One trick to writing a good blog post is coming up with a title provocative enough to convince people to read what you have to say. An added challenge for pastors is picking a title that wont require reconvening the church’s “Search Committee.” This blog isn’t about my fall from faith. It’s about the problem of labels.
I grew up a fundamentalist. We didn’t drink, dance, or chew or go with girls who do. One old sage said that fundamentalists were people who loved Jesus but couldn't stand anyone else. The term “fundamentalist” originally defined people who believed a few fundamental things about God and the bible, things like the virgin birth and the literal resurrection of Jesus. They not only believed that Jesus would return some day, they were pretty darn sure they knew exactly when it would happen! (RememberThe Thief in the Night movie?)
Many fundamentalists also felt a need to improve upon God's list of sins by lengthening it to include just about anything they didn't like. High on the list were guys with long hair, women with short hair, and "mixed bathing" (a convenient way of making swimming sound lewd and vulgar).
If you have ever played with Rook cards or wondered if Billy Graham might be the antichrist you probably also grew up fundamentalist.
It was a huge relief to me when I quit being a fundamentalist. I was about 14 at the time. I left fundamentalism because I enjoyed swimming with my friends and had hair over my ears.
It came as a relief to me to think of myself as an evangelical. Fundamentalists didn't like evangelicals, so by becoming one I felt like I was sticking it to people who took the joy out of swimming.
To be an evangelical used to mean three things.
1. You accepted the bible as the authority for what to believe and how to live.
2. You believed that it was important to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ.
3. You thought it was important to encourage other people to follow Jesus.
These three things are still central to my faith, and to my understanding of what it means to be a Christian. But the meaning of the term "evangelical" has morphed. It has picked up a boatload of baggage.
The term evangelical has taken on a political and cultural meaning that doesn't seem to reflect the values of the New Testament (or Old Testament for that matter). I was fairly comfortable with the term until this election cycle. When pundits talk about "evangelical voters" I cringe. I don't recognize the people they are talking about. It doesn't describe any of my close Christian friends, and it certainly doesn't seem to describe the people in my good congregation.
The following things don't accurately reflect the beliefs of most of my evangelical friends, but they do seem to define this year's "evangelical voting block."
Can anyone argue that poverty of spirit, meekness, peacemaking, and purity are defining marks of those who appear to comprise this year's "evangelical voting block?"
Do those cheering at the mere mention of mass deportation appreciate the meaning of loving one's neighbor as Jesus defined it in the story of the good Samaritan?
This post isn't a slam on evangelicals. It is an outcry against misuse of labels that break the body of Christ into demographic slivers, or of using the word "Christian" as an adjective to describe things that would break Christ's heart.
So if we are not evangelicals, who are we?
People trying hard to follow Jesus.
Citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Brothers and sisters in Christ.
Sinners saved by grace.
Central Christian Church is part of a religious heritage that rebelled against labels. Two cool old dudes named Racoon Smith and Barton Stone were fed up with long doctrinal statements and denominational labels. They started a movement based on simple faith in Jesus and unity among believers. They said something to the effect of "Let's not call ourselves Baptists, Presbyterians, or Methodists (or evangelicals for that matter). Let's just love Jesus, obey the Bible, and stick together."
Sometimes the old timers knew what they were talking about.
"This blog is my way of connecting with people at Central and beyond to encourage them to make their space in the world more like Heaven."
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog reflect my thoughts and opinions as an individual, not the formal positions of our church. Central includes people with a wide range of opinions on important issues like those addressed in my posts. It is also a place where we can discuss these issues with civility and grace.