Inside the EFCA are Neo-Calvinists Violating the “Significance of Silence” to Hijack Churches?

Greg Strand recently wrote about the “Significance of Silence” at the EFCA blog. A follow up response post featured a comment by the North Central District Superintendent Brian Farone and two key Neo-Calvinist churches in the EFCA – Bill Kynes Cornerstone here in the Washington, D.C. area and Josh Black’s First Free Wichita located in Kansas. Despite what is said about the “Significance of Silence” The Wondering Eagle believes that Neo-Calvinists are violating the concept as they hijack churches inside the EFCA. A painful story from Brian’s district in Minnesota as well as how Josh Black flipped First Free Wichita only validate the claim that in regards to Neo-Calvinism the “Significance of Silence” is failing inside the EFCA. 

“Most of wars or military coups or invasions are done in the name of democracy against democracy.”

Eduardo Galeano

“Everywhere that the struggle for national freedom has triumphed, once the authorities agreed, there were military coups d’etat that overthrew their leaders. That is the result time and time again.

Ahmed Ben Bella

God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

John 3:17 NLT

The sign for Josh Black’s First Evangelical Free in Wichita, Kansas 

Josh Black on the First Free Wichita Middle School Retreat in 2008. 

This post continues the discussion about a theological coup that took place at an Evangelical Free Church in the North Central District. We are going to look at the “Significance of Silence” and how Neo-Calvinists are violating it in order to pull off theological coups which are taking place inside the EFCA. This post is a follow up to a story about a Neo-Calvinist church hijacking which took place in Minnesota. You can read about that in, “A Neo-Calvinist Hijacking at an EFCA Church in Minnesota That Took Place in the Shadow of John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist” and also “Publishing a Comment that was Not Approved on Greg Strand’s EFCA Post on the “Significance of Silence”

 

 

Brief Overview of the “Significance of Silence” 

The “Significance of Silence” is a core principle that the EFCA is founded on. Its embedded deep in its history and it basically emphasizes unity without being divided on minor issues. Discussion can be allowed but for the sake of the Gospel the EFCA must be united. Now in many ways I like that principle especially when it comes to issues like creationism and evolution or baptism. I withdrew from a church once in my life because one of the issues was when I was told that you have to believe in a literal seven day creationism if you were to be a Christian. As a guy firmly committed to science, and thus evolution it helped drive me away from one particular evangelical church. According to Greg Strand’s post the origins of the “Significance of Silence” apparently come from the first president of the EFCA Arnold Olson. This is what the late EFCA President stated.Once [the early Free Church leaders] began to put in writing what was commonly believed among them, they were silent on those doctrines which through the centuries had divided Christians of equal dedication, Biblical knowledge, spiritual maturity and love for Christ.’ This ‘significance of silence’ reflected our strong concern for Evangelical unity in the gospel.Faith can be reviewed with time but the focus with the “Significance of Silence” must be on unity. To read more about it in detail I am going to defer to Greg Strand’s post called, “Why Do We Adhere to the “Significance of Silence”?” After that post was published on March 19, 2018 there was a follow up post that consisted of comments by key EFCA personalities or churches that grabbed my attention as I researched this post. You can read the follow up post in, “Navigating Theological Differences and Maintaining Unity.” That second post came almost a month later on April 17, 2018. 

 

Brian Farone at Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande, California on December 31, 2017

Brian Farone of the North Central District Responds to the “Significance of Silence” 

