WHAT DOES EVANGELICAL MEAN?
This article is vital reading for those who have begun to consider the direction that Evangelicalism is to move forward in. With the promotion of Beyond Evangelical by Frank Viola the below facts must be considered.
By Keith Malcomson
In our New Testament the word “Gospel” is euaggelion or “evangel.” This is where we get the term Evangelical. Evangelical is just another term to define true Bible believers.
Some have called the four writers of the four Gospels - Evangelists. By this they meant that these four men presented a Christ-centred Gospel. The message presented and preached by these four has been called the evangelical gospel. But of course within the New Testament the Gospel or Evangel was not restricted to these four.
We are clearly instructed that Christ, the apostles, the early church and Paul the apostle all proclaimed the Gospel. It was universal. The Gospel was first defined as the "Gospel of the kingdom" (Mt.4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mk.1:14).
This Gospel was a message. Some try to define the Gospel as social action, but this cannot be a true definition when we look at the NT. Time after time the NT records that the Gospel was "preached" (Mt.4:23; 9:35; 26:13; Mk.1:14;16:15; Lk.9:6; 20:1; Acts 8:25; 14:7, 21; 16:10; Rom.1:15; I Cor.9:16). Two Greek words are used for preach. First kērussō which means to herald like a town crier. Secondly euaggelizō which means to announce or declare. So the correct means to make known the Gospel is by opening the mouth and speaking either personally or publically.
Although miracles, signs, healings and even baptism in water confirm and accompany the Gospel, they in themselves are not the Gospel (Mt.11:5; Lk.4:18; 7:22; 1Cor.1:17). It is also called "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24) the gospel of God (Rom.1:1) gospel of his Son (v9) the gospel of Christ (v16) and the glorious gospel of Christ (II Cor.4:4) and Paul also called it "my gospel" (Rom.2:16).
The Gospel must be believed and obeyed (Mk.1:15; Acts 15:7; Rom.10:16). Through it men are begotten or born-again (I Cor.4:15) established (Rom.16:25) and they stand (I Cor.15:1). When Jesus returns He will take vengeance on "them that that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction" (II Thess.1:7-9).
To be Evangelical is to hold the Gospel as it is proclaimed, preached, presented, taught and written in the New Testament without subtraction or addition. John Milton (1608-1674) the famous English poet and author of the 17th century considered the word 'Evangelick' to mean 'consonant to the doctrine of the Gospel.' In other words to be Evangelical you must line up with the truths that go to make up the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the NT.
In the 1828 Webster's Dictionary Evangelical is defined as: "According to the gospel; consonant to the doctrines and precepts of the gospel, published by Christ and his apostles...Sound in the doctrines of the gospel." In the 1913 Webster's Dictionary it is defined as: "Contained in, or relating to, the four Gospels...Belonging to, agreeable or consonant to, or contained in, the gospel, or the truth taught in the New Testament; as, evangelical religion. Earnest for the truth taught in the gospel; strict in interpreting Christian doctrine; preëminently orthodox."
Since the term was first coined in Church history it's greatest leaders, writers, defenders and preachers have consistently held to well defined truths. The Gospel and the New Testament are themselves made up of clearly defined truths which the early members of the Church believed and those who rejected such was not considered to be one of them. Certain truths of the New Testament Gospel have been set forth in such a manner as to divide between those who truely are evangelical and those who are not. Such truths are:
*A belief in the authority and Divine inspiration of the Biblical text as well as a literal acceptance of its historic narrative (Genesis, Creation, the return of Christ, etc).
*A clear belief that salvation is exclusively found in Christ alone through repentance and faith.
*A belief that Christ suffered the righteous judgement of God for our sins on our behalf on the Cross at Calvary.
*A belief in justification by faith alone.
*A belief that good works (obedience, holiness) will follow as the result and fruit of true salvation.
*A belief in a coming day of judgement for every man.
*A belief in a literal eternal conscious state of blessing as a reward to the righteous but an eternal conscious state of punishment in the lake of fire for the wicked.
