There is no official “evangelical ecclesiology,” nor can there be in the strict sense. You can have an Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, or Presbyterian ecclesiology. Such ecclesiologies prescribe the confession, order, structure, discipline, governance, worship, sacraments, and ministries of these respective denominations. But there is no prescriptive evangelical equivalent because being evangelical is a theological ethos not a denominational entity. Belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America does not make you “evangelical” and you can still be an “evangelical” in a liberal denominational like the United Church of Canada. What is determinative for the existence of evangelicalism is the fact that people in the various denominations root themselves in the evangel and recognize the evangelical character of each other’s ministries. This means that at a broad level there is some sense of shared Christian identity and a common mission that connects evangelicals together across the denominational spectrum. Evangelicalism is based on a mutual recognition that the gospel embodies a reality, an evangelical reality that binds us together in life and service to the triune God even despite our differences on second order matters of doctrine. To pursue an evangelical ecclesiology, then, is to set ourselves the task of identifying how the theological discourse of the evangelical “big tent” teaches us something about the church for our own denominational “little tents”. An evangelical theology draws on the strengths of the various traditions of the church in order to enrich, strengthen, reform, and unify the ecclesiologies of our own respective denominations. An evangelical ecclesiology can never replace a denominational ecclesiology –not until the consummation any way– but as we all draw closer to Christ so too our ecclesiologies will begin to be drawn closer together as well. Evangelical ecclesiology means coming together as Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Methodists or whatever and prayerfully learning together what it means to be the people of God.
Towards an Evangelical Ecclesiology