The occasion of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday leads me to this short piece of advice to Christians: be careful not to try and claim historical figures as "one of us", if there's evidence they were not.
I feel we evangelicals have a bad habit of trying to claim various historical figures for ourselves. In the 1980s, there was a book titled The Light and the Glory, which as much as said that the U.S. was a new promised land. It painted Christopher Columbus as an anointed servant of Christ. But history tells us that Columbus was either, a nominal Roman Catholic (as nearly all western Europeans were), or a sincerely ardent one. The people he cruelly killed and enslaved probably didn't see him as a servant of God.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not an evangelical Christian, either; when you read his training and personal beliefs, he was a rigorously moral but mostly-liberal Lutheran of his day. Martin Luther King wasn't an evangelical, and (based on his own written beliefs from his seminary papers) was not a Christian during his years at Crozer Theological Seminary. He was very liberal, theologically, though it's possible he genuinely trusted in Christ later in his adult life, and friends have told me that was the case. I hope that's true.
C.S. Lewis' beliefs were a mixture of the gospel, plus some Anglican Catholicism, plus some Plato thrown in for good measure. In Lewis' case, I expect to see him with the Lord, but I have to weed out certain ideas in his writings. He was no British Puritan. In the same sense I also expect to see George Washington with the Lord, based on his confessions of faith, but Washington, like Lewis, wasn't doctrinally speaking a Puritan either (unlike another founding father, John Witherspoon).
The fact that various religious or religiously-inclined people from history were not evangelicals doesn't mean they were all bad. Many of them were devout, like Cornelius the centurion was devout (Acts 10). I think we should be conservative in the way we think about American historical figures, and not claim more for them than the evidence supports.
The Evangelical Free Church was formed on the principle that the Gospel is bigger than certain doctrinal distinctives. This isn't an easy philosophy to navigate, since one man's secondary can be another man's essential.
On one end of the spectrum, you can have a statement of faith that is so brief, loose, and undefined that it harbors all kinds of liberalism. I've seen that happen with the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. On the other end of the spectrum you can have a statement of faith that is so dense and filled with detail that it generates endless fighting. I've seen that happen among doctrine-minded Presbyterians.
One area that the EFCA agreed to set somewhat to the side was Calvinism/Arminianism. In our early days, eternal security became a hot issue. Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Seminary taught it strongly, but there were many in the EFCA who either weren't sure where they stood on it, or thought it was possible for a Christian to completely apostasize.
The EFCA national leaders decided to set that to the side. There are definite drop-off limits to this kind of tolerance -- to some Arminians, we insist that justification is by faith alone, not faith plus a lifetime of faithfulness and Gospel good works. To some Calvinists, we insist that election doesn't narrow God's love down to only the elect, or nullify the mandate for world evangelism.
It's also true that individual preachers, and congregations, will probably have convictions about Calvinism/Arminianism. Some will call themselves Calvinists, some will call themselves Arminians. Some will call themselves "Calminians", some remain undecided, and a few are uninterested by the whole thing. It's likely that entire EFCA congregations will have an over-all "drift" in certain directions (this will be true about a lot of different subjects, I bet).
There are loud people who will claim that Calvinists are all fatalists who don't think that choices make a difference, or that Arminians are all closet humanists who believe in self-salvation. In almost all cases, these are false, distorted cartoon versions of the truth. I have found that people who talk like this barely understand the other side's teachings, or are parroting what some preacher somewhere told them.
Biblically-knowledgeable Calvinists and Arminians agree on all the Christian foundations. James Arminius taught the unbelievers are spiritually dead, and that all positive movement toward God is excited by God's unmerited grace. On that subject, Arminius was far more Scriptural than some Christian people today who call themselves "Arminian."
John Calvin in his commentary taught that Christ propitiated the sins of the world without exception (he also taught particular atonement elsewhere in his writings, so I think he was self-contradictory, but nevertheless his comments on 1st John 2:2 are well-known). John MacArthur, a strong Calvinist, wrote a book a few years back about God's love for the world, a book which was aimed against hyper-Calvinism.
If some militant Calvinist thinks the five points of Calvinism are the exact same thing as Christianity itself, then (a) they're wrong, and (b) they won't like or fit into an Evangelical Free Church. The same goes for militant, hard-line Arminianism. But, if we are solid on the fundamentals, and show each other grace, and pray for each other, we can model Christian unity.
The New Testament tells us four reasons why there are no apostles after the first century.
1. Christ's original apostles were only twelve in number (Matthew 10:1-4). Judas Iscariot lost his place because of his wickedness, but God replaced him with Matthias (Acts 1:15-26). At the end of time, the Lord symbolically says there are still only twelve (Revelation 21:14).
A short time after Pentecost, God chose Paul to be an apostle (Acts 9:1-20). Paul didn't join the Twelve; though he was equal in authority to them (Galatians 1:1). It also appears Barnabas was an apostle, prior to Paul, in light of Barnabas being called by that title in Acts 14:4.
2. The purpose of the apostles was to found the Christian faith, not merely to spread it. The apostles were not just church-planters. The apostles, along with the New Testament prophets, were the foundation of the Christian Church (Ephesians 2:19-20). This is why the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 pictures them as foundation-stones. This function made their role unique.
3. Paul said he was the last of the apostles, because he was the last to see the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15:8). This implies that Paul saw Christ's actual physical body, while on the road to Damascus. Paul had been in ministry for several years when he wrote 1st Corinthians, and yet (according to him) no one had seen the risen Christ after he did. Paul was the last.
4. The position of "apostle" does not pass down from anyone to anyone. The Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession has no Biblical basis behind it. The "rock" upon which Christ builds His church is Peter's confession of faith, not Peter himself. Christ said, "upon this rock", not "upon you." There is no rule that says that "apostle" or "prophet" are continuous positions, when there is positive Biblical evidence that they (unlike evangelist, pastor, and teacher) had time-limiting attributes.
