Church history spans nearly 2000 years since Pentecost. How much of that has been evangelical? Where do we evangelicals come from?
Let me first define what is an evangelical.
We evangelicals are people:
- Who say each true Christian has one day where they become a saved Christian.
- We lead people to say the sinner’s prayer to become a Christian.
- Also, we believe the Holy Spirit enters a person at this point of decision.
- We believe in the Bible and downplay church history and tradition relatively.
- Further, we believe water baptism and communion are not keys to faith and salvation.
- We deny the power of church attendance, water baptism, good works, and even reading the Bible in saving people.
- We emphasize that all are born in sin and need to confess they are sinners and seek forgiveness without any merit. They emphasize faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus as the sole means to gain unmerited salvation.
- Finally, we see spreading this truth is everyone’s responsiblity. All should help to spread locally and globally.
What is an Example of Countries Getting Faith Long Ago?
Have you heard that Russia accepted Christianity in 988 AD? It did. Do you have a picture in your mind of evangelists reaching out to Russian farmers and trades people changing hearts and minds until finally even the Russian emperor confessed in 988?
What actually happened was church officials from Constantinople talked with the Prince of Ukraine, and he thought it a good move and accepted water baptism by pouring. He then announced that Russia was now Christian and forced the people at sword point into the Dnieper river to be baptized in mass and thus Russia was Christian.
Martin Luther made a deal with the princes of Germany and Prince and princely areas were claimed for Lutheran and later Calvinists. England made all people be Anglican in the 1600’s.
Roger Williams in 1640 founded Rhode Island as the first place in the world where people could believe what they wanted. That is not yet evangelical, but nearing.
Where Do We Evangelicals Come From? Right Here
John Wesley, George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards about 1738 started asking people to make a decision for Christ along Evangelical lines. All three men published these ideas broadly and spoke with millions of people in both the UK and the US and thus Evangelicalism was born
Of 2.4 Billion people who say they are Christian, about 620 million are evangelical. This thinking started in english speaking communities in around 1738, but now has spread to the world.
It is cross denominational. You can find them in almost every church. Notably, the Orthodox Christians in Eastern Europe have no teaching on receiving Christ even close to evangelicalism.
However, we evangelicals in the West can have a feeling that all Christianity everywhere is like us. We are growing faster than the Church as a whole, but we are not yet even half of all Christians. House churches in China where I live are almost all evangelical and most are now Reformed.
In the Bible, no one ever does the sinner’s prayer. The New Testament did not even exist in Acts for example. I believe more evangelical faith existed in the first and second century AD and gradually other forms took over. People were saved by faith for 1500 years without any explicit evangelical theology.
My hope is that Evangelical faith and thinking can keep growing, but I must have the humility to know that lots of good and true faith has come through non evangelical Christianity. They are not the enemy as it were. Note my other blog Why Are We Divided? Most Christians are not evangelical, but that is changing year by year. You may also want to read this on Evangelical growth.