The other day I read about the planting of a new church, which described itself as follows:

[St So-and-so’s] will be evangelical: We believe God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, Jesus Christ, for everyone. We believe that the Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation.

[St So-and-so’s] will be catholic: We believe God, in his love and mercy, has always been present in the church. We believe in the ancient rule of faith given to us in the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, and in the ancient rule of worship, given to us in the English tradition through the Book of Common Prayer.

[St So-and-so’s] will be charismatic: We believe God the Holy Spirit is the breath of life, and is especially known in the body of the faithful. The Holy Spirit is God-with-us today, to heal, liberate, transform, and empower anyone who calls on the name of Jesus.

What was odd about this, of course, was that by these definitions, the words catholic, evangelical and charismatic simply don’t mean anything. I can’t think off-hand of any church in the Anglican Communion (the church in question is in that tradition, if not exactly in that communion), including those that call themselves liberal, that wouldn’t affirm all three things about itself.

These words usually refer to what are often called ‘distinctives’—things that show how one thing is different from others. A church that is evangelical is different from a church that is not in certain specific ways, and it is especially different from churches that call themselves catholic. I can’t speak for Catholics or Charismatics, but I can say that whoever wrote the above description is simply not clear on the concept of ‘evangelical’.

Of course Evangelicals believe God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son, Jesus Christ, for everyone. Of course they believe that the Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary for salvation. So do (Anglo-)Catholics and Charismatics. What makes Evangelicals different from others is that they believe that God’s gift of His Son can only be appropriated in a personal relationship, that one is not saved simply by being baptised and active in a church. And they not only believe that the Holy Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation, they believe that it contains all things necessary for Christian living and Christian worship, and that what isn’t found there is not only not necessary, but a distraction from what is. That’s why evangelical worship avoids the ritualism of catholic worship and the emotionalism of charismatic worship—these things are not found in the New Testament, where Christian worship is described, and for too many Christians over the years they have been stumbling blocks, substitutes for a personal faith and true repentance.

Christians can debate the usefulness or appropriateness of these three distinctives, but only when it is clear to all exactly what they are talking about. Words are so much more useful when their meanings are respected by all who use them.

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