Yesterday we invited the community to come through the church as part of Doors Open Ottawa. Not many came, as we did not do as big a production like last year, but those who came were given 1 on 1 tours through the church. We were a bit discouraged as no one had come for hours and were thinking of packing in early when suddenly we had a rush of three visitors. So I showed a man named Tim around. As I showed him around, Tim shared with me a little of his background- much like mine, baptized and Christmas and Easter Catholic, he was raised functionally atheist. He asked me about the church and our services and then asked which denomination we are a part of. Now, you may or may not know this, but our church is part of the Evangelical Free church of Canada. So then he asked, what’s an evangelical? Has anyone asked you that? How would you answer? I usually answer something like, Evangelicals believe you need to have a personal encounter with Jesus, that it’s important to tell people that Jesus is able to reconcile us to God, and we take the Bible very seriously as our rule of faith and life. And then I usually say “free” means that we believe in the separation of church and state.
Here’s another question - how would you feel answering that question? Defensive? Apologetic? Wondering what the person has heard? I sometimes feel like that. For many in our culture, the only impression they have of evangelicals is through the news or social media. Some think that we are a political group, or they hear us associated with “white evangelicals” in the US. i always wonder when people ask me that question, how much ground I may have to make up with them, because of the public reputation of Evangelicals. Some Evangelicals even are thinking of changing their branding.
Now I believe much of the public reputation of Evangelicals is slanderous. I believe Satan wants to tarnish our reputation, and slander of the negative always spreads faster than the encouraging or positive. However, I do believe some of our reputation is rightly earned. If we’re known as a political organization, then maybe we have allowed political stances to eclipse our love of Jesus. If we’re derided as hateful, then yes, it is true that some of us struggle to love our neighbour. If we’re called hypocrites, well there is some truth to that as well.
What is the reason for this hypocrisy? I do believe that if we’re honest with ourselves, many evangelicals have allowed a gap to enter into our thoelogy, and thus we are not living biblically. What is that gap? The sanctification gap. Evangelicals focus on conversion, to evangelize someone. That they might be born again. We sometime refer to the past tense of salvation. Having been saved from the penalty of sin. Evangelicals often also focus on the future tense of salvation, our eternal destiny, that someday the kingdom will come and we’ll be at home with Jesus and perfected, removed from the presence of sin. Yet, for some evangelicals - that’s the gospel, we’re saved from the penalty of sin, and someday we’ll be in the presence of Jesus.
Do you see something missing there? There is another tense to our salvation - our sanctification. The present outworking of God’s salvation through us in the here and now in which we gain ever growing victory over the power of sin in our lives. It is this tense of our salvation that actually affects our reputation in this world as God’s children. And it is this tense of salvation that Paul speaks of as he urges the Philippians to go on and grow in their maturity without him. In Philippians 2:12-18 Paul speaks of the process of our sanctification and the purpose of our sanctification.