Friday, January 26, 2007

The Evangelical Free Church and Christian Churches Together: A Response to CRN

Because I serve in the Evangelical Free Church of America I was especially interested in the Christian Research Network's (formerly known as Slice of Laodicea) recent report that the EFCA is considering membership in a new ecumenical group called Christian Churches Together which describes itself as:

[A] new forum growing out of a deeply felt need to broaden and expand fellowship, unity, and witness among the diverse expressions of Christian faith today. CCT is inclusive of the diversity of Christian families in the United States — Evangelical, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Pentecostals, historic Protestant, Racial and Ethnic churches.
CCT's by-laws list celebrating a common faith in the Triune God fostering evangelism that is faithful to the proclamation of the gospel as two of the group's specific tasks. An examination of the list of member organizations/churches makes one wonder how this can ever be accomplished given that between the groups there are conflicting views of biblical authority, not to mention what the message of the gospel is.

Beneath the listing of member organizations is another list of churches and organizations who are described as "in decision making process or present as observers." In her original post on the subject, CRN's Ingrid Schlueter interpreted the presence of the EFCA's name on this list as meaning that we are considering joining the group (an assertion she repeats here) and asks:
Is this what the Evangelical Free Church really stands for? Linking arms for spiritual growth with Roman Catholics? Does Scriptures teaching on salvation matter to these people? Do they know more than the Reformers? Was all of that a waste of time: the 95 Theses, the martyrdoms, the suffering for the sake of truth?
She concludes:
Also interesting are the left-wing organizations on this list, including Jim Wallis’ Sojourners which has no problem with homosexuality. We are seeing a complete meltdown of theological and moral standards among evangelical denominations. Time to get out, quickly.
The morning after I read Ingrid's initial post I arrived at my office to find an email from a regular attender at our church who had received, along with a number of others, a forwarded copy of the post. She was writing me to ask if there is any truth to the report. I told her that I had emailed EFCA President Dr. Bill Hamel the day before to inquire about the matter myself and had been assured that the Free Church was not a member of CCT nor was it intending to become one.

Due to CRN's high volume of traffic and the severity of the charge that the EFCA has such little regard for biblical orthodoxy, I asked President Hamel for permission to publish his response to me. He kindly granted it. Here are his comments:

The Evangelical Free Church is not a member Christian Churches Together nor is the EFCA planning to join. I have attended one of their gatherings and I have told those in leadership that even if I was inclined to join that I could not do so without at the very least board support and perhaps national conference support.

CCT is an attempt to find action points where denominations can work together. Because groups like ours tend to resist such "ecumenism" they have built an unique decision making model where all have to agree to move ahead on a project or you have the freedom to vote no but giving the group the freedom to move forward and list you as one who does not agree. I do not think the grandiose vision of CCT will work...what we agree on is very narrow. I have requested observer status thus allowing me the opportunity to interact with the attendees without being a member. Many evangelical denomination heads are either members or observers giving me the opportunity to meet with them plus in the past it has been helpful to know the heads of mainline denominations and Roman Catholic leaders. Since the leadership of CCT does not want to accept my statements regarding membership they may think that eventually as an observer I will move forward with membership. It would have been very helpful for CRN to connect with me before damaging their credibility by publishing false information.

William J. Hamel, President
Evangelical Free Church of America
I am a regular reader of the Christian Research Network's blog as I was when it was Slice of Laodicea. I share their concern for and commitment to purity of life and doctrine. In many cases I concur with their critique of contemporary evangelical messages and methods (though, more often than not, I take issue with their mannerisms). I have frequently admired and hoped to emulate their courage to say hard, unpopular, yet true things for the sake of the gospel. That said, it is unfortunate that by failing to thoroughly investigate a matter before leveling charges such as those above against fellow believers, they run the risk of deafening the ears of many to what of value they have to say.

It is ironic (and providential) that today Ingrid laments ministries turning on themselves

UPDATE: (For some reason the post mentioned in the previous sentence no longer appears on CRN's site. The full text is available, however, at CRN.Info and Analysis.)


ingrid said...

If the EFree is not interested in joining, why is their name listed as having "Observer Status" on the CCT website? Are we the first to have reported on this? Has nobody at the EFree headquarters seen this and objected? We would praise God if this denomination would clarify their opposition to this groups ecumenical faith objectives, but instead their name is included without apology on the CCT membership page. Hopefully this will be remedied immediately. Please don't blame me for reporting what CCT is publicly saying.


Ingrid Schlueter

ingrid said...

Here is the link where the Evangelical Free Churches of America are listed as observing or considering membership. If this is false, it needs to be taken down.


Sarah J. Flashing said...

"Churches/Organizations in decision making process or present as observers:" that's just a logical fallacy to insist that because they're listed as observers that the EFCA is considering membership.

KP said...

Sarah, I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one who thought that was obvious. Thanks.

luvvom said...

I'm wondering why they were present where they shouldn't have been present in the first place. If they don't want anything to do with them, why be there at all? I don't think Ingrid's questioning of this is logical fallacy. If you thought it was such a great fallicy, then why did you run to Mr. Hamel for a clarification? Why not just tell your church members that Ingrid has logical fallacies all the time?

Tim said...

Ingrid and luvvom: You ask why the EFCA is even listed as an observer, and why they're there in the first place.

My guess--and this is pure guesswork on my part--is that Hamel attended a meeting so that he could interact with some of the attendees. It gave him a chance to meet with some of the heads of evangelical denominations that attend, and even with the heads of mainline denominations and Roman Catholic leaders.

Of course, I don't speak for the EFCA. You should really find something written by someone who does speak for them. If you search long and hard, you should be able to locate a statement of some kind. Perhaps you could start by reading the statement published above. :)

luvvom said:
If you thought it was such a great fallicy, then why did you run to Mr. Hamel for a clarification? Why not just tell your church members that Ingrid has logical fallacies all the time?

