Evangelical church, any of the classical Protestant churches or their offshoots, but especially, since the late 20th century, churches that emphasize the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, personal conversion experiences, Scripture as the sole basis for faith, and active evangelism. Evangelicals believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and that the Bible is the only authoritative source for faith (the winning of personal commitments to Christ).
The words meaning “good news” in Greek (euangelion) and Latin (evangelium) are whence we get our word “evangelical.” These phrases eventually evolved into the word gospel, which has been in use for a very long time. In the 16th century, Martin Luther and his followers became known as Evangelicals because they emphasized justification via faith in Jesus Christ and based their faith only on the Scripture. During the time of the Reformation, this phrase was used to differentiate between those who followed John Calvin, who were known as the Reformed, and those who followed Luther. There are still many Lutheran churches whose names contain the word “Evangelical.”
The religious renaissance that took place in continental Europe (the Pietist movement), in Great Britain (the Methodist revival), and in North America (the Great Awakening) during the 18th century is commonly referred to as the Evangelical revival. These religious movements placed a greater emphasis on personal religious epiphanies, an exclusive dependence on the Bible, and active participation in missionary endeavors than did the established Christian churches.
In addition, an Evangelical party emerged within the Church of England; but, in contrast to the Methodists, this party did not depart from the church (see Anglican Evangelical). The Evangelical Alliance was established in London in 1846 by evangelicals hailing from a variety of churches and countries as a response to the growing power of the movement and the realization that they had common objectives.
During the middle of the 20th century in the United States, this phrase was used to refer to a group that had developed as a result of the ongoing fundamentalist conflict. An strong battle had emerged earlier in the century between the modernists (liberals) and the fundamentalists (conservatives) in several of the larger Protestant churches. Modernists favored more progressive ideas, while fundamentalists favored more traditional beliefs.
When it became clear that fundamentalists had lost control of the governing boards of their denominations, a number of religious adherents deserted the churches they had previously attended to start new congregations of their own. They regarded modernism as heresy (the denial of core Christian principles) and apostasy, hence many of those who left the church voiced their support for a break with modernism (rejection of the Christian faith). This demand for segregation ultimately resulted in a schism with traditionalists who continued to worship within the framework of the existing denominations. It also meant a rupture with church-sponsored institutions of higher learning (from which many of the defectors had graduated), and it meant the formation of new fundamentalist colleges and seminaries, both of which were moves that looked to show a denial of the legitimacy of contemporary research.
By the late 1930s, conservatives who were still a part of the older churches and those who had left but remained friendly (particularly Baptists and Presbyterians) had found common cause in their opposition to the separatist attitude. In spite of the fact that they remained steadfast in their adherence to fundamental Christian principles, they made it clear that they were eager to engage in conversation with both the academic community and society at large. They decided to call themselves Neo-Evangelicals, which was later abbreviated to just Evangelicals in order to differentiate themselves from the separatists.
The new Evangelicals were successful in part because to the personalities and institutions that they established, which contributed to their success. They quickly discovered a supporter in Billy Graham, a young Baptist evangelist at the time. Graham’s oratorical skills, along with his refusal to detour from his preaching purpose and immerse himself in doctrinal disagreements, contributed significantly to the legitimization of evangelicalism in the eyes of the general public.
Simultaneously, Carl F.H. Henry and a number of other theologians brought a level of intellectual depth to the movement. The zeal and dedication of the movement were institutionalized in a publication called Christianity Today, a new ministerial training school located in Pasadena, California called Fuller Theological Seminary, and a liberal arts college located in the suburbs of Chicago called Wheaton College. The National Association of Evangelicals was established in 1942 as an attempt by Evangelical leaders to establish some degree of organizational coherence within their movement.
In the decades that followed World War II, the movement witnessed enormous expansion on a global scale, and it emerged as a powerful influence within the Christian community all over the world. Developing a sense of international and interdenominational unity, Evangelicals in the United States and elsewhere joined with the predominately British Evangelical Alliance to form the World Evangelical Fellowship in 1951 (three years after the founding of the World Council of Churches); it was renamed the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) in 2001.
Evangelicals in the United States and elsewhere joined with the predominately British Evangelical Alliance to form the World Evangelical Fellowship in 1951 In 2022, the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) was a network of churches that extended over more than 140 nations and provided services to over 600 million Evangelical Christians.