Monday, February 27, 2006

Biblical Theology and Balance

As is the case in any generation of Christians, there are issues that arise and trigger significant debate. In recent months, we've seen the Emergent Church/postmodernism debate, the Open Theism debate, a renewed "Battle for the Bible" to quote the late Dr. Harold Lindsell, the debate over the seeker-sensitive church model, and the list goes on. While we are not quite at the stage where a modern day Martin Luther is being hauled off to the Wartburg to escape Duke George and Pope Leo, the battle over theology is getting quite intense.

It should be no surprise that this would happen. Scripture is replete with warnings about the last days and deception. The Lord Jesus Himself asked the question, "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). The picture painted by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy is severe, marking out especially for condemnation those who "have a form of godliness, but deny its power." I think it is safe to say that, while Revelation speaks of a multitude that no man can number, this number - as vast as it apparently will be - is but a remnant of those who could have been saved. I believe Scripture also makes it clear that the Lord expects those who name Him as Savior to be faithful to His Word. "If you love Me, keep my commandments."

In my own fellowship, the Evangelical Free Church of America, revisions to our doctrinal statement are being considered. At this writing, the main changes seem to be in the area of eschatology, or doctrine of the end times. The EFCA has historically been a premillennial, dispensational fellowship. A change was made back in the 1970s to reflect other understandings of the word "imminence" in a historic premillennial sense. The proposed changes appear to allow for amillennialism, postribulationism and other eschatological ideas. All of this rather confirms a long-standing belief of mine. I seldom see doctrinal statements strengthened by changes. Almost always, they get watered down. The battle over this proposed change is only beginning, and only time will tell whether it is ultimately adopted. I hope not. The EFCA was formed to stand for something. There are numerous other fellowships out there having amillennial views on eschatology. I would hope that people would seek those fellowships out instead of insisting on changes that are not in keeping with our historic stance.

(EDITED TO ADD) - Lest I get chastised for it later, I should qualify the above with the following. I am not suggesting that one's stance on eschatology should be a test of fellowship unless the physical return of Jesus to earth is denied. I have friends who are amillennial whom I respect very much and their theology is solid, despite my disagreement on that particular matter. What I AM suggesting is that we ought not try to force a fellowship to abandon its doctrinal statement or distinctives because we might happen to hold a different view. If it gets that bad, it's better to find a fellowship more in line with what you think. And most certainly, a pastor should not obtain or maintain credentials under false conditions.

And that leads me to comment briefly on another thing that has bothered me for a long time. In many denominations, a pastor must reaffirm the doctrinal position of his denomination to remain in good standing with his credentials. I have seen it on more than one occasion that the pastor actually no longer holds to some of the doctrinal distinctives of his fellowship, but when it's renewal time, "nudge nudge..wink wink..say no more, say no more." This is dishonest and lacking in integrity. If you can't sign on to your fellowship's doctrinal statement, it's time to move on. But no..it seems some would rather engage in what amounts to a guerilla campaign to change the doctrine of the fellowship in question while supposedly pledging to uphold it. Scripture says "let your yes be yes and your no be no." Oh, silly me. I forgot. Who has a high view of Scripture anymore these days?

As time marches on to its denouement, the struggle over fealty to the Lord and to Scripture will only grow more pronounced. I would like to see us throw out all the best sellers we're buying with the latest pop theology, and get back to the time tested, proven Word of God. A biblical theology is a balanced theology, and is the best guarantee for the church having the impact on the culture.

8 comments:

"lee n. field" said...

I was going to make a comment, but I just noticed that the EFCA web site now has a second draft revision, which is very new -- it wasn't there a couple weeks ago when I first heard about this. So, something to read before I comment further.

Anyway, the EFCA's statement of faith as it currently stands, and what's proposed are both here: http://www.efca.org/about/doctrine/ .

SolaMeanie said...

Lee,

I knew of the second draft, but the whole thing still bothers me no matter how many drafts they come up with. I think they ought to leave it alone, and more than that, enforce it with ordained and licensed clergy. As I said, there are plenty of fellowships out there with amillennial theology. What is next? Fudging on inerrancy? The substitutionary atonement of Christ?

sean said...

I don't think it's entirely fair to say that the proposed SoF follows the drift of dribble in denominational statements.

The eschatological area has been strengthened to affirm the meaning of our "blessed hope," the doctrine of God has been beefed up to fight current day heresies, and other truths are also added, such as the fact that Adam and Eve (contra theistic evolution) were the first human couple and created uniquely by God.

Now that being said, I will agree that there are problems with the proposed SoF and many of those problems exist with the reasons stated by the framers for writing a new one.

SolaMeanie said...

Fair enough, Sean. However, to switch from the Free Church's historic stand on eschatology is a significant change and a water-down in my view. For instance, to allow for amillennialism requires an entirely different hermeneutic. Yes, amils do hold to a physical return of Christ to earth, but amillennialism is NOT the historic stand of the Free Church.

There is a growing dislike among pastors in our fellowship for eschatology. I know of several who refuse to preach on it. That is just not right.

"lee n. field" said...

