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Dear Brothers and Sisters,In the rough and tumble world of American politics, the label [evangelical] is now often used simply for the most active religious supporters of President Donald Trump. By contrast, in the rarified world of professional scholarship, academics now sometimes treat it as a term with so much ambiguity, fluidity and imprecision that it cannot meaningfully designate any single group of Christians.
I was talking recently with a member who was wondering where Grace Communion International fits within the larger body of Christ. Noting that GCI is not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, they asked, “Does that mean we’re Protestant?” I answered yes, and they continued: “Since we’re not liberal or fundamentalist Christians, does that mean GCI is evangelical?” Again, my answer was yes, though as I’ll point out in this letter, the term “evangelical” is widely misunderstood and misrepresented. Note this comment from Christian scholar and professor Mark Noll:
Despite the ambiguity and controversy swirling around the term evangelical, Professor Noll believes that it does have continuing value and should not be abandoned. He concludes: When used with responsible attention to history and careful focus on generally accepted norms of… definition, [it] can still communicate reality and not just confusion.
A related question is this: Who gets to define who and what an evangelical is? Often overlooked in answering that question is that, first and foremost, evangelical is a theological identifier. Before it identifies a group of people, it identifies the gospel (the evangel) of Jesus. It is first Jesus’ gospel, not ours — it is first about him, not about us. Those who rightly call themselves evangelicals are careful to point first to Jesus and his gospel, and then to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Faithfulness to the gospel is measured by faithfulness to the Bible, whose authors were appointed by Jesus. Central to the Scriptures are the four Gospels authored by the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. As these authors show, Jesus is the gospel — he is the true evangelical!
Sadly, for many around the world, the term evangelical is defined not by Jesus and his gospel, but by the media and entertainment industry, along with politicians, psychologists, sociologists and historians — people often with little or no understanding of the biblical and theological roots and meaning of the term evangelical. The result is the confusion, controversy and outright misrepresentations that swirl around the term in our culture.
In an article published by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Ed Stetzer notes that research on evangelical identity has tended to focus on three measures: behaviour, belonging and belief. The article quotes NAE President Leith Anderson who, in weighing up the research, notes that “evangelicals must be defined primarily by their beliefs rather than politics or race”. Stetzer then offers this: In the hopes of crafting a consensus definition of core evangelical beliefs, we evaluated the statements of a diverse group of sociologists, theologians and evangelical leaders. In weighing the insights of these leaders, LifeWay Research developed a definition of evangelical belief around strong agreement with these four statements:
• The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
• It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Saviour.
• Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
• Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.
GCI agrees with these statements, though we would locate them within the larger theological context of our whole Statement of Beliefs. Our agreement is reflected by our membership in the National Association of Evangelicals (in the U.S.), the World Evangelical Alliance, the Evangelical Alliance (in the UK and Philippines) and similar organizations elsewhere.
As a denomination, churches and individuals, we are healthy when we are living out our biblically based, evangelical beliefs. With that in mind, I close with the admirable example of one of our retired pastors, Don Lawson. For many years Don served GCI-USA as a pastor then as a district superintendent. Following retirement, Don experienced severe health problems, had to be hospitalized, then spent time rehabilitating in an assisted-care facility. Don sent me a note recently, letting me know he had returned home. His note included this:
About a month ago, the nurse in charge of memory care, where [my wife] Sue lives, asked if I would do a church service each Sunday for the Alzheimer’s patients in her ward. I agreed, and have spoken to them for the last three weeks. What a challenge for an 81-year-old, but I enjoyed it. We have had an average of 15 attending and I will continue to help them as long as I am able. My purpose is to try to find a level of teaching they might understand. I begin with He knows my name. Second: Jesus loves me this I know (and some sang along with me). Third: What is Jesus doing now? (I talked about a place of eternal joy and happiness, with no sorrow or tears).
That’s what being evangelical looks like, and that’s the gospel evangelicals love to share!
