Most people like to have some description of a church that places it in the context of other churches. To do this in a way that is brief and to the point is a challenge today because we live in such a pluralistic society. Are you conservative, progressive, evangelical, charismatic? All of these?
Conservative looks back. Progressive looks forward. Neither of these are quite right for the church. Thinking about a plumb line would be helpful. It is always a vertical line because anywhere on the curvature of the earth it points to the center of the earth in response to the forces of gravity. A church that is centered in the Gospel as the New Testament explains it, is aligning its life to the plumb line of revelation that points to the heart of all that God has disclosed about Himself in Christ and in the Word. It centers on the Gospel.
Our Lord chose the Apostle Paul to write over half of the New Testament, stitching together the meaning of the word and works of Christ in the larger context of the Scriptures. His central focus was on the Gospel. He defined it. Sadly, the church has often drifted off this plumb line, even redefining the Gospel, but the Word is living and active and will always call people to the center.
The church was re-centered in the Gospel in the Reformation. The first evangelicals were the Lutherans and the Calvinists who were centered on the Gospel in a powerful season of teaching that reformed the church. Luther resisted those who named the church that formed from the reformation after him. He wanted the name to be simply evangelical. In our terms, the plumb line pointed to the Gospel and so should the name of the church. This wish was honored in Germany, but the church that followed used an easy distinction, a leader’s name.
The term evangelical is used in many ways today, especially since it has become a political terms in America. In the long history of the church the term has had a consistent meaning:
The term evangelical is first of all simply the adjective of “evangel” (that is, the gospel); from the second century it has meant “relating or corresponding to the Gospel. –The Encyclopedia of Christianity.
Like the navigators of sailboats, we in the church can’t always follow a perfect course through the seas of life, but we can be corrected to the navigational line to which we have been called. We trust the Lord to keep us aligned to the plumb line of the Gospel and to always live with a high view of His Word. We believe this is the way to live at peace with God, knowing what He is promising, what He is giving, and what He will give us. We want to live in the assurance of our name, Immanuel, by grace through faith. We want, by God’s grace, to stay centered.