Benjamin Vrbicek was ordained in a special service at Community Evangelical Free Church of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on January 19, 2020. Benjamin has the historical distinction of being the first amillennial pastor ordained nationally since the EFCA dropped its statement on premillennialism at EFCA One in 2019. This blog wanted to document these events and wish Benjamin and Community Evangelical Free Church of Harrisburg well.
“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
“People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.”
7 Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith.
Hebrews 13:7 NLT
Benjamin Vrbick taking a selfie for his church’s ordination service.
There is some historical developments in Community Evangelical Free Church of Harrisburg, the Eastern District and the national EFCA that need to be analyzed and looked at especially in the context of the larger EFCA. Benjamin Vrbicek is an elder and teaching pastor of Community Evangelical Free Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He has been in this position for several years now and became the main teaching pastor when Jason Abbot left Harrisburg to return to his old EFCA church in Chicago. I am not going to do a biography of Benjamin, previously this blog has done one and that is linked in the section below.
Previous Writing About Benjamin at The Wondering Eagle
This blog has written about Benjamin a number of times over the years. When this blog project launched in 2015 I reviewed an article Benjamin wrote at The Gospel Coalition. You can read that review in, “Some Thoughts on Ministry Success Being an Idol.” In re-reading that post today I probably would have toned it down a little bit. However, The Gospel Coalition responded poorly to the Sovereign Grace Ministry sex abuse scandal and some of the Acts 29 scandals as well as this blog keeps writing about it. Next you can read an in depth profile of Benjamin in, “Brick Lane Community Church Joins The Gospel Coalition, and Challenging a Misleading Statement from Steve Estes Church.” However it is also important to note that since that writing Benjamin has written much more material and published a couple of books as well. According to the analysis and research this blog has done Vrbicek is one of the most prolific writers inside the the EFCA’s Eastern District. Bill Kynes of Cornerstone in the Washington, D.C. area trails him in writing. Next, Benjamin also wrote a beautiful post on friendship with Tom Reidy at his blog in July of 2019 that was written about as well. You can read that in, “Benjamin Vrbicek of Community Evangelical Free Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Writes a Tender Blog Post on Friendship.”
What is Amillennialism? Plus the National EFCA Changes its Premilliannialism Position at 2019 EFCA One
I want to be clear I am not a theologian or someone trained in that background. What I am is a researcher and someone who has done a great amount of researching and writing over the years starting with graduate school in Wisconsin. But in this section I will defer and allow correction if I am mistaken by those who are experts in theology. In other words at Community Evangelical Free Church of Harrisburg I will defer to Benjamin Vrbick or Mike Aiken. 🙂 Amillianialism is one of four views on the millianialism question. The amillennialist believes that the Kingdom of God was inaugurated at Christ’s resurrection. Because of this some refer to this view as “inaugurated millennialism” or nunc (meaning now) millennialism. In this form of theology victory was achieved over Satan and the curse that came from the Garden of Eden. Christ is now reigning at the right hand of the Father over his church. When this present age is over then Christ will return and immediately usher the church into their eternal state after judging the wicked and sinners. The major theology proponents of amillennialism is Meredith Kline, Richard Gaffin, Robert B. Strimple, Gregory K. Beale, and John Murray.
You can read more about amillennialism in the following resources.
- Monergism, “What is amillennialism?”
- Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition, “7 Reasons Tom Schreiner (Tentatively) Holds to Amillennialism.”
The EFCA has also undergone some changes nationally when it came to their view of end times. Previously the denomination believed in premillennialism. The EFCA Board of Directors proposed to making the change to the EFCA statement of faith in 2017 and going from premillennialism to glorious return. You can read more about that change here. In addition I also wrote about the proposed change in 2017 in, “Proposed Changes at EFCA One in Austin, Texas: Changing the Statement of Faith on Premillennialism, and is Academic Freedom Being Threatened at Trinity International University?“ The change was accepted at EFCA One in Chicago in 2019 and it passed by 79% of those in attendance. You can read EFCA President Kevin Kompelien on the issue and the statement issued by the EFCA after its passage. As with any significant change there will be a transition and the denomination will no doubt guide individual churches in this change. It will probably happen through the district superintendents and district conferences as well across the EFCA if I were to take an educated guess.
Benjamin’s Ordination Ceremony at Community Evangelical Free of Harrisburg
When the EFCA was changing its statement of faith on premillennialism Benjamin Vrbicek was in the process of being ordained by the EFCA. Benjamin by chance was already in the pipeline when the change was made. He passed his ordination exam before the 2019 Eastern District conference. You can read more about Benjamin passing his ordination exam in, “Benjamin Vrbicek of Community Evangelical Free Church in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Passes his Ordination Exam as an EFCA Pastor in the Eastern District.” Benjamin believes in amillennialism. After passing his oral exams Greg Strand in Minneapolis who overseas credentialing emailed Benjamin and informed him that he is the first amillennial pastor ordained in the EFCA since the dropping the premillenialism theology from its statement of faith.
