Reports from the EFCA Mid-Winter Ministerial


EFCA Mid-Winter Ministerial & Proposed Statement of Faith Revisions

It’s always going to be interesting when you throw about 400+ pastors together from a “denomination” (I’ll explain the parentheses later) and let them discuss the merits of revising a Statement of Faith that has been the founding statement since the groups formal inception in 1950. It’s informative. It’s intellectually challenging. Some of the presenters are very stimulating (good thing or we’d fall asleep all too quickly). And then there are the pastors themselves who have opportunity to either ask questions, make comments on the document or the process or the committee that’s been charged with presenting this proposal.

It would be wrong to say that this doesn’t get emotional. It would be wrong to say that it shouldn’t involve emotions. However, there have been some… just a few… who have let their emotions get the better of their good sense and their tongues. It’s a good thing we still believe in the “laying on of hands!” Actually, it’s just as well that they didn’t put me in charge of helping moderate these kinds of things. I’d get Fizick as part of my “Goon Squad” and do some serious laying on of hands!

This has been a good process, however. I think, no matter what the long-range outcome may be, it’s been good because it’s forced us to take a good, hard, biblical look at our existing EFCA Statement of Faith. It’s made us see what we truly believe as EFCA-ers. It’s made us say, with the forefathers of the EFCA, “Where stands it written?” It’s given us good opportunity to dialogue and discuss the absolute essentials of what we believe and what might be a “non-essential” to keep at heart, but not make a dividing distinctive in our EFCA heritage of “all believers, only believers.”

I’m still not certain whether I can “publish” on this blog any of the proposed draft without getting my credentials being placed in serious jeopardy. I’ll check on the possibility of that and let you know as time moves on. This much I can say: I think what has been proposed is good and even necessary given many of the changes in our culture and in the evangelical culture itself. Our statement , in its existent form, is about as simple as it can get. But this lends itself to “weakness” in the day in which we live, where truth is under assault. So, we’ve been seeing how we can strengthen our Statement of Faith by expanding just a bit, changing just a bit, and coming out, in the long run, with a much more definitive and more inclusive statement.

One quick example, without a word-for-word citation: we believe that while we cannot know God’s truth exhaustively, we can know it truly. It helps to keep us humble: we don’t know everything; we can’t know everything. Scripture very plainly says, “…the hidden things belong to God…” (Deuteronomy 29.29). However, God has made Himself known and spoken to us in many and various ways (Heb 1.1). These things, what He has made known, “…belong to us, and our sons forever…” These things we can know and will stand for, believe in and yes, even get a bit feisty about. So, let’s put on the gloves and love one another.

Getting Called Hagar

It’s been a fascinating experience, being at the EFCA Mid-Winter Ministerial. I haven’t been at one of these meetings, for a variety of reasons, for a very long time. Time for that to change now.

However, it’s hard to be present at a meeting that’s discussing a draft proposal for revisions in our EFCA’s Statement of Faith and have another pastor essentially call all Calvinists “Hagar.” Now for those not there (all of you, I’m pretty sure), the comments came from a young pastor in an EFCA who has very clearly made it known that he’s strongly opposed to the proposal as well as the process. And, his most recent/last/hopefully final comments, he compared the idea of even looking to think about revising our SoF like our culture’s fascination with faddish notions. This looking and chasing after fads was then paralleled with Abraham and his choice of a second wife in Hagar. Surrounding this, in context of his statements, was the clear desire to have the Committee remove, from the revised proposal, “all this Calvinist language,” for this is like leaving what we’ve been given and pursuing that which is new and faddish.

As I sat there hearing this preposterous notion, I looked to one of my dear pastoral friends, who is even more reformed in his calvinism than me, and asked, “Did he just call us ‘Hagar’?” To which Randy replied, “I think so; it’s pretty clear that we are.” (To show his humor at all this, in talking during a break, we laughed at the notion of changing all our children’s names to Ishmael, just so there wouldn’t be any confusion in where we stood doctrinally to this ewak brother.) Now that may not have been his intent, so I’ll not judge his intent. However, with that said, all his other comments have been bathed in unbridled foolishness, accusations impugning the character of those on the committee, and using Scripture oft times out of context to stress his points.

This is the EFCA. And in some ways, just like being an American, I strongly disagree with this fellow pastor and I will defend his given right, in this country at least, to be wrong and to reveal that with his own mouth. If I were to answer him in the way in which my flesh kept shouting at me to respond, I would have been, to use Proverbs right back at him, answering a fool with his own folly. That being said (I said that before didn’t I; I apologize for redundancy in phraseology), he’s a Free Church pastor and I’ll love him and pray for him.

