The Pulse: What do we Mean by “Evangelical” and “Free”?

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Many of us who serve our Lord in Evangelical Free churches run into the inevitable question “What on earth is evangelical free”? In a world that talks about caffeine– or sugar-free, “evangelical free” sounds like we are free of evangelicals – that all the evangelicals have been purged, thrown out of our churches! In times past, the original terms “evangelical” and “free” were considered relevant and powerful. However, times change and words can either change meaning or switch from connoting a positive message to a negative one.

The Evangelical Free Church movement is an international movement with a history that makes the two terms meaningful, once properly understood. Let’s consider the two terms in order.

EVANGELICAL

The word “evangelical” refers to the gospel or “good news” of Jesus Christ. Our spiritual ancestors in the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark were dismayed at the moralistic, social religion of the state churches into which they were born. Rather than religion based on following social norms, they sought salvation in Christ and to follow Him as Lord. They found the need for this salvation and sanctification in Jesus in their reading of the Scriptures. They formed “believers churches” where individuals made a decision to accept and follow Jesus.

They served the Lord’s Supper and studied the Bible in their homes. Their first question for others was not “Which church do you attend” or “What do you believe about ___?”, but rather, “Do you know Jesus?” Like them, we are people who see the gospel of Jesus as our prime concern. We wish to know Him, share Him, and follow Him. In this sense, the Bible becomes our authority for what we know about Jesus, His good news, and what He calls us to follow.

FREE

As I mentioned before, our Scandinavian forbears grew up in the state church. The government and the church were inextricably linked. This meant that the church influenced the political realm and that the political realm influenced the church – for good and ill. All citizens were members of the church, regardless of whether they believed and followed Jesus or not. “Free” churches formed as believers’ churches – free from state control. They wanted to be “believers only”, but open to “all believers.” This won them persecution from the state in a time where the state could not imagine that religious pluralism could work without mass chaos and religious wars ensuing.

Our Free Church ancestors believed that freedom to live out their faith could only be limited by the Bible itself. Their cry – “Where Stands it Written?” – was a declaration that individuals and believers churches should be free to practice their faith from government and religious control; only the Bible had the authority to limit that freedom.

So, in the end “Evangelical Free” means that we are people of the good news and the Word. We are focused on Jesus, His salvation, and his Lordship in our lives.  We assemble as families of believers in churches that are free from state control. Today, we assume that separation of church and state is a good thing.  Our spiritual forbears thought so too – but they were censored and persecuted for that belief.

Hence, we trust that “Evangelical Free”, rather than suggesting that our churches are free of evangelicals, instead indicates that they are full of people who are saved by the grace of God and who are a loving and gracious community of faith, following Jesus as Lord!

Prayer Calendar: Surprised by Prayer

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I have always been part of a church. Literally. I will sometimes tongue-in-cheek suggest that my mother probably left the delivery room of the hospital and went straight to a prayer meeting at  church with me in tow. I have never known life apart from church. That means that prayer has always been part of me. Not that I’ve practised prayer perfectly but have known of it comprehensively, or so I thought.

This will be my last prayer encouragement to you as the Prayer and Spiritual Life Catalyst. At the stroke of midnight on July 31, I will “retire” from this role and ride off into the proverbial sunset. As the EFCC champion for prayer, I’ve done a lot of teaching and modelling of what a praying life might look like, but along the way I’ve also been a learner.

Here are three lessons that I have learned in my tenure as prayer catalyst, things that I thought I “knew” that have now become experientially part of my prayer reality.

  1. Listening to God in prayer is as important as talking to God. No, I don’t hear audible voices but I do sense nudges and whispers that direct me in God’s way for me. I have proactively adopted the spirit of the boy Samuel when he says, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
  2. God wants us to ask him to act on our behalf. For me personally, I came to the realization that I simply don’t have because I haven’t asked. God loves to give to his children. I’m still learning but I’m trying to ask more. I’m trying to ask with the “shameless audacity” of the woman of the parable in Luke 11:5-13.
  3. My prayers do influence the actions of God. That means prayer is powerful. I still don’t know how that interfaces with the sovereignty of God but I believe the truth of it. Paul seals the deal for me in 2 Corinthians 1:8-11. Paul believes that he escaped death “as you help us by your prayers.” He goes on to say, “Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”

As I close I give you the verse that I adopted in the beginning as the theme verse of my prayer ministry.

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Ephesians 6:18)

The Pulse: We Are All Storytellers

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We are – by nature – story tellers.

We sit around kitchen tables, coffee shops, and local parks, and we tell stories. We tell stories of our lives, of our children, of our hurts, joys, and losses. We listen to others tell their stories. And each story leads to another. We catch glimpses of one another’s needs, fears, joys, and treasures. We understand one another’s lives and we share our lives with others.

