter. The SoF as it is understood today allows for us (pre-, post-, and mid-trib) to all be included in the EFCA and fellowship with one another. In addition, if someone in 2006 were to make the time of the rapture a test of fellowship I believe they would be making a mistake. So even though I think the founders were wrong on the time of the rapture I would by no means want to exclude any of them from fellowship and I remain grateful to them and the denomination and churches they helped preserve against the heresies of their day.

Theology is never written in a vacuum. It always reflects and addresses the time and setting that it exists within. This is why I am in favor of analyzing and revising the SoF periodically (and invovles my "apparent excitement over the revison"). I'm not suggesting that we try to become hipsters and address every little thing that comes along, but instead that every 10 years or so we have an established process for critiquing the SoF to make sure that it continues to be sufficient and relevant. I would be much more enthusiastic if a proposal for incremental change was adopted rather than a wholesale rewrite of the SoF (and made this known to the SHC when I attended the SEC district conference). If this were the case it would be much easier to look at individual issues (such as Premillenialism) and decide on it, instead of having to look at a number of issues at one time and then give it an overall yea or nay.

Think about the Apostle's Creed. It is a wonderful statement that we should all be able to affirm. It stands as an important contribution to all of Christendom. The question of whether or not it is sufficient for today is a whole 'nother deal. If you were to establish a church based solely on the Apostle's Creed any number of heretics could get into your church or denomination and hurt the flock. Though it should be cherished it should also be rocgnized as a product of men that was written by them in a particular context when they were faced with particular issues. I think the original EFCA SoF should also be cherished for its contribution, but we must be willing to address the world today for today's flock and for the sake of future generations.

Thursday, July 13, 2006 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger Jack said...

Here are some reasons to re-write the SOF:

The EFCA has broadened its position on the time of the Rapture to such an extent, that the SOF's use of the word "imminent" needs to be dropped or replaced. The denomination is not going to revert to its pre-1970's demand that all its members and preachers hold to the pre-trib view.

There are some (including leaders) in the EFCA, who want to go back to that, but it isn't going to happen; and lauding J.N. Darby isn't going to pursuade anyone, since (a) 99% of Christians have never heard of Darby, and (b) many of us who do know who he was (like me) consider him to have been an unreliable schismatic with some eccentric ideas.

The phrase "for this present age" (in regards to the ordinances) can be dropped, since hyper-dispensationalism is a non-issue --it is an irrelevant, dead ideology.

The current SOF never uses the word "grace" anywhere.

There's nothing in the SOF that clearly addresses the mandate of holy living.

Our denominational commitment to the substitutionary atonement view of Christ's death needs to be strengthened.

Open Theism is a new, real, aggressive heresy on the Christian landscape today, so there ought to be something explicit added about God's perfect foreknowledge of all things.

What concerns me is that the Committee's decision to attack premillennialism was such a politically foolish thing to do, when there are so many other valuable improvements that can be made to the old SOF that would have been widely applauded by most of the denomination.

Their determination to de-legitimize Free Church polity as a non-doctrine is another example of doing something foolish that overshadows otherwise good work.

The enduring problem with what they're doing is that they are still trying to stubbornly hew to a pattern that would work for a parachurch organization like the National Association of Evangelicals, which is a wrong paradigm for a church SOF.

Monday, July 17, 2006 8:55:00 AM  
Blogger Byron said...

To your original comments, hear, hear, Sean!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 4:14:00 PM  
Blogger Sean Dennis said...

Thanks for the kind words Byron.
Jack, I think I agree with your assessment (although I would probably use more "diplomatic" terms). The SHC is considering a preamble of sorts that would indicate that the new SoF is held by the congregational churches that make up the EFCA. I suggest that we highly encourage them to go this route!

Friday, July 21, 2006 10:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some Observations on the EFCA Statement of Faith “Refreshment”

As a former member of an EFCA church who has been watching this debate from the outside, I would just like to offer some insights on how all this looks to some of the rest of us. We had been looking to join another local EFCA church, but until all the dust settles, we will stay where we are. We would rather be without membership than to get caught up in a movement that is heading in several different directions at the same time and may splinter.

To start off, I believe this whole process is, or has become, an attempt by two opposing fringe elements in the EFCA to eventually gain control of the movement. Unfortunately, the middle group of Biblicists who make up the majority of the EFCA have been quiet for too long, and for the most part seem unwilling to stand up for the distinctives that have in the past made the EFCA better than most other “denominations” out there. I hope that will change.

Article 11:
I can see 3 main reasons for wanting to remove “Premillennial and imminent” for the return of Christ.
• Firstly, those who are Reformed premillennial/post-tribulational have realized that they are on shaky ethical ground. Since they believe that the Church will go through the Tribulation and that Christ will return at the end of the Tribulation, they are not looking for the imminent return of Christ, but instead, first of all, the imminent revealing of the Antichrist. Imminency and post-trib eschatology are not compatible under any normal definition of the term.
• Secondly, it is quite obvious that there is an increasing movement among these same Reformed people coming out of the EFCA’s Trinity Seminary to allow all flavors of Reformed theology into the EFCA. I imagine it is still not easy to find an EFCA church that is looking for a Reformed pastor. I think some EFCA churches in the past have already made the oversight of assuming that a Pastor who came from the EFCA’s seminary, and claimed to be premillennial, was by default pretrib/dispensational. I know I did! Also, since their movement is small it seems they are looking for their Amillennial and Postmillennial cousins to come into the EFCA to help strengthen their hand. They would probably be happy to just remove “imminent” if it weren’t for this reason. I don’t base this on hearsay, but even Trinity professor Douglas Sweeney is quoted in a September 2006 Christianity Today article on the Reformed movement as saying that “his seminary includes many more Calvinists than 20 years ago”. Trinity is mentioned several times in that article as a growing seedbed for Reformed theology. In speaking firsthand with a Reformed EFCA pastor last year he also confirmed that this process will seriously weaken dispensationalism within the EFCA, and he seemed quite pleased as well. It is also interesting to note that the EFCA Today issue on “Boundaries” never even attempted to answer several of the questions listed on page 21. Especially the one on methods of Bible interpretation, and the shift to Reformed theology. They were dodged quite well.
• Thirdly, some of those on the other side of the battle for the heart and control of the EFCA will be glad to see a movement away from a more normal interpretation of Gods’ Word to one of allegory for their own reasons. This will open a Pandora’s Box of continued theological slip towards more liberal theologies. Since the EFCA’s Board of Directors has deemed that “major on the majors and minor on the minors” includes our methods of Bible interpretation as a “minor”, we see where the movement is headed. This is not what the original framers intended.

A possible fourth, but lesser reason, is the desire by some to see the EFCA become a mega-church movement to rival more traditional denominations. In any case, no one seems to be able to answer the question of when “believers only, but all believers” ceases to be just that. Maybe “leave well enough alone” comes to mind.

It is my hope and prayer that the majority of mainstream dispensationalists will stand up and take back control of the EFCA before it is too late. It seems to me that either of the extremes is willing to cause a split at any cost just in order to get their agenda included in the roundtable of the new vision of an EFCA based on Arthur’s “Camelot”. Maybe the new catchphrase should be “doctrinal smorgasbord”.

Mark Outson
Grand Island, NE

Friday, April 20, 2007 10:49:00 AM  

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