Sunday, December 19, 2004

What is an EVANGELICAL and is my anger justified?

Rob of Beggars All blog has an excellent post on Michael Horton's article, "What is an evangelical?". I've had that article linked on this blog for several months, but I am glad of the reminder to re-read it. This topic has been on my mind frequently since becoming a confessional lutheran two years ago. I used to emphasize the word "evangelical" whenever someone would ask me about my faith, ex. "I'm an EVANGELICAL Christian." Then I would quickly add, "We are attending a Lutheran church right now because God has called us to be a witness there. "Other "EVANGELICAL" Christians knew just what I meant, because many believe that one is not a legitimate Christian unless one has "accepted Jesus Christ as personal savior". Or as Horton puts it, "And as for "Grace Alone," most evangelicals today believe that something--free will, a decision, a prayer, a walk down an aisle, a second blessing, something we do for God that will give us the confidence that we are in His favor. Doctrines like election, justification, and regeneration are hardly ever discussed because they paint the picture of a humanity that is helpless and that cannot even cooperate with God in the matter of salvation. If we are to be saved, it is God and God alone who must do it."

Although Horton's article was written nearly fifteen years, his words are still timely. In fact, it would seem to me that the situation has gotten worse. Horton wrote in 1992, "Since "The Year of the Evangelical," corresponding to our nation's Bicentennial in 1976, the term (in North America, at least) has come to identify those who highlight a particular brand of politics, a moralistic and often legalistic approach to life, and a sort of ersatz, "corny" style of evangelism." Horton goes on to help us understand what the term "evangelical" actually means and why it is important to know what it means.

He ends his article with an observation that I have often made since converting to confessional Lutheranism - Why am I so angry and is it OK to be angry? When turning to the confessional Lutheran tradition, I was angry and feeling very lost. I felt betrayed by pastors and churches I had trusted. (For any new readers, I have already written extensively on my experiences. Just dig around in the archives.) I also felt abandoned by my current church; it was leaving Lutheran traditions behind so quickly that I was basically forced to leave or lose my soul. "Many people wonder why "Reformation" folks appear angry. Nobody wants to be around angry people--and I certainly don't want to be known as an "angry" person." says Horton. I remind myself of that every single time I sit down to write something in this blog.

I've often mentioned that the reason I began this online journal was to try to put my story onto paper (the electronic kind) and sort things out. My new church has helped me to learn that, first and foremost, I'm a sinner and I've been a sinner my whole life. That explains a lot of my mistakes...duh! Secondly, although I was blessed with parents who brought me to the saving waters of baptism and brought me to hear God's word preached and taught, my spiritual education was lacking other areas. So, the fact that I was never perfect to start with and that I was lacking in my spiritual education left me quite open for devasting mistakes in actions and judgements. Thankfully, God is still in control and is still quite able to teach and guide sinners like me. So, I've been able to move from being an angry person to being able to blame myself and move on. If anyone in my past who had spiritual authority over me has taught me things that were false, God will deal with them. He won't need my help.

Still, the anger creeps in once in a while. Just recently, I heard a first hand account of a Catholic high-school exchange student from Central America. She lived with an "EVANGELICAL" family for several weeks and she had some amazing things to say. Her host family regularly "witnessed" to her and told her that she would not go to heaven unless she had accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior. They regularly showed her "Christian" videos and talked with her afterwards about "becoming born-again." She was told that her Catholic Bible was not a real bible and gave her a different one. She was so relieved when I encouraged her with the reminder that she became born-again when she was baptized. She was surprised to hear that I had been an "EVANGELICAL" Christian for twenty years, but had become Lutheran two years ago. We had many good talks about how God is able to work faith in infants through baptism and how she was already saved. We discussed Holy Communion, too. I was also able to discuss Mary's role with her and she did tell me that in her country, worship of Mary was not as big of a thing as it is in Mexico. Through my talks with her about God, baptism and the nature of faith, I had no doubt that God's Holy Spirit was already working in her heart. I plan to encourage her in her faith through email. Is my anger at the ridiculous actions of these self-proclaimed "EVANGELICALS" justified? Have I been angry, yet not sinned? I think so.

10 comments:

ghp said...

Theresa,

First, great post.

Second, no, you're not wrong for being angry. You nailed it in your final sentence,"Have I been angry, yet not sinned? I think so." You are dead-on correct.

I just did a blog entry on this subject, after reading Rob's post over at Love & Blunder, but your post brought a few things into clearer focus for me, particularly WRT the corruption/co-opting of the word "evangelical".

More specifically, I would posit that (as I like to call them) "American Evanglicals" are really Pietists. You hit on a very important point with your quote of Mike Horton, wherein he describes "American Evanglicals" as being "...those who highlight a particular brand of politics, a moralistic and often legalistic approach to life..."These "evangelical" pietists are selling a moralistic, law-driven, lifestyle, more than they are advocating a valid theological stance. In many ways they are like the Mormons --- good solid citizens, who are dangerously out of whack in/with their theological contentions.

I think that Confessionals/Reformationists/Orthodox Lutherans are "angry" because of the way that these Pietists have tried to (and too often succeeded in) taking over formerly solid congregations & administrative church bodies (i.e., synods/synodical hierarchies). I also think that the anger arises, sometimes on a subconscious level, because confessionalists know that it really is quite simple (by Grace alone, through Faith alone, in Christ alone...) and that we can effect no part of our salvation. Once the light of God's true Grace gets flicked on, it's hard to imagine just how you didn't see it before. Thus, it's infuriating to see the Pietists try to keep that switch from getting flicked on.

