Evangelicalism generically refers to a conservative branch of Protestant Christianity, but the term has acquired a more specific reference in recent times. The term "evangelical" can be traced back to Martin Luther in the 16th century C.E., but it only gained prominence within Christian rhetoric since the 1700s. The term was first applied in England to the Wesleyan movement because of its emphasis on personal salvation, sanctification, and the power of the Holy Spirit to transform a person's life. Evangelicalism gained greater prominence in the United States in the 19th century when the term was applied to some Protestant denominations, including Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian, in order to distinguish them from the more liturgical Lutheran and Episcopal churches. In the late 19th century, the term "evangelical" took on a new meaning with the challenge of higher biblical criticism, evolutionary theory, and the Social Gospel movement. At this point, evangelicals took a more conservative stance that favored biblical inerrancy, personal piety, and missions, thus distinguishing themselves from the "liberal" mainline Protestants. Evangelicalism tends to express faith in personal terms and puts a great deal of weight on the personal study of scripture. Even though most evangelical churches have similar conservative theologies, much diversity exists within the various forms of worship and church order. Some evangelical churches are very traditional whereas others have a contemporary worship style. In recent years, Evangelicalism has tried to dissociate itself from Christian Fundamentalism, which, despite many similarities, tends to be more rigid and exclusive.
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