Some random comments:

Re the EFCA's current statement, the "premillennial and imminent" is the only part I have any problem with at all. It's a phrase that expands to the whole dispensational eschatological model. Back in the day, that's all I'd ever heard about. Now, I know there are alternatives to it, and problems with it, and I don't buy it. When interviewed by the elders of my congregation for membership I was explicit on that point. I didn't want to be there under false pretenses. The elders had no problem with my profession.

And I don't think having doubts about premillenialism is a sign of the "end times apostacy" (though there are eschatological views that are beyond the pale -- I'm thinking specifically of full preterism that denies our bodily ressurection).

The EFCA seems intended to be a broadly evangelical body. I didn't know until the draft statement pointed it out that there isn't even anything in the current Sof about the proper mode and recipients of baptism. Nor, for that matter, on election and predestination. Compared to that ommission the clause on eschatology seems like a bit of nit-picking (I'm guessing there's a historical reason for it).

As far as "find another church" -- that's not always easy now. I'm seeing a lot of people out there in Internetforumland complaining about having to travel quite a long ways these days to get to an acceptable church.

Check the comment blog on the EFCA site. I seem to remember one guy there saying "why not open theism?" -- scary.

(BTW, if you want serious ommission: I'm flipping through the second draft now -- I'm not noticing anything about the ressurection (ours, not Jesus').)

Yes, we need to be careful of our statements of faith.


Faaah! It's late, my mind is fried.

SolaMeanie said...

Sigh.

There have always been other views of eschatology whether you knew of them or not. Amillennialism is nothing new. The EFCA leadership took a position on it because they disagreed with amillennialism.

I never said or intended to imply that doubts about premillennialism was a sign of end-times apostasy. I am concerned about larger drift than that church-wide and I used our situation in the EFCA as an illustration about how changes begin. Your point about preterism being beyond the pale is a case in point. There are those who don't think it's beyond the pale. Will we accommodate them in our pulpits also? Where does it end? There are a growing number of theologians such as Brian McLaren who are soft on homosexuality. Will we accommodate them? Where does it end? Your remark on "open theism" is well taken. It is scary. But do we accommodate it? The Bible says "This is eternal life, to know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." If a person denies omniscience, then they don't know the only true God. The reverse logic seems to indicate that, as night follows day, they don't have eternal life either. That would apply to Sebellianism and other heresies.

I am beginning to wonder personally about election and predestination (I am Reformed) and whether we ought to take a stronger stand on it. There seems to me to be a very fine line between Arminianism and Pelagianism. I hope that line doesn't get crossed. BTW..note I said "stronger." Not "weaker."

My statement about people finding another church if they disagree with what we teach means merely what I said. If our doctrinal statement is such that it makes people have a hissy fit, then perhaps they need to find a place where they will be happy. I am not advocating throwing them out. However, I would not want them teaching. I take a harder line if a pastor or elder differs with our doctrinal statement. To me, that is a matter of integrity. Why do they hang on? I have an idea or two but that would really be inflammatory.

Aregon said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Aregon said...

Hey Joel,

It is sad really. I see comments like this ("What is next? Fudging on inerrancy? The substitutionary atonement of Christ?") all the time regarding changing our SoF and frankly, I don't buy them. The SoF is not inerrant, and it's intent is not to define Christianity (i.e. denying a particular point of an SoF does not necessarily mean the person is a heretic.) Inerrancy is definitional, substitution is definitional, premillennialism is not.

A SoF can include distinctives, but many of the comments I read try to justify the distinctives by making them sound like heresy will spread like wildfire if we remove them, and this is just plain false. Take for example "substitutionary atonement". I also hold a Reformed soteriology, and I would love to see any possibility of Arminianism rejected by the SoF. But, I also know that the average Evangelical has no clue what "substitution" really means, and that it finds its roots in "Calvinism" (oh, the humanity!)

Someone can agree with the SoF and believe in an unlimited atonement (that a person for whom Christ "substituted" can still go to hell.) Another person can believe the exact opposite thing (limited atonement) - that everyone for whom Christ died by definition goes to Heaven. Both can become a member of an EVFree church, yet they disagree on something that speaks to the very power and purpose of the death of Christ and salvation itself! Even so, is is not considered worthy of being defined in the SoF, and the framers punted on this one!

By the way, these people can share fellowship in the EFCA, right alongside someone who believes in paedobaptism and transubstantion (the SoF does not define the hermaneutic, but rather what the hermaneutic must arrive at, and there is a hermaneutic that would arrive at all 12 points and still come up with transubstantiation), but not someone who is an amillennial - what sense does that make?

To me, it seems that the only true "distinctives" in the entire SoF are "premillennial" and point 10b. If that's the case, then explain to me how the EFCA is any different than any "non-denominational" Bible church. Heck, every Southern Baptist I know would even fit here. But God forbid if we let an amillennial in!

Unless you want to write a book, it is very difficult to say anything substantial in a 12 point SoF, (which is personally why I think they are quite useless - use a good confession like the Belgic instead! :) ), and I wish people would hold to one of the original intents of the EFCA - "to major on the majors and minor on the minors". Is premillennialism more major than the very death of Christ? So it seems! It is as if we don't even want to entertain the debate about the end times.

The upcoming Midwinter Conference should be quite interesting, eh? :)

In Him,
Jeff.