I know it makes me angry...

-ghp

Swansmith said...

When I read some confessional Lutheran blogs, I'm saddened that evangelicals are written about as a bunch of works-based misguided so-called Christians who don't care a whit about theology. That may be the case for some, but certainly not for all. And it seems to me that putting an emphasis on the proper way of interpreting communion and the importance of infant baptism could be considered works--two sacraments that are necessary to become a believer. I believe as Luther (and Paul) said, that we are saved by grace alone. Infant baptism doesn't save us--the blood of Jesus saves us. We can't do anything of ourselves to be saved--it is by God's grace (maybe I'm becoming redundant).

As for being angry at "evangelicals"--it would be nice to see confessional Lutherans extend a little "grace" to us outside the Lutheran camp. We all serve one God and I believe we will all be in heaven if we believe Jesus is our Savior. As far as communion goes--shouldn't we all be allowed to partake together as fellow Christians? Even Jesus offered the cup and bread to Judas first. If this is the case, can't fellow Christians who may have slightly varying views of communion, but still believe it represents the blood and body of Christ--be allowed to partake together without being interviewed by a pastor or becoming members of a particular church?

Just some things that have been rattling around in my head........

Thanks for letting me express them here.

Suzi

Chris Williams said...

Suzi, the problem is that you don't believe in a Savior who wishes to be known in the saving power of baptism and his body and blood. As Scripture says, "Baptism now saves you through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" and "This is my body given for the forgiveness of sins".

Anonymous said...

Theresa,

Excellent post! I must say I am very confused as to why some are so offended at our discussions about our real life experiences. We are pointing the finger at ourselves as much as any other group.

Your story about the catholic girl is a very common occurence. I was trained by Campus Crusade for Christ to take the same approach as that host family toward my Roman Catholic family members! I very unnecessarily offended my very dear grandmother based on false teaching. Who's the one not extending grace? It's not as if you're saying modern evangelicals are unsaved unbelievers!

Well, I don't want to get anyone upset. I just don't get it. No one would be horrified if a person documented their experience of malpractice in a hospital setting! Why must everything be so politically correct, it's almost like Orwellian group-think. Open the windows and let in some fresh Gospel air!

Mary

TKls2myhrt said...

Suzi,

Thanks for your comments. I value them greatly, as I do your sistership in Christ Jesus. We will all be in heaven together, there is no doubt about that, but we have to live here on earth first. Divisions in the visible church are because we can't agree on what the bible really says.

I think Mary hit the nail on the head, here. Who's the one not extending the grace? And yes, every time I've brought this up I've blamed myself for the mistakes. Also, to take communion without having agreement as to what it means brings blood on the heads of the participants. The bible is quite clear on that. That doesn't sound too pleasant to me. Yikes!

Bob Waters said...

Yes, infant baptism does, indeed, save us. It's the way God applies the blood of Jesus to us, and makes the promise of salvation personal. That it is administered to infants in the majority tradition of Christianity is as eloquent illustration of the fact that we are saved by grace alone, and completely by God's doing (and none of our own) as is possible.

It's not a question of "not extending grace" to non-Lutheran Protestantism. It's a question of non-Lutheran Protestantism not having a handle on grace. When it makes baptism- and being covered with the blood of Jesus- a good work which we perform, it's turned the Gospel on its head.

Yes, your anger is justified. Completely, totally, and absolutely. There is nothing "evangelical" about Evangelicalism- and the Evangel is all that matters. It's why being Lutheran matters- and why the creeping Pietism in the LCMS and Lutheranism generally must be stopped.

And it will be- if not by our eloquence, by that very same grace of God, who will not suffer His Means of Grace to be undercut by our all-too-human cultural love affair with works righteousness.

Swansmith said...

Wow, lots of good comments! Thank you for always extending grace to me, Theresa. I'm always interested in what you and other have to say on your blog, and I'm learning and growing in my faith. I don't always agree with all comments, but it causes me to examine what I do believe and why, based on Scripture, not my own pre-conceived notions. My husband Tim and I have also had many wonderful conversations that have started based on what I've read at Kiihnworld or Be Strong in the Grace. This, I believe, is a very good thing!

Just wondering, though--are there any other non-Lutherans out there that can comment on these issues? I sometimes feel like a very small evangelical fish in a very large Lutheran pond!

Suzi

Bugs said...

Theresa,

Hi, I'm Bugs from Bunnie's place. Looks like Suzi needs some support here.

I don't understand Lutherans. The local Lutherans around here are wonderful folks. We almost joined, went to confirmation class, etc. It didn't sink in.

I still don't understand why as was stated earlier
in this blog, Lutherans would believe that infant baptism saves them. That may sound catty, but it's not meant to be. Someone please cite scripture, explanation, etc. How do Lutherans really believe a person becomes a Christian? Baptism, nothing else That's what it seems to be! We believe it's a decision which Lutherans see as "works", but don't believe baptism is "works"?? Seems strange to me.

I agree the evangelicals in the above example didn't treat the Catholic girl correctly. I haven't read Theresa's story yet, so I can't imagine why the anger?I'll try to find the archives.

TKls2myhrt said...

Hi Bugs,

Thanks for stopping by! Yes, look through the archives. I have several resources on what scripture says about all people being baptized rather than just adults or older kids. For questions, you'd do better to ask one of the theologian-types. I am a lay-woman and defender of the gospel, but not a teacher.

I'll let Suzi know she has an ally :).

Swansmith said...

Thanks Bugs, and thanks Theresa! Good to know I'm not the only one out there! :)

Suzi