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Christ’s Glorious Return

October 13, 2020

The 2019 EFCA Statement of Faith Revision

In June 2019, our denomination, the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA), adopted an amendment to Article 9 of the EFCA Statement of Faith, replacing the word “premillennial” with “glorious.” That article now reads as follows: 

“We believe in the personal, bodily and glorious return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands our constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.”

During our upcoming congregational meeting in November, the elders of Stonebridge Church will be making a motion to adopt this revision for our own Statement of Faith at Stonebridge. To prepare us for that vote, we’ll be hosting an open forum via Facebook Live on Monday night, Oct. 19, at 7:30 pm on our Online Community, during which time we’ll walk through the proposed amendment and take questions. You’ll also be able to view the open forum at a later date if you miss the live version.

However, I thought it would be helpful to lay some groundwork for that upcoming conversation and vote by addressing four foundational questions about the proposed Statement of Faith revision:

  • What is this about? What do the different positions on the millennium even mean?
  • Why make this revision now?
  • What are the theological implications for us as a church?
  • What are the practical implications for us as a church?

What is this about? What do the different positions on the millennium even mean?

When Christians talk about the return of Christ and the millennium, we’re talking about the timing of Christ’s return relative to the events described in Revelation 20:1-10. The word millennium simply means “a thousand years,” a term that is used six times in this passage.

There are three historic Christian views on the timing of Christ’s return relative to the millennium:

  • Premillennial: Christ returns before (pre) the events described in Rev. 20. This is the historic position of the EFCA, and also common among Baptists and Pentecostals.
  • Postmillennial: Christ returns after (post) the events described in Rev. 20. This was the position held by most Puritans, and is much less common today, having largely died off post WWI.
  • Amillennial: the events described in Rev 20 are not exclusively future, but a symbolic portrait of the church age (from cross to new creation). This is the position historically held by Presbyterians, and increasingly common among Baptists and Free Church traditions.

Of these views, both premillennial and amillennial can be traced to the earliest recorded comments on Revelation 20 (ca. fourth century).

Within the premillennial view, there are also several camps:

  • Historic premillennial: the millennial kingdom pertains to martyred saints (ca. 4th century)
  • Dispensational premillennial: the millennial kingdom pertains to national Israel (popularized by John Nelson Darby in the 1850s)

On this issue, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Christians have long held different opinions and convictions. It’s not an unimportant question, but neither is it an all-important one. Saving faith does not hang on one’s belief about the precise meaning of Revelation 20.

Why make this revision now?

Our denomination revised this point out of a desire to be true to the historic posture of the EFCA: to “major on the majors” and not let doctrines of secondary importance divide us. We enjoy diversity on all sorts of secondary issues: Calvinist or Arminian, charismatic or cessationist, covenantal or dispensational. Even within our historically premillennial view, we don’t require a particular position on Israel and the church, or specify how OT prophesies are fulfilled. So the growing sense over the last couple decades was that we were being inconsistent by enjoying diversity on all sorts of secondary issues, but demanding everyone in our fellowship be premillennial (which is also a secondary issue). And the overwhelming majority of delegates at the national conference in 2019 agreed with this and voted to amend article nine to replace the word “premillennial” with “glorious.”

At Stonebridge, we value our partnership with our denomination, and believe it is important to express that partnership and commitment through a common Statement of Faith, just as we have prior to the 2019 revision. We also agree with the national leadership that this revision better reflects the historic posture of the EFCA to major on the majors.

One of the greatest strengths of our movement in general and our local church in particular has been to build our unity around the essentials of the gospel. This revision better positions us to keep doing that.

What are the theological implications for us as a church?

The theological implications are honestly pretty minimal. No one is required to abandon their premillennial view. And already within the denomination, there is not one uniform view on the millennium. In many ways, historic premillennialism (which is already a widely-held view in our denomination) is much closer to amillennialism than to Dispensational premillennialism, in terms of how they understand the scope of Biblical history. An amillennialist is likely to put less emphasis on the modern-day nation state of Israel in how they understand biblical prophecy, but so is a historic premillennialist. So the main difference is that when we explain our views on the end, we’ll review a broader range of options.

What are the practical implications for us as a church?

Again, this revision will have little impact on our day-to-day operations. The most practical results are the ability to emphasize our commitment to gospel essentials in our Statement of Faith, and thus be able to be more invitational and inclusive of faithful, godly, Bible-loving Christians and leaders who share our vision and mission but have been excluded by this secondary position.

***

Again, plan to join us for our open forum on Monday, Oct. 19. If you would like to review additional resources in the meantime, we recommend this short article by Bill Kynes entitled, “A Rationale for Amending Your Church’s Statement of Faith,” and an FAQ created by the EFCA. 

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