Gospel blessings to you all,
Scottish Retreat 2018
by Peter Mill
The fifth Scottish Retreat came and went in a blur of fun, fellowship and food (both spiritual and physical). This year there was more emphasis on the retreat than the Scottish, with James Henderson leading those attending into a greater understanding of God’s presence through, worship, prayer, presentations and interactive workshops. We were joined by members from far and wide (well, England and Wales!)
During the Saturday morning’s worship service we were treated to a very special ceremony when James Henderson installed Ian Woodley as a new member of the Edinburgh Pastoral Council. Ian will serve alongside existing council members Peter Sheppard, Peter and Jackie Mill.
Before we knew it, we were standing on the steps at the front of Carronvale House in Stiringshire saying our goodbyes and posing for a final photograph. By popular demand, the venue has already been booked for next year’s Scottish Retreat.
Greg and Susan Williams
by Peter Mill
The Scottish congregations were excited to welcome Greg and Susan Williams, GCI vice-President to a joint worship and fellowship service in Edinburgh on Saturday, 12th May.
Members from Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and beyond gathered to hear Dr Williams give a presentation entitled, “The Big Picture”, outlining his upbeat and encouraging vision for GCI going forward. The presentation concluded with a summary of and thanksgiving for all that has been accomplished during our outgoing President Dr Joseph Tkach’s term of office.
After the service, there was plenty of time for everyone to meet Greg and Susan and enjoy food and fellowship together.
Watford Youth Weekend
by Geoff Sole
On the 5th of May following a youth-oriented Service with sermon by Richard Fowler and Jason Cornish, a Life Club took place in the Westfield Room at St. Peter’s in Watford.
Questions in Table Topics from Shannon included: Where would you like to go on holiday? Which person would you like to be? What are your views on social media. What lessons can be learnt from the Grenfell Tower tragedy? If you were Prime Minister what would be your first priorities?
After the break there were three speeches. The first was by Michael MacEwan who gave some amazing facts about trains and his goal of becoming a train driver. Ellah Richards (who won the best speaker cup) then spoke passionately about a song entitled Blinded By Your Grace by Stormzy. The last speaker was David Gent who gave a very interesting speech about all the many thousand of bits of debris that are orbiting our earth.
In the evening the young people went to Geoff and Jean Sole’s where they went for a walk in a bluebell wood, went to a park, played table tennis and snooker and watched a movie.
On Sunday morning there was a trip to the Quasar Centre in Hemel Hempstead and in the afternoon to the Lost Jungle Crazy Golf centre in Edgeware.
A great time was had by all on this weekend of fun and friendship. This is what these youth weekends are designed for: to bring our youth together, giving them an opportunity to develop meaningful friendships and see that the church is a place for them.
This is one way that we can place value on our youth and show that they too are included.
by Rod Matthews, GCI Mission Developer for Southern Asia and the South Pacific.
The Holy Spirit made his presence felt powerfully in a conference of about 40 church elders and leaders held recently in Yangon, Myanmar. There was much excitement in that this was the first meeting between several of the participants, including those who had become part of our fellowship in 2016. Nine participants came from the Matupi area in the Chin Hills of Myanmar. They were joined by local GCI leaders and several pastors from other fellowships.
The conference featured presentations by speakers from Malaysia, India, Singapore and Australia. We were humbled and amazed by the way the topics dovetailed, presenting a comprehensive overview of God’s nature and his presence with us by the Spirit, enabling us to participate with him in ministry.
In order that the participants from Myanmar could meet their counterparts from other areas in Southeast Asia, we arranged for the attendance of Dr. Sellappan and Devaraj Ramoo from Malaysia, Joe and Anna Zachariah from Singapore, and Danny Zachariah from India. Danny gave presentations on pastoral counselling. As shown at left (with Regional Coordinator Wong Mein Kong speaking) translations were provided into Burmese, Myanmar’s national language.
On Sunday morning during the conference, a special worship service was held at our Hmawbi congregation’s building. The assembled group shared lunch prepared by the members. In the afternoon, several more sessions were held with the local members attending.
