Saturday, August 26, 2006

Evangelicals?

What's an Evangelical? Am I one? Do I want to be one?

Soon after I decided to follow Jesus I became embroiled in both the [evangelical] Christian Union at my school and an Evagelical Anglican church near us. I went on houseparties [Americans call these retreats for some reason, but they were noisy, not quiet like a retreat] where Evangelical teaching was the order of the day. Since then I have attended various Evangelical churches around the place.

I find that the word is now confusing. Different people mean different things by it. When I became a follower of Jesus I understood it to mean taking the Bible seriously, so that we believed the Bible more important that the church and that you could experientially know you were 'saved'. I now see that Evangelicals around the world see things differently. For example take the UK Evangelical Alliance Basis of Faith and contrast it with the National Evangelical Association of the USA Statement of Faith or the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada Statement of Faith or the World Evangelical Association Statment of Faith - there are notable differences.

  1. The UK starts off with God as trinity whereas the USA, Canada and the WEA start off with the Bible as the only infallible Word of God, above and before having anything about God!
  2. The UK when it deals with the Bible says its the 'divine inspiration and supreme authority', the written Word of God, not the only infallible Word of God that the USA says it is. Canada says 'Holy Scriptures as originally given by God' are infallible... which allows for man to have screwed up in the middle!
  3. The USA seems to limit the Holy Spirit 'We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life' compared to the more effusive words from the UK 'The ministry of God the Holy Spirit, who leads us to repentance, unites us with Christ through new birth, empowers our discipleship and enables our witness' and 'The Church, the body of Christ both local and universal, the priesthood of all believers—given life by the Spirit and endowed with the Spirit's gifts to worship God and proclaim the gospel, promoting justice and love.' All seem to have missed the description of 'comforter' that Jesus.
I am wondering of British Evangelicals are really somewhat different to North American Evangelicals. Have they become tied up in 'Father, Son and Holy Bible' as the one time joke goes?

So what is an Evangelical? The UK Evangelical Alliance answers it this way:

Evangelicalism: A Brief Definition Evangelicals often appeal to the derivation of their name from the Greek New Testament word for the ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ. On their own account, they are ‘gospel people’, committed to simple New Testament Christianity and the central tenets of apostolic faith, rather than to later ecclesiastical accretions. As such, they seek to maintain and present the authentic teaching ‘once for all entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 3). As the leading Anglican Evangelical John Stott points out, this means that Evangelicalism is neither ‘a recent innovation’ nor ‘a deviation from Christian orthodoxy’.
Interesting definition. It seems to me that many 'later ecclesiastical accretions' actually come from the so called Evangelical church!

As I understand it the 'good news' that Jesus came to bring was that God was interested in a relationship with us and that in order for that to be possible He was going pay the penalty for all our screwups and to die in our place. Furthermore, He is more interested in the reality of that relationship than in the observance of loads and loads of rules and regulations, however good they might be. Not only that, but because we cannot continue in that relationship without screwing up He was going to send the Holy Spirit who will dwell within us and will give us gifts to help us and comfort us. Wow, now that does sound like good news!

If that's what an Evangelicals really believe then count me in... but I cannot really see that written in any of the statements of faith published by the organizations that represent them. They all sound more like stern headmaster type definitions that don't attract me.

[See followup article by Steve Hayes, with discussion comments: http://ondermynende.wordpress.com/2007/03/28/godwordthink-evangelicals/]

1 comment:

The Scylding said...

Evangelical? Too much baggage for me - I might use the term post-evangelical, but then that sounds as if I'm an emerging church fellow. No, as I wrote over at Notes from Underground, I prefer orthodox (small o) and catholic (small c).