Its useful to look at the Free Church statement of faith closer and break it down. I’m tackling the first two statements (and the preamble). Whatever is in italics is from the statement itself, whats not is just me talking. If you have something to add, please do.
The Evangelical Free Church of America is an association of autonomous churches united around these theological convictions:
Comment: The Free Church of America allows each individual church to be autonomous and to run its own affairs. They are not told who to have as a pastor, or how to conduct their meetings, or what kind of government to use to decide things.
1. We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Having limitless knowledge and sovereign power, God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.
Obviously we are monotheists (one God) and we think that One God actually created the world. We don’t have a position on 6 day creation, although we do hold the Bible to be inerrant (more on that in a minute). In saying God is holy and infinitely perfect, we mean that God is above all and perfect in every way. In saying he is eternally existing in three persons we affirm the Trinity (that God is God the Father, as well as coming to earth as Jesus, and then after Christ’s death resurrection and ascension into heaven God is with us as the Holy Spirit, living in us). God is omniscient and omnipotent—knowing all and being able to do anything. God always wanted to redeem the world, and had a plan to do that through Jesus before Adam ever sinned. (Why God let Adam sin is a matter of much debate, not dealt with here) God wants redemption, and redemption of the world is the plan for us. God is the healer, the one who restores hope, and makes things right and properly functioning again.
What this means we don’t believe: We don’t believe in multiple gods, we don’t think the world just happened without God’s creative wisdom and power involved, we don’t think God has any limits which make him less or that God is ignorant or weak, we don’t think God used to not exist, or that God will cease to exist at some time. We don’t think Jesus wasn’t God, and we don’t think the Holy Spirit is just a figure of speech. We don’t think God has a sick sense of humor like Depeche Mode, but we think God wants good things and redemption for the world. We expect God to do good– we have faith in that type of activity and plan on God’s part.
Statement: The Bible
2. We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.
What this means: God is behind the whole Bible, even though it was written by a bunch of different authors. Its not like the people who wrote the Bible were controlled like some sort of zombie puppet by an outside power, but they were directed (maybe even without realizing it) to write what they did. God meant it to be written, it says what needs to be said, and its not wrong. Original writings: since we don’t have the very original writings, this is sort of a leap of faith that the original manuscripts were correct in every way even if there are some discrepancies in the Bible (one author might say one thing, another another thing such as when something happened, or how many people were at an event, etc.
Complete revelation: anything we really need to know about salvation and relationship with God is expressed in the Bible. It is the ultimate authority, for example, we won’t say something like “science says miracles are impossible, therefore the miracles of Scripture didn’t really happen” because this would put science over Scripture. On the other hand, when science and Scripture can go together without undermining the authority of Scripture, of course we can and should. The Bible says Jesus was the lamb of God but obviously no one is arguing that Jesus was a small sheep actually. Various literary methods of writing are taken into account so that not every single statement is taken in a naïve literal way—in the simplist silliest way possible. In short, it is possible to have a sophisticated hermeneutic to read Scripture which holds Scripture in this high regard while also finding harmony with human thought in many ways. But on topics where that harmony seems hard to discover, and we seem forced to choose, we trust Scripture as the ultimate authority. For example, although the Trinity (three persons of the Godhead in one) seems hard to comprehend, and although the Infinite (God) is said by Christianity to exist in a finite form simultaneously (Jesus is fully God and fully Man) and that also seems hard to understand, we don’t reject it on that basis (that it is hard to understand) but rather we believe it because that seems to be what Scripture is saying. I’m not going to say “well I don’t understand that, so its stupid and must just be ignorant” although I’m also going to be thoughtful as I read and interpret Scripture.
We were reading about the early church councils in our weekly book study group at Upstream Brewery recently and it was pretty encouraging to see how the Bible was put together at a pretty early time in Church History and by and large most of the books included in the Bible were agreed upon early in the Church.