Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
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More word studies

I was inspired to continue the word studies for another entry on seeing a rerun of CNN's Larry King Show over the Fourth of July weekend. During an interview with the young pastor of the nation's largest "megachurch," Joel Osteen of Houston's Lakewood Church (which purportedly brings in over 30,000 people every week) what got my attention was not the size of the congregation but the subtitle CNN put under Osteen's closeups: "Evangelism's New Hope." That visual aid turned something I've said here earlier into a lie. I'd said that one good outcome of last year's Presidential election was that, finally, the media have learned the meaning and right use of "evangelicalism." But here CNN, a divivion of Time-Warner, the largest media company in the world, Time magazine being one of the top two arbiters of American English usage, is misusing the word again. I think. I don't know, because I saw but didn't hear the program. It was playing on a monitor over the workout floor at my club and the audio wasn't on. It could be that Larry King and his company were making a case that Joel Osteen is the brightest star on the horizon being dimmed by the setting sun of Billy Graham, the 20th Century's greatest evangelist. Evangelism is what evangelists do, and if they were saying Osteen is a likely replacement of Graham, they might have grounds for using "evangelism's." But it's a very strange word choice. Let me make my case.

Evangel. The Latin form of the Greek word, evangelion, the good news, a synonym for gospel (old English for good news). Each of the first four books of the New Testament is an evangel.

Evangelism. Literally, preaching the evangel, the gospel/good news. Though it is a noun, it is an actvity, not a group or a representative of a group. So "evangelism"—preaching—doesn't have hope, or can't put its hope in any rising star like Osteen, ergo CNN is wrong in its use of the word.

Evangelist. One who preaches the evangel. The original evangelists were Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the authors of the evangels or gospels. Also the apostles are called evangelists because they spread the gospel to all nations. And from that use of "evangelist," the modern use is usually applied to people who travel widely or itinerently to preach the gospel, as opposed to those who preach it mostly to their own congregations. Osteen fits the latter category, though I notice on his web site that he does also fill major stadiums around the country on a regular basis, so it can be applied to him.

Evangelical refers to anyone who makes a major emphasis of his life—you could say, his "religion"—supporting the preaching and spreading of the gospel. These Christians, usually "enthusiastic" Protestants, believe the first and last responsibility of Christians, the bottom line, is getting people evangelized or having the plain and simple gospel of salvation preached to them. So they have evangelical churches, magazines, radio and television, denominations and associations, colleges, seminaries. And because the "social gospel" dominated many Protestant denominations for the first four or five decades of the past century and divided Protestants into liberal and conservative camps, "evangelical" is applied to all conservative gospel-preaching and -defending Protestants from Missouri-synod Lutherans to Assembly of God and Foursquare Pentecostals.

Evangelicalism refers to the "movement" which is far bigger than any denomination, television personality, evangelist or other single institution. Its most visible symbol for the past 60 years has been Billy Graham, but it also includes the largest Protestant denomination, Southern Baptist, international welfare agency World Vision, Oral Roberts, Rex Humbard, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Baylor University, and on and on.

Fundamentalism usually is used (at least in the mass media) to refer to anyone too far to the right of yourself to be taken seriously. So to some, of course, Jimmy Carter is a fundamentalist.

And because I don't want to do another word studies entry soon, I want to mention a side issue....

UCC vs Church of Christ. The United Church of Christ, the liberal Protestant denomination closest to and the parent of Unitarianism (and descended from New England's Puritans), this week became the first denomination to endorse "gay marriage." Many online news portal sites ran headlines saying the "Church of Christ" had endorsed gay marriage. There are congregations in the Church of Christ that most likely would endorse merging with the United Church of Christ, but in fact they are two unrelated denominations, though even now we are using the word "denomination" about as loosely as it can be used. The "Church of Christ" is another name for the Christian Churches, a large but very loosely affiliated amalgamation of churches across the country, but strongest in the south, that grew out of a revival movement of the mid-nineteenth century. The Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and Christian Churches are virtually three names for the same phenomenon. Some of them are evangelical and others are far-left liberal. Altogehter (though they never "get" all together) they are probably about six million church members. The United Church of Christ, on the other hand, is a relatively small denomination (under two million) that was formed when the largest Congregational denomination (the one Ebensburg's Congregational Church belongs to) merged with the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Hungarian Reformed Church in America (which once had a congregation in Vintondale). Even before the vote on gay marriage was taken, congregations were leaving the denomination and more are likely to do so.

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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Today's chuckle

Kids' prayers

Dear God, how did you know you were God? Who told you? Charlene

—Sent by Trudy Myers

Thought for today

What is youth except a man or a woman before it is ready or fit to be seen?

— Evelyn Waugh (English novelist, 1903 - 1966)

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