Practicing Discernment: Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Muskego, Wisconsin – Distinctives of the EFCA

This is a short brief post about the distinctives of the national EFCA. This comes from the Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Muskego, Wisconsin. When you look at the distinctives what do they mean? How you you translate them? 

“Intelligence is something we are born with. Thinking is a skill that must be learned.”

Edward De Bono

“To live is to think.”

Marcus Cicero

That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. 12 As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.

Acts 17: 10-12 NLT 

Glacier National Park in Montana 

This post today is a discernment exercise that comes from Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Muskego, Wisconsin. This EFCA church is in the Forest Lakes District. Muskego is a city in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. These are the distinctives for the EFCA. I just wanted to take a step back and let people think through this. What are the distinctives of the EFCA? What are the plus and minuses to what you see listed below? 


Distinctives

Distinctives of the Evangelical Free Church of America

“In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, charity. In all things, Jesus Christ.”

1. The Evangelical Free Church of America is a believers’ church – membership consists of those who have a personal faith in Jesus Christ.

The great heritage of EFCA people around the world includes the fact that fellowship and ministry opportunities in the local church are based solely on one’s personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord and trusting in Him alone for salvation. Membership requires commitment to sound doctrine as expressed in our Statement of Faith. However, a person is not excluded from membership because he or she does not agree on every fine point of doctrine. Within the EFCA, there is allowance for legitimate differences of understanding in some areas of doctrine.

2. The Evangelical Free Church of America is evangelical – we are committed to the inerrancy and authority of the Bible and the essentials of the gospel.

The EFCA was born out of a heritage of commitment to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. We have deep convictions based on the authority of God’s Word, but we do not draw battle lines over minor points. Nor do we make minor issues of doctrine a test of fellowship in the local church. We are evangelical. We believe in separated living and personal holiness, but we are not separatists.

3. The Evangelical Free Church of America embraces a humble orthodoxy in partnership with others of like faith.

We believe in the spiritual unity of the Church though not necessarily in structural union. We join with other Christians and other denominations of like, precious faith in common goals and ministries to accomplish the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. But we believe that there is strength in diversity and that it is important to preserve our distinctives. We recognize that union in structure does not guarantee unity of spirit. Our foremost concern is unity of spirit with our Lord, with each other and with other Christians.

4. The Evangelical Free Church of America believes in Christian freedom with responsibility and accountability.

We believe in Christian liberty, but freedom always has its limitations. Responsible Christians do not abuse freedom. The apostle Paul wrote forcefully about Christian liberty in the Book of Galatians. He shattered the legalists with the doctrine of grace. But in First and Second Corinthians and Romans, the apostle also rebuked believers when liberty was abused. He declared boldly the principles of Christian liberty, but spoke with equal forcefulness about Christian accountability. The EFCA desires to preserve our freedom in Christ. We encourage our people to be responsible, godly men, women and young people who desire to live under the control of the Holy Spirit in obedience to the principles and precepts of God’s Word, and in harmony with God’s will for life as revealed in the Scriptures.

5. The Evangelical Free Church of America believes in both the rational and relational, i.e. the head and the heart, dimensions of Christianity.

We believe the Scriptures must be applied to our individual lives with warmth of heart, warmth of message and warmth of concern. We believe it is essential to have solid, biblical content in our doctrinal understanding of faith, but it is equally important to have a dynamic, vital relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ the Son and to live by the power of the Holy Spirit. Sound Christian doctrine must be coupled with dynamic Christian experience. Ours is a ministry of love and spiritual reconciliation.

6. The Evangelical Free Church of America affirms the right of each local church to govern its own affairs with a spirit of interdependency with other churches.

The EFCA is committed to a congregational form of government as stated in our Articles of Incorporation: “The Evangelical Free Church of America shall be an association and fellowship of autonomous but interdependent congregations of like faith and congregational government…” Strong pastoral leadership coupled with discerning and well-equipped Christian lay people can produce spiritual growth as well as significant church growth. While the EFCA affirms the right of each local church to govern its own affairs, we also believe in the biblical values of interdependence and cooperation.

