What is an Evangelical?


In 1971, the IFES (International Fellowship of Evangelical Students) held a conference in Schloss Mittersill, Austria. The keynote speaker at the conference was Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who had served as the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for about thirty years. He gave three addresses under the theme "What is an Evangelical?" I have been reading them as they are included in the book, Knowing the Times, Addresses Delivered on Various Occasions 1942-1977 by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In the message he defines what an evangelical is, particularly as related to the challenges and controversies the church was facing in his day. In his second address Lloyd-Jones offered some general and particular characteristics of evangelical Christians that I thought would be good to share here in summary form. Here in the Evangelical Free Church, being "evangelical" is the first mark of our identity. It is good for us then to consider Dr. Lloyd-Jones' defining characteristics. 

The following is all the work of Dr. Lloyd-Jones answering the question, "What is an Evangelical?"

First of all, the evangelical is one who is entirely subservient to the Bible. John Wesley said that he had become 'a man of one book'. This is true of every evangelical. He is a man of one book; he starts with it; he submits himself to it; this is his authority. 

The next thing about the evangelical is that he uses this term as a prefix and not as a suffix. . . . What I mean by that is the first thing about the man is that he is evangelical. The particular denomination to which he belongs is secondary; it is not primary. 

The next thing about the evangelical is that he takes a particular view with regard to the sacraments. The evangelical, speaking broadly, always takes a 'low' view of the sacraments. He recognizes only two, of course, like other Protestants, but his view of these often differentiates him, and generally does differentiate him, from those who are not evangelical. 

An evangelical is a man who is always ready to act on his beliefs. I would say that this is a very striking characteristic of the evangelical. There are other people who are prepared to argue and discuss and even change their opinion, but they do not do anything about it. The evangelical, however, is a man who acts on his convictions. There would never have been Protestantism if this were not true. 

The evangelical is a man who always simplifies everything. Everything becomes simple. Contrast what the evangelical believes with all that a Roman Catholic is asked to believe, and you will see how the Reformation simplified belief. . . . The effect of becoming evangelical is always to simplify and to make things clear. The evangelical is a clear thinker. . . . Formalism is the characteristic of the non-evangelical; freedom is the characteristic of the evangelical. 

The evangelical is always concerned about the doctrine of the church. He is concerned about a pure church. His idea of the church is that it consists of the gathered saints. He does not believe in a state church. He is vitally concerned about his correct view of the nature of the Christian church. 

The next thing, clearly, about the evangelical is the tremendous emphasis that he puts upon the new birth. This is absolutely basic to him; he is not interested in dead orthodoxy, he is not interested in Protestant scholasticism. The evangelical is a man who emphasizes the rebirth; a new beginning, born of the Spirit, new life in Christ, and partakers of the divine nature. As men cease to be evangelical, they put less and less emphasis upon regeneration, and they tend to put more and more upon the activity of the human will and the decision of the individual person. But the evangelical sees everything in terms of regeneration, the action of God. He says, I am what I am by the grace of God; and he is amazed at himself. 

The evangelical has this great emphasis upon life, so you will always find in evangelical circles that there is great emphasis on the study of the Bible, personal and corporate, that great attention is paid to expositions of the Scripture and to prayer. Prayer is vital in the life of the evangelical. . . . The evangelical is careful about his life, careful to maintain good works, to live a life above reproach, not to be a hindrance or an obstacle to a weaker brother. The great ethic, the emphasis on holiness of the New Testament, is something which true evangelicals have always set great store by. . . . The emphasis on holiness in personal life and in church life is a great characteristic of evangelicalism. 

Yet another characteristic is the evangelical's interest in revival. The only people who are ever interested in revival are evangelicals, and a good way of testing the quality of a man's evangelicalism is his interest in revival. . . . The true evangelical is always longing for an outpouring of the Spirit.

The evangelical always gives primacy to preaching. When people cease to be interested in preaching, they cease to be evangelical. . . . To the evangelical nothing compares with preaching. Even reading is very secondary to preaching - 'truth mediated through personality,' the impact of a man filled with the Spirit proclaiming the message of God!

My last point is that the evangelical is a man who is always concerned about evangelism. . . . The evangelical is a man who, because of what God has done for him, is anxious that others should have the same. Not only that, he sees something of the glory and the majesty and the sovereignty of God; he believes in hell, eternal punishment; and he is concerned about those men dying in spiritual darkness round and about him. They become a burden to him, and he is not satisfied until he has done his utmost to bring them to the knowledge of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.

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