The first person who responded in that second post is the EFCA District Superintendent of the North Central District, Brian Farone. Before I get into what Brian said let’s look briefly at this district superintendent. Brian obtained his B.A. at Arizona Christian University in 1999. His degree is in Christian Ministry, he also attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and earned a Masters of Divinity. It appears as if his first ministry experience is with Young Life in Phoenix, Arizona from 1993 until 1999. His first job upon completion of college was as the Pastor of Student Ministries at North Ridge Community Church in Phoenix, Arizona until 2001. In 2002 he relocated to Southern California and became the Associate Pastor  for Families/Pastor of Student Ministries at Grace Bible Church in Arroyo Grande. Grace Bible is how Brian Farone became involved in the EFCA. He served in this capacity from 2002 until 2004. In 2005 he was a Masters of Divinity Student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He returned to Grace Bible Church and became the Associate Pastor of Adults and Families from 2007 until 2013. He then became an Elder at Grace Bible and moved into the EFCA West District Leadership position. The EFCA West includes central and southern California, southern Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas. I have written about EFCA West in the following posts. “Analyzing the Growth of Reformed Theology/Neo Calvinism in the Evangelical Free Church of America: EFCA West” and “Analysis of EFCA West of the Evangelical Free Church of America.” In EFCA West Brian became the Director of Biblical Theology and Credentialing. He held that job until he became the District Superintendent of the North Central District in June of 2017. Today he lives in Cottage Grove Minnesota and calls Rockpoint Church in the northeast Twin Cities his EFCA church home. In the North Central District Brian Farone has been focusing on four areas.

  • Building trust with NCD pastors, church leaders, and churches.
  • Clarifying and renewing the mission as a District.
  • Refining what we “count and celebrate.”
  • Being “churches first,” which means we prioritize service to NCD pastors, church leaders, and churches over new projects and initiatives.

There is a lot more I can say about Brian Farone but I will reserve most of it for the actual posts I am writing about the North Central District which will come out soon. 

Below you will see what the North Central District Superintendent said about the “Significance of Silence.” I have a few thoughts which I will share below. 

When I tell the Evangelical Free Church story, I often emphasize two values: We are people under the authority of God’s Word, and we are people who strive to stay together even in the midst of significant disagreements. In my opinion, this “staying together” makes our fellowship all the richer (and can make our theological and methodical conversations an adventure).

In practice, it has meant that we are one of the few church families where Larry Osborne and D.A. Carson can share the same pulpit at a conference. A place were “Gospel Coalition” congregations do church alongside “Willow Creek Association” congregations; where Wesleyan believers and Reformed believers do more than merely tolerate each other.

We insist that we are brothers and sisters in Christ by staying in church together, and we try not to fight too much at the dinner table—but come on, this is family!

— Brian Farone
Superintendent, North Central District

After the email discussions I had and continue to have with someone from a former EFCA church in Minnesota I think Brian Farone is living in a bubble. Now the theological hijacking of this EFCA church happened before Brian came on the scene. So it would be unfair to talk about leadership failure by the district superintendent at this point. That said, Linda has reached out to the EFCA about what happened and has been met with silence. Some of her correspondence that I have reviewed I am going to publish. One thing I will say is the following. As Brian highlights the fact that both D.A. Carson and Larry Osborne are a part of the EFCA is the North Central District Superintendent aware of the following information about both predominant EFCA personalities? Is Brian aware that Larry Osborne has helped Mark Driscoll re-launch his ministry (The Trinity Church)  in Scottsdale, Arizona after he fled Seattle? Is he aware that Mark Driscoll called women “Penis Homes?” And stated that a repentant women gets down on her knees and gives her husband a blow job. The EFCA has been silent about Larry Osborne helping to prop up Mark Driscoll. Does the EFCA believe that women are “Penis Homes” and that a repentant women gives her husband a blow job? Is that why Jesus suffered and died at Calvary? Is that why they are silent on this issue, because they agree with the theology? You can read more in, “Why is the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) Silent on Larry Osborne’s Strong Support for Mark Driscoll and The Trinity Church? Does the EFCA Also Believe Women are Penis Homes?

Then there is D.A. Carson. Carson is the darling of many Neo-Calvinists and helped co-found The Gospel Coalition. Does the North Central District Superintendent know that Carson used his reputation to defend the corrupt C.J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries? And that in the process Carson lashed out and attacked someone who was raped in SGM when they were thirteen? Who attacks a rape victim? What would happen if a teacher, doctor or business professional attacked a rape victim? Yet in the EFCA Carson is proclaimed as great and allowed to teach at conferences such as EFCA One. You can read about the situation in detail in “From D.A. Carson to Steve Estes the Following Question Must be Asked: Is the Evangelical Free Church of America a Safe Place for Sexual Assault Victims?” The #MeToo movement needs to arrive at the EFCA and if this blog helps that to occur in the process then that would be good. It would be difficult but in the end it will help to make the EFCA stronger and healthier in the course of time.  I really don’t touch on the Southern Baptist Convention too much here at The Wondering Eagle because I have my work cut out for me in regards to the EFCA. But in the near future I would like to write a post and ask the following question. Is D.A. Carson the Paige Patterson of the EFCA? 

