Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Free Church of America

I recently asked Dr. Martin Noland, a pastor, historian, author and theologian, for his opinion on the similarities and differences between the LCMS and the EFCA.  Below is his response.

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The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA) have some similarities, but are quite different doctrinally.

  1. Both churches came out of the conservative reaction to the liberalization of European churches, universities, divinity schools, and mission agencies in the 19th century.  LCMS was a German conservative response; EFCA was a Scandinavian conservative response (Swedish and Danish-Norwegian).
  2. Both churches were founded in the USA by emigrants from their respective countries, and remained essentially an ethnic enclave until the 20th century.
  3. Both churches remained in touch, in several ways, with their conservative counterparts in the state churches of Europe, many of whom founded independent, i.e., free church, synods or associations, in Europe.
  4. Both churches were distrustful of church hierarchies, and laid great stress on the autonomy of the local congregation.
  5. Both churches were, at their founding, organized at the synodical level in order to train pastors and train and support missionaries.  Overseas mission work became a defining focus of their work, energy, and budget.
  6. Both churches were European-Protestant, which meant that they had little love for the Roman Catholic church and were suspicious of its agencies, were even more suspicious of Liberal Protestants and their agencies, and were often ambivalent with regard to conservative American church-bodies and fundamentalism—because they were, well, American. 😊  That attitude began to change in the later 20th century, at least in the LCMS.
  7. Doctrinally, it appears that they agree on the doctrines of:
    1. The inspiration of Scripture
    2. The Trinity
    3. Jesus’ deity
    4. Jesus’ incarnation by the virgin Mary
    5. The vicarious atonement as the basis of justification
    6. The bodily resurrection of Jesus
    7. The exaltation of Jesus to the right hand of God after his ascension
    8. The creation of man in God’s image and the loss of that image
    9. Man’s need for rebirth through faith in the work of Christ, through which faith they are born of the Holy Spirit (LCMS emphasizes baptism at this point) and become God’s children.
    10. The bodily resurrection of believers to everlasting life and bliss, and of unbelievers to judgement and everlasting conscious punishment.

  1. LCMS has a full-bodied and strict confessional subscription for all its rostered church-workers and member congregations.  EFCA has a 12 point doctrinal statement, and I don’t know how members of that church confess it or subscribe to it, if they do.
  2. LCMS subscribes to the 1580/1584 Book of Concord, which includes the three ecumenical creeds, which confessions determine all of its binding doctrines.  EFCA has only the 12 point doctrinal statement, which contains the points noted in #7a-j above, plus a few others, otherwise it has an aversion to creedal commitments.
  3. LCMS confesses that the work of the Holy Spirit is only through the means of the Word and Sacraments.  EFCA apparently does not confess that, but does affirm the work of the Holy Spirit.
  4. LCMS confesses that baptism is a means of grace by which faith and the Holy Spirit are given.  EFCA says that baptism is a necessary ordinance, but is not a means of grace or of the Holy Spirit.
  5. LCMS confesses that the Lord’s supper is a means of grace, by which our Lord’s body and blood are received orally to all who eat the bread and drink the wine, to the spiritual benefit of those who discern Christ’s body and blood, and to the spiritual judgment of those who do not discern it.  EFCA says that the Lord’s supper is a necessary ordinance, but is not a means of grace, nor is there any “real presence” of His body and blood but it is only a memorial, thus following the Zwinglian view.
  6. LCMS confesses with Article VIII of the Augsburg Confession that hypocrites and unbelievers may be present in a local congregation or the church-at-large, and that if this is discovered and confirmed, they should be removed from membership.  EFCA restricts membership in the local congregation to only members of the true church, and I am not sure how that works out in practice.
  7. LCMS rejects both the Calvinist and Arminian doctrinal positions, confessing a third position detailed in the Book of Concord.  EFCA tolerates doctrinal positions of both Calvinists and Arminians.
  8. LCMS follows the positions on divorce and remarriage found in Luther’s writings of 1522 (Luther’s Works 45:11-50) and 1530 (Luther’s Works 46:259-320) and developed over the years in the German-Lutheran church orders and Pastoral Theologies, although since the advent of no-fault divorce in the USA, most congregations are reluctant to enforce those positions.  EFCA takes no official stand on divorce and remarriage.
  9. LCMS has always permitted its members to drink alcoholic beverages of all types and to use tobacco.  Some EFCA congregations prohibit, and all strongly discourage, the use of alcohol and tobacco.
  10. LCMS has always rejected all forms of millennialism, on the basis of Augsburg Confession Article XVII.  EFCA has found millennialism, especially dispensationalism, to be agreeable to its theology.
  11. LCMS has not formed unions or formal associations with American conservative Protestants, Fundamentalists, or Evangelicals, though our theologians and synod presidents may participate in some of their conferences and alliances for specific purposes, like opposition to abortion.  EFCA intentionally strives to bring together these sorts of conservative Protestants.
  12. LCMS listens to the history of Christian theology, specifically the orthodox tradition of Lutheranism, starting with Luther, Melanchthon, and Chemitz, going through the end of the 17th century, with a revival of the same in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Our theologians learn German and/or Latin in order to have access to these older theologians.  We also listen to the orthodox tradition of the early church, as late as Augustine, but read the medieval theologians much more critically.  EFCA seems to only have interest in its own roots from the 19th century, but that could be just an impression.
  13. LCMS has trained its preachers and pastors to be especially mindful of the distinction between the Law and Gospel, so that the Gospel always predominates in preaching and pastoral care.  I don’t know if that is true in the EFCA, so cannot say on that point.

