Beggars All: What Is An Evangelical?
(Jacque Stager, this one's for you. Hopefully I'm able to answer some of your questions with this post.)
A lot of our friends are shocked when they hear Devona and I (and other Reformation-minded theologians) criticize or comment on the confusion in many modern evangelical churches. Some say we paint with strokes too broad, or that we condemn so many who are good Christians. Nothing could be further from our intention.
Michael Horton has written a great article on this issue (thanks Beggar's All). Why knock the modern evangelical church in America? Because she's completely forgotten who she is.
The church is Israel, and these last 50 years have seen some pretty dry times out here in the desert. The radiant bride of Christ has taken to dressing herselves in the revealing clothes of her culture, bare midriff and all. I'd consider myself a refugee of this shift, and that's why I make such a big deal about things like the incarnation: These are vital truths that the church needs to proclaim!
No, I don't think members of modern evangelical churches are hellbound sellouts. Some of the most faithful Christians I know are firmly planted in the modern evangelical church. But all around them, the cathedral of evangelicalism, built on a tremendous tradition of faith, is being torn down.
We had to get out. We'd had enough confusion about the basics of our faith. Just read through this blog and you'll find many examples of the terrible teaching mixed with great intentions we experienced as we went from one non-denominational church to another.
In the comments to another post, Jacque asked what I think of as right preaching, and here's my answer: Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. And the sacrament rightly administered? The Word of God -- the body and blood of Christ Himself -- put into bread, wine, and water and given to poor, repentant sinners.
Show me one modern evangelical church where this is the practice. I'd wager you'll have a hard time even finding a non-denominational church that can even give a consistent answer on the power of baptism or communion. And keep dreaming if you expect anyone to refer to these gifts as "sacraments."
And that's the crux of the whole problem. The bride of Christ barely even knows who He is, where He is, or what He does. That's not good in an earthly marriage... even worse in a heavenly one.
At their best, a husband and wife long for communion with one another. In the most exciting, memorable times, they can't get enough of it. But when that communion gets cast aside, distance starts to creep between them. I know a person who hasn't been intimate with his wife in so long, he doesn't even know who she is. They live in the same house, even sleep in the same bed, but they are like strangers to one another. That's precisely what's happened with the modern evangelical church. She's still the bride of Christ, but in so many cases, it's been a long while since they've consummated their relationship.
My mom always talks about feeling like the sacraments were calling her back to the confessional church (she had been raised Roman Catholic), and I think that her observation has some importance here. When a bride is long separated from her bridegroom, she aches for Him at the mention of His name. My mom, myself, my wife, and so many others spent years aching. We heard Jesus' name every Sunday, but never tasted His body.
Devona and I attended a wedding on Sunday, and as is often the practice, Ephesians 5 was read. This passage struck us anew:
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
Christ longs to baptize his church, so He can carry her off to the bridal suite and be united once and for all. Sounds pretty important, but where is baptism in the modern evangelical church?
The church has forgotten the sacraments, and in large part because of this, she's well on her way to forgetting the Word. Once that's happened, what have we got left?