Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom (1963)

From Hauna Ondrey, ed., “Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom (1963): Full Report with Supporting Historical Documents(all excerpts drawn from the 1963 report):

The 1963 report cover

The human situation, as described in the Bible, is a situation in servitude. Humanity is enslaved to numerous powers: to sin, law, death, and spiritual forces. These debilitating servitudes keep individuals from realizing their own meaning and potential. Enslaved by these powers they cannot discover what God meant them to be. They are not free.

The good news assures us that these many servitudes may be exchanged for one new commanding control—a voluntary bondage to God. Paradoxically, this voluntary bondage to God is freedom itself. For the yielding of one’s life in obedient love to the will of God is the avenue to human fulfillment. In this yielding of self to God, the person discovers their own true destiny. Hereby one becomes what they were meant to be: the servant, the child, the friend of God. To become what one is meant to be, to realize the very purpose for which one is created, that is freedom. Freedom, then, is the gift which comes through obedience to God’s will.


If we believe that our freedom is found in our conforming to the will of God, then it becomes imperative that we know what that will is. According to the Christian faith, God has revealed his will to humanity in the Bible and supremely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hence, the Bible is the avenue to freedom. Its message is God’s word, to which human beings, if they would be free, must respond in obedient faith.


This understanding of freedom as submission to the will of God was exemplified in the work and teaching of the founders of our denomination… While they were appreciative of the wisdom reflected in the creeds of the church, they saw the creeds to be partial and imperfect summaries of what is said more powerfully in Scripture itself. Therefore, they refused to make any of the written creeds binding in an absolute sense, lest slavish adherence to a creedal statement make it difficult to hear and respond to the full implications of the word for their day. They believed that true freedom came by faith in and surrender to Christ and the word alone….

For them the church was the fellowship of believers and was brought into being through the redemptive work of Christ and the “renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Accordingly, the one basic requirement for membership in the church was the experience of the new birth and a consistent confession of Christ as Savior and Lord…. Thus, our forebears found it spiritually meaningful to live in Christian fellowship with persons holding different doctrinal viewpoints in some important areas as long as their life and spirit witnessed to their submission to Christ and devotion to the word of God.


If we are to be true to this aspect of our heritage, we should sincerely and faithfully use this principle of freedom as a basic element in our existence as a Christian people in today’s world. To do so we must enter into the stream of present theological discussion and exercise our freedom creatively and helpfully with respect to the issues which now confront the Christian church. The theological concerns of the present moment differ in many respects from those of the past. Although many of the questions now being debated in the church were well known to our predecessors, others have arisen since their day and could not have been known to them. Thus, to say that we may differ only at those points where they permitted differences would be to deny to the present generation the freedom in Christ which prior generations enjoyed. In the basic and central affirmations of the Christian faith there must be unity, but in their expression and interpretation there is room for wholesome divergence. It is, therefore, our duty to approach the areas of theological tension with courage, fraternal understanding, and unfailing devotion to Christ and the Scriptures.


We maintain this principle of Christian freedom only as we maintain our spiritual vitality, which we have by the grace of God. The problem of maintaining it, therefore, must be approached in a contrite and penitent spirit in which we seek the mercy of God in permitting us to return to him. Out of such an attitude, we pray, will come a renewed experience of the vital life in which we become free children of God under the lordship of Christ as the truth is revealed to us in the Bible.

 Read the full article here

Find the original report here, in the Frisk Collection of Covenant Literature, created and maintained by the Covenant Archives and Historical Library. The Covenant Yearbook excerpts reprinted in the article are available in full through the Frisk Collection of Covenant Yearbooks.

Mackenzie Mahon