 

First Free Wichita in better times… 

Two Prominent Neo-Calvinist EFCA Churches Celebrate the “Significance of Silence” 

In the post, “Navigating Theological Differences and Maintaining Unity” what caught my attention  were the individuals from two Neo-Calvinist churches inside the EFCA who commented and praised the “Significance of Silence.” Those two churches are Josh Black’s First Evangelical Free of Wichita, Kansas and Bill Kynes’ Cornerstone here in the Washington, D.C. area. Let’s briefly look at both churches. In the post at the EFCA blog it is Mike Andrus who led First Free for years who responded. For the record this is not the first time I have written about First Free Wichita, and there is a lot more to tackle. These are some of the posts that have been written. 

  1. Practicing Discernment: Mike Andrus of First Free Wichita’s Expository Talk. Nothing Trumps the Word of the Lord.
  2. Guest Post: Why Sean Left Josh Black’s First Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, Kansas.”
  3. Is Curt Romig and First Free Wichita Exporting Another 9 Marks Church to the United Arab Emirates?
  4. Visiting and Reaching Out to First Free Wichita, a 9 Marks Church in the Midwest District of the EFCA.
  5. First Free Wichita on “Gospel Centered Accountability”: My Question Who is C.J. Mahaney, Mark Driscoll or even Josh Black and Jordan Krahn Accountable to?
  6. First Free Wichita Wants to Introduce you to the EFCA; Plus The Wondering Eagle’s Long Term Goals and Agenda with the EFCA.

About this time last year for Memorial Day I actually traveled through Kansas and spent some time in Wichita. Since I am writing about this EFCA church at the time I emailed First Free  and asked if they wanted to meet and talk. I was hoping we could discuss 9 Marks in the EFCA, or some of the stories I am hearing from those who used to be involved. Other topics for discussion included the promotion of certain celebrity pastors or a discussion on the issues with Neo-Calvinism. Like many good Christian churches First Free’s response was to shun me and be cold. Very representative of Jesus, I wonder how they reach skeptics in the Wichita, Kansas area. Despite that I went to the church and took some pictures to use for this blog which you can see scattered throughout this post. But getting back to the “Significance of Silence” you can see Mike Andrus’s response below. 

At our church, we have a number of parishioners who come from church backgrounds that practice infant baptism (Catholic, Lutheran, mainline denominations). We have tried to be respectful of those traditions while presenting a strong case for believer’s baptism. We have told our congregation that when it comes to issues like mode and time of baptism, our pastors will seek to persuade but not coerce. Therefore, we urge believer’s baptism (rebaptism) for those baptized as infants under a “baptismal regeneration” tradition, and we encourage believer’s baptism for those baptized as infants under a “covenant baptism” tradition, but we do not require re-baptism for membership. For the most part, this approach has worked well.

Regarding the Lord’s Supper, we have advocated both the spiritual presence view (Presbyterian) and the memorial view (Baptist). The memorial view is obvious from the frequent commands to “do this in remembrance of me,” but the spiritual presence view requires a little more thought. We explain that the sanctions offered in 1 Corinthians 15 for coming to the table in an unworthy manner seem severe if communion is only a memorial. In 1 Corinthians 10:16, communion is discussed as an active participation in the body and blood of Christ. By not forcing our church to choose between these views but rather to see the best in both, we have achieved a spirit of unity rather than division.

When we talk about church governance, we emphasize that the New Testament is descriptive rather than prescriptive with regard to many issues. While standing firm on issues like the plurality and qualifications of elders, we present many of our other decisions regarding polity as choices we have made that work well and help maintain unity. For example, our appointment of trustees, our quarterly membership meetings and our membership covenant are all pragmatic decisions that work well at the present time but are not biblical requirements.