Those defined as Evangelicals have held to these and other truths for 500 years. But more than that, true believers have held them as a continuing unbroken line from the days of the apostles down to our own day. Evangelical, when used correctly, is just another name for a Bible beliving Christian. When men move away from holding certain truths of Scripture they cease from being both Evangelical and Biblical.
Sadly today the term Evangelical has been redefined and twisted to be a broad term to mean and include anything and everthing. Even those who deny all of these key points now call themselves Evangelicals. Compromisers, heritics and apostates have constantly pressed to broaden the term Evangelical in a manner that includes themselves and their associates.
Let us again define, clarify, protect and proclaim these simple truths of Christ as a part of the New Testament Gospel. "I am set for the defence of the gospel" (Php.1:17). 'I am appointed for the defence of the euaggelion - the Evangelical Gospel.'
THE HISTORY OF EVANGELICALISM
The first usage of the term Evangelical in recent church history was in Germany at the time of the Reformation. In 1517 Luther nailed his thesis to the church door at Wittenberg. Two years later his followers were called Lutheran’s by their enemies but Luther preferred the term Evangelical.
When Luther finally broke from Rome and established churches free from Rome’s jurisdiction he called the new movement the Evangelische Kirche (evangelical church). It was a church built upon the true Gospel of Jesus Christ as opposed to a church built upon tradition, heresy and man-made regulations as that at Rome most certainly was.
The term Protestant was not used until 1529. The meaning of the Word is 'to protest or to proclaim.' Luther and many others were protesting against the error of Rome but were also proclaiming the truth of the simple Gospel of Christ.
Writing in 1520 he said "We were all Hussites without knowing it." By this he meant they had discovered the same truths of the Gospel and were holding to them in the same way John Huss (1373-1415) of Bohemia had done 100 years previously and for which he was martyred. His ministry and martyrdom gave rise to a spiritual movement called the Hussite's which spread to other lands and later resulted in the Moravian revival. Huss had previously been impacted by the writings of John Wycliffe (1329-84) of England who through preaching the simple Gospel of the Bible had birthed a spiritual movement called the Lollards. These poor but profound preachers spread everywhere preaching the simplicity of the Gospel.
This reveals something of the unbroken line of leaders and spiritual movements which ran from the days of the apostles down to the days of the Reformation who held to the clear truths of the Bible.
In the mind of the Reformers to be Evangelical meant having a true grasp and understanding of the Gospel as a result of a conversion through justification by faith. That’s why they stood for Sola Scriptura – the Scripture alone. To be Evangelical meant that they believed the written Word of God was absolutely authoritive over every doctrine, tradition and practise in the church, in ministry and in life. Because of Sola Scriptura many spiritual leaders and movements were birthed in the following centuries that were Christ-centred. Evangelicalism has always been Bible-based and as a result of that has been Christ-centred.
The Reformation in Europe spread quickly from Germany to every corner of Europe raising up national reformers. They were not dealing with just a veneer of church order, structure or government; they were dealing with the foundation, the most vital issues of the Gospel, of justification by faith alone and the place of God's Word in the Church. It was the beginning of a fresh return to the church of the Bible. To be evangelical meant conformity to the written Scriptures. Those who make light of the Reformation just show that they know little or nothing about it.
A return to the Gospel as presented in the Scriptures literally shook Europe from top to bottom and inside out, socially, politically and spiritually. Countries like Switzerland renamed individual counties 'Evangelick Cantons.' Through forty days of Gospel preaching John Knox saw Scotland set free from darkness, superstition, religious tradition and bondage. This return to an Evangelical Gospel led to great multitudes of genuine believers being martyred across Europe over the next 100 years. This was a spiritual revival.
One of the greatest English Reformers was William Tyndale (1494-1536). The Lord used him in translating the Bible into the language of the English people. He was eventually martyred for his zeal in proclaiming the true Gospel. The first recorded usage of the term 'Evangelical' in the English language was made by Tyndale in his writings in the year 1531. Within his writings he spoke freely of the true Gospel as “evangelical truth.” In the following year Thomas More wrote a six-volume response to him in which he talks of Tyndale and his 'evangelical friends.' So from its first usage in English it not only defined the Gospel message but those who believed it as well.