So, the original twelve apostles were a closed set. No more than twelve, and no more than those twelve. God then ordained two more (Paul and Barnabas) during the founding of the Church, in order to found the Church. But the Church has been thoroughly founded; it doesn't need any more founding, and it isn't being continuously founded a little bit every day.
The New Testament ended with the book of Revelation, with a warning not to add anything to it. God may work signs through various preachers over the years, but that doesn't make those preachers apostles; it just means God gave them a spiritual gift. The word apostolos is sometimes used in the New Testament in the generic sense of "messenger", like when someone brought a message or gift to Paul from a church. But we speak here of "apostle" in the specialized sense with which we are familiar.
There are no apostles, because the apostles finished their work. They established the Gospel by their eye-witness, and wrote the New Testament as our rule of faith. Their work is then carried on through the years by evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
This story came up in a recent class: a grieving someone was told at a funeral that their deceased loved one passed away because God willed it so. The cringe factor on this story is high. As Solomon once said, there is a proper time and season for everything. There is a time to have knotty doctrinal discussions about hard subjects, and there is a time to just give someone a hug.
But it's good for us Christians to understand what we're talking about when we say "the will of God." The Scripture uses that phrase in different ways. It's wise not to mash them up.
The Scripture speaks of God's commandments and promises as the "will" of God. For example, 1st Thessalonians 4:3 says, "This is the will of God, your sanctification." It is God's will that unbelievers come to Christ. Romans 12 lists a whole series of God's commandments about many matters. Theologians often call this God's "moral" will. They tell us what we should or could do.
Wisdom is a part of God's moral will. The Bible tells us to be wise (Proverbs 8:33). Biblical wisdom gives us more decision-making leeway. It's never okay to commit adultery. But choosing which college to attend, or what house to buy, or the best strategy to approach a difficult conversation, may allow more options.
We can make a list of pros and cons. There might be more than one acceptable choice. God promises to give us all the wisdom we need for these situations, in James 1:5.
God's "will" can also mean His preferences. Read Ezekiel 18. God's moral will was for Israel to repent. Otherwise God was going to inflict severe judgment on the nation. God draws no pleasure from the death of the wicked. We know from other passages (like the Parable of the Prodigal Son) that He draws great pleasure from repentance. Nevertheless, in spite of His preferences, He will pass judgment. Some theologians in past centuries called this God's will of "disposition."
Lastly, God's "will" can refer to His eternal plan. In Ephesians 1, Paul said that God works all things according to the "counsel of His will" (verse 11). Peter said that Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, did whatever God's hand and plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:27-28).
Christ's death was no accident. Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Romans, and the unbelieving Israelites all played their parts. They did what they did out of their own reasoning. But God and His plan were in control. This is often called God's sovereign will.
The paradox here is that God includes human decisions in His eternal plan that, on the moral level, He condemns. God is morally against kidnapping. But He planned to use Joseph's kidnapping to save Jacob's family from famine (Genesis 50:20).
Or, in reverse, sometimes a person does the right thing, but God proceeds with His own plan. The priest Eli did the right thing to warn his wicked sons. But God hardened their already-rebelling hearts, because God had already decided to kill them (1 Samuel 2:1-25).
This is what I mean by being clear. The fact that God plans includes humanity's sins, and then He uses those sins in mysterious, paradoxical ways to bring about His secret plan, never means He causes or approves of sin.
There are at least two more errors to avoid. One is to say that God has nothing to do with bad things that happen. That's not true, God isn't a helpless by-stander in His own universe. The other error is to mix up God's moral, preferential, and eternal wills into one big lump.
A perfect example of this is the death and resurrection of Lazarus in John 11. Lazarus got sick and died because God planned for it to happen. Christ could have healed Lazarus from a distance; He chose not to. Christ deliberately waited extra days, so that Lazarus would definitely be dead by the time He got back.
Christ did this, even though He knew the emotional suffering this would causes Mary and Martha. Christ then reminded Martha of His moral will (meaning, His promises of everlasting life to those who trust in Him). Then, in spite of His sovereignty and knowledge, Christ still wept. This showed the disposition of His heart.
Every dimension of God's "wills" -- God's all-powerful sovereignty following through on the plan, spiritual teachings that call for response, and Christ's heart-sentiment -- can be found in this story.
Thank the Lord we're only responsible to know and follow what God has told us in His word, and to live wisely! God will take care of the secret plan by Himself!
Pray for God to turn back the tide of corruption and perversion engulfing the West, and especially the United States. And don't be deceived in thinking it can't happen! Satan wants you to think:
1. That human free-will is so supreme and almighty that there's nothing God can do. This is a lie. God's arm is not short, and humans are not sovereign over anything. God cannot be hemmed-in by His own creations, and He doesn't paint Himself into corners.
2. That the end-times are upon us, so we just have to passively hunker down and wait out the apocalypse. This is false. 2 Thessalonians 2 says that the sign of the end-times is the Beast/man of sin seated in the re-built Holy Place, declaring himself to be God. Most specifically, the end-times begin after the Rapture, which obviously hasn't happened yet.
3. That America's hope rests in a Republican politician. You must be kidding me! Our hope is in the Lord, and in Him only. We shall trust not in kings.
4. That the sexual rebellion against God can't be stopped. God can stop anything. We aren't allowed to use any violence, but God can do whatever He likes. Read Habbakuk -- God smashed the corruption in Israel by physically killing His enemies. In other times in history, God eliminates His enemies through repentance and revival. God has unlimited methods at His command. Pray for God to turn enemies into friends, or to overthrow His enemies.