From 18th c. applied to that school of Protestants which maintains that the essence of ‘the Gospel’ consists in the doctrine of salvation by faith in the atoning death of Christ, and denies that either good works or the sacraments have any saving efficacy.
Other features more or less characteristic of the theology of this school are: a strong insistence on the totally depraved state of human nature consequent on the Fall; the assertion of the sole authority of the Bible in matters of doctrine, and the denial of any power inherent in the Church to supplement or authoritatively interpret the teaching of Scripture; the denial that any supernatural gifts are imparted by ordination; and the view that the sacraments are merely symbols, the value of which consists in the thoughts which they are fitted to suggest. As a distinct party designation, the term came into general use, in England, at the time of the Methodist revival; and it may be said, with substantial accuracy, to denote the school of theology which that movement represents, though its earlier associations were rather with the Calvinistic than the Arminian branch of the movement. In the early part of the 19th c. the words ‘Methodist’ and ‘Evangelical’ were, by adversaries, often used indiscriminately, and associated with accusations of fanaticism and ‘puritanical’ disapproval of social pleasures. The portion of the ‘evangelical’ school which belongs to the Anglican church is practically identical with the ‘Low Church’ party. In the Church of Scotland during the latter part of the 18th and the early part of the 19th c. the two leading parties were the ‘Evangelical’ and the ‘Moderate’ party.
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