Pristine Grace

What Does It Mean To Be Evangelical?
by Gery Schmidt

The following article is taken from a free publication called "Content for the Faith," by Providence Strict Baptist Assembly in Canada. Anyone wishing to get on their mailing list can do so by contacting Gery or Mike Schmidt at 104-1138 Yates Street Victoria British Columbia Canada V8V 3M8.

The above question may well be considered by many religionists of the world to be superfluous. it is an assumed thing, that every professing Christian knows what it is to be evangelical. Yet, when we consider the fact that multitudes who call themselves by this name nonetheless, when compared one with another, possess as many differing doctrines and practices as there are cities in Judah, such a question will not appear so superfluous after all. In seeking then an answer to the above question, let us consider the following:

To begin with, it is important to consider momentarily the abuse the term evangelical has suffered at the hands of professing Christians. J.M. Pendleton notes the following concerning this matter:

In this day of spurious liberality and false charity, much is said about even denominations and and evangelical churches... There is supposed to be a wonderful virtue in the epithet evangelical. It is used as a balm for many a wound, and a plaster for many a sore. Its application to a denomination is thought to bring the denomination at once within the pale of respectability and fellowship. It is used with an injurious latitude of meaning. It gives currency to many doctrines and practices which deserve emphatic condemnation... The religious nomenclature of the age requires serious revision. It is high time to call things by names expressive of their properties. The language of Ashdod should not be heard within the precincts of Zion. Nor should the language of Zion be employed in describing what belongs to Ashdod (An Old Landmark Reset, pp 7-8).

These words of Pendleton are both accurate and powerful, and they are certainly no less applicable now than they were in 1854. The evident abuse suffered by the term, evangelical, is that a latitude of meaning has been imputed to it such as it is not able ultimately to bear. And this abuse, in turn, has resulted in at least two further evils. First, it becomes well-nigh impossible to determine a definite signification for the word evangelical when one must confront the varying doctrinal and practical views of all who apply this term to themselves. There are evangelicals who believe in consubstantiation, baptismal regeneration, and an indefinite atonement. Other evangelicals believe in dispensationalism, infant sprinkling, and the gospel offer concept. But then there are evangelicals who hold to none of these things. Certainly, the latitude of meaning imputed to the word evangelical, so that it embraces virtually every professing Christian under the sun regardless of his doctrinal and practical views, does not by any means render simple the task of determining what It means to be evangelical.

Secondly, when one speaks of evangelical denominations, evangelical churches, and evangelical Christians, currency is given to the notion that there can be such a thing as more than one kind of denomination, church, and Christian. For example, we have in the world evangelical Lutherans, evangelical Reformed, evangelical Anglicans, evangelical Methodists, and evangelical Baptists. Many more groups, of course, can be added to this list. But what is interesting concerning these groups is that despite the fact each one differs from the others quite significantly in terms of its own doctrinal and practical standards, when the adjective evangelical is applied to each denomination the impression is created that they are in reality at one relative to the essential core of fundamental gospel truths. Whatever differences may exist are generally considered to be of a minor and insignificant nature. An evident ecumenical quality is given to the term evangelical when used in such a manner. Yet, when we turn our attention to the Scriptures, they fail to yield any evidence favorable to the notion concerning the existence of multiple kinds of denominations, churches, and Christians standing together under the banner of evangelicalism. Indeed, they show that there can be no more than one kind of denomination, church, and Christian than there can be any more than "one Lord, one faith, and one immersion" (Eph.4:5). The Scriptures uniformly present before us but one kind of denomination, church, and Christian.

This then brings us back to our original question. Having considered briefly both the abuse the term evangelical has suffered from professing Christians, and two evils that have resulted from this abuse, we now turn to consider what the Scriptures declare concerning what it means to be evangelical. In essence, to be evangelical means to conform to both the doctrinal and practical standards of the Bible. Now this statement is both simple and general, and thus, we must proceed to more depth and specificity. The term evangelical comes from the Greek word euaggelion, which, strictly speaking, signifies good news or glad tidings. This term is often rendered in English by the word, gospel (e.g. Mark 1:1 1Thes. 2:4) Now in the New Testament, the euaggelion is preeminently connected with the person and work of Jesus Christ (cf - Lk. 2:10-11), and as such it is concerned with the doctrine of Christology. But where we have Christology, so too, we have all other doctrines from theology proper to eschatology. Thus, we way speak of the euaggelion (as we would of the faith) as being comprised of the entire aspect of divine truth, both doctrinally and practically.

Seeing then that the euaggelion is concerned specifically with Christology, and more generally with the entire aspect of divine truth, we must proceed next to consider what the Scriptures teach concerning these things. What does God's word declare relative to the person and work of Christ And what does the Holy Writ reveal concerning all other doctrinal and practical matters? In asking such questions, we inevitably involve ourselves in the necessary practice of hermeneutics. Now in our hermeneutical pursuit of what the euaggelion is both specifically and generally, the universal axiomatic law of noncontradiction must prevail. That is, the Bible cannot be interpreted in such a manner so as to make it conflict with itself, whether doctrinally or practically. Then, for example, it cannot be made to teach simultaneously a limited and an unlimited atonement, or believer's immersion and infant sprinkling. Now while space will not permit us to pursue at length the specific and general aspects of the euaggelion, we can nonetheless, by way of practical application, consider two Scriptural truths which clearly demonstrate by process of elimination just who really are evangelical and who are not.

First, there is the ordinance of believer's immersion. The Scriptures demonstrate that true gospel assemblies are founded upon this ordinance. Hence, all such assemblies which are not founded upon believer's immersion cannot be deemed evangelical. And if the church be not evangelical, then too, the people of which such a church consists cannot be deemed evangelical. And if neither the church, nor its members, be evangelical, then too, the entire denomination consisting of such church and people cannot be deemed evangelical. These conclusions are absolutely inescapable. Secondly, there is the doctrine of limited atonement. The Scriptures declare that Christ died only for his elect and none else. Hence, for any to argue for an indefinite atonement, in whatever form or shape it might take, is to argue for a false Gospel. Thus, none who hold to such a position can be deemed evangelical. And as this is applicable to the individual, so too, it is to the church and denomination. Now, of course, the examples used here are but two truths of Scripture. Yet, to be in error on them is to effect the entire realm of doctrine and practice, for no truth of Scripture stands in isolation from the others.

It is evident then from the above discussion that Baptists who hold to the unadulterated doctrines of grace are the only ones who can be legitimately and scripturally deemed evangelical. Such a statement will undoubtedly incur the wrath of many. Yet the Baptist cause proves inevitably to be the cause of God and truth, and we will never be at Scriptural liberty to apply the term evangelical to anyone else.