Going back to my great grandparents my family was involved in the Evangelical Free Church of America. Personally, I was born, dedicated, baptized, and even pastored in the Free Church until I started at Eureka Baptist over six years ago. This history makes it difficult for me to see where the EFCA is today. The decline of the Free Church was displayed this past month at the EFCA National Conference in California. Pastor Jeff Kliewer, upon recommendation of the EFCA leadership, was informed that he would not be ordained in the Free Church unless he repented. Over the last few years Pastor Kliewer spoke and wrote about the Social Justice agenda that he sees being pushed upon the churches by the leadership. In 2021 Pastor Kliewer detailed this in a book titled, Woke Free Church.
As one acquainted with the Free Church I did not need to read Kliewer’s book to know that the leadership was taking the Free Church in a “woke” direction. As a former pastor in the Free Church I still received emails from them and I could see this happening. But it was through Free Church pastors, one being Pastor Kliewer, that I learned it was worse than I thought. At a theology conference a few years back one of the leading Social Justice advocates within American evangelicalism, Southern Seminary professor Jarvis Williams, presented a talk titled The Cross and Racial Reconciliation. Just like Williams writings, this presentation presents a Social Justice gospel, a gospel foreign to the New Testament. In recent years this has probably been the chief way Satan pollutes the true gospel. What Social Justice teachers have done is very serious. As the apostle Paul warned: “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:9). The Social Justice gospel is incompatible with the biblical gospel. It mixes the gospel with law, which Scripture presents as a false gospel (Galatians 2:16) and presents a false understanding of sin and repentance. But even with this being the case, the leadership of the Free Church invited Williams to present on this errant teaching and publicly approved of it. If the EFCA movement is strongly conservative like they still say, then one wonders why they would not platform someone like Voddie Baucham. Decisions like this show us where the leadership desires to take the movement.
Not only did the Free Church platform Williams but they also invited to speak at their East Leadership Conference, Washington DC pastor and EFCA Board of Director, Bill Riedel. Riedel encouraged pastors to promote political diversity, giving legitimacy to the harmful agenda of the Left, with Social Justice right at the center. With all this evidence what does a faithful pastor do within the EFCA? He fights back and that is precisely what Pastor Kliewer did. His efforts are aimed not to tear down the movement but to reform it. As a Free Church pastor, Kliewer knows the rich history of the EFCA and does not want liberal teaching to be at home in a movement that historically has been strongly biblical. The famous motto of the Free Church has been, “Where Stands it Written!” It has been a movement that stands for the truth of God’s Word and defends against false teaching. The historic pastors of the Free Church would be proud to have Pastor Kliewer in their movement, but the present day leadership fears a local church pastor who exposes their compromise.
As the Free Church publicly released woke material, Kliewer publicly responded by releasing a book addressing his concerns. He set a biblical example for every pastor. It is the responsibility of pastors not only to proclaim the truth of God’s Word but also, “to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). For doing what a good shepherd is supposed to do he has been disciplined. What is interesting is that while the leadership refuses to ordain him, Pastor Kliewer is leading a vibrant church in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey. When Kliewer arrived there in 2016 the church had forty people and now seven years later the church has three hundred. This church loves their pastor. They love that he proclaims the truth passionately and also defends it. This church pastored by Kliewer is one full of love and unity. But the leadership of the Free Church does not want this man as one of their pastors while allowing woke pastors to be ordained.
As any honest person looks at this situation who are the ones who should be called to repentance? The repentance should be coming from the leadership of the Free Church, including pastors that have poisoned the truth of God’s Word with Satan’s agenda. There should also be repentance from pastors within the movement who have done little to nothing to stop it. Pastor Kliewer has not been alone in this fight. He has had about thirty other pastors who have also addressed these concerns with the leadership but why only thirty? There are about 1500 churches in the movement. Where are the Shepherds? With these recent developments in California I do not see how the future of the Free Church could be bright, unless other pastors wake up and continue the cause that Pastor Kliewer started. If more do not rise up and take a stand it will be a movement with compromised leadership and compromised pastors fostering an environment where compromise is welcome but strong biblical orthodoxy is not. This is truly sad given the rich history of the EFCA. But the great news is that the future of the church is not dependent on a denomination. If a denomination moves away from Christ, Christ will still build his church and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). It is sad when institutions compromise with the world, but as pastors and churches remain faithful, Christ’s great work will continue through them.