The church, by her very nature, is evangelical. The English word “evangelical” comes from a Greek word that means “good news.” That Greek word is often translated as “Gospel.” And so when we say that the church is evangelical, we are saying that it is based in the message of the full and free forgiveness of sins. We are announcing that there is good news for the least, the last, the lost.
The Gospel proclaims the message of salvation that Scripture reveals. “The Gospel is properly the kind of teaching that shows what a person who has not kept the Law (and therefore is condemned by it) is to believe. It teaches that Christ has paid for and made satisfaction for all sins. Christ has gained and acquired for an individual – without any of his own merit – forgiveness of sins, righteousness that avails before God, and eternal life.” FC Epitome V 3
Before Lutherans were ever called “Lutherans,” we were called “evangelicals.” It was a name used by Roman Catholics. It was meant as a slur, a name to mock Luther and his followers. Luther gladly accepted the term. Why? Because apart from the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, there would be no hope of salvation from sin.
Someone was asked once what Lutheranism brought to the table of Christianity. That person answered, “A law free gospel.” The gospel, the evangel, the good news isn’t dependent upon our righteousness, our holiness, our obedience, our repentance, our moral improvement. It doesn’t depend on us at all. It depends solely on Jesus and what He has accomplished for us. If it depended on us, it wouldn’t be good news. But this shouldn’t be a particularly Lutheran thing. It is a BIBLICAL teaching.
Jesus said, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16 St. Paul writes, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16
The proclamation of forgiveness of sins and life in Christ should permeate every single congregation. It should permeate every single Bible Study. It should permeate every single hymn. It should permeate every single sermon. It should be faithfully preached here and throughout the world. The entire life of the church should be soaked and dripping forth blood of Jesus for the world. Sadly, tragically ... it is not.
The term 'evangelical' has taken on a whole different meaning in our culture. In the States in the 1980's, the modern evangelical movement known as the “moral majority” tried to wield its power to influence public policy. Now the term “evangelical” has become synonymous with right wing conservative Christians trying to influence politics. NO! .... No! No! No! No! No! That’s just wrong!
Christian pastors and congregations have wrongly made moral improvement more important than the Gospel. They have made an improved life, having money, having well behaved children, having good health, having a strong marriage more important, because that is what they are preaching. They have put social agendas like equality, human rights, feeding the poor over and above the proclamation of Christ – who came to free the captive, to heal the sick, to take those who are dead and raise them to life!
Think for a moment about the problem that causes! Can there be anything more tragic than when someone hears the word ‘evangelical,’ they are thinking about something other than Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the free gift of eternal life or salvation. They’ve turned a word that was about gospel and made it law. Bah! Morality is temporary. Baptism is permanent.
More important that having “evangelical” in the name of the church is for us to actually be “evangelical,” to be Gospel based. If you assume people know and believe the gospel, you won’t be preaching it ... and without the proclamation of Jesus there is no faith, no salvation, no life. That is why the Church is evangelical.
It is only because the church is “evangelical” that any of us are Christians. People will often make statements like, “I've been a lifelong Lutheran” or “I've been a lifelong Christian,” but it's not true. Every child that comes into this world is born into the kingdom of the devil, the lord of death, who exercises his sway through sin’s tyranny. But upon Christ’s command we bring a child to holy baptism, speak the words of promise which he commanded, and the child is born anew into God’s kingdom; and the devil must yield and get out. God’s grace, through Christ, is spoken by God to the child, inasmuch as he or she is baptized into Christ’s death. One becomes a Christian by grace, through faith as a gift of God. It comes by the power of God's Word creating that faith.
But the gospel isn’t just for those who are outside the church, who need to hear of salvation. The gospel is for those who are inside the church because Christians continue to sin. You continue to sin. You need to hear over and over again that apart from Christ there is no salvation, but in Jesus Christ, your saviour, there is full and free forgiveness!
Without the gospel, the church is parched. Robert Capon talked about the reformation as a time when thirsty souls once again found the gospel! “The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar full of fifteen-hundred-year-old, two-hundred proof Grace–bottle after bottle of pure distilate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the Gospel–after all those centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your bootstraps–suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home before they started…Grace has to be drunk straight: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale; neither goodness, nor badness, not the flowers that bloom in the spring of super spirituality could be allowed to enter into the case.” ― Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon & Three: Romance, Law & the Outrage of Grace
Saints of God, the church is evangelical. Not just in name. It is evangelical in its teaching. It is evangelical in proclaiming life to the dead in this world. It is evangelical, bringing children to the font. It is evangelical, absolving sins. It is evangelical, delivering the Lord’s Supper. It is evangelical, setting aside men to hold the office of the Public Ministry to deliver that Word and Christ’s gifts to you. It is evangelical ... because without the gospel of forgiveness in Christ, we would have nothing. St. Paul said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified ... that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:2,5
God, in His almighty power, has saved you, has forgiven you, by the evangel, by the gospel, by the good news of Jesus, your crucified and risen saviour. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
---Pastor Garry Heintz
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Kakabeka Falls, ON