Evangelism and the Reformed Faith
Prof. David J. Engelsma
Strange to say, some suppose that the relationship
between the Reformed faith and evangelism is uneasy and uncomfortable.
Stranger still, some charge that the Reformed faith and evangelism are
incompatible. Many outside of the Reformed churches contend that the
Reformed faith makes evangelism (or "soul-winning," as they like to call
it) impossible. Many who profess to be Reformed are now echoing this
charge. What is worse, they are radically revising the Reformed faith in
the interests (they say) of evangelism. Read the studies that set forth
the foundations, the messages, and the methods of missions: universal
love; universal atonement; salvation dependent upon the free, sovereign
choice of the sinner. Listen to the evangelists: "God loves you and has
a wonderful plan for your life;" Christ died for you;" "You can have
this wonderful salvation and be born again, if only you will accept
Then, there is the danger that those who love the
Reformed faith as God's own truth become suspicious of evangelism;
openly or secretly grant the validity of the charge that the Reformed faith and evangelism are incompatible; and decline to engage in the work
It is the duty of those to whom God has given the
inheritance and responsibility of the Reformed faith to show the perfect
harmony of this faith and evangelism. To do this, we must ourselves see
clearly that they are compatible.
What Evangelism Is
Over the years, a certain, definite idea of
evangelism has developed. It is necessary, first of all, to subject this
idea to the test of Scripture. Speak of evangelism, and one probably
thinks of an elaborate, expensive campaign to gather many people to a
meeting that will be conducted by a specialist, the "evangelist." One
thinks of a specific kind of religious meeting one in which the music,
the message, and the other elements are carefully geared to get men to
make a decision for Christ. One thinks of a religious work which
concludes by reporting, how many hundreds, or thousands, "got saved," or
This is evangelism in the popular mind. To do
evangelism is to do something like this; and to oppose this is to run
the risk of being criticized as unevangelistic, not mission-minded.
This whole great structure, fondly regarded as
evangelism, imposing and impressive as it appears, needs to be tested by
Scripture. Take, for example, the element so important to modern
evangelism, and so prominent: the invitation, or altar call. The altar
call is thoroughly unbiblical, apart now from the perverse theology
which underlies it—the theology of the goodness and freedom of the
will of the sinner and the sovereignty of his will in salvation, what
Paul repudiates in
Romans 9:16 as the teaching that salvation is of him that
willeth. It is unbiblical to demand, in Christ's Name, that someone
express the spiritual activity of repentance and faith by walking to the
altar. It is unbiblical to equate coming to the front with these
spiritual activities and, thus, with salvation. It is unbiblical.
grievously so, to obtain this result by the psychological, emotional
pressures that are exerted. The Christian church never knew of such a
thing before the early 1800's, when Charles Finney introduced it.
For the answer to our question, '"What is
evangelism?," we do not look to popular notions, but to Holy Scripture.
In reality, evangelism is the preaching of the
gospel. This is the meaning of the word, evangelism—a biblical
word in the Greek of the New Testament. Evangelism is the activity of
publishing, or announcing, the "evangel," the gospel, i.e., the
glad tidings of Jesus the Christ, crucified and risen.
This answers the question, whether a Reformed church
believes in evangelism and whether Reformed saints are to be zealous for
evangelism. The gospel must be preached! This must be done within the
established church, among the saints already called out of the world;
for their constant comfort and edification, they are continually to hear
the good news. This is why we come to church every Lord's Day.
But the gospel must also be preached outside of the
church already established in the truth; this is necessary for the
saving of the as yet unconverted and the straying. This is what we mean
when we speak of evangelism: the activity of proclaiming the good news
to those outside the congregation. Evangelism, then, is the same as
We may take our definition from the "Form of
Ordination of Missionaries" of the Reformed churches. It distinguishes
between ministers who labour in the congregations already established
and those called and sent to preach the gospel to those without, in
order to bring them to Christ: "... it is necessary that some labour
in the congregations already established, while others are called and
sent to preach the Gospel to those without, in order to bring them to
Christ" (The Psalter, pp. 74-75). Evangelism, therefore, is the
activity of preaching the gospel to those outside the congregation
already established in the truth, in order to bring them to Christ.
Evangelism is not limited to work done with heathen,
to work done with those who make no profession of faith in Jesus the
Saviour. On the contrary, it includes the work of the Church with those
who profess Christianity and belong to a church, but who are either
ignorant of the truth of the gospel or have departed from it. To bring
the gospel to such is not "sheep-stealing," but sheep-gathering; it is
not "fishing in troubled waters," but fishing for men.
When Jesus in
Matthew 9:37-38 instructed His disciples that the harvest is
plenteous, but the labourers few, and that they, therefore, must pray
the Lord of the harvest to send forth labourers into His harvest, His
reference was not, primarily, to the heathen, but to the multitudes of
fainting, scattered Israelites, the Old Testament people of God, under
the care of the priests and scribes. By false doctrine, apostasy, and
simple lack of the Word of God, these people were spiritually sore
distressed and, therefore, proper objects of evangelism.
