Thursday, March 27, 2008

What is an Evangelical? - Shepherd

In Christian circles, I would be called an Evangelical. What does it mean to be an Evangelical and what does it matter anyway? An Evangelical logically would be someone who evangelizes. But to evangelize today equates with the idea of to proselytize. To most ears in our culture those who proselytize are bigoted loudmouths who unrelentingly bombard their victims with convictions about their particular way of thinking until resistance finally dissolves. The beleaguered listener capitulates and accepts the ideas of the proselytizer. In this way they are converted to the way of thinking of their aggressor.

This caricature of evangelism lies just under the surface and makes folks wary of evangelical Christians and at the same time makes those Evangelicals afraid to own their identity.

Considered from a saner perspective, to evangelize is not to proselytize but rather to bring out into the open the realities of the Evangel, or the Gospel. The essence of the Gospel is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When this Gospel is revealed, we see a far different picture of what it means to be an Evangelical. Our evangelism consists in exploring with others how we integrate into our lives the way of living and the power for living that is presented to us in the Gospel.

This is a way of life that is marked by respect for others and leads to opening ourselves to relationships with them, whoever they are and wherever they are on their spiritual journey. When we look at the life of Jesus Christ, we see a person who treats others with dignity, even little children.

The anger of Jesus was aroused by religious leaders because of their failure to value those who looked to them for guidance. He attacked their insensitivity to the suffering and confusion of those who were looking to them for some answers to their existential questions and were offered only formulas and rituals. The criticisms that were leveled at Jesus by those leaders were for his lack of sanctimony. He would not capitulate to the pressure to impose the demands of Jewish law on people who were given no reason to see value in those laws.

His pole star was the law of love. This did not mean that he winked at evil or overlooked wrongdoing. Rather, he saw and acknowledged the damage that unrighteousness did to people and met it head on with a greater power – the power of love. It was a love that would hold firm against all opposition for the sake of the object of that love, all of humanity. It was a love that would silently stand resolute through the mockery of a trial. It would bear the pain of beating and the torture of a cruel death. Then it would emerge from the tomb with the promise that we would never again be left alone to try to find our way through the maze of life, without a guide.

To be an Evangelical is not to proclaim all of this in strident tones from the rooftops. Rather it is to be there where the need is, in the silence and in the pain and in the ordinary experiences of life. It is to come quietly to where the fearful are gathered behind closed doors and to offer the gift of peace. This peace is offered through respectful sharing of our presence and our love. It involves providing welcoming opportunities for others to express their fears and their pain, their disappointments and their joys in at atmosphere of acceptance that is nurtured by our willingness to share our own realities. As we are honest about our doubts and fears and allow others to be honest with us, we will not be able to hide the hope that springs from the love that has embraced us through the message of the Gospel. To me this is what it means to be an Evangelical and kindles my desire to be a faithful one.


The Sheepcat said...

Eleanor, your characterization of what it means to be Evangelical is one that should resonate with all faithful Christians.

Linda Wegner said...

Well said! It's sometimes tempting to hide our identity because of the excesses or hypocrity that have been touted under the title Evangelical. Thanks for such a clear statement of what we are/are to be because of God's grace to us.

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