We’re on vacation this week, so blogging will be a little slow.
“E” is for Evangelicals
On a number of occasions when people have asked me whether our church (Grace Fellowship Church in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania) is part of a denomination, I have responded by telling them, “No, but we are part of an association of churches that is called “F.I.R.E..” The first question is then followed by another question, “What is “F.I.R.E.”? In response to that question, I explain to them that the word “F.I.R.E.” is an acronym which stands for a group of like minded churches that have banded together in an organization that we call the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals. This answer is usually followed by other questions, “What is the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals? What does this group of churches stand for? What do they believe? Why does F.I.R.E. exist?”
In answer to these questions, I spend some time expounding the meaning of the four major words that the letter is the acronym. Every word in this title is important in that each word proclaims some of the core convictions of F.I.R.E. churches as well as common purposes to which we are committed. Since the first of the three main words in the title have been explained in former newsletters, I will not at this time repeat the explanations I usually give to my questioners. However, since the meaning of the word “evangelical” was not covered in former news letters, I will seek to clarify how I understand the meaning of this word .
What does it mean to say that a person or a church or a group of churches are
Evangelical? Basically it means that they believe the Gospel which declares God saves unworthy, guilty sinners by His grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ on their behalf; it means that that they are committed to proclaiming that Gospel to the ends of the earth. The Webster’s New World Dictionary rightly states that the word evangelical is referring to “those protestant churches … that emphasize salvation by faith in the atonement of Jesus, and reject the (saving) efficacy of the sacraments and good works alone.”
Being evangelical means that we believe that all men come into this world with three tremendous problems to which only the Gospel provides the solution. One of those problems is that we have a bad record; we have sinned and come short of the glory of God; we have engaged in evil deeds and therefore are guilty before God and deserve to be banished from the presence of a holy and righteous God in hell (Romans 3:23; Colossians 1:21). Our second great problem is that we come into this world with a bad heart; we have hearts that are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; we are alienated and hostile to God in our minds; we live according to the lusts of the flesh and are by nature children of wrath (Jeremiah 17:9; Colossians 1:21; Ephesians 2:3). Out third great problem is that we have a bad master who rules our lives; we walk according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience; we are taken captive by him to do His will and we serve his purposes (Ephesians 2:3; John 8:44; 2 Timothy 2:26).
In keeping with these verses, it’s easy to see that our situation before God is extremely grave; it’s easy to see that we need to be delivered from these three great problems. And it’s also easy to see why we are so excited about the Gospel because it is through the Gospel and the Gospel alone that we can be set free from our bad record, our bad heart and our bad master.
The main stem of the word “evangelical” comes from the Greek word “euangellion”. This is the word which is translated Gospel in our Bibles; a word which means good news. We revel in being evangelicals because we revel in the good news that through repentance and faith in Christ men can be set free from their three greatest problems. We rejoice in the Gospel because through the Gospel their great need for forgiveness and for a clean heart and for a good master can be fulfilled. As evangelicals who know something of the greatness of the Gospel we boldly declare that we are not ashamed of the Gospel (the euangellion, the good news) of Jesus Christ because we believe that “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes’.” (Romans 1:16)
Being evangelical means that we believe that “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:13) It means that we are Christ centered and cross centered in our message. It means that we glory in the cross of Christ by whom the world is crucified unto us and we unto the world (Galatians 6:14) It means we have a passion to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)
Being evangelical means that our churches will have a compelling desire to reach out with the Gospel; to those who are still under the control of a bad master, a bad heart and a bad record. It means that our churches will seek to help people to appropriate the full benefits of the Gospel in their own personal lives and relationships. It means that we are committed to planting other churches who will also be committed to be actively and passionately presenting that Gospel to those who have never heard; It means that our churches will be involved in training people to live out the implications of the Gospel on a daily basis; It means that our churches will be helping people to understand that receiving the Gospel means that we should henceforth not live for ourselves, but for Him who loved us and gave Himself for us (2 Corinthians 5:14,15). It means that we who have been blessed by the Gospel will be motivated to lay down our lives for the brethren even as Christ laid down His life for us.
Being evangelical means, as Jerry Bridges has written, that we realize that there is never a day when we are so good that we don’t need the Gospel and never a day when we are so bad that we are beyond the reach of the Gospel. It means that we are motivated by the Gospel to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world and to live looking for the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:11- 13). It means that we live as people who have been ransomed from our lawless deeds and who have been purified and set apart to live as a people of God’s own possession; a people who because of the Gospel are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:14) As evangelicals we recognize we have been bought with a price and that we are not our own and that it is our privilege and responsibility to glorify God in our bodies and spirits which belong to Him. (I Corinthians 6:19, 20) Because of what the euangellion (the Gospel) means to us and has done for us we love the Gospel and we dedicate our lives to carrying its message to the ends of the earth and to making disciples of all nations, baptizing those who receive it in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things that our Lord has commanded.” (Matthew 28:19)
This, in brief, is what it means to be an evangelical. This, in brief, is what the Gospel does for us and to us. To us the Gospel is everything; it is at the center of our Christian life and faith. It is why we are part of a church. It is why we function as churches. It is the foundation of all our counseling and all our ministry. Because of the Gospel we are motivated to say “Forbid it Lord that I should boast, same in the death of Christ my God, All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood. Were the whole realm of nature mine; that were a present far too small; love so amazing, so divine, shall have my life, my all.”
Note it well, we are a Fellowship of Independent Reformed churches because of the Gospel. We love it, we preach it; we rejoice in it; we are motivated by it. We live because of it and for it. We delight in being known as evangelicals for all the reasons that have previously been mentioned and many more. And we say, “To God be the glory, great things He has done! So loved He the World that He gave us His Son, who yielded His life an atonement for sin, and opened the life gate that we may go in. Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, Let the earth hear His voice! Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, Let the people rejoice! O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son, and give Him the glory, great things He has done.”