The term ‘Evangelical’ as applied to Christians has a long and well-chronicled heritage. In 1525, William Tyndale explained in his Doctrinal Treatises (p8): “Evangelion (that which we call the gospel) is a Greek word; and signifieth good, merry, glad and joyful tidings, that maketh a man’s heart glad, and maketh him sing, dance and leap for joy.” This gospel is the good news of Christ; the joyful tidings of the New Testament:
…because that as a man, when he shall die, appointeth his goods to be dealt and distributed after his death among them which he nameth to be his heirs, even so Christ before his death commanded and appointed that such Evangelion, gospel, or tidings should be declared throughout all the world, and therewith to give unto all that [repent and] believe all his goods: that is to say, his life, wherewith he swallowed and devoured up death; his righteousness, wherewith he banished sin; his salvation, wherewith he overcame eternal damnation. Now can the wretched man (that [knoweth himself to be wrapped] in sin, and in danger to death and hell) hear no more joyous a thing, than such glad and comfortable tidings of Christ; so that he cannot but be glad, and laugh from the low bottom of his heart, if he believe that the tidings are true (ibid., p9).
The Reformation had placed an emphasis on the individual’s need for salvation and faithfulness to the gospel – a faith no longer mediated by the lofty metaphysics of priests and popes, but characterised by immanence, comprehension, and direct relationship with the divine. As Protestantism fragmented, a remnant retained their missionary zeal and a moral fervour. They became known as Evangelicals or ‘gospellers’ – those whose mission was to preach the message of repentance from sin and of an assured salvation through the blood of Jesus.
Great outpourings of the Holy Spirit followed their witness, such as those seen in the great Evangelical Revival(s) of the 18th century. While many church pulpits had supplanted the life-giving gospel with barren moralism, itinerant preachers like George Whitefield and John Wesley took their message to the streets and fields. Theirs was a clarion call to return to the gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. With the pulpits closed to them, they witnessed wherever the people were – in the workhouses and marketplaces; in hospitals and prisons. John Wesley covered around 5,000 miles a year on horseback, stopping wherever he was led to preach to those who would listen. “I look upon all the world as my parish,” he wrote. “Thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right and my bounden duty to declare, unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.”
But many Church of England clergy were irked by these self-styled preachers and teachers. Bishops and parish priests were God’s appointed guardians of the Faith, by order of the King. Just who were these fundamentalist zealots with their interminable focus on repentance, faith and holiness? But no matter how much the bishops tried to muzzle them, these Evangelicals carried on preaching. No matter how much the Church of England tried to rescue Christianity from the extremists, the spiritually dead turned away from their drunkenness, gambling and licentious behaviour, and were ‘born again’ in their thousands, being brought into a living personal knowledge of Jesus Christ which transformed their lives.
For Evangelicals, the Word of God is the bread of life, which “ran as fire among the stubble”, as Wesley wrote in his journal. “It was glorified more and more; multitudes crying out, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ and afterwards witnessing, ‘By grace we are saved through faith.'” ‘Evangelical’ became a necessary term to distinguish Protestant gospel preachers from those who were dead in their sin or bound by the pervasive theological liberalism.
The Evangelical Alliance, founded in 1846, was a Protestant fellowship of vibrant fundamental belief, not a denominational church organisation. Their unity was based on fidelity to Scripture and its transformative message of renewal – in both personal morality and societal spirituality. Membership was open to all churches which faithfully preached the Word of God, and to all Christians who had accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal God and Saviour. It is no exaggeration to say that Evangelicals instigated and worked tirelessly for some of the most revolutionary policies in British social history, from mass education to the abolition of slavery; from poor law reform to prison reform; from the establishment of trades unions to the foundation of the Labour Party. Evangelical concerns did not stop at the salvation of souls, but extended into sewers, schools, factories and slums. Theirs was a moral mission for the renewal of society.
As it was in England, so it followed in America, where men like Charles Finney conducted ‘revivals’ for those seeking salvation. For Finney, as with Wesley, the emphasis was on the individual’s freedom and responsibility to seek God. Our sin, in all its physical depravity and self-gratification, is overcome when the will is subject to the law of God. There is no middle ground to take; no compromise to be had. We are either dead in sin or alive to God. The moral character is the fruit of moral choice and moral action, and that morality is gleaned from the plain reading of the clearest understanding of Scripture. The progeny of Finney’s catalyst includes the Fuller Theological Seminary, the Billy Graham crusades, and the magazine Christianity Today, whose main concern has been to win a hearing for Evangelical orthodoxy.
There have been many other important Evangelicals – such as Peter Forsyth, Benjamin Warfield, Gerrit Berkouwer and Helmut Thielicke – all concerned with the primacy of Scripture, the centrality of the Cross, the imperative of repentance, the importance of personal holiness, and the desire for social reform to conform to biblical morality. They had their theological, soteriological and ethical differences, of course, but were united in their opposition to the pervasive liberalism, which taught the love of God but denied His holy wrath against sin, thus propagating a gospel of sentimental inclusion.
