The gospel is the heart of the evangel, which is at the heart of the Reformation, which is at the heart of evangelical.
Foundationally, this is the key to Jesus’ teaching: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Paul affirms this time and again. For example, consider the well-known truth of Romans 1:16-17: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
This gospel truth was rediscovered (not discovered!) during the Reformation. Noting this history, Michael Jensen writes of the term evangelical the following:
It’s a word that is built from the Greek word for “gospel” or “good news”, euangelion. In the 16th century, “evangelical” was the term used to describe the churches that broke away from the Roman Catholic Church over the authority of Scripture and the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone. These reformers, known later as “Protestants”, more usually called themselves “the evangelicals”, and described their churches as “evangelical”.
When Luther posted the 95 theses on October 31, 1517, not only did he seek to reform the church by pointing out abuses, he also constructively grounded his hoped-for-reform in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was this gospel that was the heart of Luther’s message, similar to Jesus’ and Paul’s, and it was this same gospel that was at the heart of the Reformation.
For example, this is what Luther stated in his 62nd thesis:
62. The true treasure of the church is the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God.
Stephen Nichols asks and answers the question what is reformation day?, by focusing on the gospel of Jesus Christ and Luther’s 62nd thesis. Read carefully not only that the gospel is the true treasure of the church, but those issues with which the gospel is contrasted. Furthermore, ponder deeply the effects of this gospel in the lives of individuals and the church, and the impact it has made.
One of Luther’s 95 Theses simply declares, “The Church’s true treasure is the gospel of Jesus Christ.” That alone is the meaning of Reformation Day. The church had lost sight of the gospel because it had long ago papered over the pages of God’s Word with layer upon layer of tradition. Tradition always brings about systems of works, of earning your way back to God. It was true of the Pharisees, and it was true of medieval Roman Catholicism. Didn’t Christ Himself say, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light?” Reformation Day celebrates the joyful beauty of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ.
What is Reformation Day? It is the day the light of the gospel broke forth out of darkness. It was the day that began the Protestant Reformation. It was a day that led to Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and may other Reformers helping the church find its way back to God’s Word as the only authority for faith and life and leading the church back to the glorious doctrines of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It kindled the fires of missionary endeavors, it led to hymn writing and congregational singing, and it led to the centrality of the sermon and preaching for the people of God. It is the celebration of a theological, ecclesiastical, and cultural transformation.
And this remains true among those true offspring of the Reformation, one of those being Evangelicals.
I give thanks to God for the gospel of Jesus Christ. I give thanks for the rediscovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ at a critical time in history. I pray to remain faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ, that it would be central doctrinally and functionally, in doctrine and life, in proclamation and transformation.