The elders from Southeast Asia said they greatly enjoyed meeting their new brothers and sisters in Christ. Chan Thleng, leader of our Hmawbi congregation, wrote, “To God alone be all the glory for the successful completion of our Asian GCI Conference. Thank you for the wonderful teaching your team is doing! We have learned a lot of the word of God from you especially about Trinitarian theology, pastoral service and counselling. It gives encouragement and motivation to follow Jesus Christ.”
New Swiss Magazine
Our Swiss Church have begun to publish their own magazine.
It is called “FOKUS JESUS”. Why not take the chance to view it at wkg-ch.org. Please pray for this new initiative, that it may help draw people to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
A Right Royal Occasion in Watford
by Nancy Silcox
In honour of the wedding of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, Watford Congregation had a service and social themed a ‘Right Royal Occasion.’ National Director James Henderson expounded the wedding parable of Matthew 19 at the Church service.
After the Service refreshments were served. Names were pinned on backs and people had to ask yes or no questions of others until they guessed who they were! Over 70 people enjoyed the buffet! Besides a table quiz, there were a selection of Peter Templeman’s challenging games, brain teasers and royal puzzles at the end of the hall which was decorated with golden hangings, red, white and blue bunting and a pair of ‘thrones’ which presided over the event. Our ‘Royals’ Sue Ann and Irene processed in and were duly ‘crowned,’ to much acclaim.
Later in the evening, there was a ‘Beetle Drive’ with royal prizes followed by a Right Royal Concert. After a cake cutting and a royal toast, we were regaled by music - Astrid and Peter played their guitars and sang a humourous song, Claire - a guest from Great Baddow - sang a lovely song, Roger Fowler sang a capella and Sue Ann sang two songs - skits by Phillip and Linda as well as the young people - and an animated skit/dance/video cleverly produced by Richard Fowler and Alexander MacEwan. The evening ended with a SEP style Singalong.
Update on the “God Spots”
John Magowan of our Lisburn church sent recently the following update. My thanks go to John, who has been instrumental in setting up this project, which has an impact far beyond our shores — James Henderson
“Just a quick update to let you know that our God Spots are still being aired several times a day on Star Radio across New Zealand. Almost every day I will pick up at least one airing on my iPad...this morning, e.g., at 9.10 (8.10pm their time). They have been airing every day there for many months, which means that quite a few listeners would have visited the Because website by now.
UCB UK have been airing them lately also, and I’ve come across about three on my car radio whilst driving. It’s now six years since they first went to air on UCB UK, and it is gratifying to know they are still using them. I recorded four new spots recently and passed them on to the respective stations for future broadcasting. There are now 94 spots recorded and added on the church website.
Their purpose is to deliver snippets of Christian inspiration to listeners of all ages and backgrounds, and, if some go into the Because website and read the magazine and blogs, that’s an extra bonus. Great to see the magazine and its smart new look, reaching out to many new people. Let’s pray that it will help people come to faith in Christ in due course. Please keep up the good work in all respects!” — John Magowan
Annual Luton Quiz Night
by Nancy Silcox
The Luton Congregation held its winter Quiz Night, organized by John & Daria Fowler. People came from far and wide to attend, even ‘professional’ pub quiz teams. Around 33 people enjoyed a buffet and quiz in two parts with dessert and the raffle draw in between. Chocolates for the winning team, the Farley Hillbillies, and pencils for the second team, the Drama Queens. We also congratulated Margaret Woolston on reaching £5000 raised for Mission House by the raffles at these occasions and by selling her homemade marmalade!
Celebrations in Paris!
by James Henderson
Our Paris congregation had a double reason to celebrate on the 12th May. First, there was the ordination to elder of Marie-Angélique Picard, who is the National Co-ordinator for the church in France.
Second, Joseph and Tammy Tkach were the guest speakers, and the brethren thanked them both for their years of service to the denomination. There was lots of laughter and fellowship, accompanied, of course, with champagne, wine, good coffee, cheese, salads and cakes!
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