But when we talk about becoming a “Gospel Sharing People” like the early Free Church pioneers, we immediately begin to complicate the sharing of the Good News with programs, or booklets, or videos that can explain it to ‘them’ (to those people who need to hear the Gospel). We develop processes and skills to ‘explain it all’. We stop being ‘storytellers’ and we turn our efforts towards being ‘teachers’.

Most people think about sharing the Gospel as a theological statement. That is true even among those who are adamant that we must first develop relationships. Relationships provide the fertile soil in which truth grows. Once the permission has been granted by virtue of the relationship, the thinking is that the believer can move on to determine how best to provide the ‘theological data dump’ the lost person needs to hear.

I think there is a step missing.

Let me share something I have observed when we talk in our churches about Evangelism and sharing the Gospel. It seems that whenever the conversation turns to sharing the Gospel, one of the first questions someone in the group asks is, “What is the Gospel?” It is a very real question. But, if you take that question out of the academic realm and move it into our churches, it is also the question that stops the whole process of sharing the Gospel in its tracks.

When an average Christian thinks about sharing the ‘theological data’ of the Gospel, they worry about “getting it right.” They are afraid they might miss something or miscommunicate an important truth. They are so afraid of getting it wrong that they are paralyzed from sharing it at all.

That does not mean that we should ever stop teaching the theology of the Gospel. It is important to ‘get it right’. Paul sure thought so. Just read through Galatians again. The other Apostles who wrote letters to the early churches also took great pains to explain the Gospel as clearly as possible. So, I am not advocating that we abandon the study of God’s Word to understand the height and depth and breadth of the Gospel (Eph 3:18-19).

Instead, I have come to see a need for a ‘step’ in between building relationships and sharing the Gospel. This is a step (like building relationships) that ought to come naturally to all of us. We need to get back to being ‘storytellers’. We need to encourage people to tell their story – to ‘Be Witnesses’ of the Good News.

Every day we talk with neighbours, friends, family and co-workers about common, everyday experiences. We talk with concern and compassion. We share common needs and hopes. And we have opportunity in every one of those conversations to share the Good News of Jesus.

  • We parent differently because of how we trust Jesus to watch out for our children.
  • We face adversity differently because of our faith in an all powerful God who has not lost control.
  • We don’t face any of life’s issues on our own.

That’s a truth we have put our trust in – he is with us always (Mat 28:20).

We have a story to tell of God’s Story at work in our lives. We see the joys and treasures of life through a lens of praise and thankfulness. God’s Story of blessing and creative genius. And, we are all story tellers by nature.

I think we need to get back to ‘Being His Witnesses’ (Acts 1:8). That means telling our story of God’s Story. It means being storytellers of what we know and what Jesus is doing in our lives every day – those everyday lives our neighbours and friends live alongside us. We need to stop thinking about how we can share our ‘theology’ and start thinking about how we can share ‘our story’ of all God has done for us.

We need to be ‘witnesses’ before we are ‘teachers’.

As we work on relationships, we’ll have lots of opportunities to share our story of God’s Story. He’s strengthening us, encouraging us, and giving us hope in the things we face every day. Our neighbours and friends need to hear those stories. And when God’s Spirit makes the connection between His Story and their story in your friends mind, they will be ready to hear (and asking to hear) the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Pulse Podcast 019: Bishop Curry’s Royal Wedding Address

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This time on the Pulse podcast, we’re talking about Bishop Curry’s sermon at the recent royal wedding. It’s unusual that we address a specific current even on the podcast, but we think there are several reasons to do that about this: It made quite a stir on all media channels, and it continues to!

We feel that there is enough in it that makes it worth talking about in our context.

First off, if you haven’t seen it, please do:

Here is the podcast:

Here is the preview version we welcome to share with your church or small group:

And finally, the audio-only version:

Prayer Calendar: Just Pray

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I’m a teacher at heart. That part of me always wants to express itself. When it comes to prayer, I’m most comfortable writing about things like why you should pray, how to pray, when you should pray and of course, what to pray.

And on it goes from there.

I’ve wrestled with three possibilities for this month’s prayer devotional:

  • Unheard Prayer – Psalm 66:18
  • Praise, Prayer and Pain – Psalm 66:13-17; Acts 16:25
  • Answered Prayer – 2 Corinthians 1:10-11

Yet, I don’t sense the personal freedom to pursue any of these with you here. I encourage you on your own to read and pray these verses to see what the Spirit of God might teach you.

Instead of teaching you about prayer, I feel compelled to urge you to just pray!

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given to me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:18-19)