As a part of the ordination process a special service is held for the EFCA pastor where he is ordained. Its more of a ceremonial aspect then anything else. For Benjamin Vrbicek it was held on January 19, 2020. Included in this blog post are the tweets Benjamin sent out and his reflection of the event on Facebook. Ben Bechtel who is also a pastor/elder at Community Evangelical Free Church of Harrisburg chose the music for the event. The sermon was given by Paulo Freire who is an EFCA pastor who leads Hope Church in Wantage, New Jersey. From my understanding Freire reviewed Vrbicek’s ordination paper and recently joined the Board of Ministerial Standing for the National EFCA. In a sermon that lasted 34 minutes Freire mentioned his long term interest in Community Evangelical Free Church of Harrisburg. He spoke about how Benjamin’s oral exam for his ordination lasted four hours and that he took two hundred questions. Benjamin was encouraged to go onto the Eastern District Ordination Council. Paul reminded people that the congregation already ordained him but the formal process was to verify Benjamin’s character and calling to be a pastor. In his sermon Paul reminded people from Hebrews 13 about the sacrifice of the priest and the sacrifice of Jesus at Golgotha. He also reminded people to endure the sacrifice of following Christ and to offer up a sacrifice of praise to God. Also claimed is that people are not to neglect to do good and to remember those who have a need. Paul also emphasized Hebrews 13:17 on obeying your leaders and imitating their action. Benjamin as Freire claimed is responsible for looking over people’s souls and will have to give an account of that as well. The duty of the pastor is to teach and be faithful so that people will imitate him. The weight of being a pastor is heavy and as Paul said a person must be called by God or else be a fool in the process. At this time Community Evangelical Free Church of Harrisburg does not have the sermon up on their website and hopefully that will change. In the meantime you can listen to the sermon here. Benjamin was also prayed over and you can see that picture up above as well. The evening went well and was very moving for Benjamin Vrbicek and his congregation. The only glitch appears to be some of the food not showing up at the potluck.
Past Experiences with Benjamin and Wishing Him Well
This blog has had a lot of personal interaction with Benjamin Vrbicek over the years. As I tried to put my life together from a spiritual abuse situation in Washington, D.C. I also realized that there was a large gap on the internet. There were blogs that wrote about the Southern Baptist Convention or Calvary Chapel but no one wrote about the EFCA. Given my past history with the EFCA both in California and Wisconsin and seeing some of the issues with the EFCA in the Washington, D.C. area I thought especially as someone who did academic research in grad school that I could create and carve out a blog that focused heavily on the EFCA. In the fall of 2015 a very disturbing situation fell into my lap. It was the story of Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church of Elverson, Pennsylvania. It was one of the darkest stories this blog took on. It was the story of the senior pastor’s son who allegedly raped his wife and pointed a loaded gun at her. Knowing she could be killed in the domestic abuse she filed for divorce and her former father-in-law guided the church through her church discipline and excommunication. Its a story that deals with the issue of domestic abuse, sexual assault, Calvinist theology, the EFCA and the limits of congregationalism. You can read that story in, “Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania: A Painful Story of Domestic Abuse, Inappropriate Church Discipline, and Failed EFCA Polity.” I would go on to write over eighty articles analyzing the complicated situation in Elverson.
But in writing a blog like this one of my concerns is that I didn’t want to operate in an echo chamber. I didn’t want to write about the issues with the EFCA or Calvinism and not build bridges with both people and an organization. This was important for me as an outsider. One of my deepest criticisms with other blogs is that they write about topics and often fail to build bridges or hear the other side of the story. That leads to mistakes and creates problems. So I decided to reach out to someone who who was both reformed in their theology and also close by especially since I was spending a lot of time in Pennsylvania writing about Steve Estes church. So in doing some quick research I learned of Benjamin Vrbicek and Jason Abbot of Community Evangelical Free Church of Harrisburg. Harrisburg is about an hour west of Elverson. So I decided to try and reach out to the leadership in Harrisburg and ask if we can talk. Benjamin responded warmly and invited me to church at Harrisburg. To this day I recall going to the first service at Harrisburg in their old building and Benjamin coming up to me and smiling and saying hi. I found him warm, friendly and very thoughtful. Afterward Benjamin Vrbicek and Ben Bechtel and myself had lunch and I listened and asked a number of questions about Calvinism and some of the issues I was encountering. After that meeting I decided that that when I traveled on the East Coast that I would stop in Harrisburg and go to church there and meet up with Benjamin or listen to Jason Abbott. But I also give Benjamin a lot of credit. Very seldom do pastors want to interact with an outsider and listen to questions or engage. A few will engage but they are the exception. Its been a challenging relationship for me at times, because I am not where Benjamin is theologically. I am a guy burned out who has seen the dark side of religion. In the process Benjamin also has challenged me a few times in my thinking which is one of the things I had hoped for. But in interacting with Benjamin there are other situations that stunned me as well that showed me his pastoral ability and love. One of them happened on the night that my father was dying in California on November 21, 2018. I had just walked out of the hospital room after seeing my Dad in the last hours of his life struggling to breath. Exhausted and frustrated I sat in the hospital chapel numb from all that I saw and was crying. If I remember correctly at about four in the morning I got a phone call from Benjamin. I sent him a text as to what was going on and shortly afterward he responded. In a difficult conversation he expressed his love, his sorrow and asked if he could pray for me and check in. I told him that was fine. It was touching and revealed his pastoral capability. But in getting back to the ordination I actually passed through Harrisburg a week before Benjamin Vrbicek’s ordination. I usually just take a seat in the back or sit through Sunday school sometimes asking complicated questions. If I had known the schedule of Benjamin’s ordination I would have arranged to arrive a week later to observe.
So this post is just designed to capture a unique part of EFCA history at both the local, district and national level. This blog wishes Benjamin Vrbicek well and the same for his church. If there is one take away I have learned from Benjamin and the leadership of Community Evangelical Free its that there are some pastors who can be both reformed in their theology and not authoraterian. And in the process they can invite questioning and respond with warmth and love. And in that context I am grateful that I reached out and built a bridge with someone from a different train of thought.