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

, ,

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!

The Pulse: We Are All Storytellers

, ,

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

, , , ,

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:

Pulse Podcast 018: What is a Gospel Sharing People?

, , , ,

Our theme for the upcoming Conference is Revitalize: Growing as a Gospel Sharing People. In preparation for that, we think it would be a worthwhile exercise to define that, so we know what we’re collectively trying to establish.

It’s important to note: this isn’t just the theme for our Conference, it’s the commitment that is being expressed all across the EFCC family. It’s how we encourage discipleship, and it is part of being a disciple.

This is the short (~3min) preview version of the video that we invite you to share with your church, or small group, etc.

And for all you audiophiles, here is the audio file:

Prayer Calendar: Ritualistic Prayer

, , ,

The word “ritual” doesn’t play well in a Free Church tradition. I hesitated even using it but couldn’t shake it loose. I use it with this definition, “a customarily repeated often formal act or series of acts.”

Why the negative connotation?

Maybe it’s because we associate ritual with churches of questionable beliefs, or maybe we think that praying something over and over again causes it to lose its freshness or even meaning. Maybe it’s because of the throw away world in which we live. With diminishing attention spans, we’re easily bored. Use something for a while and then on to the next thing. Instead of change being an important part of life, it has become so much the fabric of our lives that repetition won’t be tolerated. Whatever the reason, “ritual” is in need of a new press agent!

In the midst of our complex and ever-changing world, I find myself longing for simplicity. Ritualistic prayer is one of the ways in which I find it.

Let me explain.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he gave them what we call the “Lord’s Prayer”, to be repeated or recited regularly. In Jesus time on earth the Jews prayed repeated prayers three times a day, a practice that Jesus himself may have followed.

Before I preached last Sunday, I publically prayed two prayers, one for myself and one for the congregation. This is my “ritual” every time I preach.

  • “Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (from Psalm 19)
  • “Speak Lord, for your servants are listening.” (from Samuel)

I start off almost every day with three ritualistic prayers with our triune God in heart and mind.

  • “Heavenly Father, I pray that this day I will love you with all of my heart, mind, soul and strength and that I will love my neighbour as myself.”
  • Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I will take up my cross and follow you.”
  • “Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Why do this?

  • It’s meditative; it causes us to think deeply about scripture and where it connects with life. Notice that all of these prayers are directly from scripture.
  • It’s focusing; it causes us to focus on God and what he wants.
  • It’s centering; it causes us to center attention on what is important and best in the midst of life’s complexity.