“…the word “free” meant freedom from the clutches of State control.”
OUR EFC DISTINCTIVE CHARACTERISTICS
It has often been said in jest that an Evangelical Free Church (EFC) has the liberty to do anything since it is a FREE church. But are we really free to do whatever we want? Do EFCs share some common convictions besides our fundamental beliefs? What are our distinctive characteristics, if any? CHEAH FOO SEONG answers these and more.
Evangelical Free Church (EFC) started nearly 200 years ago in the Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Arnold T. Olson, the former president of EFC America, traces the beginnings of EFC to Geneva, Switzerland, in 1817 through the bold witness of H. Cesar Malan.
In those days, churches were under the State, which controlled all its affairs and activities, including the appointment of pastors who alone could teach, preach, conduct the ordinances (the Lord’s Supper and baptism), marry and bury. Under such circumstances, the churches were devoid of true spirituality but were steep in the outward ceremonial displays and rituals. Those who mourned the spiritual deadness of their churches began to gather on their own and soon, a spiritual awakening stirred among the small groups of worshipers.
This eventually became a worldwide movement, spreading to countries such as Japan, Mongolia, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Burma.
The Distinctive Issues
In Malaysia, the practices and form of worship within each EFC are influenced by the church leadership, rather than by the central Evangelical Free Church of Malaysia (EFCM). This should be understandable considering the historical development of the EFC movement some 200 years ago with the spiritual awakening that took place across continental Europe and the desire to immigrate to greener pastures. It was estimated that from 1881 to 1890, some 4.3 million immigrants from northern Europe landed in America.
Freed from the clutches of State control, these European migrants who were believers of Jesus as Son of God, continued to gather on Sunday to worship God. Eventually, the migrants separated into two main groups of EFCs, namely the Swedish EFC and the Norwegian-Danish EFC. Both these EFCs were the backbone of the EFC America.
The EFC recognises and teaches that the union of State and Church is an unholy alliance, and strives to keep each local church independent and autonomous, subject only to Christ. So, the word “free” meant freedom from the clutches of State control, and as migrants to a country like America, the sense of freedom permeates through the EFC movement during the founding years.
This freedom however was not taken lightly by the EFC pioneers because there was a clear and unequivocal commitment to follow the teaching of the Bible as the basis and rule of faith. Furthermore, this sense of independence does not mean EFCs disregard others in the body of Christ, especially churches of the EFC denomination.
The EFC Confession of Faith
In the Confession of Faith of the EFC, there are 12 Articles of Faith. These Articles were the result of the joint deliberations of the Swedish and Norwegian-Danish EFC.
The first six Articles are fundamental Christian doctrines relating to a person’s salvation and spiritual life accepted by mainstream evangelical churches.
Articles 7-10 are the doctrines of the Church while Articles 11-12 relate to the doctrines of the Last Things (or Second Coming of Christ). These six Articles grant EFC churches the flexibility to practise and apply biblical teachings that may differ in the form of church governments, baptism method, the doctrine of the church and the Last Things. This right to govern its own affairs leans towards a more congregational approach, rather than Episcopalian or Presbyterian.
Confession of Faith of the Evangelical Free Church
- The Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, to be the inspired Word of God, without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His Will for the salvation of Men, and the Divine and final authority for all Christian faith and life.
- In one God, Creator of all things, infinitely perfect and eternally existing in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- That Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man, having been conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin, Mary. He died on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins according to the Scriptures. Further, He rose bodily from the dead, ascended into heaven, where at the right hand of the majesty on high, He is now High Priest and Advocate.
- That the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ, and during this age to convict men, regenerate the believing sinner, indwell, guide, instruct and empower the believer for godly living and service.
- That man was created in the image of God, but fell into sin and is therefore lost and only through regeneration by the Holy Spirit can salvation and spiritual life be obtained.
- That the shed blood of Jesus Christ and his resurrection provide the only ground for justification and salvation for all who believe, and only such as received Jesus Christ are born of the Holy Spirit, and thus become children of God.
- That water baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances to be observed by the church during the present age. They are, however, not to be regarded as means of salvation.
- That the true church is composed of all such persons who through saving faith in Jesus Christ have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and are united together in the body of Christ of which He is the Head.
- That only those who are thus members of the true church shall be eligible for membership in the local church.
- That Jesus Christ is the Lord and Head of the Church, and that every local church has the right under Christ to decide and govern its own affairs.
- In the personal and pre-millenial and imminent coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and that this “Blessed Hope” has a vital bearing on the personal life and service of the believer.
- In the bodily resurrection of the dead; of the believer to everlasting blessedness and joy with the Lord; of the unbeliever to judgment and everlasting conscious punishment.
The writer was an early Office Bearer of EFCM. He is currently Vice-Chairman of Grace EFC.