What Do We Mean By Evangelical?
When we use the word “Evangelical” some might tend to hear the word as a synonym for middle-class, church-going Republicans. However, this is a relatively recent understanding of the word and it’s the result of a myopic view of the American context. As Americans we tend to think it’s all about us and it must have started here. Life is a film about Americans, after all, we’re in every scene. However, many a corpse has been tossed onto the dust heap of history that was neither Republican or American; yet, laid some claim on the word Evangelical. We boldly make the claim that the Apostles set the standard for Evangelicalism and that there have been Evangelicals throughout the history of the Church.
As far as modern Evangelicalism goes we find the first seed germinating in Jan Hus, the Czech priest who was burned alive for his beliefs. There was John Wycliffe (no relation to Wyclef Jean) who was called doctor evangelicus. There was John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury who wrote in Apology (1562), “It is not our doctrine that we bring you this day; we wrote it not, we found it not out, we are not the inventors of it; we bring nothing but what the old fathers of the church, what the apostles, what Christ our Saviour himself hath brought before us.” Martin Luther was called an Evangelical, though the term was applied with no small amount of derision. Luther wrote “that we teach no new thing, but we repeat and establish old things, which the apostles and all godly teachers have taught before us.” Jumping to the 19th century there were men like Charles Simeon, vicar of Holy Trinity Cambridge from 1782-1836, and William Wilberforce who spent forty-five years rallying a battle cry against human slavery. In North America there were men like Charles Finney and D.L. Moody. Looking at the 20th century there’s a pretty extensive list to draw from. We could name Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, John Stott, and, most recently, Rick Warren.
As Evangelicals we have a high view of the Bible and believe that each Christian is called to a personal relationship with Christ. We believe that people are saved by grace, through faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. We believe in ultima scriptura, i.e. the Holy Scriptures are the final authority on all matters of faith, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy. As evangelicals our mission is to proclaim the message, “[of] the cross…the fantastic truth of a God who loves us, and who gave himself for us in Christ on the cross” (Stott, 82). When it comes to adiaphora or “matters indifferent,” we seek to exercise a certain amount of charity and humility and extend to one-another liberty. This category could contain, but would not be limited to, matters of eschatology, baptism, charismatic expression, and worship. Another way of saying this is, “In truth unity, in doubtful matters liberty, in all things charity” (Stott, 118).