Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-all?

From Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom, “Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-all?“:


Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom

Biblical Authority & Christian Freedom speaks against ignoring key concerns of the body and argues that engaging one another strengthens the unity of the church, whose unitive source lies not in one another but in Christ. The report acknowledges that human beings are finite, limited in knowledge, and varying in levels of maturity. Rather than being a source of despair, these anthropological truths move the church to discuss differences in “open and lively” ways and to depend on the diversity of readers to “make faith relevant to our day.”

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A diversity of viewpoints within the communion creates potential avenues for renewal. The report states, “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.” Going back to Scripture with the ultimate goal of becoming Christlike demonstrates a mature interpretive process to which the Covenant has been devoted. When ongoing theological and moral questions arise in the church, the commitment to diverse perspectives is a call to revisit and potentially reinterpret the word.

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The Evangelical Covenant Church has addressed difficult moral and theological questions in a variety of ways. At times the Covenant has made the conscious decision to err on the side of inclusivity, even at some perceived risk. Cases such as the response to the charismatic movement, the statement on women in ministry, or the resolution on criminal justice demonstrate examples of inclusivity that carried some risk. In other cases, the Covenant has responded to difficult moral questions by lamenting inadequate ethical action and even challenging its posture on such issues as racial justice, immigration, and creation care. In other words, the Covenant has confronted its historical postures and sought to correct erroneous theologies and moral practices in a number of areas. At times, two opposing views have been allowed to coexist in the name of unity or driven by the humble conviction that each may be valid, as in the cases of baptismal theology and the debate around just war and pacifism.

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The ECC’s polity is based on friendship, mutual trust, and ongoing discernment. It also recognizes our imperfect knowledge and need to be open to the Holy Spirit. Because the Covenant is non-confessional, no question of interpretation is off the table. The Covenant began as a renewal movement, trusting the Spirit to work in new and different ways in the face of a variety of complex moral questions, and it has relied on relationships and faithfulness to Christ for unity in this same Spirit as opposed to confessional statements or stipulated moral positions.

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Policy must answer ultimately to biblical interpretation, and it is precisely within this spirit that the possibility of faithful dissent exists. Work that critiques policy theologically is critical for pastors and reinforces the commitment to renewal that is at the heart of the Covenant’s heritage as readers. There may come a breaking point when a pastor decides she or he cannot in Christian conscience continue to follow policy, but this should only follow a lengthy period of biblical and theological study accompanied by moral discernment.

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As a life-long Covenanter, I do not accept the option of dissent—only faithful dissent. Without faithful dissent, freedom is at stake. Dissent is more than a theological commitment. Faithful dissent is a habit that helps the church grow in new ways, return to the word, and listen to marginalized voices


Read the full article here.

Editor’s note: We welcome formal responses to Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom’s article, for publication in a subsequent issue of the Quarterly. Please contact the editor or submit directly to our website by October 15, 2018, noting guidelines for authors.

Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom

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