One of the most frustrating things for those of us who love accuracy in the use of words and terminologies is the torture the word “evangelical” receives at the hands of the media, in general, and many Christians, in particular.
Most people use the term “evangelical” as a catchall phrase to describe non-Catholic Christians. Political commentators ignore the theological origin completely and simply use it as another term for “politically conservative.”
The term has become so watered down that even people who describe themselves as evangelicals are totally oblivious to the meaning of the word. USA Today recently published the results of two surveys, glibly announcing that 37 percent of evangelicals do not believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation.
This would be like announcing that 37 percent of all Americans do not believe that there are 50 states. Or half of the British people denying that the English language is their language. You get the point of the ludicrousness of the use of the term “evangelical.”
The word itself stems from its Greek origin, eugangelion, which means “gospel,” or the gospel of Jesus Christ. When applied to an individual or a group of people, it means that they believe salvation or redemption or justification comes through Jesus Christ alone. A more recent definition includes those who believe in the authority of the Bible.
It was the pilgrims in the 17th century who were practical evangelicals because of their desire to bring the gospel of salvation through Christ alone to the native Americans. That early beginning inspired many evangelical movements in a variety of ways and degrees in the last 400 years.
The bottom line is that for anyone to claim to be an evangelical yet deny that Jesus and Jesus alone is the way to salvation and heaven, is a self-contradiction. No wonder we find thoroughly confused and mentally tortured people in many a church.
Perhaps it is easier to understand who is not an evangelical.
Anyone who places tradition, experience, or rationalism above the authority of the Scripture … is no evangelical.
Anyone who places human needs, or reason, above the authority of the Scripture … is no evangelical.
Anyone who claims credit for his or her salvation, or works to earn it … is no evangelical.
Anyone who places “moralism,” which is the de-emphasizing of the sinfulness of sin, above justification by faith alone … is no evangelical.
Anyone who perceives the Cross as a mere example of love and not as the only cure for sin and means of salvation … is no evangelical.
Anyone who minimizes the fact that God poured His wrath on His Son on the Cross so that only whosoever believes in Him shall be saved … is no evangelical.
Anyone who views that act of God’s pouring His wrath upon His Son on the Cross as “cosmic child abuse” … is no evangelical.
Anyone who sees no need for personal conversion by repentance and faith for receiving eternal life … is no evangelical.
Anyone who does not believe that once they are saved they will always be saved through the sustaining power, discipline and chastening by the Holy Spirit … is no evangelical.
If you have concluded that all of these evangelical qualifications are defining a true Christian – you would be correct. For a true evangelical is a true Christian. The opposite, therefore, is true. If you do not believe these foundational truths, no matter what you call yourself, you are no true Christian. And if that describes you, then you are invited by God Himself to come to Him on His own terms in repentance and in faith in Him, so that you may escape the judgment and receive salvation.