— Mike Andrus
Senior Adults Pastor, First Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, Kansas

Is what Mike Andrus said true at First Free Wichita? Was unity kept at that Evangelical Free church? We are going to discuss that EFCA church in more detail below. Then the other church that responded was Cornerstone which is located here in the Washington, D.C. area. I have written about Cornerstone before and Bill Kynes. It turns out that Bill Kynes is the most prolific writer for The Gospel Coalition from The Eastern District. You can read more about that in, “Brick Lane Community Church Joins The Gospel Coalition, and Challenging a Misleading Statement from Steve Estes Church.” Then I wrote about Bill Kynes preaching at Redeeming Grace Church (formerly Sovereign Grace Fairfax). Sovereign Grace Fairfax was one of the churches involved in the SGM lawsuit for child sex abuse cover up. Allegedly it actively discouraged people from reporting child sex abuse to law enforcement. Allegedly the Sovereign Grace pastor actually blamed the wife for her husband molesting her daughter and said that if she had sex and “submitted” to him more it could help the situation. As a result the wife forced herself to have sex with her husband, to the point of vomiting in order to protect her daughter. Its deeply disturbing. As much as I respect Bill Kynes I don’t understand why he would legitimize a corrupt former SGM church with his presence and preaching. I wrote about this in, “Cornerstone’s Bill Kynes Preaching at Redeeming Grace Church (Formerly Sovereign Grace Fairfax) Illustrates How Corrupt Churches are Kept Afloat.”  Plus The Wondering Eagle has been writing about problems and issues in Cornerstone’s church plant here in Washington, D.C, that of Bill Riedel’s Redemption Hill Church which is  a part of the Acts 29 network.  In the near future I am going to write a review of Bill Kynes, “7 Pressing Questions – Addressing Critical Challenges to Christian Faith.” I am reading it now and hope to write about it shortly. The challenge I have is managing many different projects. In the response to Greg Strand’s post about the “Significance of Silence” it was Cornerstone pastor Tim Cho who responded. Before we get to what Tim said let’s look at the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone. 

Tim Cho has been the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone since August of 2015. Tim was born and raised in South Korea and then immigrated to the United States at age ten. His family settled in the San Francisco Bay Area specifically in Piedmont. He attended Piedmont High School. While there he played football and also did the Boy Scouts where he obtained the rank of Eagle. (Note I am also an Eagle Scout from California) Tim attended the University of California Santa Barbara through a four-year full time Army ROTC scholarship. Tim picked up a degree in Philosophy. Upon graduation he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant and served in Iraq for a 15 month tour from 2007 until 2009. During his service he completed Airborne, Air Assault and Ranger School. 

In 2009 Tim separated from the U.S. Army and married his wife. He attended Denver Seminary and earned a Masters of Divinity degree in 2012. Afterward he worked for the Hershey Company as a supervisor and superintendent in the West Hershey Plant. It was during this time that he taught at Hershey Evangelical Free. If you are interested you can read more about Hershey Free in, “Graham Cole Speaks at Hershey Evangelical Free; Will the EFCA Ever Face the Issue that D.A. Carson Attacked an Alleged Sexual Assault Victim in The Gospel Coalition Statement in Defense of C.J. Mahaney?” It was after his time in Pennsylvania that he came on board at Bill Kynes Cornerstone Church. I checked 9 Marks, Desiring God, For the Church and The Gospel Coalition and right now Tim Cho hasn’t published anything.  If I am wrong I am willing to correct that matter. Below is what Tim wrote about about the “Significance of Silence.” 

“Major in the majors and minor in the minors.” If taken out of context, this saying could easily be misunderstood as a reference to the Oakland A’s being one of the farm teams of the NY Yankees, or a reference to basic music theory that all pastors should know before leaving seminary, or a John Denver concert.

Rather, it is a phrase I had commonly heard about the EFCA while I was in seminary, and it’s one I have grown to love because it captures the culture of unity in the EFCA. This principle is one of the reasons why I chose to be a part of the EFCA.