Calling It a Day

Closing Session of EFCA Mid-Winter Ministerial

Bill Hamel, president of the EFCA

I’d like to end our time together by simply sharing three points:

1. I’m proud to be the President of the EFCA

I’ve found our interaction over these days to be good, rich, and stimulating. There’s been a high level of theological reflection taking place on both sides of the issues presented these past days. And we haven’t had to agree; no one’s forced you to agree 100% with them, but that’s been a good thing and an honor to the Free Church’s heritage.

I think we’ve seen a moving past what many saw as a forced process; that has been changing over the past days, I trust. It was never intended to be a “top-down” process and I hope you’ve come to see that truth. Over the past nine years, our mid-winter ministerials have taken a direction that allows us to look hard at some of our core doctrinal beliefs. This kind of dialogue is healthy for the EFCA. It helps promote a community of theological thinkers.

2. I’m pleased with the process.

The need was recognized as a part of the role of leadership. You, as pastors, do much the same thing with your own leaders in your own churches when you have a vision for direction and ministry: you think hard on it, present it to the group of leadership, come with more of the idea in shape to your congregations, gather ideas from there and move forward. We’ve brought this document to you; We’ve not communicated as perfectly as some thought we ought; but think about how imperfect your own communication back home is also. We’ve brought this to you for your consideration, your input.

We need to address these matters given some of the ordinations papers over that past years. We need to help our people know what we believe.

The next step is very important: this proposal will get presented to your district conferences, to pastors gatherings, and special sessions. Pastors – bring your elders. Some have said this document is too heady for them…then you’d better get them there! They need to be at this level; it reflects upon you as a pastor is they’re not.

3. Prayer must be a vital part.

Prayer must be a tremendous part of this. We’d better be on our knees; it’s far too important not to be on our knees.


6 Responses

  1. You can read the current EFCA Statement of Faith here. There is a link from there to a PDF draft of the revised Statement of Faith.

  2. Thanks, um, er… can’t seem to put a name to your face or your…

    Anyway, thanks for the link to the EFCA’s site and current doctrinal statement. And since they have a PDF available, that must mean it’s now gone “public” so I’ll see about inserting bits and pieces as this blog goes on.


  3. As a fellow EFCAer, I find myself pondering the balance between too much of a statement and not enough. It is wide open, welcoming all and that is good. But closing ranks on doctrinal issues could be beneficial as well.

    We need to define who we are if we are to gain any sense of recognition. With the Presbys you have a decent idea what you’re getting into. Same with the church of the Nazarines. If I were to relocate to a new city, I wouldn’t just find the first EFCA church and claim it because I really don’t know what doctrines they follow. They could hold to any number of things that my pastor refutes!

    I guess I’d like to find some more identity within our association. That is what I see the EFCA as. If we had more continuity, I would see it as a full denomination. The teachings from TEDS that I’ve seen have been beneficial toward this unity, but I’d like to see some serious debating on certain matters.

    Then again, is the tradition of the EFCA as an association able to withstand such debate?

    I look forward for more info.

  4. 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

  5. Mark,

    Fascinating that it took quite some time to find the blog and this post regarding the Statement of Faith. I understand, especially, if you’re not, with great intent, looking for such things.

    I’m a bit bothered by the tone of these “two extremes” you speak of. I’ve been an EFCA pastor for over 21 years and haven’t noticed any extreme parts of the EFCA, at least not in quite the same way you describe them. There will always be a “spectrum” within the EFCA; can’t be helped when you have a statement as broad and as all-encompassing as we have. If you want arminian dispensationalism for the entire denomination, then the voice that should be heard is, don’t limit our statement to only 12 points; let’s expand them so we can be far more exclusionary than we are (although, I think you’d find this violating the intent of the initial writers in the first place).

    Second, I’m not sure if you truly understand my convictions and doctrinal beliefs. I would consider myself quite calvinistic in doctrine, somewhat reformed in practice & methodology, fairly sympathetic to arminian dispensationalists, but also without time for those who make others like me seem to be extreme, fringe, wrong, outside the norm and acceptable, especially within the EFCA.

