At our EFCA One conference this past June, we had our highest registration since 1999. One of the reasons for the interest in attending was a decision before the delegates–the motion to amend Article 9 of our Statement of Faith. As has been noted earlier, the delegates affirmed the change in Article 9 to remove the word “premillennial” and insert the term “glorious.” It was adopted by 79 percent of the delegates.
This means Article 9 of our Statement of Faith on Christ’s Return now reads as follows:
“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.”
Since the adoption of our 2019 Statement of Faith, there have been three different articles focusing on this change. Although I will link to them and highlight a key aspect from each of the articles, I encourage you to read the complete articles. This change has also been a topic of discussion on "Quick to Listen," a podcast of Christianity Today.
Jeff Robinson: "Is Your Confession of Faith Too Narrow? 3 Questions"
Embedded in his article on theological triage, Jeff Robinson spelled out the significance of engaging in this sort of thinking regarding theology, and he used the EFCA’s recent Statement of Faith change as an example: Is Your Confession of Faith Too Narrow? 3 Questions
"The EFCA first proposed the change during its 2017 meeting. The Board of Directors, composed of leaders who affirm the Statement of Faith, including premillennialism, presented the motion to the assembly. EFCA leaders believed requiring members to subscribe to premillennialism conflicted with a higher core value of Christians uniting around the truths of the gospel. The length of the millennium and the timing of Christ’s return simply were not theological lines EFCA leaders thought should be drawn. For this, they should be strongly applauded. I say this as a confessional Baptist, committed to the Second London Confession of 1689...If nothing else, the EFCA’s move is commendable because it aimed to avoid dividing good Christians needlessly. The board made clear that the EFCA is not pressing for relational unity at the cost of doctrinal purity...Confessions of faith should function as guardrails, not a straightjacket."
Ed Stetzer: One-on-One with Greg Strand on Premillennialism and the EFCA
Ed Stetzer conducted an interview asking five key questions, included below, about the change to our Statement of Faith: One-on-One with Greg Strand on Premillennialism and the EFCA
- What was the EFCA’s history with premillennialism? It seems that premillennialism was disproportionally important to the Evangelical Free Church. Why?
- I remember we had a conversation the last time the denomination tried to make this change. Why did you keep trying? Or, put another way, why was removing premillennialism such a big deal?
- Changing a doctrinal statement is a big deal, and often means that a denomination is actually moving away from orthodoxy. What does this movement mean?
- Most denominations are known for certain theological or doctrinal issues, which emphasize where they are different from other denominations. What would you say about the EFCA?
- Some conclude this change is for the sake of greater inclusiveness and relational unity, but at the expense of doctrinal purity. Was that the goal? Is this a shift to doctrinal minimalism?
Daniel Silliman: EFCA Now Considers Premillennialism a Non-Essential
Daniel Silliman, writing for Christianity Today, also addressed the EFCA Statement of Faith change made by the Conference this past June: EFCA Now Considers Premillennialism a Non-Essential
"The Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) changed its position on end-times theology, voting this summer to drop the word 'premillennial' from the denomination’s statement of faith. Many of the 350,000 people who belong to EFCA churches still believe Jesus will return to earth to reign as king for 1,000 years, but the denomination no longer considers that doctrine essential to the gospel."
Silliman includes a quote from John Woodbridge, research professor of church history and the history of christian thought, who has taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School since 1970, that gets at the heart of the change and who the EFCA is:
"People really saw high stakes in the move. One person of great stature told me that if you give up premillennialism, you will give up biblical inerrancy," Woodbridge told CT. “For me, I never made that connection. John Calvin, Martin Luther, and others, certainly in the Reformed tradition, had a high view of Scripture, but they were never premillennial."
Morgan Lee and Mark Galli: Another Denomination Changes Its End Times Doctrine
Morgan Lee and Mark Galli discussed our Statement of Faith change on Christianity Today’s podcast, "Quick to Listen": Another Denomination Changes Its End Times Doctrine: Why the Evangelical Free Church of America stepped back from its premillennial convictions. Joining them on the podcast was Daniel Hummel, historian of U.S. religion and foreign relations, and together they discussed “the rise and fall of premillennialism, the influence of Left Behind, and the significance of the EFCA’s decision." Regarding the history of this discussion, Hummel notes the following:
“The church has held multiple positions on the End Times held by the Early Church fathers,' says Daniel Hummel, a historian of US religion and foreign relations. 'But in more recent evangelical history, postmillennialism dominated in the early part of American history and colonial history,’ said Hummel. ‘People like Jonathan Edwards saw revivals as inaugurating the millennium, as bringing in this deeply Christian era that would last a thousand years and then conclude with Jesus personally returning.’ Then, after the carnage of the Civil War, Americans became more pessimistic, which, in turn, affected their eschatological views. Premillennialism become sort of the main tradition and the air that a lot of evangelicals breathe throughout the 20th century,’ said Hummel.”
And in response to the question of whether or not there is any “fallout or consequence” of removing premillennialism from our Statement of Faith, Hummel concludes the following:
“The movement to remove premillennial was seen as getting rid of a position that not everyone held, or needed to hold, to be considered a Christian in right standing. And the argument was to replace the word premillennial with glorious because this is something we see in the Biblical text—that Christ's return will be a glorious appearance—and that this would be more in line with what the Bible says. I think it's also just a convenient way to say we're not just taking something away; we're actually reforming the language to be closer to the Biblical intent. So I think it was in part a legitimate decision to try to get closer to Biblical text, but I also think it was a good strategic decision to not just take something out.”
What has happened both with the 2008 Statement of Faith and the 2019 Statement of Faith changes is that we have lived by the principle that theology is best lived in community. Grounded in the inerrant and absolute authority of God’s Word, we in the EFCA both affirmed and lived theology together, in community.
I give thanks to the Lord for his kindness and mercy through this process, and for the discussion and decision made by the Conference, and I pray that our 2019 Statement of Faith will be used of the Lord for the spread of the gospel in and through the EFCA “to the end of the age.” And until then, and in light of Christ's glorious return, may we, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, give ourselves to “godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.”
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