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The evangelical spirit

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*This article is from the MB Herald archives, originally published May 16, 1986, in the column “Christian Mind.” Author Walter Unger (1936–2018) served the church as a teacher, administrator, and church leader.*

The comparatively slow rate of church growth in most Mennonite Brethren churches indicates to me that many of us have lost a sense of excitement of the good news of what God has done for us in Christ. With that loss of excitement has come a loss of interest in personally sharing the Gospel with others and becoming involved in personal evangelism.

A living, growing church is made up of believers who have brought together the evangelical spirit with the historic substance of Christianity. As Mennonites we score high on orthodoxy, but where is that compassionate concern to share with others what we have found in Christ?

The evangelical spirit is the spirit of commitment which animate d Paul and the early Christians who were willing to die for their faith. Christ had entered and revolutionalized their lives and they could not help but speak of what they had experienced.

This was the spirit which animated Polycarp who was martyr e d in 155 A.D. after serving Christ for more than eighty years.

The evangelical spirit filled Augustine, when as a profligate in his thirties he had an amazing sense of the grace of God.

This was the spirit of Francis of Assisi and Thomas a Kempis, of Luther and Calvin and Menno Simons.

This was the spirit which motivated John Wesley on one side of the Atlantic and Jonathan Edwards on the other to bring about the Great Awakening. Many other men and women could be added to this list of faithful witnesses.

The evangelical spirit is not confined to a certain type of man or woman nor to a specific theological tradition. Polycarp and Augustine were church Fathers, Francis a monk, a Kempis a mystic. Luther was Lutheran, Calvin Reformed, and Menno Anabaptist. Wesley was Arminian and Edwards Calvinistic. There was a differing theological emphasis, but the same spirit.

The evangelical spirit has always been at the forefront of renewal in the church throughout its history. Today, where people are being won to Christ and churches are growing, the evangelical spirit is pervasive.

The spirit of personal appropriation of the Gospel and excitement about our Lord produces three traits of a strong religion, as suggested by Dean Kelley in Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. These traits are commitment, discipline, and missionary zeal.

Some contemporary Catholics are understanding in a fresh way the spirit which animated one of their greatest fathers, St. Augustine. Paul Witte, a Catholic writes: “I have learned that there is only one truth that can motivate man simply through life: Christ. Before we can consider ourselves Christians we must have believed in Christ and accepted all the consequences of a radically altered life. Without this first basic commitment, growth in Christ through any church structure is impossible.”

The National Council of Churches, which has often been criticized for its lack of attention to evangelism, ha s produced a statement to correct what it calls the dichotomy between personal evangelism and social action. It chides member churches for their reluctance to name the name of Jesus as Lord and Saviour and urges them toward a commitment to Jesus Christ which is not a once- for-all-event but the beginning of one’s spiritual pilgrimage of discipleship.

The substance of Christianity is only made real through the personal appropriation of Christ’s death and resurrection and then a constant willingness to share what one has experienced with others. Without the evangelical spirit, the historic substance is dead.

Near the end of his life, the great theological Karl Barth made a grand tour of Europe. He visited the famous historic sites, was entertained by great dignitaries and was treated royally by all.

When Barth returned home after his long trip he was asked what impressed him most after all he had experienced. The theolog humbly replied: “This is what overwhelms me above all else. ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, For the Bible tells me so’.”

May the same spirit always and ever and above all else impress and move us.

—Walter Unger, a member of the Bakerview MB Church, is president of Columbia Bible College, Clearbrook, B.C.  

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