It never really occurred to me that I belonged to the Evangelical Tradition when I was a Southern Baptist. I don’t really remember being taught anything about Evangelicalism. I just remember ‘Bible Teaching’ ‘Bible Preaching’ and ‘Bible Studying’. I sort of figured that all Christians believed the same sorts of things because it’s in the Bible. I thought that Evangelicals were some sort of denomination – like Pentecostals or Episcopalians, Surely, it that’s what we were, then wouldn’t the teachers have been obligated to mention it?
For years and years (until recently, in fact) every time I saw an article mentioning 5-10 reasons why Evangelicalism let somebody down, I thanked my lucky stars that I wasn’t one. Who would want to be a part of a thing that regularly seemed to be so very judgmental, exclusive, sexist, hateful, deceitful, and any number of other terrible characteristics? Since I thought Evangelicalism was a denomination, I decided to look them up to see what exactly they believed:
“Evangelicals are Christians who believe in the centrality of the conversion or “born again” experience in receiving salvation, believe in the authority of the Bible as God’s revelation to humanity and have a strong commitment to evangelism or sharing the Christian message.” – Wikipedia
Well, okay I believed in the whole born again thing – it’s all I’d ever been taught. And I heard a lot from the Bible, so it must have been pretty important. And we were supposed to tell everybody about the good news, I couldn’t really argue against any of that – so that means that I’m an Evangelical too.
Today this metaphor seemed to straighten up some of my confusion: Christianity is like a massive building with many hallways and many rooms. The ‘Evangelical’ hallway connects many denominations (rooms) to each other including the Southern Baptists. So now that I had a better understanding of what Evangelicalism is – I have one big question:
Just what it is about being born again, believing in the Bible, and sharing the gospel has gone so terribly wrong as to be judgmental, exclusive, sexist, hateful, deceitful, and any other number of other terrible characteristics to such a degree as to cause hundreds and thousands and hundreds of thousands to flee from it?
It turns out that the primary doctrines are usually not the problem – it’s the secondary doctrines being raised to a level of the primary ones that causes a great many of the issues the church has to deal with – but because believers usually deal with these things in house, by e-mail, and in quiet conversations before or after the service, most of the other believers don’t even know what’s being asked or what answer is given. And so when a member brings up a point that is contrary to the church’s official position, they’re more than happy to let her or him and their whole family go. They’re in church one week and gone the next.
To use a ridiculous example: let’s say that This Church taught Jesus + Waffles. Every meeting emphasized both equally. If somebody who transferred from That Church believed in Jesus + Pancakes was what was right, they would be in conflict with what This Church believes. After all, Jesus and Waffles are equally important. To believe in Waffles but not Jesus or Jesus but not Waffles makes one an unbeliever or a heretic.
And old teaching would say: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”
But to these believers of This Church, Waffles are essential. To those believers of That Church, Pancakes are essential. Each of them see themselves as right and the everyone else who doesn’t agree with them as wrong. Not only are they wrong, but they cannot approve of the wrongness of the others by sitting down to eat at the same table. It is their duty to turn their wayward brothers and sisters from their error and into the truth. Now replace Pancakes and Waffles with various stances from doctrine or preferred interpretations and you see how these issues divide people up when secondary teachings are given primary importance.
I still don’t know why my church didn’t mention that we were Evangelicals. Perhaps they felt that Evangelicals had a well-deserved bad reputation that we didn’t want to be tainted by. But they inevitably found a secondary doctrine that they decided was equally important as Jesus. We disagreed with their position and that began our journey out of Evangelicalism. I know now that I used to be an Evangelical Christian and I’m coming to terms with what that means.