Saturday, April 9, 2016

What Does "Evangelical" really mean

I belong to a congregation chartered under what has become the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Evangelicalism has taken on many meanings, mostly negative, imposed by popular news writers and talking heads in the Mainstream Media (MSM). These people have mostly talked about Evangelicals as a class of Christians, unlike themselves, who hold to beliefs is a literal reading of the Bible, are ignorant, ultraconservative, and not like them. They have breathlessly reported that Ted Cruz is an Evangelical in an effort to wave off anyone who might equally be frightened that under Mr. Cruz the United States will soon be a theocratic nation of barefoot and pregnant women and gun toting men ready to shoot anyone who doesn't conform. Evangelicals are often mischaracterized as snake handlers who believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible. So, for instance, since Genesis says the God created the world in six days, and rested on the seventh, they would think that God therefore created the world in six literal days. But while some may believe that, it is not what the word Evangelical means. In my prayers during the last week, the thought came to me: Is our congregation behaving as an Evangelical congregation would? Note that I make a distinction between the congregation, which is the local group of people who worship under the banner of a larger body or synod, that in turn functions in supporting the wider Evangelical Lutheran Church, which in turn supports the world wide body of Christ.. Ultimately, we Evangelicals are a part of the world wide Church, the body of Christ. Though we do not recognize the Pope's authority, we listen to and respect Catholic teachings, and we feel the pain when any Christian body is under siege, as the Christian communities in the Middle East are right now, and as the Eastern Orthodox church was under the Soviet Union.

So, what does the word "Evangleical" mean?  Quite literally, it means "of, or according to the teaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."  And what is the message of the Gospel?  That God entered the world, in the form of a man, Jesus, at a particular time in history, to live among us, and like us to be tempted in various ways, but to live perfectly according to God's commands, and to die on the Cross, spilling His blood for our sins.  Jesus thus became the Pascal Lamb atoning for our sins.  God has thus reconciled sinful mankind to Himself.  That is the Good News, the best news.  Our response to this great gift, is to now live, as close as we can, as He would have us live, in constant prayer and conscious contact with the Holy Spirit who guides us.

Motives have always been important to God.  If it wasn't evident in the Old Testament scriptures, Jesus makes it abundantly clear in the New Testament.  Right thinking leads to right action.  But right action can become corrupted, and lead to evil without right thinking.  Thus, man was given stewardship of the Earth, and has a responsibility to use its resources wisely.  But when we assign diety to the Earth, calling it Gaia, and speak of the Earth striking us down for our imagined sins against it, our motives have become corrupted, and our actions are thus corrupt, and issues surrounding environmental actions become political rather than in keeping with God's command to stewardship.  We should marvel at God's creation, but only to love God more.

The Good News is so wonderful that keeping quiet about it is impossible.  It was intended for all of mankind.  But everyone is not ready to accept the Good News.  Fewer still are ready to follow.  This is unfortunate, but we must not let that keep us silent.  Like Martin Luther himself, we say to the world "Here we stand, we can not do otherwise."  So, it was interesting to read the  Evangelical Manifesto published by the National Association of Evangelicals. It is 20 pages of material that describes who we are, what we believe, and as importantly, how we should react to the surrounding culture. It is a good start, and seems spirit filled and as inspired as anything I have read other than the Bible itself.  I recommend it to you, gentle reader, and perhaps we can have a lively discussion on its contents.

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