As Greg Strand stated, the significance of silence is a commitment to a denominational culture of “unity in essentials, and dialogue in differences,” where we agree and stand united in our understanding of the major doctrines, such as the Trinity, christology and soteriology. But when we disagree in various other theological categories, we do not allow our disagreements in these nonessential doctrines to cause division.

The challenge for a local pastor, then, is to recognize that these differences exist and yet still continue to foster a culture of unity grounded in the gospel. Are there effective ways for a pastor to lead a congregation of sinners who will eventually find disagreements in the nonessentials and possibly allow these differences to drive a wedge of division inside the church? I believe there are many answers; here is one of many.

The speed of the leader is the speed of the team. Whether it’s a specialized group of infantrymen, a team of production line workers or a local congregation, if the leader has direct influence over his people, the leader sets the tone of the culture in the group by his word and example.

In the local church, this leader is most commonly the main teaching pastor, often the senior pastor. When the senior pastor emphasizes the importance of unity in the church from the pulpit and lives out this conviction, I have witnessed that congregations often follow suit. But the leader must both humbly walk the walk while he talks the talk. The people in the church take on the flavor of the leader in the way he teaches the truth and demonstrates grace and humility in his life. If the pastor truly values unity in the church and demonstrates this in his conversations with others, the church will learn from his example and often will do the same.

I minister as a pastor at a local church alongside Bill Kynes, the senior pastor. Bill has been pastoring this church for over 30 years now. It is arguably the healthiest church I have ever been a part of, a church where grace and truth are lived out. This, I believe, is due largely in part to the three decades of Bill’s humble leadership and gracious influence. He has consistently emphasized unity in the church. As ministers of the gospel and as pastors who oversee God’s precious flock, it is a privilege to be able to take part in God’s work to bring unity in the church through our teaching and demonstration of grace in our lives.

— Timothy Cho
Associate Pastor, Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Annandale, Virginia

 

Did Josh Black of First Free Wichita Violate the “Significance of Silence” When His EFCA Church was Flipped into a Neo-Calvinist One? 

The Wondering Eagle can’t state for certain if the “Significance of Silence” was violated at Bill Kynes’ Cornerstone in Annandale, Virginia. However, First Free Wichita is a different story. First Free Wichita was flipped in the 2011 until 2013 time-frame. Mike Andrus led this Evangelical Free Church in the 1980’s and did so until he left and went to a church in St. Louis. Josh Black eventually became the senior pastor. Josh was first involved in First Free when he was younger. He attended Kansas State and worked for Young Life for a while. Josh Black dated Steve Nave’s daughter. Steve was on the Elder Board of First Free Wichita. Josh then became the Youth Pastor and then First Free sent him to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS). It was there that Josh was indoctrinated into Neo-Calvinism.  Mike Andrus came back and Tom Macey was fired. Upon returning from TEDS the Neo-Calvinist theology sped up from 2011 until 2013 after Josh became the senior pastor. Many of these  changes were done behind the scenes. Traditional evangelicals who were more of a Baptist bent were let go.  An example of this is Dan Curnutt. Dan was a popular, established pastor who was deeply liked. According to what The Wondering Eagle has heard Senior Pastor Josh Black allegedly had Dan Curnutt fired because he was not into Neo-Calvinism. This actually forced more people to leave and it divided the congregation.  As it was explained to me when Josh allegedly had Dan Curnott fired people cried and wept. It was that painful and disturbing and members of First Free were confused over what Josh Black was doing. It was during this time that Josh Black and some of the Neo-Calvinists on staff traveled to Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church here in Washington, D.C. for a 9 Marks seminar. No doubt this pillar Neo-Calvinist church advised Josh Black on how to continue to flip a church. Shortly after Josh Black came back First Free joined the 9 Marks network. Previously they joined The Gospel Coalition. In this time frame many older people who called First Free Wichita their home were forced to leave due to the theological changes. Like Linda in her story in Minnesota, they no longer belonged at their EFCA church.  I have been told that many of the people who lost their church home and became spiritually homeless.  If they want to publish their experiences at First Free Wichita, The Wondering Eagle will give them a platform. According to what I have heard as the changes continued many Neo-Calvinists replaced traditional evangelicals. For example Andy McClellan who once led worship was let go and Jeff Warren took his place. Jeff Warren came down to Wichita from Minneapolis where previously he did music in John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist Church. 

