If the Evangelical Shoe Fits…

If the shoe fits, wear it. If the shoe does not fit, get another shoe.

Some labels fit well; others I wear with more difficulty.

When someone asks me, “What kind of church do you go to?” I hesitate for at least a minute. What label should I use? Will they understand the label I use? It is a matter of shared meaning. I know what I mean when I use specific words, but will they understand the words? And if the person I am talking to is (and most of them are) more unchurched than ever, I just assume there will be misunderstanding.

This is a longer reflection. I hope it is useful for you to understand what Living Word Community Church is, what our leadership team is, and what we are seeking to become in York.

First, the word CHRISTIAN.

Here is a bare-bones dictionary definition:
Christian (noun); A person who is a believer in Christianity, or a person who has received Christian baptism.

The problem enters in when you hear the high percentage of people who still self-identify as Christians. A 2015 poll had 75% still using that label for their religious faith. 75% !!!

Do you really think 75% of people in the United States are Christians? Which is why the next question is, “Well, what about born-again Christians?”

Umm, excuse me, but isn’t a Christian someone who is born again? Apparently not, since in the polls only about 29% identify themselves as born-again Christians. That would mean about 45% of Christians are NOT born again?

As you can see, there are problems with the term Christian. In the Book of Acts, a Christian was a little Christ. A Christian was someone who had the life of Christ in them (which is the life of Jesus birthed in them; i.e., born again).

So, we have the phrase culturally Christian, or nominal Christian. The worldwide Christian missional movement known as Lausanne describes a nominal Christian as someone who claims the label, who may attend church, but who does not have a saving relationship with Jesus. CLICK HERE FOR MORE.

I do believe that the reality of nominal participation in one’s faith heritage is a growing problem of epidemic proportions for all religions around the world. We just happen to experience it the most about Christianity because that has been the dominant religious tradition of the United States.

This reality means other labels have come into use. One of those labels is the term evangelical. It is used as a noun (evangelicals) and as an adjective (evangelical Christians).

For most of my adult life as a follower of Jesus, I would self-describe as an evangelical Christian.

So now, the label EVANGELICAL!

I will start the explanation today and finish it tomorrow. Historically, there are six main ideas that have defined the baseline for being an evangelical. An evangelical:

  1. Believes in the normative and authoritative value of Scripture.
  2. Believes in the necessity of conversion (and through faith and repentance receiving Christ as Savior, Lord, and the true God).
  3. Believes in the centrality of the atoning work of Jesus on the cross, as well as his vindicating resurrection from the dead.
  4. Believes in the imperative of evangelism, speaking the good news of Christ’s saving work to others.
  5. Believes in the traditional beliefs associated with historic and orthodox Christian faith stated in the basic creeds like the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed.
  6. Believes that the Christian faith depends on a smaller group of core traditional beliefs, and allows diversity in many other doctrines. Unity in essentials, diversity in non-essentials, love in all things.

I affirm all of the above, and so have felt comfortable in the evangelical shoe.

But, the statements listed above are still pretty general. A fundamentalist would affirm them as well and I DO NOT WEAR THAT SHOE – ever! When Living Word began in 1978, it was very clearly an evangelical church in a York county of mostly fundamentalist and liberal churches.

If you want to explore this more, here is a very nice explanation about the difference between evangelicals and fundamentalists.

I’ll be back tomorrow for some more explanation of evangelical and the kind of evangelical I am. Plus, I will tell you the one ongoing development that makes this shoe more uncomfortable than ever, at least for me and many of my good friends.

Pastor Brian





Brian Rice