What is Evangelical?
Why Do We Call Ourselves Evangelical?
“Evangelical” derives from ‘evangel’ : “gospel”. By definition an evangelical is someone concerned for the Gospel. This means more than just preaching the Gospel and reading the Word now and then. Of course, we do preach and teach, however it means much than just that. It means that the Gospel of Christ is central. The Gospel is at the center of our thinking and living.
Our highest commandment is to love God, and to love our neighbor as we do ourselves. Through life obedience of the Word and with the power of prayer, we believe that the individual, as well as, this whole world will change.
The importance of an individual and personal relationship with God that is not defined by any political, cultural or social association, nor automatically given by way of nominal membership of any specific denomination. We recognize ourselves by our high regard for the Bible as the Word of God that guides our daily lives; the conviction that salvation is only received by faith through Jesus Christ who died on the cross and was resurrected to life; that God is triune as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and a few other core beliefs as found in our Statement of Faith.
Christianity is a historical religion in a way that no other religion is. Unless we have access to the facts we are cut off from our roots. And our access is by way of “the Scriptures”. They are the means God has given us to bring us the Gospel. So evangelicals have always thankfully received this good gift of God and have regarded it as of the utmost importance that we have a Bible on which we can rely. They point to the express teaching of our Lord, Himself and to that of the apostles. And they point to the necessity for the facts of the gospel to be reliably attested.
There are other things that evangelicals hold, though we will not give an exhaustive list of evangelical convictions. They all stem from the evangel (the Good News). The whole system of the evangelical is the outworking of the Gospel. The evangelical man or woman is, above all else, a product, and a bearer of the Gospel.
What is the GOSPEL?
The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians of the Gospel he had brought them by saying that it is of the first importance that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor.15:3). Everything that matters to the evangelical arises from this basic proposition.
“Christ died.” The cross is the great, basic act of God. “For our sins.” That is the stubborn fact that made the cross necessary. It points to the truth that in every member of the human race, there’s something which makes for evil rather than for good. This has been caricatured as though evangelicals were saying that every member of the human race is as bad as they can be. This is not the case. Basically, none of us are perfect. None of us always does what, deep in our heart of hearts, we know we ought to do. None of us measures up to God’s standard.
We put a great emphasis on the place of the Bible. This has not been out of perverse dogmatism, but from a profound conviction that it is important to the Christian faith. Many religions in the world are religions of ideas. One could say that in those cases it is the ideas and not the people who originated them that matter. It could be said that it does not greatly matter whether Gautama Buddha or Muhammed ever lived. What matters is that there are certain great ideas associated with their names and that by those ideas millions of our fellow men live.
But this kind of reasoning does not apply to Christianity. It is true that Christianity has some great ideas and it does not matter greatly who originated them. But what Paul is telling us is something different. He is saying that something happened. Christ died. This is not simply an idea. It is a historical fact. The gospel message is that once God came into history in the person of Jesus Christ. He came to live a life of lowly service and to die on Calvary’s cross “for our sins”.
Why Do We Need the Gospel?
We do not put our trust in human endeavors. Dictatorships of the left and dictatorships of the right alike end up in oppression. Democracies all too often end up in muddled and soulless bureaucracy. Every system has to work on the raw material of sinners. Because we are sinners, no matter how good the intent, there’s a firm limit on Mankind’s ability to do good.
Therefore, we cannot work out our own salvation. Sin leaves its mark on life here and has consequences for the hereafter. But the great, wonderful truth is that “Christ died for our sins.” What was impossible for Mankind, God in Christ has perfectly accomplished. He has defeated sin now and for eternity. The evangel (Good News) is a message about a salvation with both temporal and eternal results.
Salvation and atonement means for individuals, as well as, this whole world. The significant thing is that Christ died for our sins. Whatever needed to be done He has done. Nothing can be added to that perfect divine work. For that reason we testify salvation by grace. It is a gift. Good deeds, liturgical observances or by anything else cannot save or ultimately change us or this world.
Confronted with the truth of the cross, we have two choices :
– Respond and turn to Christ in faith and love
– Or harden our hearts and turn away
To respond to Christ’s love in the former way is to become a different person. The whole set of the life is changed. This may happen in one sudden, blinding experience (as with Saul of Tarsus). Or it may happen gradually (as with Timothy). The time is immaterial. The turning and changing is everything. And it happens to all who come to Christ. In this way, this free gift of salvation can be accepted by all people.
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Reprinted with permission from “Working Together”, the magazine of the Australian Evangelical Alliance, 1998 Issue 4.