His enthusiasm and sense of discovery was like a child having an “ah-ha” moment in a math class. Something had clicked. The fog had lifted, and he was seeing things in his relationship to God much more clearly. He had been wandering in the context of a mainline church for so long he didn’t even know that a life in Christ could be a moment-by-moment joyful reality. Now he knew and he was calling to declare himself as openly evangelican.
I inquired about the term he was using, but he didn’t seem to hear me. With great confidence he continued to use the term. He was certain that I, too, was an evangelican and he was equally certain that I knew other evangelicans. Surely we were networked together not only in the Presbyterian church but more broadly across denominational lines. Now that he knew evangelicanism was real, he met them everywhere. He had recently met evangelicans who worshipped in Anglican churches and some who were Methodist. He was, as a secondary description, a Presbyterian, but he felt more akin to other evangelicans than he felt to fellow Presbyterians who were not.
Yes, by now I was smiling broadly. His enthusiasm was contagious, but I admit that part of me was tempted to laugh. Instead, I assured him that he was not alone; welcomed him to the fellowship of believers; and warned him about opposition he was likely to encounter. After we hung up, I began to consider the power inherent in making up a new word to describe a new reality.
From name calling to a sense of calling
Church historians tell us that it was in first century Corinth that someone coined the term “Christian.” It was meant as a pejorative epithet, but it was carried as a badge of honor by those who counted it a privilege to be identified with the person and work of Jesus the Christ. The term was so sufficiently “sticky” that we still use it today.
Over time, with the spread of Christendom being a Christian came to identify a person as a citizen of the Holy Roman Empire or a citizen of subsequent “Christian” states as they both colonized and “evangelized” the New World.
Fast forward 600 years. What does it mean to be called or to call oneself a Christian today?
In some places it has devolved again into name calling. A person who is known to be a Christian can be side-lined from conversations among the intellectually elite as a dullard. Why? Because the elite in the West today have outgrown their sense of a need for God and so they have adopted a worldview that does not include the supernatural, the divine or the miraculous. Revelation is fully replaced by reason, Creationism is fully exchanged for naturalism’s evolution, Biblical morality phased out for situational ethics and God’s will trumped by personal preferential choice.
Beyond the West, where the frontiers of freedom have not secured for people the great gift of religious liberty, Christians are not only sidelined, they are slaughtered. If you’ve never explored the realities of life for Christians around the world today visit: http://www.persecution.com/and prepare to be sobered. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. These are the fellow Christians with whom we will spend eternity – and I dare say they are all evangelicans.
Defining a term that defines us
An evangelican is a person who bears the name of Christ in the world today with the understanding that Christ is unwelcome, unwanted, reviled and denied. An evangelican holds that the Bible is God’s revelation of His Word, and it is trustworthy and reliable to lead us faithfully in righteous response and faithful living. An evangelican appreciates that Christians in a variety of denominations share the core convictions of the faith (the Bible as the Word of God, Jesus as the only way to salvation, the active power of the Holy Spirit to conform life to God’s will, the calling of the Church to share the good news of the saving Gospel with lost people) – and that sharing those core convictions matters more than denominational monikers.
Maybe we can light the fire of a little name calling in our generation and foment a sense of common calling.
I’ll start. I confess, “I’m an evangelican.” What are you?