Wanted: Evangelical Free Church Stories

“Left to their own devices, epidemic, disease tend to follow the same basic process: A virus of bacteria infects a host, who typically becomes sick and in many cases dies. Along the way, the host infects others.”

Alan Huffman

“The duty of youth is to challenge corruption.”

Kurt Cobain

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV

For me the very first introduction to evangelical Christianity happened in Fresno, California in the 1999 to 2000 timeframe. I was involved in Fresno Evangelical Free Church (today called The Bridge).  I found the sermons challenging, the Bible studies deep and a climate largely free of the gender wars of complementarism. I recall sitting in a backyard around a swimming pool with 30 or so other people led by a couple of Bible study leaders, one of them female, and doing a good job. I was baptized at Fresno Evangelical Free a week before Easter in 2000. People from Campus Crusade at Fresno State as well as co-workers showed up to  witness my baptism. In my bedroom today here in the D.C. area I have a picture on my wall with me and a couple of friends after my baptism and today I look at it and smile. The guy I posed with now lives in Maine and we still keep in touch and my life is blessed to know him. In Milwaukee I briefly attended Redeemer Evangelical Free. I have some pleasant memories of that church.

In the course of time I got involved in other denominations and then I had my faith crisis. But years later when I looked into the Evangelical Free Church I realized the church I knew was dead. It had changed, and the church I was seeing is one that I didn’t recognize.  I see churches that are much more authoritarian than the church I once knew. I also have observed churches that have been theologically hijacked by Neo-Calvinists. Let me illustrate with a couple of examples.  Here in the D.C. area I just wrote a post about the membership covenant of Ambassador Bible Church, (ABC). ABC is led by John Park in nearby Chantilly and its membership covenant reveals the influence of the destructive shepherding movement. When a church is about control and blind obedience then the Bereans cannot exist.  Abuse of authority is also sin and its a sin that the modern church needs to discuss today. That is one example in the D.C. area. Then there are other examples of Evangelical Free. I avoided Cornerstone in nearby Annandale which is led by Bill Keynes as I wanted nothing to do with Neo-Calvinism.  Then there is another nearby church in the D.C. area called Redemption Hill which was planted between the Evangelical Free and the Acts 29 network I believe. Several years back Mark Driscoll was the head of Acts 29 and the stuff pouring out of Mars Hill Seattle was deeply disturbing. It ranged from everything from incredible spiritual abuse to a pastor talking about the Biblical basis of oral sex. Knowing Redemption’s roots I stayed away and popped up at Crossway Evangelical Free in nearby Manassas, Virginia. I discovered in the lobby that Crossway is the Evangelical Free church that was helping to plant the Redemption Hill which I wisely avoided. I was dismayed and disgusted to hear the direction of Crossway and even more disturbed that the Evangelical Free would partner with Acts 29 especially in light of all the problems coming out of  Seattle and what was coming out about Mark Driscoll. I was deep in my faith crisis and wondered….”where is the discernment?” I even had a brief exchange in the lobby of Crossway. You can read about this experience at Crossway here.

Due to all this I realized the Evangelical Free Church is spiritually sick and far from healthy. I walked away from it and decided that I was a done in regards to the Evangelical Free denomination. I won’t step foot in an Evangelical Free again due to all the problems and issues tearing it apart. Before I get into what I am looking for at this blog, let me start by giving you some background and history of the Evangelical Free Church of America.


History and Structure of the Evangelical Free Church of America

The Evangelical Free traces its roots back to the Swedish Evangelical Free Mission in Boone, Iowa in October 1884. The voluntary fellowship came about by several churches that had members in the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Ansgar Synod and the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Missouri Synod. Also in 1884 two Norwegian-Danish groups in both Boston, Massachusetts and Tacoma, Washington began to fellowship together. In 1912 they had formed the Norwegian-Danish  Evangelical Free Church Association. In June of 1950 the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Free Church and the Swedish organization merged into the present day organization. This merger took place at the Medicine Lake Conference Grounds near Minneapolis, Minnesota. In 1950 the Evangelical Free had 275 congregations at the time of the merger.

According to the Evangelical Free Church website in the United States, as of December 6, 2015 there are 1,321 Evangelical Free Churches and 177 Evangelical Free Church plants for a total of 1,498. churches. The Evangelical Free is broken down into 17 districts that are designed to support those nearly 1,500 churches. There are also 298 ethnic church churches or church plants, and 114 Evangelical Free with multi site or second language services.  The Evangelical Free supports 649 missionaries in 59 different countries around the world.  More than 370,000 people attend at Evangelical Free Church each week. The current president of the Evangelical Free Church is Kevin Kompelien and his biography follows in the next paragraph which is lifted from this webpage.

For the past nine years, Kompelien has been the international leader for the Africa division with ReachGlobal (the international mission of the EFCA) and a senior leader of the mission. A graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (1983), he served over twenty years as pastor of two EFCA churches. In addition, Kompelien served on the North Central District Board chairing the church planting committee and on the Central California District Board (now EFCA West). A native of Thief River Falls, Minn., Kompelien and his wife Becky have been married for 34 years. They have four grown, married children and five grandchildren.

In the 17 districts of the Evangelical Free here is the geographic breakdown, and the number of churches in each one:

  • Allegheny District 35 (Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, some NY)
  • Central District 135 (Iowa, SD, Missouri, parts of Arkansas)
  • Eastern District 134 (Eastern Pennsylvania and New York, Maryland, D.C., Virginia and NJ)
  • EFCA SE District 87 (Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi N & S Carolina, Florida)
  • EFCA Texas-Ok District 63 (Texas and Oklahoma)
  • EFCA West District 209 (Utah, NM, Arizona, an Southern Idaho, and  California)
  • Forest Lake District 112 (Minnesota and Wisconsin)
  • Great Lakes District 188 (Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio)
  • Hawaii District 8 (Hawaii)
  • Midwest District 107 (Nebraska, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri)
  • NE District 65 (Vermont, Massachusetts, NH, Connecticut and Maine)
  • North Central District 157 (Minnesota)
  • Northern Mountain District 28 (Montana, Idaho and E. Washington)
  • Northern Plain District 37 (N & S Dakota)
  • Pacific Northwest District 43 (W Washington, Oregon and Alaska)
  • Rocky Mountain District 80 (S Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado)
  • Western District 56 (Northern California)

If you break down those numbers even further you will see that 834 congregations, or ministries are in the Mid West and represent 54% of the entire denomination.


Evangelical Free Church Doctrine

Here is the doctrine of the Evangelical Free Church of America as written at Wikipedia, which I think is pretty spot on.

In its Statement of Faith, the Evangelical Free Church of America affirms the authority and inerrancy of the Bible; the Trinity; atonement through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ; original sin; Christ as head of the church and the local church’s right to self government; the personal, premillennial, imminent return of Christ; the bodily resurrection of the dead; and the two ordinances of water baptism and the Lord’s Supper.[3] In addition, the church claims six distinctives:[4]

  1. Believer’s church—membership consists of those who have a personal faith in Jesus Christ
  2. Evangelical—we are committed to the inerrancy and authority of the Bible and the essentials of the gospel
  3. Embraces a humble orthodoxy in partnership with others of like faith
  4. Believes in Christian freedom with responsibility and accountability
  5. Believes in both the rational and relational, i.e. the head and the heart, dimensions of Christianity
  6. Affirms the right of each local church to govern its own affairs with a spirit of interdependency with other churches

The EFCA passed a substantial revision to its Statement of Faith on June 26, 2008, the first revision since the Statement was first adopted in 1950.[5] This revision was proposed in order “to update archaic language, to clarify some theological ambiguities, to seek greater theological precision, to address new issues, to have a SOF that would be better suited to be used as a teaching tool in our churches.”[6] Specific beliefs based on biblical interpretation can vary somewhat due to the congregational governance system that gives autonomy to individual local EFCA churches.

If you want to read more about the changes to the doctrinal statement in 2008 Christianity Today has a good article you can read here.


Evangelical Free Church Education and Seminary

Trinity International University is an evangelical Christian liberal arts institution of higher education located in Deerfield, Illinois. It was formed in the 1940’s as a result of a merger of 3 schools, but it can trace its roots back to 1897.  It is operated by the Evangelical Free Church of America. Trinity can be broken down into the undergrad college, a graduate school, a theological seminary (Trinity Evangelical Divinity) and a law school. Together at Trinity there is about 3,000 students. Trinity Law School is located in Santa Ana, California

Trinity Law School was established in 1980 and has 4 full time faculty. Enrollment is at 250 students and 26% of the students pass the BAR exam on the first try. You can read more about Trinity Law here, and look at their website hereTrinity Evangelical Divinity School was established in 1897 and is one of the largest seminaries in the United States. Trinity has a distinguished faculty to include D.A. Carson who I will write more about below. Trinity has a number of well known alumni who have left their imprint on the modern church. Some of those alumni include William Lane Craig who debated Christopher Hitchens. Others include Mark Batterson who leads National Community Church here in Washington, D.C. Yet additional alumni include Scot MacNight, Ravi Zacharias and Mark Noll who pennedThe Scandal of the Evangelical Mindwhich I plan to write about in the near future.