    Thirdly, I’m troubled by the terms “shaky ethical ground” when refering to the word “imminent” and whether it should be removed or that those who are premil/post-trib are those peculiarly upon this shaky ground. I sit on the North Central District’s Council on Ministerial Standing and this discussion has come up many times. I’m not sure how it can be considered “unethical” when this is what even the Board of Ministerial Standing allows for licensing and ordination. Explain the unethical portion of it to me, for I fail to understand here. Any dictionary will give you a definition of imminent that both sides of this “debate” can use. Most, however, do not offer the “at any moment without any warning” definition that most pre-tribs use (and I see this as more unethical than not since I have yet to hear a pre-trib-ber satisfactorily explain Jesus’ comments about the signs to watch for at the end)

    It must be fun, to be on the outside of the EFCA and see what you see: “a battle for the heart and control of the EFCA” I’m not sure what battle you see, but if you haven’t spoken to any of those who are directly involved with this, I’d advise more caution in your words. You are clearly in the wrong when you “accuse” them of being glad to see a movement away from a more normal interpretation of God’s Word. I think these sentiments show how badly things get distorted when not accurately informed (by actually carrying on dialog with those in the process).

    As to the EFCA seeking to become more “mega-church” friendly in order to rival others, I’m not sure where that fits into this discussion, not certain where you get this impression (that of a rivalry, anyway), and not certain that it’s helpful at all.

    It really is amazing to me, how excitable so many in the EFCA have become, over what seems to them, a clear move on the part of those irascible calvinists (I think you’d find the arminians to be far more irascible on this; just listen to the venom and anger they spew when these things come up) to make the EFCA a “reformed” denomination. Listen, if “we” wanted a reformed denomination, we’d have all left and joined the reformed baptists.

    I think your rhetoric has gotten the better of you for a time. I pray a spirit of peace will settle upon you in the days to come.

    Kevin Sorensen

  6. Dear “Calvinistic Curmudgeon”,

    Sorry it took so long to find your site, but from the tone of your reply I really must have hit a sore spot close to the mark! Anyway, thanks for taking so much of your time to respond to my “observations” on the EFCA Refreshment. In all fairness, what I meant by “fringes”, and “extremes” in the last paragraph is polar opposites. I apologize if it came across as spiteful, but it really wasn’t intended that way. At the same time, in fairness to both “Arminians” and “Calvinists” alike, I think it is quite normal to differentiate between Moderate & Extreme Arminians and Calvinists. Do you differentiate between “arminian dispensationalists” and “other” dispensationalists, or do you just like to use the term “arminian” pejoratively in your posts? If so, I will leave you to your “spirit of peace”.

    My “mega-church” phraseology comes from those in the EFCA who are constantly coming up with new slogans to sell this refreshment, and their references to “Camelot”. All these publications coming out are starting to remind me of a Clinton Whitehouse press release.

    As for ethics; since this issue over Imminency “has come up many times” may be telling in itself. Why does it come up at all? Once again, the post-tribbers are looking for the revealing of Antichrist and the tribulation to begin, so they can start their countdown to the return. In “their” system that MUST take place BEFORE Christ CAN return. If that is the case, the term imminent has no real meaning. I believe “Fudging” is more accurately Situation Ethics.

    MORE IMPORTANTLY, promoting the use of allegory over the use of a normative hermeneutic for the whole of Scripture is quite “troubling” to me and many others in and outside of the EFCA. This is not “fun” (your term), and I am not firing potshots at the EFCA, as I have many dear friends and Pastors within the EFCA who are concerned as well. This issue suits both “those” looking for the EFCA to move towards liberal theologies (e.g. emmergents, etc.), and secondly to absorb Reformed churches like those of the PCA to give a home to Reformed pastors coming out of Trinity. Excuse me, but I am not sure how many Reformed Baptist churches would want someone coming out of Trinity (they have Al Mohler), and that is why they want Article 11 changed. This is not being judgmental, it is just pointing out the obvious. If I was in “their” position I would probably want to do the same thing so as to be totally above board and so that my conscience was clear before the Lord.

    Also, if only the Reformed who are in leadership positions within the EFCA are qualified to give their views on the “Refreshment”, and seek to condescend to, or judge, anyone else who dares disagree with them, then that only confirms the remarks of my previous post. I doubt any of this will change your mind, but if you find time please checkout some of the “EFCA” posts on the New Covenant Living site. Jack (an EFCA Pastor) has some “non-extreme” perspectives on the importance of the Premillennial and Imminent issue.

    Thanks again for interacting with me over this “extremely” important issue. I think I will be moving on and let you get back to the irascibles Pink and Gill. ;{)

    Another “Biblicist”,
    Mark Outson

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