Evangelical Christianity and Christianity are often used interchangeably to refer to the Christian faith. However, the two are anything but similar. The term Christian means a person who believes in Jesus Christ. The term Christian was coined in the early church as a nickname for the disciples of Christ (Acts 11:26). Christians, therefore, are individuals who follow the teachings of Christ and accept him as Lord and Savior.
It may be accurate to say that Christianity denotes all Christian groups encompassing protestants and Catholics. However, because most other denominations have labels (e.g. Evangelicals, Pentecostals, etc), the term Christian is often used to refer to those of the catholic faith. Evangelicals are protestants in the sense that they do not agree with the doctrines of catholicism. However, they still differ from other protestants in several ways. Like most other protestants, evangelicals have a broad spectrum of belief systems depending on the denomination in question.
There are lots of differences but the most important difference is the evangelical’s view on salvation. For the most part, evangelicals emphasize personal conversion and a direct relationship with Jesus Christ, independent of ecclesiastical structures such as the sacraments. This is what distinguishes evangelicals from other Christians.
Core Beliefs of Christianity
Christianity upholds the doctrine of the trinity which means that God is one but he manifests in three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Even though they are distinct persons, they are also inseparable. The Trinity is the foundational truth in Christian theology because it gives an understanding of God’s nature.
Another important belief of Christians is the belief in Jesus Christ as the son of God. Christianity affirms that Jesus is the avenue through which man can be reconciled to God. This was made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They also believe that venerated saints and the Virgin Mary are in a position to intercede for the Christians and as such, they often ask to pray through them.
Christians believe in the Bible as the word of God but they also believe in the authority that God has placed in the apostles. This authority is believed to have been handed down through the popes starting from Apostle Peter to the current pope. As such, they believe the Pope is a divine leader appointed by God to lead the church and he therefore has the authority to interpret and define doctrine.
Christians typically observe seven sacraments namely baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance and Reconciliation, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. These sacraments are important as they are believed to help believers in attaining grace.
Another important factor that distinguishes Christians from evangelicals is the leadership structure they use. Christians have a hierarchical leadership structure with the Pope as the overall leader of the catholic church on Earth. They believe the pope is the representative of Christ’s authority on earth and he is therefore mandated with determining any doctrinal or moral direction for the church.
Core Beliefs of Evangelicals
Evangelicals uphold the core doctrines of Christianity like the Trinity and the virgin birth. They also observe the main foundational principles of Protestantism namely sola scriptura (Scripture alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), and soli deo gloria (glory to God alone). That said, evangelicals have other points of difference ranging from dispensationalist and covenantal viewpoints to Armininian traditions and holiness perspectives.
The Evangelical Quadrilateral is arguably the best guide on evangelical Christianity. In this book, David Bebbington notes that evangelicals are known for their focus on conversionism, biblicism, and crucicentrism. These terms mean that evangelicals emphasize individual conversion, uphold the authority of Scripture, and believe that the Cross is central to the message of the Bible. These are the main doctrines that unite evangelicals but there is really no one-size-fits-all definition that would represent all denominations under the evangelical wing.
One of the reasons why there is no uniformity among evangelicals is the lack of a unifying body that has ecclesiastical authority over all the adherents. Some associations like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, National Association of Evangelicals, and Luis Palau Association try to coordinate the evangelicals but none of them has succeeded in unifying the group.
Evangelicals put emphasis on developing a personal relationship with Jesus. Every person is encouraged to accept the Lordship of Christ and then start to work out their salvation on a personal level. They believe that every believer is a priest and as such, they can connect with God directly without having to go through a priest. This principle is also reflected in their worship style which takes a more spontaneous approach as opposed to the Catholic Christians who have a strict liturgical order of worship.
Additionally, just like Christians, evangelicals also believe in the authority of scripture. However, they differ in the sense that evangelicals believe that the Bible is the final authority on doctrinal issues. As such, they do not recognize the papacy and instead rely on the holy spirit, tradition, and reason to interpret the Bible and apply it in their personal life.
As their name suggests, Evangelicals place a lot of weight on evangelism. Evangelism entails the sharing of the Good News of God’s kingdom (The Gospel) with others in a bid to convert them to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Evangelicals believe that Jesus gave them a great commission in Matthew 28 which was a clarion call for them to go and preach the gospel to all nations. As such, evangelicals actively engage in missionary work, both locally and globally, seeking to spread the teachings of Christianity and bring others into a relationship with Jesus.
The word Christian, just like the word Evangelical, has several connotations. However, since Catholics are the original Christian denomination from which others sprung, the word Christian often refers to them. Evangelical on the other hand refers to a group of protestants who place a lot of weight on personal conversion and evangelism. Granted, evangelicals and Christians agree on lots of foundational truths like the Trinity, salvation through Jesus, and the authority of the Bible. However, the nitty-gritty of these doctrines is where the difference comes in.