It is always sad when good words go bad. The two I often think of is evangelism and fundamental. While the strict definitions have not changes, the way we hear them often brings a lot of baggage that for many is not positive at all. This is because both of these words took on a movement. So in the case of evangelical, this word comes from the Greek euangelion which means good news. While evangelism means the spreading of the good news, Evangelical was coined as the description of the new protestant movement in Europe that was more concerned with spreading the good news then loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church. It is not until the modern times when we get this to be more narrowly defined into a core set of beliefs and with it the negative connotation to some outside that group.
The same is true for the word fundamental. This defined a huge movement at the turn of the last century and some argue laid the foundation for the modern evangelical movement. The sad part is that the fundamentals became defined as a select group of things that were so important to believe that without their adoption one would not find salvation. The sad loss of that word to a movement like the loss of evangelical, is that both are very important words to describe who we are and what we are called to do as Christians.
This is very much highlighted in the scripture we have this Sunday. At the beginning of the scripture Paul makes the bold statement “that [Abraham] would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” Interestingly, the law comes into effect many years after Abraham when Moses was leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt. For Moses and his community the law was meant to be a tool for faithfulness brining order and understanding to this newly freed community. The concern they had was: “How do you keep the community healthy? Here are ten simple commandments.” Even in the Ten Commandments, depending on your tradition, they are divided up differently.
The problem with Evangelical and Fundamentalist is that they blurred the tools (i.e. the rules or laws) with faithfulness. This is one of the issues that Christ is trying to rectify for the Jewish people he came to minister to since much of what we see in the groups he encounters in the adherence to law or tradition over seeking a relationship directly with God. We must remember that rules and laws are not faith. Faith is our relationship and righteousness found in God. In layman’s terms the law is good, as long as it is helpful and does not get in the way of our faith. However, once the law gets in the way of our faith then we have real issues, because ultimately we are worshipping the law instead of God.
The truth of our faith is that we are called to live into the fundamentals, not those that were preached a little over 100 years ago, but to live into the fundamentals of our faith, continually questioning and seeking God. We are called to be evangelicals, not in the sense of telling people how they should live, but in spreading the Good News and helping each other grow in faith.
For Sunday, I challenge you to explore how you seek God and help others find faith?
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen