Formations 06.13.2021: #Exvangelical

Galatians 2:1-14

As I write this week’s reflection, the hashtag #exvangelical is trending on social media. As you might guess, an “exvangelical” is an ex-evangelical, someone who grew up in a particular kind of Christian community—Protestant, conservative, most likely white—but has since left the fold.

Some exvangelicals have found a new spiritual home on other branches of the Christian family tree while others have rejected the faith of their childhood entirely. Seemingly all of them report that, as they grew up, they became increasingly dissatisfied with the narrowness they perceived in their community of faith. They felt they had to believe all the right things, do all the right things, associate with the right people, and increasingly to vote in all the right ways or else face the scorn of their evangelical peers.

Exvangelical may be a new word, but it is not a new concept. Churches have been turning away “undesirables” pretty much from the beginning, and some of those “undesirables” have been happy to oblige.

Over twenty years ago, a dear older church family was looking to find a place of worship closer to their home several miles out of town. One day, the wife told me that they received a visit from members of such a church and that one thing they wanted to make clear was that, should they join, she would be expected never to wear pants in public! Needless to say, they quickly concluded that church was not for them.

And so we come to Paul’s fallout with Peter in Galatians 2. The church has done such a great job of praising Paul that we forget Christians didn’t universally admire him during his lifetime. There were plenty in the church who insisted that a true follower of Jesus should believe all the right things, do all the right things, and associate with the right people. (Voting wasn’t an issue because modern democracy hadn’t been invented yet.)

For some, therefore, Paul’s message of faith apart from the works of the law sounded like a betrayal of Jesus’ teaching. This issue came to a head early in his ministry with respect to the churches he established among Gentile believers in Asia Minor. In Antioch, Paul felt compelled to confront Peter himself on the issue of Jewish-Gentile table fellowship.

Maybe Peter understood in theory that all are equal in Christ, but when he sat down to dinner in Antioch across from some honest-to-goodness Gentiles and somebody said, “Pass the ham” … Well, sometimes it takes a while for practice to catch up to theory.

Let’s give Paul credit for being the first to work some of these issues out.

And let’s listen to his passion to preach salvation through Jesus…and Jesus alone.

Bradley Onishi, “The Rise of #Exvangelical,” Religion & Politics, 9 April 2019 <https://religionandpolitics.org/2019/04/09/the-rise-of-exvangelical/>.

Discussion

• Circumcision and kosher foods were Paul’s issues, but what are ours?
• What “badges” of membership do we require of others that are rooted more in cultural expectations than in the gospel?
• Is it ever appropriate to expect certain standards of belief or practice from our fellow church members? Explain.
• How should believers respond when others add additional requirements to the gospel?
• When have we placed unnecessary demands on our fellow believers?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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