January 11, 2012 What is the E for?
I am part of the E.P.C. Thirty some years ago before college, before seminary, at a small house church where I became a Christian, there were certain things that were apparent to my untrained theological mind. One of the most apparent being that Jesus wants His church to share the Gospel. Back at that time guided only by my reading of Scripture, I knew that evangelism remained an imperative for His people. I had not heard the term “Evangelical” but when first I heard that term – I thought it defined me as a Christian. To be one who tells everyone who Jesus is, how He came and lived a perfect life and became a perfect sacrifice for sin. So that those who believe in Him may receive authority to become the children of God, born by God’s will. Yes, Evangelical, that defines me well.
Lately, the Evangelical Church, of which I am a part, finds compromise easy. I empathise with Dr. David Wells who in “The Courage to be Protestant” says that he does not know what to call himself. As the term Evangelical currently associates one with churches where the Word of God no longer stands center stage, entertainment replaces worship, and there is little connection with the historical Evangelical standards. Wells considers adding “classical” Evangelical to more clearly define himself in lines with the classical meaning of the title. All of this touches on a problem in the modern Evangelical church. Our “Evangelicalness” seems to fade in the face of a culture that has no place for our message. So many colleagues market the church, soften the message, change their style, all in the hope that people will not be repulsed at the old Evangelical message. So the Evangelicals become less Evangelical or redefine Evangelical to a historically unrecognizable form of Christianity. Again Wells argues this point in five books which document the transformation of the Church. For my point I want to say that Evangelicals are disappearing at an alarming rate.
I see another side of this question, which glares at the church among the poor, an all out war against the Gospel. Some have said that I picture the world as an us against them situation, and indeed it is so. Our secular culture applies financial pressure upon us to compromise our Classic Evangelical position. I mention this in my book ’Justice Matters’, how the financial streams directed toward the poor discriminate against Classic Evangelicals. Under the protection of a value of separation of church and culture many grants offered by business and definitely the government have a “non-religious, non-proselytizing” clause. In short if you share the Gospel the grant is not available to you. Our Church has personally been rejected under such clauses by AmeriCorps, Pfizer, Microsoft, the United States Government, and are now in a struggle with a local food bank. We could receive their financial help if we do not share the Gospel. This causes many who minister in the name of Christ to muzzle their witness in order to keep their lights on. By creative compromise job descriptions are created to eliminate an Evangelical witness from a person’s duties – so they are wholly separate from any Gospel witness, for financial survival. This discriminatory practice also gives a decided advantage to any group Christian or secular who do not share the Gospel. A secular humanist, a pro abortionists, psychologizing advisor, or a compromised Christian may receive financial support - but not a Classically Evangelical Christian. Such discriminatory action directed at any other sector of our society would make headlines. But for the most part these acts go unnoticed and unchallenged. For now only the church among the poor receives such overt discrimination. But I believe only a matter of time remains between the action described above and actions that will attempt to stop our witness altogether.
I have determined that apart from the Gospel I personally am of no use to any one. Any lesson offered to a student, food offered to the hungry, business opportunity to one out of work, without the Gospel really stands as an empty gesture. After thirty years and three theological degrees, I still believe that fundamentally Christians must share their faith. When the contemporary culture reviles us for our message, we are in good company. It costs us something to stand for the Gospel, for in taking our stand it means we stand with only a few. The few who know what it means to be Evangelical.