The Top 10 Things That Draw Me to the Evangelical Covenant Church
My ecclesiastical search has been narrowed down to just two bodies: Anglican Church in North America, Evangelical Covenant Church. As I’ve already written at-length about Anglicanism generally and the ACNA specifically over the past few years, I figure nothing more needs to be said on that front. It’s time to give the ECC some love. Below are the Top 10 things that draw me to the Evangelical Covenant Church. Before jumping in, however, one thing needs to be made clear. I’m not suggesting that this list, especially in its specific order, represents the priorities of the ECC as a whole. What I’m describing below are, in order of personal importance, my points of affinity with the denomination’s culture, values, and practices. Hopefully that distinction makes sense.
Honorable Mention. International Missions. The ECC values the sending forth of the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, and to the ends of the earth. Running from my childhood experiences with the Assemblies of God to my college experiences at Moody Bible Institute and Toccoa Falls College, this has always been imbued as a core component to my faith. Shoot, even as an Anglican I pursued ordination with a Rwandan missionary outreach back to the U.S. This always has been and always will be important to me.
10. Gender Roles. To use their language, the ECC “blesses women in ministry.” Personally, I’m a feminist, by which I mean that I value true gender equality. I’m also a discernmentarian, by which I mean that, while I’m more than cool with female pastors, I genuinely respect those who differ and think each church should be able to decide the issue for themselves without top-down pressure. I’m not a perfect fit with the ECC in this regard. They allow ministers to hold their own views on gender roles, but they can’t teach against women in ministry so as not to dishonor their sisters in ministry. Yet many churches practice a sort of functional complementarianism with all-male staff. Anyway, as I said, I’m not a perfect fit but we’re awfully darn close. I’d feel comfortable.
9. Basic Familiarity. I already feel comfortable within a diversity of ECC communities. In 1994 my family moved to rural Minnesota and briefly attended the ECC church there. Later I attended and was married in a church in the neighboring town that was dual denominational with the Evangelical Free Church and the Evangelical Covenant Church. The two experiences were distinct. The former was a bit more formal while the latter was more informal. Yet each had a certain appeal. Also, both churches were known locally for their spiritual and relational health. This fostered trust toward the overall denomination.
8. Broadly Evangelical. This is how the ECC describes itself. Long-time readers know of my intense love-hate relationship with contemporary American evangelicalism. Were I of the WWII generation I’d definitely be a “Neo-Evangelical” of the same spirit as Billy Graham and Harold Ockenga. Today, while I despise the terminology, I’m more or less a “post-conservative” evangelical cut from the same clothe as N.T. Wright and Stanley Grenz. I’m a Fuller Seminary kinda guy, though I’ve never studied there. Anyway, I definitely sense I’d be welcomed within the ECC’s broad understanding of evangelicalism.
7. Sacramental Practices. As a denomination with Lutheran roots, the ECC is sacramental. Looking back this is almost comedic as I used to describe myself as the least sacramental person to ever commit to the Anglican tradition. Nevertheless, three years later I’ve gently albeit definitively moved from my Zwinglian perspective to something more approximate to Calvin’s view. I’m unwilling, and frankly uninterested, in pinning it down specifically, but I do affirm that something more is happening in baptism and communion.
6. Social Justice. The ECC holds an understanding of the Gospel that encompasses individual and corporate redemption. It has got to be both/and. The Gospel I heard growing up was all about personal salvation that, quite honestly, had an underlying escapist mentality. It was about getting out of hell and getting off this rock, not overcoming the gates of hell and renewing this rock. As N.T. Wright so wonderfully says it in his British way, “The Gospel is the good news of all creation being set back to rights.” Thus, I’m growing ever more passionate about the Church’s responsibility in addressing social justice issues. The ECC calls this “the whole mission of the church.”
5. Multi-ethnic. From what I gather, the ECC excels at this. Elizabeth Norris once wrote, “Lives are made of strings of moments, and every once in a while, one of those moments is pivotal and defining. It changes everything, alters you so completely that when you look back, there’s a clear before and after.” If I may stretch the definition to encompass an entire week, a year ago I had such a “moment” on Baylor’s Civil Rights Tour across the South. From that point forward racial reconciliation and multi-ethnicity became passions of mine. In this I see glimpses of eternity, a foreshadow of the scene in Revelation.
4. Liturgical Worship. The ECC has room for more high church practices, which is my preference. While I gather that the denomination as a whole is headed in more of a low church direction, it doesn’t appear to be abandoning its more liturgical expressions. For example, I recently bought The Covenant Book of Worship from their bookstore. In looking through it, it’s in many ways reflective of the Book of Common Prayer. It’s quite well done. This I found assuring. Moreover, there’s a definite wellspring of ancient-future worship practices among ECC church planters, perhaps reflecting a new generation returning to older practices. I love it.
3. Theological Elasticity. The ECC isn’t doctrinaire on their… uh… doctrine. If not in this exact language, they seem to readily acknowledge the difference between orthodoxy and adiaphora. My theological beliefs have continually deepened, evolved, stretched, and been nuanced over the years. While I have attained a certain measure of stability, the plain reality is I don’t anticipate that process ever ending while I still suffer from humanity’s finitude and fallenness. What I need, then, is to be part of a relatively flexible ecclesiastical body that has room for such change. But the ECC does have a core set of affirmations that they seem to treat almost identically to how I’ve seen the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion functioning within contemporary Anglicanism.
3. Hardlining Moderate. If the ECC folks will forgive me for projecting my own nomenclature onto their denomination, the overall ethos really does seem to fit this blog’s moniker. It’s always a spectrum, of course, but the ECC doesn’t seem to contain the fundamentalist wings, whether traditionalist or progressive, that are common in so many denominations. A certain level-headedness seems to permeate the culture. This I find incredibly appealing. As Richard Mouw said and I often quote, “A lot of people today who have strong convictions are not very civil and a lot of people who are civil don’t have very strong convictions. What we really need is convicted civility.”
2. InterVarsity-friendly. From what I’m told and have confirmed, the ECC and IVCF are like two peas in a pod. My denominational affiliation needs to be easily compatible with my ministry context. Over the last year I’ve increasingly come to peace with the two-part reality that a) mine is a calling to campus ministry and b) it’s a distinct possibility that I’ll never pastor a local church. While I don’t know what the future holds, it’s not hard to imagine I’ll be working with InterVarsity long-term. So, the ministry visions need to align.
1. Intellectually Welcoming. One need look no further than their online bookstore for evidence that the ECC values rigorous thought. This is very important to me. I grew up in a tradition that often downplayed, dismissed, and denigrated the life of the mind as being antithetical to faith. This was painful for me as one of those oddities for whom you get to my heart and spirit via my head. I always felt like a worthless turd and eventually lost my faith. Thankfully, a professor recommended Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. This book saved and transformed my faith as I came to see the life of the mind as a means of worship. In sum, I can’t and won’t be part of an ecclesiastical body that, on the whole, has that anti-intellectualism tendency of valuing piety over the life of the mind.
For those who might be interested, I conclude with three book recommendations: