What does it mean when we say we are “evangelical” from the context of convergence? This is an important question I get asked frequently since we are known as the Continuing Evangelical Episcopal Communion, and are a convergence community of Word, sacrament, and Spirit. Like so many words we use in church today, the word evangelical evokes numerous images, some that are really far from the intended meaning.
One way to understand evangelicalism is to see it in a much broader sense than that of the political right in the United States. Historically, evangelicals are Christians who can be described by four key principles. These principles are often associated with Dr. David Bebbington’s “Quadrilateral.” Bebbington stated that historically evangelicals are Biblically centered (Biblicism), conversion centered (Conversionism), atonement minded (Crucicentrism), and proclamation focused (Activism). I, like many Christians might state these a little differently since even these words have attracted a multitude of interpretations. I would say that evangelicals are Christians that are centered on the primacy of the Word of God for all matters of belief and living, conversion focused, knowing that a true encounter with Christ causes one to be transformed, Christocentric in that Christ is the key and answer to all problems and questions facing the human condition, and finally, outward reaching, believing that the Christian life is one meant to be in service to others so that Christ may be proclaimed to the world. This is what I believe evangelicalism looks like as historically expressed in the Christian church. It's not a political movement, it's a Jesus movement for knowing Christ in the scriptures, being transformed by him through the Spirit, finding the answer to all of life’s experiences in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, and missional, requiring one to go out and preach the Gospel with their whole life. I believe if you read the book of Acts, you will find this type of evangelicalism in the early church. Let me give you just a couple of simple examples.
One of my favorite passages demonstrating the strong evangelical nature of early Christian life is the story of Philp and the eunuch (This also demonstrates the charismatic nature of the early Christians which I will discuss in another post). In that passage we read the following:
Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:
“HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO SLAUGHTER;
AND AS A LAMB BEFORE ITS SHEARER IS SILENT,
SO HE DOES NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH.
“IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY;
WHO WILL RELATE HIS GENERATION?
FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH.”
The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him but went on his way rejoicing (Acts 8:29 - 39).
This passage demonstrates how evangelically word centered the early Christians were. Note in the passage Philip explains who Christ is by using the scriptures, from the very beginning. The idea that because early Christians were often simple men and women who did not read or write is misleading. Perhaps they did struggle to read or write, but the Word of God was proclaimed and preached by those who could and memorized by those who listened. They were evangelical in the truest sense.
The Apostles knew the Word of God in such a way that they saw how it was fulfilled in the events that led up to their point and time in history. For example, when we read Acts 1:20 we see Peter explaining the death of Judas as a fulfillment of the prophecies in scripture. He says, “it is written in the Book of Psalms: “‘May his place be deserted; let there be no one to dwell in it,’ and,“ ‘May another take his place of leadership.’” Peter obviously knows the scriptures and they form his view of how events have unfolded. The Apostles read and studied scripture as more than an intellectual exercise but rather to inform how they lived and walked with God. The way they lived and the central place that the scriptures had in their lives was an exceptional expression of the evangelical approach to Christianity.
This form of evangelicalism is what we seek to foster in the CEEC, and in particular the Apostolate of St. Chad. The Celtic tradition we embrace requires us to be truly evangelical in the manner just described. The Celtic Christians were exceptionally christocentric (Just read the prayer of St Patrick and you will see that) and missional. They knew the transforming nature of an encounter with the LIVING Christ (not a historical figure). For those of us following authentic convergence, evangelicalism is so much more than what so many believe it to be. Next week I will explore what we mean to say we are Charismatic/Pentecostal as well! I hope as you read these posts you will also recognize the Word, sacrament, and Spirit are so intimately connected that we can’t pull them apart!
(Note: Much of this post comes from an upcoming book by Fr. Dominick and Fr. Rick)