Paul's ministry shows that the work of evangelism is
not exclusively with admitted unbelievers. He brought the Word to the
Jews first; and when confessing Christians strayed, as they did in
Galatia, the apostle urgently evangelised them.
John Murray, the Presbyterian theologian, contended
that evangelism must not be limited to work among the unsaved.
The word "evangelism" has generally been understood to apply to the propagation
of the gospel among the unsaved. In dealing. however, with the
obligation that rests upon the church of Christ to witness to the gospel
it does not appear that the various activities of the church that may
properly be embraced in the work of evangelism have exclusive reference
to those who are reckoned, in the judgment of the church, as without God
and without hope in the world. Particularly is this true when it is
remembered that many believers in Christ have so inadequate a knowledge
of the gospel, and so impoverished a conception of the Christian life,
that a considerable part of the work of the church, properly regarded as
evangelism, must needs have as its aim the instruction and edification
of such believers. The evangelism that the true church of Christ
undertakes must therefore contemplate the bringing of the gospel in its
full import and demands to those who, though believers, are nevertheless
the victims of ignorance, unfaithfulness and compromising associations
("The Message of Evangelism," in Collected Writings of John Murray,
Vol. 1, p. 124, published by The Banner of Truth Trust).
This is why the Reformation was an evangelistic
enterprise, a missionary activity. Some have dared to criticize the
Reformers for a lack of interest in missions. Defenders of the
Reformers, seemingly stung by the charge, have responded that the
Reformers were too busy for missions, but that Calvin once sent several
missionaries to Brazil. The truth of the matter is that the Reformation
itself was missions—a gigantic, energetic, world-wide mission work,
with abundant and enduring fruits. The gospel was proclaimed to
multitudes in many nations who were fainting and scattered abroad, as
sheep having no shepherd, perishing in the ignorance and lie of Roman
What the Reformed Faith Is
Why, then, is it charged upon the Reformed faith, and
sometimes feared, that it is incompatible with evangelism? This is
because of what the Reformed faith is. It is the teaching that salvation
is the free gift and sovereign work of God in Jesus Christ, wholly
without the slightest merit or work of man. The message of the Reformed
faith is, "salvation by grace alone."
This message consists of several outstanding truths.
God has eternally loved and predestinated unto eternal life some persons
out of the human race, in distinction from others whom, in the same
decree, He predestinated unto perdition. This is the gracious source and
foundation of all salvation.
God gave His only begotten Son to die for all those,
and those only, whom He had given to Christ as His people, effectually
to redeem them, by atoning for their sins. This is the gracious ground
of all our salvation.
God now efficaciously calls, by the gospel and the
Holy Spirit, into saving fellowship with Jesus, all those, but only
those, whom He chose and redeemed. This is the gracious accomplishment
of salvation. This work continues, as preservation, until all the elect,
redeemed, and renewed people of God are perfected in glory.
With these doctrines, the Reformed faith holds that
all men alike are, by the fall of Adam, dead in sin and slaves to Satan,
having wills that are not free, so as to be able to choose Christ and
salvation, but bound, so as to be incapable of doing ought else, save to
reject the Christ presented in the gospel.
The Reformed faith preaches an almighty, gracious God
and a powerless, totally depraved mankind. Such a faith, men charge,
cannot evangelise. Indeed, such a faith must be unevangelistic in its
very spirit. It cannot be motivated to be zealous in evangelism. Even if
it were so motivated, it would have no message to bring.
Note well, however, that this charge, or fear, as the
case may be, arises from certain preconceived notions about evangelism—notions that are unbiblical. There is the notion that the motivation of
evangelism is God's love for all men and desire to save all men. There
is the notion that the message of evangelism is a universal love of God,
a universal atonement, and a universal grace in the preaching, all
dependent upon the free will of sinners, who, it is thought, are able to
choose for Christ. There is the notion that the efficacy of evangelism
is the persuasiveness of the evangelist and the decision of the sinner's
Raving these notions of evangelism, men proceed to
corrupt the Reformed faith in the interests of evangelism. Double
predestination hinders missions; and, therefore, reprobation is denied,
and men proclaim a universal saving love of God—the evangelist
preaches to all and sundry, "God loves you." Limited atonement hampers
missions; and, therefore, men preach a universal atonement—the
evangelist assures all and sundry, "Christ died for you." An efficacious
call of the gospel to some only restricts mission work; and, therefore,
men teach that God is gracious to all men in the preaching—the
evangelist announces to all his hearers, "God desires your salvation and
is now sincerely offering salvation to you." Total depravity does not
square with such evangelism (for what good is all this love, atonement,
and grace, if the sinner cannot avail himself of it?); and, therefore,
it is suggested to the sinner that he has the ability to open up his
heart to let Jesus in, or he is told outright that the new birth depends
upon his believing.