So the question is the following. Did Josh Black violate the “Significance of Silence” at First Free Wichita? The Wondering Eagle believes he did, and there is a feeling in my stomach that as time passes I am going to hear about more stories not just from First Free Wichita but also other EFCA churches about the “Significance of Silence” being broken. One of my sources for First Free Wichita read about what happened at Linda’s Evangelical Free Church in Minnesota. My source explained to me that her story reminded him of what happened at First Free Wichita. So currently Neo-Calvinists are violating the “Significance of Silence” in the EFCA. This will continue to happen as its the Neo-Calvinist modus operandi. A Neo-Calvinist cannot co-exist with someone of a “different faith.” Their authoritarian nature is to remove, replace and conquer all for the glory of God.  In the end this is about power and I also believe money. Especially when you have pastors trying to make a name for themselves in publishing. Its my belief that in order to understand these changes you really need to stop studying and reading the Bible and instead study and read George Orwell and Sun Tzu

 

The EFCA Needs to Learn how to Manage its Neo-Calvinist Problem

The EFCA needs to learn how to manage its Neo-Calvinist problem in the confines of congregationalism. It is the belief of The Wondering Eagle that it can be done. But here is the reason why it needs to be managed. Its not just stories like Linda’s former EFCA church in Minnesota or Josh Black’s First Evangelical Free in Wichita that compel it alone. It is in the interest of all Arminians and Neo-Calvinists to manage this issue. Here is why…currently there is a surge in the EFCA of pastors and those of Neo-Calvinist theology. Right now the pendulum is swinging hard in the direction of the Neo-Calvinists. It has been doing so since I would estimate the year 2000. It will continue to do so for years, perhaps as far out as 2030 or 2035. Then at some point the pendulum will start to swing in the other direction. Then what will happen is that Neo-Calvinist churches will be flipped in the opposite direction. That will happen when people retire and the situation changes. This I believe is inevitable and if history is any indicator this will happen. in the course of time. So its in the Neo-Calvinists interest to also deal with this issue as well. In the future I plan on doing a post about how the EFCA can manage this problem in detail. While an outsider perhaps it can become a road map for the EFCA in the future.  This is a topic that Brian Farone, Noah Palmer of the EFCA Midwest District and other EFCA leaders need to honestly discuss. That is it for the day guys, know that you are loved. 

7 thoughts on “Inside the EFCA are Neo-Calvinists Violating the “Significance of Silence” to Hijack Churches?

  1. FYI–you have Armenian instead of Arminian later in this post.

    To use one man-Larry Osborne–to characterize an entire denomination is unfair, IMO. Personally, I did not know that Osborne supported Driscoll. I agree that this action alone calls into question all of Osborne’s discernment. It’s unfathomable that anyone could support Driscoll, let alone someone in the EFCA. But to smear an entire denomination from the actions of one of thousands of its pastors is secondary if not tertiary separation. Again, personally, if I were in Osborne’s church, I would either confront him or else leave the church but what happens to Osborne is ultimately up to North Coast Church, not his District or the national EFCA office.

    Having said that, when I started our church, I recommended adding the #4 below to our By-laws:

    Any pastor may be removed from office by one of the following:
    1. his own decision,
    2. a three-quarters majority vote of the Board of Elders and followed by a majority vote of the congregation at a business meeting,
    3. a two-thirds vote of congregation at a business meeting,
    4. a loss of credentials from the EFCA.

    I wanted more accountability from outside of our local church in case of a wayward pastor. In other words, it’s possible that #2 or #3 above may not be reached if a pastor is wayward but still reasonably “popular” in the local church. But if the EFCA has more discernment than the local church, #4 gives them some authority to act.

    The “significance of silence” and relative autonomy of local EFCA churches is a tremendous strength but admittedly, does create its own issues, an insurgence of Neo-Calvinism being only one of them. The EFCA has limited ability to act within the local church regarding staff decisions, unless their by-laws include similar language as ours does.

