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Who are evangelicals?

Are they fundamentalists? Pentecostals? And why are they wary of Mormons?

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Who came first, evangelicals or fundamentalists?

The 1910 Presbyterian General Assembly declared that all ministerial candidates had to subscribe "to five fundamental doctrines," according to a recent article in Christian History Magazine, "the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, the Virgin Birth of Christ, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the historicity of the biblical miracles."

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For the next decades, the magazine said, a battle ensued in nearly every mainline Protestant body between fundamentalists and "those who wanted to remain ‘tolerant’ and ‘open-minded’ in response to modern learning." Fundamentalists lost.

Eventually, a new group emerged, calling themselves "the New Evangelicals," the article said, hoping "to distance themselves from the anti-intellectual, militant, culture-shunning traits that had begun to characterize much of fundamentalism."

It was seen as a "kind of reform movement within fundamentalism." Today, the two share many beliefs but are separated by their approach to culture.

How are evangelicals different from Pentecostals?

Pentecostals are a particular subgroup of evangelicals, who believe in the same basic doctrines but emphasize "the work of the Holy Spirit," including healing, speaking in tongues,and prophesy.

Hodges: They tend to focus more on existential and experiential faith. Pentecostal theology generally emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit, while other evangelicals focus more on the work of Christ.

Morehead: Pentecostalism — and its related cousin, the charismatic movement — emphasizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the present age (and not only in the New Testament).

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Why don’t some evangelicals think Mormons are Christian?

It stems, mainly, from the LDS view of God and Jesus and the Mormon belief in extra scriptures, which are essentially the same objections that Catholic, Orthodox and liberal Protestants have.

Evangelicals and traditional Christians believe in the Trinity, that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one substance. Mormons believe God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are separate beings. Evangelicals also heed the Bible as the sole word of God, while Latter-day Saints believe in the Bible and other scriptures, including the faith’s signature Book of Mormon.

Noll: I’m not sure all evangelicals would say categorically that all Mormons are not Christians. But the prominence given to revelation through Joseph Smith (and not just the Bible), doctrines like the materiality of God, rites that seem strange and un-biblical (temple rites and early day polygamy), and (sociologically speaking) the separated nature of Mormon religious life are all issues for evangelicals.

Morehead: Mormons and evangelicals approach the definition of Christian very differently. Evangelicals, with their emphasis on correct doctrine as developed within the history of the church and its various creeds, see Mormonism as presenting something quite different, and at odds, with the historic creedal statements of Christendom. For many Mormons, a Christian is simply someone who follows Christ. By that simple definition, evangelicals might agree that Mormons [and others] who follow some concept of Christ would also be Christian. We might also keep in mind that many Mormons are hesitant to grant the label Christian to evangelicals due to the alleged corruption of the gospel after the apostles.

Can Catholics be evangelicals?

Hodges: No. The Protestant and, ultimately, the evangelical movement arose from frustration with the Catholic Church’s theology. Some of Catholic theology runs contrary to that of evangelicals. For instance, Catholics have the additional books of the Bible known as the Apocrypha, which they consider to be the word of God. Also, confession of sins to the priest runs contrary to the evangelical belief of the priesthood of all believers. 

Mattingly: Using the word accurately, no. It is a Protestant term. Catholics can, of course, be evangelists.

Morehead: Typically Catholics are not evangelical in that they not only accept the authority of the Bible, but also give a prominent place to the authority of the church, the pope, and church tradition. Today, most Protestants would recognize Catholicism as one of the historic branches of Christendom (including Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy), but distinguish this from evangelicalism.

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