The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev’d Paul Bayes, told the Guardian that he doesn’t approve of Evangelicals who give “uncritical support” to President Donald Trump. He is of the view that these “so-called Evangelicals” (as he terms them) should reflect on how their support for the President relates to their faith, in particular the exhortation of Jesus to feed the poor and defend the weak. He said:
Some of the things that have been said by religious leaders seem to collude with a system that marginalises the poor, a system which builds walls instead of bridges, a system which says people on the margins of society should be excluded, a system which says we’re not welcoming people any more into our country.
The Bishop of Liverpool doesn’t name these leaders, which is convenient, for had he done so we would have been able to research beyond the superficial anti-Trump, anti-Christian mainstream media and fathom what else they have written or said. He accuses them of collusion with evil (let’s not beat about the bush: if you marginalise the poor, reject people or foment division, you are anti-Christ [Mt 25:31-46; Jude 1:16-19]). And that, of course, is evidently what Bishop Paul thinks of President Trump; that he is a force for evil. But the Bishop goes further:
If people want to support rightwing (sic) populism anywhere in the world, they are free to do so. The question is, how are they going to relate that to their Christian faith? Whenever people say those kinds of things, they need to be able to justify that they’re saying those things as Christians, and I do not believe it’s justifiable.
So we move from Evangelicals colluding with President Trump’s evil, to an onslaught against populism. And not just populism, but specifically right-wing populism. Isn’t left-wing populism just as bad? Is it evil to promise to cancel all student debt just to win their votes? Why does the Bishop only rail against right-wing populism, if it’s populism as a whole which is the problem? Is left-wing populism somehow more Christian? Or is the problem just Trump and Brexit? But the Bishop’s final sentence here is most revealing: he exhorts Christians to justify their right-wing populist views (which is eminently possible for Brexit, and also for Trump, especially if you believe life begins at conception and want to overturn Roe v Wade). But the Bishop’s ears are already closed: “I do not believe it’s justifiable.” Discussion over. And then we get the judgment:
Some quite significant so-called evangelical leaders are uncritically supporting people in ways that imply they are colluding or playing down the seriousness of things which in other parts of their lives (they) would see as really important.
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things (Rom 2:1).
Why is the Bishop judging entire lives and Christian ministries by what these Evangelicals are reported to have said about Donald Trump’s policies? Have they been quoted accurately? How does the Bishop know they are giving the President “uncritical support”? What Christian gives any secular politician uncritical support? Might the criticism be expressed but not reported? Does the mainstream media not like to extract a phrase or string together words in order to show their opponents and enemies in the worst possible light?
Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment (Jn 7:24).
For Paul Bayes, it appears that any support for Donald Trump which isn’t prefaced with a divine health warning is unacceptable: you can’t support his tax cuts without decrying his immigration policy; you can’t support his job creation without decrying his border wall; you can’t support his pro-life inclinations without decrying his crassness and crudeness. And if, on balance, you still come down for Trump, well, you’re obviously a ‘so-called Christian’. What a world it must be in the Bayes’ household (and his diocese?) if every positive utterance about someone must needs be balanced with a negative, lest you give the impression of colluding with their sin.
The President of the United States has 25 Evangelical advisors, who are not all pro-Trump by any means. Presumably, if Bishop Paul believes those who are for him are not true Evangelicals, then those who are anti-Trump must be the genuine ones. But why stop with Evangelicals?
The Guardian articles mentions the Pew Research Center finding that 81% of white Evangelicals voted for Trump. But that’s fairly consistent with those who voted for Romney and Bush (both on 78%), so it seems that 8/10 white Evangelicals tend to vote Republican. But these stats also suggest that 60% of white Roman Catholics also support Trump. Are they ‘real’ Roman Catholics, or just ‘so-called’ Roman Catholics? Why is the Bishop of Liverpool content to bash Evangelicals but not Roman Catholics? Is it more Christian to be anti-Evangelical than anti-Catholic?
Isn’t it just possible that many of these Trump-supporting Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are more concerned with the mass murder of babies in the womb than with the poor and marginalised? Is contending against abortion not also a noble and righteous pursuit? What would John Wesley say about (after-birth) abortion and the sale of baby body parts? What would George Whitefield say? What would Jesus say? Why should Evangelicals have to evidence support for the Bishop’s priorities in order to earn his assent that they may style themselves ‘Evangelical’?
And how does he know they don’t share his priorities? Seriously, what can Paul Bayes possibly know about the good works which these so-called Evangelicals do in private? They may very well feed the starving and house the homeless, but are simply not given to doing so for an easy headline. They may not be doing these things, of course, but the point is that the Bishop of Liverpool is judging them by what he reads in an essentially hostile media, which is a fairly crude assessment of a person’s faith or ministry.
Paul Bayes is an Evangelical (that is, according to Wikipedia, which categorises him under ‘Evangelical Anglican Bishops’, and references an article in the Guardian in support of this). Here he is taking the gospel to the people, following in the footsteps of John Wesley and George Whitefield:
His gospel focus is manifest: the stain of sin on humanity, the need for repentance, the glorious work of Christ on the Cross, the wonder of salvation, and the singing, dancing and leaping for joy when you are born again.
Did you miss that?
Gosh, these so-called Evangelicals get everywhere, don’t they?