We are a movement of churches committed to working with one another in order to fulfill the Great Commission in the United States and abroad. This is only possible when there are strong ties with other EFCA churches, with local district organizations and with the national EFCA ministries.

 

2 thoughts on “Practicing Discernment: Calvary Evangelical Free Church in Muskego, Wisconsin – Distinctives of the EFCA

  1. Reading this, I’m completely confused. They are committed to inerrancy, except about minor points, which they don’t specify. There is a commitment to “sound doctrine” but also room to disagree about “some areas”. Which ones? They talk about “accountability” but aren’t clear whether than means that the members have to be accountable to the pastors, or whether it’s the pastors who should be accountable to the members. They will join with other christians of “like, precious faith”, but how “like” does another church have to be to qualify? The church will govern its own affairs, but with a “spirit of interdependency”? I have no idea what they mean by that, unless it means that they give their denomination money and let it boss them around.

    “Responsible Christians do not abuse freedom.”. Uh-oh. This sounds like authoritarian double-speak to me. You are free, but you aren’t. If you do the unspecified stuff they don’t approve of you doing, or have your own ideas, they can declare you “irresponsible”.

    It sounds like they have written this to make it sound like they are flexible and open, but have been deliberately vague enough to claim they are justified in clamping down on people who don’t fall in line. Whatever that line is, I sure can’t tell.

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    • Ubi, having spent almost three decades in the EFC denomination (I have been out of the denomination for five years and now attend an independent church), it is an interesting dynamic. And so I understand the questions you raise and the things you are wondering about. The unifying element of the churches is the denomination’s statement of faith. As long as the individual churches agree to that statement of faith, they are largely operating on their own. Individual churches are congregationally governed. Exactly what that looks like varies to some degree from church to church. Most are probably elder-led, that was the case with ours. How much input the congregation has versus how authoritative the pastor and/or elders are would vary from church to church.

      The statement of faith is pretty typical of what one would normally associate with conservative/evangelical Christian doctrine. It is, however, not exhaustively lengthy and so it does not speak to every nuanced doctrine and position. (You could easily find it on the denomination’s site, or on the websites of many individual churches.) So there is a degree of latitude within those bounds for individuals, and churches, to have some differences on various theological and doctrinal points.

      So there is a wide range of different “flavors” of what the individual churches look like, how they act, what they choose to focus on, etc. For instance, to address one of your questions, how much churches interact with other churches in their communities would vary widely from church to church. The church I attended had very little interaction with other area churches, perhaps participating in a combined Good Friday service here and there, but even then only with a couple of other area churches whose doctrinal approach our pastor/leadership felt comfortable with. (In hindsight, I came to see how “isolationist” our particular church tended to be.) Other churches may well have more cooperation and interaction with other area churches.

      I can say that the “spirit of interdependency” does not entail, as you wonder about, giving the denomination money and letting it boss them around. I know that our church sent only a relatively small amount of money to the district and national offices (we gave much more to individual missionaries supported by our church), and there was next-to-no direct involvement by those denomination offices in our church life. In fact, I think that was a problem when our church experienced some significant internal conflict . . . there was no outside authority who could step into the situation with any degree of real influence. The district office only sent a representative when they were invited to do so by the church leadership, and even then all they could do was to listen and to offer suggestions and recommendations, which the church was free to use or ignore.

      So there is very little, almost no, authoritarianism at the denominational level. Because of the wide variety of practices and dynamics in individual churches, you would certainly find individual churches which are quite authoritarian, vesting a lot of power in the pastor and/or elder board. But this would be a dynamic particular to an individual church, and not due to any denominational hierarchy.

      If someone was asking me about becoming involved in an EFCA church, I would simply say it depends on the individual church. There is so much variation in dynamics and styles and approaches. The person would need to thoroughly check out the particular church to see whether it fit what they were looking for. And they could probably go a short distance away to another EFCA church and find a quite different environment.

      I don’t know if this is helpful in addressing some of the questions you pose.

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