    Like

  2. I suspect the reaction to this post will be, “Ah, that’s not true. You are just making this up, Wondering Eagle.” So I thought I would add my 5 cents to this post. I am “Linda” from Minnesota. I have used the words “underhanded” and “subtle” when making my understanding about what the church is doing known instead of “hijacking” but I will let you decide after I share my communication with the church. Below is a portion of the letter I sent to the elder board in 2015 attempting to get them to follow the “significance of silence” position of the EFCA.

    Dear Elders:

    I would like to address everyone one more time at the risk of being considered obnoxious. I am sorry if I am pressing this issue too hard but I feel it is an extremely important issue to address and take a position on. As you all know, we have come to realize that this church has shifted over the last dozen years from being primarily an Arminian/Wesleyan believing group of people to containing not only 2 Calvinistic/Reformed pastors but having also other members who hold the more Calvinistic position. I did not understand for a long time what it was that I was seeing. I only knew that it was not what we believed. After much study and research, I think I now understand that there are 2 very different views on issues such as predestination, atonement, election, human depravity etc. My understanding is the Evangelical Free Church of America takes the position that these differences are not “essentials” of the faith and should not divide us. When we met with the senior pastor and 2 elders, most of the time was spent in trying to make us see the errors of our position. One of senior pastor’s comments was that we “must” believe that “regeneration comes before faith”. If we believe that, all the other 5 points of the TULIP must be essentials too because they all go together.

    I have attached a paper that outlines the position of the Evangelical Free Church of America of which this church is a member. (as detailed in Greg Strand’s comments) My question is, “Is there really room for both views in this church? The associate pastor told me that this church is not changing their statement of faith but from a practical operating standpoint, they already have. It is just not in writing. We feel marginalized and like we no longer measure up from a spiritual standpoint since we do not embrace the Calvinistic viewpoint. Yes, we can and may leave for this reason but getting rid of us is not going to solve what I see as a looming problem that has the potential to split the church. The underlying issue here is “Can this church affirm those on both sides of the issue?” and allow into leadership and decisions about the direction of the church those who do NOT believe the Calvinistic perspective. This town does not contain a lot of Calvinistic people so sooner or later this church needs to address this issue if it hopes to grow.

    My belief is this church needs to affirm both positions or at least acknowledge that there are two different positions that have existed for 1600 years. Maybe adding it to the “significance of silence” category that EFCA talks about as a non-essential might be appropriate. Part of that would mean not always choosing teaching materials that are Calvinistic in their slant because that is what both pastors now are.
    I love the people here and would like to think that the leadership would choose and affirm the position of the EFCA as theirs here and accept as equal heirs of eternal life brothers and sisters who profess Christ but are not of the Calvinistic persuasion.

    Respectfully and humbly submitted. Linda

    Response from the elders:
    Above all, it is our desire that we stay faithful to the Scriptures as we lead and shepherd our whole flock. While there is merit in discussing the doctrines involved with the Calvinist-Arminian debate, we agree that now is not the best time for public discourse on the matter. We hope this letter will help you understand why and how we made this decision. Though we may disagree, it is our desire that, wherever we may disagree on non-essential and preferential issues, you would see them – not as grounds for division- but as opportunities to humbly submit your judgement to ours.

    In response to your letter you gave Monday, the elders have drafted these two points for you to review. Since these points are already public knowledge (available online or in our church’s governing documents), we do not find it necessary to discuss or make any changes to our governing documents at this time.

    In addition to supplying you with the points listed below, we would ask you to supply specific examples of the following cited in your letter:

    (a) Theological coercion: where the senior pastor attempted to compel you to believe that “regeneration comes before faith” – something that pastor and elders do not recall happening during your meeting.

