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What Does it Mean to Be Evangelical?

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What’s in a name? This came up recently in congregational council, over our tendency to occasionally “lose” the word evangelical when we refer to the name of our church, St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church. I was reminded of it again while reading Shane Claiborne’s book, Irresistible Revolution, when he reminded us of the Greek roots of the word, euangelion, which means “to announce or bring news of a military victory”. This is NOT a “churchy” word. It was well-established in the Greek vocabulary before Jesus came along. Jesus turned the meaning of the word upside down and used it to pronounce his gospel as Good News. Instead of the way the world works, with economic and military superpowers who rule through force and financial clout, Jesus announced the in-breaking victory of God’s kingdom. The Kingdom that Jesus announced was completely different from worldly power. Grace, love, and the uplifting of the poor, the sick and the powerless would reign. This was indeed Good News for those who were suffering under Roman power!

Unfortunately, modern media and political powers have distorted the word “evangelical” into something closer to its original Greek meaning while still associating it with Christianity. We struggle against the association of this word with a narrow range of hot-button issues (abortion and same-sex marriage have been turned into a veritable war zone) instead of its true meaning for us as Christians: salvation for all people through faith in Christ, by his free grace, in spite of our sinfulness. I will admit to not wanting to be associated with a certain “species” of “Evangelical” as it is used today in our country. I struggle to “love my haters” (as Agape would say) when they take the Good News and try to turn it into something divisive or something that negates whole groups of people. We are ALL created in God’s image. We are all loved, and Christ died for all of us.

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This begs another question: how do we live into the true meaning of the word? It is quite a challenge to up-end the existing power structure and announce the very different Kingdom that Jesus invites us to help him usher in! I am excited by some of the opportunities that we have to do this:

  • Noisy Offerings for our mission partners in Tanzania and Harrisburg, St. Barnabas Center, Project SHARE, Safe Harbor and more
  • Donations to Carlisle CARES by the BOLD youth
  • working with My Brother’s Keeper/Carlisle Youth Advisory Committee on programming for middle school students in our church neighborhood
  • working with Diakon to find foster/adoptive families to shelter kids who need stability and good parenting desperately
  • working with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services to learn how to welcome immigrants and refugees

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have so MANY opportunities to live into our evangelical name and our mission. Let’s all be a part of sharing God’s Word, grace and unconditional love with the poor and the powerless. Let’s not waste the opportunities that the Spirit has opened up to us!

  • Diaconal Minister Holly Hoffman
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