A Brief Orthodoxy: The Church

There is only one true Church of Christ (Matthew 16:18). This is the Bride of Christ, or all those who have placed their trust in Christ alone (Romans 3:20-28; Ephesians 5; Revelation 19:7, 21:2, 21:9). They have believed on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved.  This means that they believe that salvation is attained through faith alone in Christ, not as a result of any works on their own part (Ephesians 2:8-9). The Church is then revealed through smaller local churches (Acts 9:31; Romans 16:5). These local churches should be made up of only true saints, those who have a personal relationship with Christ, not intruders or posers (Matthew 16:15-20). The true Church is made up of individual local churches, or bodies, that introduce others to Christ (Evangelism), encourage growth and maturity (Discipleship), and hopefully equip others to spread the gospel (Equipping) (Colossians 1:28).

As believers, the Lord has given two ordinances to remind us of the position we hold in Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Although only two are considered essential because of Christ’s command, this is just one of the areas where the EFCA reveals its latitudinalism, or breadth of acceptance in things not essential to salvation. There is freedom among the congregants to embrace either form of baptism, immersion or sprinkling, believer’s or infant. They may define within themselves what degree of spiritual significance is represented in the elements of communion, where they stand in the Calvinism-Arminian debate, and where each stands in his conviction on the tribulation. These matters are not considered to be matters where agreement is critical, useful but not critical. The sole element for church membership is spiritual life through personal faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and Savior. The essential element of fellowship with others is their belief and expression of faith in Christ. This has come to be known as, “Believers only but all believers.”Though all beliefs are important, and should regulate, to some degree, how we live our lives, there is an openness to allow people to worship and believe as they are led by the Spirit.

Baptism is an association that we have with Christ as we identify with His death and resurrection (Romans 6), and in so doing we recognizethat we have new life in Him. Two forms of baptism are utilized. The first is Believer’s Baptism. This states that a person should be baptized after he has come to Christ, and desires to express that action and commitment to the world and the Church (Acts 8:38). This act is not to be misunderstood in any way as being salvific; it is simply an outward expression of what has already taken place internally, more specifically in the spiritual realm.  The other form, which seems to be weakening in popularity, is infant (paedo) baptism. This, as the term implies, holds to an infant being baptized very near birth. Infant baptism is best viewed as an “act of dedication” of the child, and, as well,  in no way is considered to be salvific, or an act of redemption. Most Evangelical Free Churches subscribe to the believer’s baptism, as do I, as the preferred, biblically justifiable mode.

Communion is a memorial ordinance given for expressing our thanks to Christ for the gift of His life, as a reminder of the gospel that we need to share with all (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Matthew 26:20-29). It is a time when we proclaim the Lord’s death (1 Corinthians 11:26) and remember that God delivered us from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13-14). The Jews celebrate their Passover each year, and they corporately share a meal to remember, and reflect upon God’s deliverance of them from Egypt. Christ became our Passover (1 Corinthians 5:7), and we corporately share this meal to remember and reflect upon the fact that Christ delivered us from slavery and death as well (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). We come before God as His community, given life through Christ, we confess our sins, and we profess Jesus as Lord. It is clear that salvation, once and for all, comes through the saving grace that Christ gave in dying on the cross, not from these ordinances (Hebrews 10:12). The Lord’s Supper also carries with it an eschatological prospect as well in that we look towards the day when we share in the marriage supper of the Lamb, when we will drink of the cup together with Christ as the Bride of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7, 21:2, 9).

Fellowshipping in a church setting is encouraged in Scripture, as we are not to forsake the assembly of the saints (Hebrews 10:25; Luke 4:16). We are to gain encouragement, sympathy and strength from those brothers and sisters who are experiencing life as well. We are to gain understanding from the Word as it is shared freely in a worshipful setting (Acts 2:42). As Christ is the head, the Church is the body (Colossians 1:18, 2:19; Ephesians 1:22-23). We are made up of unique giftings. There are many members of this body with multiple functions and talents (Romans 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). This church should accurately reflect the model of the church found in Acts 2. They should be focused on Scripture as their rule. They should be enjoying intimate fellowship with one another. They need to be identifying with Christ, experiencing the intimacy of prayer, and being used to bring others into the fold (Acts 2:42-47).

After the model that was established by Paul of establishing a church by the appointment of elders (Acts 14:23) and deacons, the EFCA allows each individual body to be autonomous, or self-governing. The understanding being that Christ is the solid foundation, rather than any particular denominational ruling body. Christ is the ruling authority, or governing head rather than any other governing authority. This principle can be traced back to Christ’s establishment of the Apostles who were to be the leaders in the fledgling church. This in no way encourages a hierarchy of authority, as Christis the head; it does however, follow Biblical precedent of authority, control and competent leadership.  In light of this, I embrace a church leadership of plural local elders. It is thought that government works best when it has the consent of those governed. This model is made up of elected elders by the congregationwho govern the majority of affairs of the church. The elders therefore do not have absoluteauthority. The pastor is one of the elders, and does have a leadership role among the elder board. Major decisions involve the consideration of the congregation.

As such has been embraced and found to be an appropriate Biblical model, the local churches of the EFCA are considered to be congregationally ruled, but elder led, which is a most cherished aspect of our denomination.  As Paul exhorted in Titus 1:5, we are to set things in order and appoint elders. Thus, it has been the determination that the congregation would elect, or appoint elders to lead in the everyday governance of the local body.  The overall everyday affairs of the local body are free from the direct control of the National Office of the EFCA.

We do however, appreciate the accountability to, and the umbrella council of the National Office. The fact that we are considered autonomous churches does not mean we are independent.  Rather, we enjoy working interdependently with other Evangelical Free Churches, and with like-minded faiths to demonstrate the unity in the body of Christ for which He prayed in John 17, and for the concerted efforts of the proclamation of the gospel.