What is an ‘Evangelical Christian’?

This is not a promotion for our own church, which bears the word ‘evangelical’ in its title! Evangelical is not a separate denomination. There is no Evangelical HQ which tells affiliated churches what to believe. Evangelical properly refers to a movement which runs through a range of mainstream Christian denominations.

My thesaurus tells me that evangelical is defined as to do ‘with missionaries or their work’. This rightly describes one characteristic of an evangelical Christian: They believe there’s good news and have a desire to share it. The word evangelical itself comes from the Greek word meaning ‘good news’. Yet this in itself isn’t exclusively a Christian activity. In advertising, for example, a company may be evangelical in the promotion of its products!

This leads us on to another characteristic of an evangelical Christian, which is to do with the basis of belief. Evangelicals are characterised by a belief that the Bible is God inspired. They believe that the New Testament was written by or at least approved by, the Apostles. “What does the Bible say?”, is a key question to an evangelical. So where philosophies or church traditions conflict with Bible teaching, the Bible wins!

This then raises the question of interpretation of the Bible. It also raises the accusation that evangelical Christians are ‘dogmatic literalists’! Evangelicals say with the Apostle Peter that some parts of the Bible are harder to understand! They are not literalistic about the Bible, because they recognise that there’s a range of genre including poetic symbolism and that some parts need very careful interpretation. However, they believe that all the Bible is reliable and that when the Bible claims to be telling clear facts of history or giving direct teaching, then they need to take that directly to heart.

I personally have friends in Anglican, Baptist, Methodist and Pentecostal circles who would all describe themselves as evangelical Christians. As a testimony to the clarity of the core message of the Bible, the styles of the churches just mentioned would differ widely, but the heart of the teaching would be the same. Evangelicals therefore take the Bible seriously. Many of our modern charities and reform movements owe their origin to Christians who took the Bible seriously.

It has been said that evangelical Christianity is a strange new phenomenon. One test is to listen to what is taught today and compare it with the message that the Apostles preached in the New Testament. When you do so, you should see that at its heart, the message of evangelical Christianity is what the Apostles Peter and Paul preached in middle of the 1st Century AD. Arguably, therefore, evangelical Christianity is very old with roots even back in Old Testament Judaism. The essence of the Apostles’ preaching was the historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and that through personal faith in Him, God grants forgiveness. This brings peace, purpose and hope leading to the transformation of lives. Evangelicalism has a very old message, yet it remains freshly relevant.

Carl Meachem

Categorized as Thoughts
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