Neo-Calvinism Issues, Church Hi-Jackings, Child Sex Abuse Cover Up, and Issues at Trinity

There are a host of issues out there in the Evangelical Free Church of America that need to be flushed out. They exist, I’ve heard a couple of stories and I am asking for your help. I would like to run and feature some stories that will allow the denomination to become healthier and to force a discussion on problems in the Evangelical Free movement. I would like to be a voice, and provide a platform for those who don’t have a voice. For those who went through a theologically traumatic experience that was hell I would be honored to give you a platform and for you to explain to the Evangelical Free Church what happened. I get trauma….I endured something very traumatic from a former member of a Sovereign Grace church in the Washington, D.C. area that resulted in a 41 year old man crying in his bed. If you want to read that story you can read that here. But I would like to force discussion on Evangelical Free issues. The bullet points below are what I am hoping to discuss or bring out.

  • If you were in an Evangelical Free Church that changed pastors or the Elders and the church was theologically hijacked and went hard core Neo-Calvinist I would love to hear from you. In the process of this theological hijacking it became 9 Marks, started partnering with Acts 29 and using material from Sovereign Grace, Mark Driscoll, and other like minded individuals. People were disciplined and shunned for not believing in Neo-Calvinism or questioning this new theology. In the process people were driven from their church and became spiritually homeless. If you were an Elder or church member that went through that and you want to tell your story I would love to give you a platform.
  • If you had an experience with “church discipline” that was wrong, un-ethical, and traumatic I would be happy to let you tell your story here.
  • If you were at an Evangelical Free Church and your church was embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal or your child was sexually abused and the church covered it up, or tried to I would love to hear from you. I find it disturbing that more churches are concerned with women teaching and are silent about the rape of a child. But if your family went through a traumatic experience at the hands of a local Evangelical Free then I would be honored to give you a platform.
  • If you attended or worked at Trinity International University and had clashes or issues as a result of Neo-Calvinism I would love to hear from you, and hope you would be willing to write a post. One item I am particularly interested in is the following. When it came out that Mark Driscoll plagiarized D.A. Carson, Carson’s response in return was silence. No challenge, no rebuke, largely nothing. If you are aware of a situation where D.A. Carson disciplined or helped expel a Trinity student for plagiarism, while he was silent on Mark Driscoll’s plagiarism then I would love to hear about it. If that un-ethical behavior has occurred than I believe it compromises Trinity Academic credentials. You can’t have it both ways on plagiarism and give one person a pass while engage in discipline of another. D.A. Carson already has a stellar record. In this statement he went after and helped attack a Sovereign Grace rape victim in what I think is the lowest point in modern Christianity. That is something Carson needs to repent. Or as I wrote about the other day in drawing parallels between Sovereign Grace and Watergate….do we need to follow the money? Did C.J. Mahaney give money to D.A. Carson and also Trinity Divinity or an academic department as well? After all since C.J. Mahaney gave $200,000 to Southern Theological Seminary it is well within reason to ask…did he do the same thing with Trinity and was D.A. Carson or his academic program the beneficiary of that? These are questions that I hope can be answered.

Sometimes if you love a church the best thing you can do is vote with your feet and walk away from it. Today that is how I feel about the Evangelical Free Church of America and why I will not pursue faith or explore God in that denomination. However, I do love and care for the denomination, that is why I am writing this post. There are too many issues and problems. I have heard of a couple of stories on the surface and I believe if I just scratch the surface I’ll be amazed and disturbed by what I will find. I am aware of one incredibly traumatic church discipline experience at an Evangelical Free in California that was hard and caused trauma on a family. I am also aware of another Evangelical Free in the Midwest which was theologically hi-jacked by Neo-Calvinists and became under the influence of 9 Marks. There are more issues and stories waiting to be told. That is the purpose of today’s post to write something that is launched into cyber space that will stick to the Evangelical Free website. For that family, or former member of the Evangelical Free reeling in pain due to a traumatic experience I want them to know they are not alone. Others are hurting as well. Something is deeply wrong when the fruit of someone’s faith is pain, trauma, stress and tears. Yet that is happening to often today and its a topic that needs to be addressed. So if you went through something traumatic in the Evangelical Free Church I would like to hear from you. Its doesn’t matter if its Clovis, California; Billings, Montana; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Miami, Florida or Cleveland, Ohio. The stories are there and they are waiting to be told. I’d be honored if you wanted to tell me those stories. Since this post deals with the Evangelical Free I’ll close with a song I remember singing in Fresno Evangelical Free years ago. That’s it guys as always I love you!