Being listed as observers does not necessarily imply that the EFCA is considering membership. They might be, or they might be "observing" for some other reason. The way to find out which is to ask.

That's what Ingrid could have done, but didn't. It's part of thoroughly investigating the matter. If she then didn't think Hamel's answer was adequate, she could have published her charge along with his answer, and then explained to her readers why his answer wasn't adequate.

luvvom said...

If you feel so unaffected about the matter, why run to Mr. Hamel for clarification to give to your church members? Why not just state to them that Ingrid doesn't have good research skills? That was the essence of my original question to you, to which you do not seem to have an answer, because Ingrid is correct in bringing this to people's attention and for asking for a clarification from these people

Tim said...


I'm not sure whether your last comment was addressed to me, or to KP. So I want to clarify that I'm not associated with this blog in any way--I just read the entry and added my own comment. (If you didn't think I'm KP, then never mind.)

Here's my take: It is perfectly appropriate to bring the facts to people's attention--that the EFCA is listed as an observer with a group including organizations who are theologically dangerous. It is perfectly appropriate to express concern over the nature of the EFCA's association with that group. Many groups have headed down a road of compromise that leads outside Biblical truth, and we need to be on close guard against it. It is perfectly appropriate to request clarification, so that those concerns can be addressed. (When I said that Ingrid should have asked, I shouldn't have implied that she needed to ask privately before posting anything about it. I was wrong there.)

It is not, however, appropriate to jump to conclusions. It is not appropriate to judge the situation based solely on the fact that the EFCA is listed as an observer. As people have already pointed out, that fact is ambiguous. It is not appropriate to make ill-founded accusations. Request clarification, yes. Accuse, no.

So, did Ingrid accuse, or did she request clarification?

I can't imagine how anyone could read her post as being anything other than accusatory. She didn't express concern over what might be happening. She asked, "What has happened to the Evangelical Free Church in America?" [emphasis added] "Was all of that a waste of time: the 95 Theses, the martyrdoms, the suffering for the sake of truth?" If she intended simply to request clarification, she fell short of her goal. To put it diplomatically.

More tellingly, in the first comment above, she asked, "If the EFree is not interested in joining, why is their name listed as having 'Observer Status' on the CCT website?" As I pointed out, Hamel gave an answer in this post! This isn't a matter of poor research skills. It's a matter of having her mind so closed that she was blind to the answer given in the very post to which she was replying. At this point, if she is not satisfied with Hamel's answer, she should explain why, and perhaps seek the kind of further clarification that could satisfy her concerns.

As for you, luvvom, you're doing something similar. Above, Sarah said, "that's just a logical fallacy to insist that because they're listed as observers that the EFCA is considering membership." [emphasis added] In your mind, you changed the word "insist" to "question". Sarah said it's fallacious to insist that "listed as observer = considering membership". You then said "I don't think Ingrid's questioning of this is logical fallacy." You're right, questioning wouldn't be fallacious. But Sarah didn't say that questioning the connection was fallacious. She said the way Ingrid interpreted the listing was fallacious.

KP said...


The reason I didn't simply dismiss Ingrid's post on account of her "poor research skills" is because I didn't want to commit the same error with which I charged her - speaking authoritatively about something of which I was not adequately informed. I sought information from someone who would know.

It would have been inappropriate for me to have dismissed her post on the grounds that "she commits logical fallacies all the time" or she has "poor research skills" because even if I believed those things were true (which I never claimed), it wouldn't necessarily follow that everything she asserts is false.

As Tim has pointed out, there would have been nothing objectionable to Ingrid's raising a question. True, her original post was titled in such a way as to suggest that this was all she was doing but its content was pointedly accusatory. And even if one were to deny that, her second post leaves no question about the matter as in it she chides me for blaming her for "...falsely reporting that the Evangelical Free Church of America is considering joining the ecumenical Christian Churches Together." She assumes responsibility for reporting (not merely raising a question as she claims in the very next sentence) that the EFCA is considering membership in CCT. She goes on to state that I cannot blame CRN for reporting what CCT claims to be fact. But this is where the logical fallacy comes in, as Sarah noted. CCT's site lists the Free Church among those groups either in the decision making process OR [emphasis mine] having observer status. Ingrid concludes that the only possible reason an organization can have for observing is because it is considering whether or not to join. I think anyone who reads Dr. Hamel's response carefully will see that that is not the case for the EFCA.

While we're on the topic of assumptive leaps, I'd caution you, luvvom, against jumping to the conclusion on this blog or any other, that if your comments/questions are not replied to in what you consider a timely fashion, that the blogger has been dumbfounded. As much as I might like to interact with every commenter who takes the time to share his/her opinion, the demands of my schedule do not allow it.

empressbarb said...

Late night, long day...but there does seem to be a bit of the self-righteous smugness in the comment section and in the CRN posts. Discernment is surely a great and needed gift, but without the attitude of love it becomes more like watching the yelling shows t.v. that deal with politics. However, KP you always seem to be able to speak the truth with an attitude of love, thanks.

Byron said...

I've read Ingrid Schlueter before, and despite the fact that I agree with her far more often than not, I can't recommend her nor link to her from my blog. Why? She seems to all-too-often come from the "shoot first and ask questions later" school of journalism. Now that's an easy temptation to give in to; I've done it myself on occasion, I'm sure (I said, repenting in sackcloth). But this strikes me as just another example of her irresponsibly jumping to conclusions without taking just a brief moment to ask a question or two that would pretty easily clear up the "controversy" (as "Big Bill's" explanation does).

Matt said...

Thanks for setting the record straight, KP.

-Matt Mitchell