Labels are funny things. Some we take to ourselves, and others are assigned to us. Of those assigned to us by others, some are complimentary, some merely descriptive, and some even derisive.
The label “Christian” for instance was not one Believers gave to themselves, but was mostly likely hung on them by those who opposed them in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Being watched from the outside, some said “these are – you know, those Christ-ians, those people who claim Jesus was the Christ and rose from the dead.” It meant you were out of step with the mainstream. Perhaps even a kook. But Believers adopted the term even though it wasn’t meant as a compliment. Even as it is no longer a compliment in our culture. It was a very similar situation with the label “Methodists.” Those who subscribed to the theology and approach of John and Charles Wesley were scorned as those “Methodists” – who thought a life given over to searching and knowing the Scriptures, and methodically approaching life in Christ was kooky. But the Methodists took the scornful term and owned it.
Now the label Evangelical wasn’t a term of derision originally – but it has become so to many in our day. Over-association with politics as well as some other factors has brought that about. Some, like myself, have wondered if the term is useful anymore because it has been so removed from its roots. Then reading recently in the works of J. C. Ryle, the 19th century, 1st Anglican Bishop to Liverpoool, my fervor for being clearly “Evangelical” was renewed. In his little book “Knots Untied” Ryle outlined what he called “the five leading features” of Evangelical religion. So for the next few days I’m going to give you those features – one a day. With hopes that many will be true Evangelicals in the days to come. And to help recover what has been lost to us recently in how the term has been hi-jacked.
This, is true Evangelicalism. And why I still call myself an Evangelical.
Here is his first feature.
Ryle writes: “(a) The first leading feature in Evangelical Religion is the absolute supremacy it assigns to Holy Scripture, as the only rule of faith and practice, the only test of truth, the only judge of controversy.
Its theory is that man is required to believe nothing, as necessary to salvation, which is not read in God’s Word written, or can be proved thereby. It totally denies that there is any other guide for man’s soul, co-equal or co-ordinate with the Bible. It refuses to listen to such arguments as “the Church says so,”—“the Fathers say so,”—“primitive antiquity says so,”—“Catholic tradition says so,”—“the Councils say so,”—“the ancient liturgies say so,”—“the Prayer-book says so,”—“the universal conscience of mankind says so,”—“the verifying light within says so,”—unless it can be shown that what is said is in harmony with Scripture.
The supreme authority of the Bible, in one word, is one of the corner-stones of our system. Show us anything plainly written in that Book, and, however trying to flesh and blood, we will receive it, believe it, and submit to it. Show us anything, as religion, which is contrary to that Book, and, however specious, plausible, beautiful, and apparently desirable, we will not have it at any price. It may come before us endorsed by Fathers, schoolmen, and catholic writers;—it may be commended by reason, philosophy, science, the inner light, the verifying faculty, the universal conscience of mankind. It signifies nothing. Give us rather a few plain texts. If the thing is not in the Bible, deducible from the Bible, or in manifest harmony with the Bible, we will have none of it. Like the forbidden fruit, we dare not touch it, lest we die. Our faith can find no resting-place except in the Bible, or in Bible arguments. Here is rock: all else is sand.”
To which I reply: Amen! But it does make me wonder how many today who might claim to be Evangelical, would take this as the foundation stone it really is?