The term Evangelical was then brought into the English language and used widely by those who held fast to the same fundamental doctrines of the Gospel which Tyndale held to, defended and died for.
In the 17th century men like Samuel Rutherford in Scotland and John Owen in England freely used the term Evangelical not for a party-name but for true Bible-believing Christians of whatever denomination. The Covenanter's and Puritan's of both nations continued their pursuit of a full reformation of the Church by the Word of God. The Reformation was a beginning not an end. During this era the Lord blessed the preaching of the Gospel by pouring out His Spirit a number of times to speed the work forward.
The breadth of Evangelicalism has been its recondition of all those who uncompromisingly hold to the foundational truths of the Gospel which makes Christ preeminent and central in all things.
Evangelical has always been broader than finer points of teaching concerning church structure, the Lord’s Table or baptism. Men have stood on either side of such arguments yet been solidly Evangelical. But let a man weaken on the foundational truths of the Gospel and he has departed from being Evangelical. A church group, denomination or movement is only Evangelical while it remains faithful to the truth of the Gospel.
John & Charles Wesley
In May 1738 almost 200 years after the Reformation young Charles Wesley (1707-88) while reading Luther's commentary on Galatians was convinced, converted and found peace in Christ Jesus. Just three days later John Wesley (1703-91) was converted as his heart was strangely warmed at a meeting of Moravians where Luther's commentary on Roman's was being read. These two brothers as well as a great host of other preachers were to be used in God's hand to proclaim the Evangelical Gospel with great power during what was called the Evangelical Revival (Awakening). But this was only another stage in the Lord's progressive work; not the beginning of Evangelicalism. Through their preaching, their writings and their hymns the truth of the Evangelical Gospel spread to the ends of the earth.
REVIVAL & EVANGELICALISM
The men who were raised up of the Lord in the 18th century to preach the Evangelical Gospel in power were commissioned by no denominational HQ. They were not backed and supported by any denomination in stepping out to shake the nations with the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ. Neither did they get together as a body of men and plan it. The Lord saved them with an old fashioned Evangelical Gospel, called them to preach it, then anointed them and sent them as Evangel's of the Gospel.
The names of George Whitefield, John & Charles Wesley, Howell Harris, Jonathan Edwards, William Grimshaw, William Romaine, John Fletcher and Thomas Walsh stand immemorial. Yet these men but represent only a few who were suddenly prepared and called to carry the Gospel of salvations to great multitudes.
This army of preacher's came from different nations and regions. They came from different family backgrounds and were of different ages and social standing. They were not trained in a college but commissioned from Heaven with unction. They differed in theological points of doctrine on issues like church government, communion, style of preaching, and even on Calvinism and Arminianism. But what bound them together was the truths of the Evangelical Gospel. An Everlasting Gospel forged in Heaven but given to men to preach. They differed at times to the point of conflict yet they were bound together on the essential fundamentals of the Gospel. Their doctrine was pre-eminently the person of Christ. They counted each other fellow-labourers in the harvest fields for the Master.
None of these diverse, unique and gifted men denied that there was a literal, eternal fiery Hell which sinners would go to unless saved by the power of the Gospel. None of them doubted the inspiration, authority, perfection and power of the written Word of God. They took it literally, simply and believingly. None of them doubted the literal account of Genesis. None doubted that a big fish swallowed Jonah. None doubted that God sent a Flood to destroy a wicked generation in the days of Noah.
These men believed that Christ had borne the wrath of God on their behalf. They believed that the Blood of Jesus Christ shed at Calvary was personally shed for them. They believed that by faith in that Blood they were justified from all sin and accepted in Christ Jesus with His perfect imputed righteousness. These preachers of the Gospel believed that through repentance and faith men received the new birth, a new heart, a new spirit, a new name and a new inheritance.
