Take Back Terms, Give Good News
Updated: Feb 5, 2019
Evangelical and Bible Believing Christians are people whom I am somewhat familiar. Perhaps I even used to be one. I certainly ran into them at the seminary. I meet them in Hampton Roads where I live. They are in my family. Many of my in-laws are what you might call “Evangelical,” or “Bible Believing” Christians. Maybe they’d take issue with those labels, but they’re not intended disparagingly. Most of the people I have in mind actually use those terms to describe themselves. What’s more, I consider myself evangelical. I wouldn’t even object to being called “Bible Believing,” although it depends on how you define the terms.
If evangelical means being concerned with missionary work and sharing the Gospel, then yes, I am evangelical. If it is understood as putting forth the effort to respond to the great commission (Matt. 28:16-20), then sign me up. If, however, the term is a synonym for a particular form of protestant Christianity allied with the Republican Party, then you can take me off the list, for that is a false representation of what evangelical means. It is time we Orthodox reappropriate the term.
We Orthodox are the original evangelicals. It is our Church who first received the Gospel. As such we are the first evangelicals. We brought it from Jerusalem to Judea, to Rome, and then to the world. It is our saints who did the missionary work. People like St. Mary Magdalene, Sts. Peter and Paul, the Twelve Apostles, The Seventy Apostles, Sts. Cyril and Methodius, St. Patrick and Columbkille, and all those who saints who enlightened particular people and nations. Plus, all the faithful throughout every generation who shared the Good News with their families and friends, and those who acted as silent witnesses and public martyrs. Not to mention the monastic witness that brought the faith to countless people. As missionaries and evangelists, our Orthodox faithful brought Christianity to the world. Modern "Evangelicals" stand on the shoulders of those men and women. We Orthodox cannot and should not abandon the term and let it become narrowly defined by others.
Now, I like coming across self-proclaimed Evangelicals. I like to tease them. God help me because I just can't help myself. I like to playfully tell them that I too am an evangelical and that I belong to an evangelical Church because I do. I belong to the Church of the Evangelists- the Church of the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The Orthodox Church.
I can also tell them that I belong to the original Bible believing Church because I belong to the Church that brought the Bible to the world. And when we gave the world the Bible, we actually believed the words therein. We still do. In fact, when push comes to shove I find that we are the ones who most closely follow the Bible, despite what scripture alone folks might say. We Orthodox should also reappropriate the label “Bible Believing.”
We can play this game all day long. For example, we are Pentecostal. We are the Church of Pentecost. The Church that was founded by the Holy Spirit. The Church that is still enlivened by the Holy Spirit. We are the first Baptist Church because we are the Church of John the Baptist (can you imagine how giddy I get when I come across someone from an Antioch Baptist Church? Helps if you know I am Antiochian Orthodox). We are the first Catholic Church. We have the fullness of the faith for the world. We are the first Church to have an altar call. In fact, we have two. The first one sounds like this "Holy things are for the Holy," and the second goes something like "With fear of God, faith and love draw ye near." We are the first Church to do feet washing (see Holy Week, and that time the Head of our Church washed His disciples' feet).
All of this is to give you some concepts and ideas to use when speaking to others about the Orthodox faith. It is also to encourage us Orthodox to lay hold terms, like “evangelical,” that really ought to be associated with Orthodoxy. We’ve got to get out there and use the gifts God has given us. We’ve got to share the beauty of our faith.