Continuing our exploration of the name of our local congregation, this week we will be exploring the word evangelical. The term comes from the Greek word translated “gospel” or “good news”, and thinking of “evangelicals” as “gospel people” can be a helpful way of thinking. However, as with the term “Reformed”, “evangelical” carries many shades of meaning, and comes dangerously close to being a wax nose that gets reshaped by whoever has grabbed it at the moment. Many scholars have tried to define what it means to be “evangelical”, and one of the most successful attempts came from the pen of the historian David Bebbington, who concentrated on four elements that have historically marked out evangelicals. In his terms, those elements are: biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, and activism. In plain language, we might say that evangelicals: 1) have an unusually high regard for the Bible, 2) place the cross of Christ at the center of their message, 3) affirm that all men need to be born again through faith in Christ, and 4) attempt to live out the gospel through their lives. Each element might individually be shared with other Christian groups that wouldn’t consider them evangelicals (including some groups who would consider themselves Reformed), but taken as a package, these four terms capture what has historically marked out evangelical Christianity.
Both “Reformed” and “Evangelical” attempt not only to summarize our current beliefs and practices as a church, they also align us with particular streams of Church history. While the term is being stretched today by people who view Scripture, the cross, the new birth, and the Christian life very differently than evangelicals historically considered, we seek to stand with our fathers in the faith when we call ourselves an evangelical church.
Because we are Reformed and evangelical, we believe that man is dead in sin (see part II), and we believe that man needs new life, beginning, as life always does, with a new birth. New life is something that comes to the whole world, as we speak of a new heavens and a new earth, and to the Church, which becomes a new man, with Christ as the head, and to individuals, who, like Nicodemus, need to be born again.
Evangelicals have focused especially on the individual level, and we have become famous as “born-againers” because of our dogged insistence on this point. It is not enough to live in a world where Christ is king. It is not enough to have some kind of connection to Christ’s body. You, as an individual, need to have personal faith in Christ in order to be saved. Of course, reversing the progression, it is also not enough simply to have a personal connection to Jesus, which is something evangelicals run the risk of forgetting, but we will leave that for next week.
Evangelicals believe that this new life is only possible through the cross, and comes about through the preaching of the cross, as set forth in the Scriptures. Wherever this new life is present, it will show itself through the obedience of faith, the good works that accompany spiritual life like breathing accompanies embodied life. At its best, being “evangelical” is an effort to take the Bible seriously when it speaks about God, man, sin, Christ, and the cross.
Ultimately, we are Christ Reformed Evangelical Church because we believe that the Bible teaches that sinners must be born again to a new life through the cross.