"But if you are called an Evangelical Christian and boast in God ... being confident of yourself that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, having a form of knowledge and of the truth in the Bible. You then who teach the other, don't you teach yourself? You who preach not to steal, do you steal? You who say don't commit adultery, do you commit adultery? For God's name is slandered among the unbelievers because of you ..."
"This man is being 'persecuted like Jesus Christ.'"
- Paul the Apostle (Romans 8:17-24 - I changed a few words.)
An accused pedophile is a candidate for a Senate seat from the state of Alabama. Numerous women have come forth with allegations of his attempted relations with them when he was in his thirties and they were teenagers. We are told that he was banned from the local mall around the same time, because of his coming on to teenage girls.
Many of his constituents are defending him in various ways, besides blaming the liberal news media, the Democrats and the establishment Republicans. A couple of the weirder defenses are:"Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter, so what he (the would-be senator) did was no different." (There is no mention of Joseph's age in the Bible, nor any mention of his being a carpenter at that time; and he didn't have sex with her till they were married and she had given birth to Jesus.)
"This man is being 'persecuted like Jesus Christ.'"
Of course. the late night comics are having a great time with this and even the more serious newspersons seem to have problems keeping from rolling their eyes. But, whether comics or newspersons, whether of the left or right, all refer to him and his supporters as "Evangelical Christians."
This title of course is nothing new in the public discourse. "Evangelical Christian" is understood to be a voting bloc of the extreme right. They stand for "values," "family values" and extreme moralism. They are opposed to gay marriage (actually anything to do with homosexual behavior), abortion and birth control. They want to "bring America back to God." They are often seen (by friend or foe alike) as angry. They feel they are being persecuted.
Wait a minute! I object! I have for many years considered myself an Evangelical Christian and I take exception to the accepted descriptions above! I do not want to be identified with these. I know that some who once would have referred to themselves as Evangelical Christians, have dropped the name, and I confess that I have been tempted to. It's difficult having to explain that I'm not one of those guys.
So I believe we need to look at the history of these two words. First the word "Christian." This word is only used three times in the New Testament. And it is not a name taken on themselves by the followers of Christ.
The first usage is in Acts 11:26: " ... and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." This was a formation of the name "Christ" and meant something like "followers of Christ." Before this they had never had the label pinned on them. The church in Antioch was the first church with a large number of Gentiles (non-Jews) and the label was apparently given by non-believing Gentiles to this new group. It may have been a name of contempt, or at least disdain like the term "Jesus-freak" back in the 1970s.
The second time we encounter this word is in Acts 26:28. The apostle Paul had been imprisoned for over two years with no clear charges made. Finally he had made an appeal to the supreme court of his day, to Caesar himself. Porcius Festus, the Roman governor scheduled a hearing to determine his actions and called in Herod Agrippa II to aid him in his determination. Paul in making his case and giving his testimony began to preach the death and resurrection of Christ. Though Festus accused Paul of being crazy, Paul pressed his case to Agrippa (who of course claimed Jewish ties.) "King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do." And Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian" (Acts 26:27, 28). Again, this may have been a contemptuous use of the word. Agrippa couldn't escape the logic of Paul's argument and so, as many do today, resorted to sarcasm.
The third use of the word is in 1 Peter. Peter in this letter is urging his readers to "Keep your behavior excellent (or beautiful) among the Gentiles" (2:12a). He admits that "they slander you as evildoers" (2:12b). And then he tells them, "if you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evil-doer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God" (4:14-16).
The label was apparently used derogatorily by those outside the faith in New Testament times and continued to be used that way for some time; to be a Christian was even considered a crime. All this changed with the legalization of the faith by Constantine and somewhere the word Christian became a word used with pride. If we fast forward a thousand years or so, we find that the word had become an adjective. All Europe had become "Christian," if only in the cultural sense. Today much of the world, including America considers itself Christian.
And what about the word "Evangelical"? Well the earliest use I know of is from the 16th century. It was originally used of the followers of Martin Luther and then spread to the other Reformers. It seems to have been essentially synonymous with "Protestant." But the roots of the word go way back before the word Christian, even before the Christian era. It is derived from the Greek word euaggelion, which means, simply "good news" and is found around 75 times in the New Testament. Also used in the New Testament are the words euaggelizomai, "to tell or proclaim the good news" and euaggelistes, "a bearer (or preacher) of "good news." (By the way our English word "gospel" - god spell has the same meaning.)
Though the word "evangelical," like the word "Christian" has become more of a cultural term in Europe. In the United States it has kept much of its original flavor
My Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition defines evangelical in a number of ways, but I believe the following definitions describe how we have historically understood ourselves.
"Evangelical: 1) of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel esp. as it is presented in the four Gospels. 3) emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual."
There is no mention of a voting bloc, or of anything political. I'm sure the 12th Edition will correct that oversight?
So I will continue to refer to myself as an Evangelical Christian. And I will use it in the sense given above. I am a Christian - a disciple - a follower - of Jesus Christ. I am an Evangelical - one who has been saved by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ and who believes in the authority of Scripture.
To my friends and others on the right: Please make sure your Evangelicalism has to do with your faith in Christ and your desire to live by the authority of Scripture and not with your Pharisaic moralism or right wing politics. Please try to live your lives by the example of Christ and the leading of the Spirit. And when you fail please don't make excuses, don't hesitate to repent and confess your sin. And please don't accuse your accusers; don't play the martyr!
And to my friends and others on the left: Please recognize that there are many Evangelical Christians who attempt to live as Christ would have them live. And when you see or hear of some who call themselves Evangelical Christians but fail to live up to Christ's example, remember that we, like you, are still imperfect sinners. And when you see some who are behaving in open hypocrisy , if you must label them as Evangelical Christians, at least put quotation marks around the label!