The media reports that evangelical Christians are supporting Donald Trump in large numbers during the current Republican primary cycle. Some might question whether evangelicals should support Donald Trump. But the other question that comes up in this connection is what does it mean to be an evangelical. Are all of those who say they are evangelical really evangelical? And do we want to be associated with this group of people that calls itself evangelical?
Russel Moore says this year’s presidential election campaign makes him “hate the word ‘evangelical’.” Moore considers himself to be a true evangelical and says that it is a “magnificent word.” He writes,
The word “evangelical” isn’t, first of all, about American politics. The word is rooted in the Greek word for gospel, good news for sinners through the life, death, resurrection and reign of Jesus of Nazareth as the son of God and anointed ruler of the cosmos.
But during the current presidential campaign, Moore noticed that he “stopped describing [himself] as an evangelical.” For him the term “has become almost meaningless.” Even worse “the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Moore sees a problem with people who identify themselves as evangelical to pollsters even though they are not “churchgoers” and do not live a life of forsaking sin. Moore writes, “Many of those who tell pollsters they are ‘evangelical’ may very well be drunk right now, and haven’t been into a church since someone invited them to vacation Bible School.”
Leaders in the evangelical movement also deserve blame. Moore alleges that these leaders “minimize the spewing of profanities in campaign speeches, race-baiting and courting white supremacists, boasting of adulterous affairs, debauching public morality and justice through the casino and pornography industries.” Moore is referring to Donald Trump and is aghast that evangelical leaders pronounce him to be a Christian despite these views and despite his public proclamation that “he has never repented of sin, because he displays the fruit of the Spirit in job creation.”
Shunning the label “evangelical” Moore now calls himself a “gospel Christian.” He does not want to be associated with people who “deny creedal Christianity and gospel clarity with impunity” even if these people are “on the right side of the culture war.” Moore is not ready to give up the word evangelical forever. “The future of evangelicalism is vibrant, prophetic, theologically grounded, gospel-centered and unwilling to be anyone’s political mascot.”
I am not really as concerned as Moore is about the word evangelical. It is not my duty or goal to seek unity with all of those who claim to be evangelical. Christ calls me to work to maintain the unity he has given to his church. I belong to a denomination of churches that is called Protestant Reformed. I love the truths confessed in the Protestant Reformed Churches. I love to identify with those who confess these same truths—worshipping with them every Sunday, fellowshipping with them, and walking with them in the way of repentance and holiness. Almost every election is unsettling for me. I never seem to have complete confidence in the candidates I vote for. But I have learned to be content with the peace that is found in my membership in the church.
No, I am not as concerned as Moore is about the word “evangelical.” But he makes a very important point—Christians must not compromise the gospel for the sake of forming political alliances.
This post was written by Rev. Clayton Spronk, pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.