    (b) Marginalization for your theological beliefs: per “We feel marginalized… since we do not embrace the Calvinistic perspective.”
    Both charges are significant and must be substantiated in light of our commitment to point 2.h & 2.1 (below)

    1. Calvinism and the EFCA
    a. The EFCA and this church have wisely considered discourse surrounding Calvinism and Arminianism as non-essential for salvation and fellowship (between individuals and associated churches). (added by me- I don’t understand this)
    b. However, this doctrinal “silence” does not mean that Free Churches are in any way prohibited from holding a particular position within a church’s leadership (either officially or unofficially). (added by me- how does this fit with being open to members from both positions
    c. Neither is this church obligated to affirm both positions in order to be compliant with the EFCA.
    d. It does mean that the EFCA will not restrict denominational association from churches that hold to either a Calvinistic or Arminian perspective.
    e. It also means that the EFCA may restrict denominational association from churches that require an affirmation of either Calvinism or Arminianism for church membership. (added by me -Oh, so only if they officially put it in their documents

    2. Calvinism and This EFC
    a. There has never been an official statement regarding Calvinism and/or Arminianism. Thus there has been no doctrinal change with regard to this issue since the church’s founding.
    b. All pastors/elders at this church are affirmed as men of good, moral character and sound, theological judgment by the body and have been entrusted to lead and shepherd the church.
    c. Pastors/elders are required to fully affirm that which accords with and is not contrary to the positions expressed in the church’s doctrinal statement.
    d. Pastors/elders may hold doctrinal and philosophical beliefs that exist beyond but do not run contrary to the positions expressed in the church’s doctrinal statement.
    e. Furthermore, pastors/elders may teach various positions on different points of doctrine but are not to be compelled to affirm as true any position that runs contrary to their own beliefs.
    f. Pastors/elders have the prerogative to lead according to their conviction; these convictions can and should impact the ethos and direction of this church.
    g. Whatever perceived, non-essential, doctrinal shifts that have taken place over the history of this church have been either owing to changes in leadership or reforms to the leadership’s personal convictions and are not owing to any change in official church doctrine. (Added by me – Bingo!)
    h. Anyone affirming either the Calvinistic or Arminian perspective is welcome to attend, seek membership, and be considered for church leadership at this church.
    i. Pastors/elders do not compel members to believe or affirm anything more than the church’s governing documents.
    j. All members are free at any time to remove their membership or worship elsewhere for any reason whatsoever.
    Please submit responses to (a) and (b) via our email thread.

    The final statement to me from the associate pastor before leaving this church was this, “I think I understand what you’re saying: you believe there’s a Calvinistic conspiracy among the leadership that seeks to grab and abuse power from the membership at this church.
    Having been here for almost two years, I don’t see any evidence of this happening. I’ve done my best to engage your concerns, but as of yet, you haven’t given me any verifiable evidence to the contrary. Have there been changes over the years? Undoubtedly. Have they always been changes you’ve agreed with? Most certainly not. Does that make them wrong? No. Unless you can provide clear evidence of actions or changes that violate Scripture or our governing documents, your accusations of foul play remain unfounded.
    Does this sound like humble leadership, who is not using the “significance of silence” to advance their position?

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  3. The #4 Bylaw in Rich Mauerer post is an excellent idea. Unfortunately, no such option was in the by-laws of our church. They did have a constitutional stipulation that the pastors not vote in elder meetings to try to prevent authoritarian leadership but when the leader is a likable charismatic type person, he is rarely challenged and eventually, the pastors just kind of included themselves as elders.

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  4. Hi David Bonner,

    It sounds like you have been hurt by the EFCA and want to see it changed. I think we can both agree that the Holy Spirit is the most powerful agent of change who can change the EFCA for his glory, and our most powerful action to bring about that change is prayer. So, will you commit to praying weekly for the EFCA leaders with me?

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    • Tim thanks for your kind comment. My story is with Eric Simmons and Jordan Kauflin’s Redeemer Arlington. That said I noticed no one was writing about the EFCA, so why not read and research the EFCA and write about it. I’ve been to Cornerstone a couple of times, let me know if you ever want to meet.

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  5. Pingback: Mike Pence Speaks to the Southern Baptists in Dallas, While Garrett Kell Expresses His Concern, and For Some Southern Baptists Faith is Not About God, but Instead a Political Party | Wondering Eagle

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