They not only preached the old apostolic Gospel of the Apostles but they also communicated it in the same fashion, form and method. As oracles of God. As herald's of God. Like town-criers. Like prophets of old.
These men believed in preaching. Preaching with conviction, preaching with unction, preaching with clarity, preaching with authority. They preached in homes, they preached in church buildings, they preached standing on grave stones, they preached in the open streets, they preached in the open fields, they preached to few, they preached to great multitudes which could not be numbered, they preached against heresy, they preached against hypocrites, they preached against unbelief, and they preached against sin.
They preached Christ in all His fullness, depth and breadth, making Him central in all things. Their consuming love for Christ and proclamation of Him held whole nations back from bloody revolutions. They preached the cross in all its glory and power without obscuring the judgement of God poured out there, the sin of man atoned for there, and the horror of suffering endured there. The authority of all their preaching, methodology and order was the infallible Scriptures. They again carried forward the work of reforming the Church to a more Biblical pattern.
The revival of the 18th century that swept Great Britain and America was thoroughly Evangelical. There was no Romanism, Liberalism, Modernism or Ecumenism in it. This was a true Evangelical Revival birthed of God, sent from Heaven and owned of the Holy Ghost.
The Pathway of Evangelical Revivals
If we follow the pathway of true Evangelical doctrine where these truths were held to and preached we find the path is heavily marked by Divine Visitations of the Lord from Heaven. All the various ism's cannot claim such. A departure from sound doctrine and an Evangelical Gospel is a departure from genuine Heaven Sent Revival. It would be impossible to summarise these mighty outpourings even since the days of the First Great Evangelical Awakening.
Two nations which can claim to be 'The Land of Revivals' are Scotland and Wales because of the amount of and regular continuance of revivals, but they can also claim to have been lands of The Book - saturated with simple but sound Biblical doctrine and knowledge. The Church of any nation which compromises over or that casts aside the simple Gospel truths of the Bible is saying "No" to Heaven Sent Revival. Is it any wonder then that amidst the present hour of compromise over simple traditional Biblical truths there are so few genuine, mighty, widespread national revivals. Our Evangelical Fathers believed that the hope of regular revivals was a Biblical doctrine.
Just think of the 1830's revivals in Scotland under the ministries of McCheyne and Burns and in America under Asahel Nettleton, and in England under Irish born James Caughey.
Then The Second Great Evangelical Awakening which began in the 1850's in America, Ulster, Wales, Scotland and England. The Welsh Revival of 1904. The Azusa Revival of 1906 which was but one of numberless outpourings across the world bringing the church back to real Pentecost. And the Hebrides revival in the 1940's. It is impossible to summarise.
The vessels which were raised up in each of these, men like Evan Roberts, William Seymour and Duncan Campbell had one thing in common, they held to the same pure Evangelical Gospel and to the fundamentals of the faith. Yes they were very different indeed but they were joined to the same Christ, part of the same body, of one faith, preaching the same simple Gospel of Blood redemption.
Again my friends in this hour the answer for Evangelicalism is not a new, united, sound Evangelical alliance. The answer is not a new style, a new strategy, a change or revamping of old biblical truths, a creating of a new ecumenical compromised third way. Oh no, the answer is always the same. Let the Lord again pour our His Spirit as on the Day of Pentecost and revive His wearied saints who will again arise and preach this Everlasting Evangelical Gospel to the ends of the earth to bring in a last harvest of souls before the Lord pours out His terrible judgement on the nations.
Let us pray and believe for a Third Great Evangelical Awakening like that in the 18th and 20th centuries and Evangelicalism will again be as Christ-centred, Biblically sound, holy, prayerful, vigorous and as fruitful as ever it has been in history. We care not for names, titles or creeds. Let the name Evangelical crumble into a misrepresentation and be forgotten but let us stand four-square on the written Scriptures as a people in revival whatever men may call us.
To Be continued...
This article is vital reading for those who have begun to consider the direction that Evangelicalism is to move forward in. With the promotion of Beyond Evangelical by Frank Viola the above facts must be considered.