It occurred to me over this past weekend to wonder what it really means to be ‘evangelical’? I overheard a couple of individuals (who were obviously not Christians) talking about different
kinds of Christians and what they stood for, and they threw the word ‘evangelical’ around like it was a swear word. It made me wonder what the word really meant and whether or not it means the same thing in today’s culture. So, I looked it up on this website, and this is what I found:
to or being a Christian church believing in personal conversion and the
inerrancy of the Bible especially the 4 Gospels; “evangelical
Christianity”; “an ultraconservative evangelical message”
|of or pertaining to or in keeping with the Christian gospel especially as in the first 4 books of the New Testament|
|marked by ardent or zealous enthusiasm for a cause|
As these definitions stand here, I see little trouble in accepting the term ‘evangelical’ as accurate and correct. I would even consider myself an evangelical Christian.
Here is where I think the problem lies. Look at the second example in the first definition: “an ultraconservative evangelical message.” I don’t have a problem with the example itself, per se. However, one word stands out to me as the place where we as Christians have problems in relating to the world around us — conservative. I believe we need to be conservative as far as preserving truth goes. However, in our practices, I think Christians sometimes have swung so far to the extreme as to no longer be conservative. Instead, so many of our churches have become legalistic, even Pharisaical. This is the real rub with those we are trying to win
to Christ. As evangelicals we strive to preach the Gospel, to share the hope that is within us. But as legalists we are harsh and cruel and judgmental. We strive so hard to preserve the
truth, to preserve the facts of our faith that we forget the human element. We forget that we
are also supposed to be compassionate and caring and sensitive. I hear a lot of gossip in our churches, a lot of judgment, and I see a lot of anger and bitterness and strife — with each other! We see the sin and faults of our brothers and sisters (and of the world around us), and we pass judgment on them and distance ourselves from them. And I fear that in this process we have damaged our testimony in such a way that it’s no wonder we find ourselves faced
with so much cynicism from the world.
Of course, I realize this is not the case with all Christians or even all churches. But the trouble is that it is so much easier to see the bad than the good, and so those of us who strive to live like Christ are overshadowed by those who think they are living like Christ but who are, in actuality, living like the very Pharisees whom He condemned. Christ said that we would be hated by the world, that we would be persecuted by it, but I see the Church bringing so much of that condemnation upon itself because of what some are doing that undermines our work. I myself struggle with a cynical attitude toward so many Christians and churches, and I have to wonder, if I struggle with this while I am part of the Body, how much more do those who are without struggle with seeing their need for this Christ whom we so poorly represent?
In our beliefs I believe we should be conservative, preserving the truth of God’s Word. In our practices, I believe we should be progressive, reaching out into the world and moving with it, adjusting accordingly as we seek to meet its needs, to display this God we love, to win them to the Kingdom. Christ came to love sinners. Why can’t we do the same?