THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EVANGELICAL
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 26, 2013
15 And He said to them, Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.
-- Mark 16:15, ESV
If you are a Christian, what kind of Christian are you?
In the broadest sense, you are either Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. For those of us who are Protestants, we are the legacy of the Great Reformation, that great movement in history that on one hand reclaimed the Bible and the gospel, and on the other hand splintered the church into a thousand traditions, denominations, and non-denominations. Christians can now be labeled from A to Z (Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Dunkards, Episcopalians, Franciscans, Greek Orthodox, Huguenots, Inerrantists, Jesuits, Kierkegaardians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Nazarene, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Quakers, Reformed, Seventh Day Adventists, Transcendentalists, Unitarians, Vineyard, Wesleyans, Xavierians, Yehowists, Zionists) and a whole lot more.
Since we are a Christian church, what kind of church are we?
Lake Hamilton is a Baptist church, but very loosely. Baptist is our heritage and we are currently a cooperating member of the Southern Baptist Convention on the associational, state, and national level. I’ve tried to cease being a Baptist a few times, but like Al Pacino in The Godfather, every time I try to get out, they drag me back in. It is not important for me nor most of our church members to be Baptist, but right now there is no compelling reason not to be, either.
Lake Hamilton is a Reformed church, in the sense that we stand on the pillars of the Great Reformation. Holy Scripture alone is our standard and guide, not the traditions of Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics, or any other ecclesiastical body. We believe firmly that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. And all that we seek to do as a church is for the glory of God alone. Our Pastor believes firmly in the doctrines of grace, our officers once the church is fully formed will be elders and deacons, we observe communion regularly and baptism at every opportunity, and we insist upon a committed, disciplined membership. I think it is more important to be Reformed than Baptist, but I have great friends and fellow workers in Christ who are neither. And, I think a person who is neither could be a happy member of our church, too, as long as we are in agreement on the following.
Lake Hamilton is an Evangelical church. I do not mean this necessarily in the political or populist sense, but in the gospel sense. We take the gospel seriously, personally, and intentionally, and we think anyone who would like to become a member of our church should, too. So please let me talk to you for a few minutes, with the summary text from the Gospel of Mark, about the importance of being Evangelical.
Evangelical Christians take the Gospel Seriously
The word gospel appears seven times in Mark and seventy-seven times in the New Testament. The Greek word is euangelion, from whence we get our English words evangel, evangelism, evangelical. Therefore, an evangelical Christian is someone who takes the gospel quite seriously.
Of course, the plain definition of the word gospel is good news. But since the advent of Christianity, gospel has referred to the particular good news about the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Proclaiming the gospel means explaining the plan by which God brought Christ into the world to accomplish salvation and give eternal life, which is pretty good news, indeed!
This glorious plan of salvation begins with God, who before creation knew that creation would fall and require redemption. So God worked personally in His world, picked out a person, Abraham, would would father a nation, Israel, who would produce a Messiah, Jesus, to be the Savior of the world. Evangelical Christians take seriously the Old Testament, with its people, promises, and predictions of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Evangelical Christians take seriously the New Testament, with Gospel books that present the person and work of Jesus Christ and many other apostolic letters that explain God’s plan of salvation, church life, and the Christian life. In other words, evangelical Christians take the Bible seriously, and the centerpiece of the Bible is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is not the good news of how everyone, in some unitarian, utopian dream, is going to save every person ever created. The gospel is not the good news of how you, by being a good person, can save yourself. The gospel is the serious good news of how God saves individual people by grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ, alone. And evangelical Christians believe that you, and you alone, must personally and properly receive the gospel in order to be saved.
Evangelical Christians accept the Gospel Personally
Evangelicals are not unitarians, who believe that the only criteria for salvation is to be human. Evangelicals live in a pluralistic world but do not believe that any religion and all religious roads can take you to Heaven. Evangelicals take the gospel and the word of God seriously; therefore, we believe that salvation comes only to those who personally receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
There has to be a time, personally, when someone becomes a Christian. No one is born a Christian. In truth, we are born sinners, separated from God. And while Scripture seems to indicate that God pardons the sin of incognizant children and impaired adults, there comes a time of accountability for every normal person ever born whereby they must be born again if they are going to receive salvation and eternal life. Evangelicals believe in being born again.
But how does one become born again? When the preaching of the gospel is conjoined with the power of the Holy Spirit, new birth gives new life. In the mind, repentance is wrought. In the heart, faith takes hold. In the will, followers come forth. When the gospel is accepted personally, a person is changed into a newborn Christian and follower of Jesus Christ.
Evangelicals believe there is ample evidence of the new birth. There is a new love for God and other people. There is a new code of moral conduct, written in God’s word and written upon God’s people’s hearts. There is a new home, Heaven, which becomes our eternal destiny. And, there is a new desire to take as many people to Heaven with us as we possibly can.
Evangelical Christians proclaim the Gospel Intentionally
The Gospel of Mark spends sixteen chapters telling us the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, it tells those of us who believe it and take it seriously to share it, intentionally, with others. Evangelical Christians believe in evangelism and missionary enterprise in order to take the gospel seriously and personally in proclaiming the gospel through God’s whole creation.
Are you an evangelical Christian? Do you take the gospel and the word of God seriously? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior personally? If so, what’s your plan to intentionally proclaim the gospel to the whole creation?
You could become a lone ranger and start sharing the gospel with everyone you meet. But remember, even the Lone Ranger wasn’t alone, he had Tonto. And since the inception of Christianity, witness have been sent out in a minimum of two by two. But whether solo or in a duet, you could start singing the gospel to the whole world and see how far you get before Jesus calls you home. You can do this, and in some ways should do this, but if this is all you do in proclaiming the gospel, you’ll never reach the whole creation and you’ll run out of gas trying.
You could become a committed member of a larger team, a called-out entity of fellow evangelical Christians. This marvelous organism is called the church. It meets regularly to pray for all matters near and dear to the heart of God, not the least of which is the eternal salvation of souls. You could pool your resources with them through this neat thing called giving tithes and offerings, and insist that a special portion of that offering is set aside for the proclamation of the gospel to the whole world. You could attend regularly and identify every person in your circle of influence that does not attend an evangelical church, share with them how the gospel has saved your soul and changed your life, then invite them to come where the gospel is preached in sermons and observed in sacraments, where people are loved and prayed for, where the gospel is taken seriously by people who have accepted Christ personally, where the Holy Spirit can work in their lives to bring them to become one of us, an evangelical Christian. This is a good plan, for this is God’s plan!
So, for now and the foreseeable future, we worship and work as a Baptist church. We are learning more and more as we go to appreciate and appropriate the great doctrines of the Great Reformation into our corporate body. And today we commit and recommit ourselves to seriously, personally, and intentionally to be evangelical, to “Go into the all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”