I think these are the major points of agreement and disagreement.  You can share this message with your friend or others.

Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

May 22, 2020


David Becker said...

Among Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastor-scholar-author-theologians, John Warwick Montgomery and David Scaer have written books referencing the Evangelical Free Church of America. In his autobiography, Fighting the Good Fight (Fighting the Good Fight, 3rd and Enlarged Edition- Wipf and Stock Publishers), Dr. Montgomery references the fact that he was a professor at an EFCA seminary (at the same time he also taught classes at an LCMS seminary—apparently, it was not an issue at either end in the early 1970s). The Southern California law school that Montgomery founded, then known as the Simon Greenleaf School of Law, is now Trinity Law School and has been associated with the EFCA for many years now. Montgomery is often favorable to the EFCA in his book, noting among other things that the EFCA library had conservative AND liberal books in their library, while liberal seminaries often had only liberal books in their library. Scaer is less favorable to the EFCA and Montgomery by extension in his own autobiography, Surviving the Storms (Surviving the Storms: Memoirs of David P. Scaer - Kindle edition by Scaer, David P.. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @ Both men have been very outspoken and prominent and are still living today (January 3, 2021).

Looking at Dr. Noland’s comments on the EFCA and the LCMS, I offer the following remarks:

The similarities are basically correct, including the 7.h. observation about baptism (EFCA could perhaps emphasize baptism more than it does)

David Becker said...

The differences
1. I think EFCA is strict on the doctrines it does affirm. Deviations in doctrine and practice may be dealt with at least as well as the LCMS does.
2. Basically accurate observation by Dr. Noland
3. EFCA affirms the Bible as authority – not sure that there is an issue there
4. The EFCA statement on Baptism and Lord’s Supper should be looked at carefully. In my opinion, it could possibly be understood as compatible with Lutheran view, though many would disagree. There is a discussion in the EFCA published book, Evangelical Convictions (Evangelical Convictions - Kindle edition by EFCA, Strand, Greg, Kynes, Bill, Hamel, William. Religion & Spirituality Kindle eBooks @
5. Probably true that EFCA is sympathetic to Zwingli but EFCA statement perhaps offers wiggle room
6. EFCA modified its view about hypocrites in the church. Basically EFCA wants doctrinal/practice discipline in the church. I’m not sure that the EFCA and LCMS differ on this issue
7. EFCA is neither Calvinist nor Arminian. Is this the same as LCMS? This issue should be explored further.
8. EFCA doesn’t like divorce, not sure there is a real difference between EFCA and LCMS on this. Issue should be explored further
9. Probably fair to say EFCA discourages, not sure it’s fair to say EFCA prohibits alcohol and tobacco. Some in EFCA drink alcohol in moderation.
10. EFCA no longer formally upholds millennialism (EFCA Now Considers Premillennialism a Non-Essential...... | News & Reporting | Christianity Today). LCMS is out of date on recognizing this 2019 EFCA development – note the discussion in this denominational listing: (Denominations - Frequently Asked Questions - The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod ( LCMS is lazy in not noticing the latest development on this.
11. Basically correct view on the ecumenical aspect of EFCA. LCMS attitudes toward ecumenism are kind of incoherent
12. I would say it’s opposite of what Dr. Noland asserts here. LCMS (often though by no means always) looks only to its own roots and traditions. EFCA has a far more broad approach.
13. There can be good preaching in both LCMS and EFCA. These days, many sermons are available online.
I would also add the difference that officially, LCMS upholds six day creation and worldwide flood, while EFCA holds the line on Adam and Eve. This is not to say that many in EFCA don’t unofficially hold to six day creation and young earth. Also, there are some in LCMS who don’t. Practically speaking, there might not be a huge difference between the two denominations, but the official doctrinal statements are not the same.