EFCA Update (Alton Family Letter)

Dear BeFree Family,

In the past, a church’s denomination was something worn as a badge of honor. Churches would name themselves with titles like “First Baptist” or “Second Presbyterian.” However, in the past twenty years, many American Christians have lost their sense of denominational pride. Some have gone so far as to disdain denominations all together and wear the title “non-denominational” as a badge of honor. It’s not difficult to understand the desire to dismiss denominations as unnecessary or over institutionalized. After all, we don’t see them anywhere in the Bible.

However, I believe it would be a mistake to completely dismiss denominations as unnecessary or passé. In fact, I would argue that in throwing away denominations we would lose far more than we would gain. If a church is a part of a healthy, Gospel preaching, Bible-believing, mission driven denomination, they are in direct partnership with a larger body of believers who are working together to shine the light of Jesus across the nation and the world. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

BeFree Alton is a part of a denomination called the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA). While there are not many EFCA churches in our corner of the country, there are more than 1300 congregations stretching from Alaska to Florida and from Hawaii to Maine.

When I was graduating from seminary and trying to discern where the Lord was leading Olivia and I in the years to come, there were many denominations, church networks and parachurch organizations with which we might have decided to ally. However, as we researched and prayed about the direction the Lord was leading, it became clear to us that the EFCA was the denomination we wanted to join as we served the lord in the decades to come.

The thing that set the EFCA apart from many other denominations was its commitment to hold the core doctrines of the church with white knuckled zeal, while still allowing for a diversity of positions on doctrines of secondary importance. To major on the majors and minor on the minors. For example, the EFCA is committed to the centrality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, and the ongoing mission of the church, but are willing to have diversity on topics such as speaking in tongues and pre-destination without breaking the bond of unity we all share in Christ.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to gather with over 1500 pastors, missionaries and lay leaders at the EFCA national conference in Chicago. This was my first opportunity to interact with our denomination outside our region and I was blessed by what I found.

Here are three reasons I returned to New Hampshire thankful to be a part of the EFCA:

Bold Leadership – Before attending the national conference I knew very little about the men and women serving at our denomination’s headquarters. Though I recognized a few of them by name, I had never had the chance to directly benefit from their leadership. However, while at the conference, a few of these national leaders, including the current EFCA president, addressed us on a few key matters of great importance to our denomination. They boldly challenged the pastors of our denomination to be diligent and watchful in combatting possible abuse in our congregations. They urged us to be ready and willing to take immediate and decisive action when reports of any kind of abuse come to the surface. They also challenged and encouraged pastors and church leaders across the denomination on a number of other matters. While not

everything they said was easy to hear, all of it was true, needed to be said and was spoken in love. It takes a gifted leader to handle matters of such weight with bold conviction yet tender compassion. I am thankful to say that we have leaders in our denomination who worthy of our confidence and respect.

  • -  Healthy Communication – On the second day of the conference, two delegates from each EFCA church met for a biannual business meeting. The primary matter of business was to vote upon a proposed revision to our denomination’s statement of faith. If the proposed changes passed, our statement on Christ’s return would change from “We believe in the personal, bodily and premillennial return of our Lord Jesus” to “We believe in the personal, bodily and gloriousreturn of our Lord Jesus.” This change was proposed in an effort to better align our statement of faith with our denomination’s commitment to hold firmly to the doctrines that are essential, those truths that all true believers throughout the centuries have believed, and yet remain charitable on secondary doctrines.

    Over the course of 3+ hours, the delegates from the different churches talked and debated this proposed change. Some spoke with great emotion arguing both for and against the change. However, when we voted and the proposal was approved, the tone in the room was not one of winners and losers, but one of humble acceptance and respect. At the end of the meeting, we left united under our shared commitment to continue the ongoing work of Jesus Christ.

  • -  A Gospel-focused commitment to Christ’s mission – The bigger an organization, the more structure needed to run it. In the same way, when churches and church denominations grow to be large, it can be tempting to begin treating a church like a business. Pastors and church leaders can often lose sight of what is most important and opt rather for what is most pragmatic; asking “what works” rather than “what honors God.” As I attended the national conference, listened to the plenary speakers, sat through breakout sessions, and listened to the leaders, one thing became crystal clear: without dismissing the necessity of proper structures and the right handling of our resources, the EFCA cares far more for the glory of God, the advance of the Gospel and the flourishing of the church, than numbers, resources and institutional structures. I am thankful to be a part of a large organization that has not lost sight of the ultimate goal. The EFCA is a denomination that remains focused upon Jesus Christ and his glory.

    Our church is not “non-denominational”. Rather, we are a part of a larger family of churches that are committed to glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people. God is at work across our nation and across the world through the EFCA. I am thankful to call this family of churches our home and am excited to see what God will do through our denomination in the decades to come.

    Thankfully yours,
    Ben Ruhl, Pastor of BeFree Alton