I've met quite a few people that equate evangelicals to Republican card-carrying fundamentalists, but that's far from the truth. While it's true that there a quite a few self-proclaimed "evangelicals" who give off that impression, they too are missing the point. In fact, I've grown up in a sphere of evangelicalism that is quite different from that, so it never occurred to me that other people (even other Christians) might be turned off by it. I've never thought of "evangelical" as a negative descriptor, but now I've realized that there has been a slide in it's usage that is causing quite a few problems. So... I thought I'd give it my best shot and set the record straight (though I owe thinking about all of this in a new light to pastor Chris who gave a very compelling message about this last fall --click on the Nov 5th sermon).
Wikipedia tells us this about the word evangelical:
"The term 'evangelical', in a lexical but less commonly used sense, refers toSo strictly speaking, an evangelical is someone spreading good news. So why the negative connotation? I've always considered evangelical to mean exactly that. I have some good news, and I'd like to share it. In fact, if my belief in this good news is right (and I operate under the conviction that it is) then I should be morally obligated to tell other people about it. If I kept this information to myself, I'd be culpable of a great moral harm. So it seems that I have a moral duty to let other people know what I believe. And that's where this whole thing really begins...
anything implied in the belief that Jesus is the Messiah. The word comes from
the Greek word for 'Gospel' or 'good news': ευαγγελιον evangelion, from eu-
"good" and angelion "message". In that strictest sense, to be evangelical would
mean to be merely Christian, that is, founded upon, motivated by, acting in
agreement with, spreading the "good news" message of the New Testament."
So I have this obligation to tell people about what I believe, but that doesn't tell me how I should go about it. Some people hand out tracks (those little salvation booklets), some televangelise, some go to foreign countries, and others spread the news a little more stealthily. Who's doing it right? Well, I'm willing to bet that every form of spreading the Gospel (yes, even televangelists) has the power to change people's lives. I believe that God can use anything and anyone. I do think some methods may be more effective than others, but whatever, that's just what I think and that doesn't mean anything anyways. To show you what I'm getting at, consider this passage from Philippians. Here Paul is telling us about a group of 'preachers' who are only preaching about Jesus because they want to stir up trouble for Christ's followers. The more they preach, the more trouble the early Christians get in. But, as Paul tells us, their bad motives actual serve God's purpose:
“It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of
goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense
of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely,
supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what
does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false
motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (ch 1:
There's something to this, and I think this is more important than you realize. Consider the Christians who evangelize today because they've turned into salesmen who have to pitch their product to as many people as possible. Sometimes it seems like they think they're working on commission or something. That bothers me, a lot, but even if it bothers me that doesn't mean that God isn't using their mixed up motivation for his purposes. If you've seen the movie Leap of Faith with Steve Martin you'll know what I'm talking about with all this. He certainly wasn't pitching those tent rivals for God's glory, but even he was brought to his knees in the end.
But that's a bit off track, because most self-described evangelicals preach the Gospel out of love. We are accused (quite often) of being narrow-minded and offensive because we "think that we are right and everyone else is wrong." Well, if we thought that we had it wrong, I don't suppose we'd be telling you about Christ would we? And if you think evangelizing is some sort of power struggle over the truth then you've missed our mission entirely.
So what is our mission, you might ask. Well, it's simple really. We believe that this world is imperfect, but we believe that perfection is the standard to meet. If anything less than perfection was good enough, then just where is the line, and how could anyone possible know if they were good enough? And for that matter, all those naturally-inclined-to-be-a-good-sort-of-person people would be unfairly advantaged, right? Well they're not, because even they aren't perfect. But it's okay, because God knows we suck at doing this on our own... so He sent in a pitch-hitter. Think of it this way: everyone has a chance to cheat on the biggest test of all time, and the teacher is actually encouraging it. In fact, the teacher tells you that by cheating on this test, it shows that you accept your own inability to ace it without help. It's like the test is open book, only some students are convinced they don't need help, so they never open the book. That seems silly right? So the other students (evangelicals) are desperately trying to get the other students to open their books for this open book test. It's not that we're better, it's just that we accept that we're not good at this and we want all the other students to pass too.
Now here's my problem: I don't know if God has other books out there to help the students pass. But I do know that the best one (and the most informative one) is Jesus, and your safest bet is to listen to what he said. But what about all the students who never hear of the Jesus book? I don't know. God knows, and He knows their hearts, and I know He's looking out for them too. It's like the story of the sculptor who never heard the Gospel, but who, upon marveling at the works of his hand, stopped and praised the God who created his thumb because his thumb was able to make extraordinary things. God spoke to him, and God is speaking to everyone. The question is: are we listening?
So we have a message, and the message (believe it or not) can not be told completely with words alone. The message is love. God is love. God loves us. He sent Jesus to help us because He loves us. The great commission: go love everyone with the love of God. Be loved by God, and let that love overflow into the lives of those around you. If words come into the picture, fine, but if not, that's even better. People respond to love, because love speaks to their hearts. So when I say I'm an evangelical Christian, I mean that I spend my life (well, I do a poor job, but I try) loving other people. In that way, I am spreading the message of God, which is the good news, and that good news is his love manifested in Christ. People are hungry to be loved, and God's love will satisfy them. So it's time we make sure they find it. I must share this love, because not sharing it would be a crime. It would be selfish to keep the greatest gift of all time to myself. That's why I am an evangelical.
So is being an evangelical a bad thing? Well, is loving people a bad thing? You can disagree with my beliefs and still agree that if I believe what I do then I must live how I do or else I am a horribly selfish person. That's all.
"And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,
and to love one another as he commanded us." 1 John 3:23