With this kind of evangelism, the Reformed faith is
incompatible; of such an evangelism, it is the sworn foe. A Reformed
preacher would not dare to engage in evangelism of this kind. He would
not, because he fears to stand in the judgment, having preached a
message that robbed God of His glory in the salvation of sinners and
that taught sinners to trust for salvation in their own ability and
activity. The worst evolutionist, a veritable Charles Darwin, will not
be so culpable of despoiling the wonderful works of God as such an
But this is not biblical evangelism. With biblical
evangelism, the Reformed faith is perfectly compatible. It is false, it
is absurd to suppose that the Reformed Faith cannot do evangelism,
because of the doctrines of grace that it espouses. These truths,
assailed as detrimental to evangelism, are truths that set forth
salvation as God's gracious gift. They constitute the gospel, the
"evangel", the good news. How foolish of men, whether within
Reformed churches or without, to deny the gospel, in order that they may
better evangelise, i.e., proclaim the gospel. Men are really saying that
God's gospel is unpreachable, or that it is not serviceable for saving
sinners and gathering the Church.
Let us see that the Reformed faith can engage in
evangelism, and how it does so. We will examine, in turn, its message,
its method, and its motivation.
The Message of Reformed Evangelism
The message of the Reformed faith in evangelism will
be the whole counsel of God, as was the message of Paul, according to
Acts 20:27. The Reformed preacher knows the entire Scripture; and he
knows it as the inspired Word of God. He comes with Scripture, not with
a little list of spiritual laws or some gospel on a thumbnail.
Essentially, the message is always the same, but the preacher applies it
differently to different audiences. Christ's evangelism of the rich
young ruler (Mark
10:17-22) differed from His evangelism of the Samaritan woman at the
4:1-42). Paul's approach to the Jews of the synagogue differed from
his approach to the Greek philosophers of Mars' Hill (cp.
Acts 17:1-3 with
Acts 17:16-34). That thorough doctrinal instruction is required in
evangelism, the Great Commission of
Matthew 28:18-20 plainly shows, for it calls the church to baptize
the converts in the name of the Triune God, implying that the missionary
has taught the converts the doctrine of the Trinity. In order to do
this, the preacher must himself have thorough knowledge of the Word of
God and must possess the wisdom to address the Word to every audience.
He must be called and qualified by Christ through the Holy Spirit. We
must not have uncalled and unqualified "evangelists," no matter how
Although our message is the whole counsel of God,
there are certain crucial elements in the message of evangelism. What
they are, our Lord pointed out in His mandate to the apostles, and to
the Church, in
Luke 24:47. Immediately upon His resurrection from the dead, Christ
opened the understanding of the disciples "that they might understand
the scriptures. And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it
behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day"
(vv. 45-46). Then, He commissioned them (and in them the Church down
through the ages): "that repentance and remission of sins should be
preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Similar
was the later commission of the apostle born out of due time, Paul, in
Acts 26:18: "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to
light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive
forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by
faith that is in me." This commission, Paul carried out by showing to
all men "that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for
Evangelism must preach the sin of the people, the sin
of the people as guilt—liability to the punishment of the
offended God. Therefore, it is to proclaim the holy and righteous God,
Whom the sinner has offended. This implies the preaching of God's law,
which the sinner has transgressed and which he cannot keep. The Reformed
faith does this sharply, pointedly, concretely! In contrast, much
present-day evangelism says little or nothing about a holy God, His
righteous law, sin, guilt, and punishment. If sin comes up at all, it is
only the aspect of sin that consists of the sinner's temporal troubles
because of his wickedness. How different was the evangelism of Christ
and of His apostles! Think of Jesus' deliberate exposure of the adultery
of the Samaritan woman at the well. Think of Peter's searing
condemnation of the Jews in
Acts 3:14: "But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a
murderer to be granted unto you.
Evangelism proclaims the remission, or forgiveness,
of sins for every sinner who repents. This is the removal of the
sinner's guilt and the imputation to him of the righteousness of Jesus
Christ by faith alone. The forgiveness of sins is the blessing of
salvation that is to be preached in evangelism. This was the great,
glorious concern of the Reformation: justification by faith only. Where
is this even to be found in much of modern evangelism? The great concern
is that the sinner go to heaven and be happy, or that he be happy and
successful here on earth. Not long ago, I heard a "convert" give a
testimony on behalf of the famous evangelist who saved him, that
accepting Jesus made him a better pass-catching end for his southern
university football team.
If remission of sins is preached, the cross is
preached; and the cross is preached as substitutionary atonement, as
satisfaction made to the righteous God, as effectual redemption of all
for whom Jesus died, so that those who trust in the cross enjoy its real
benefit. But the cross is not preached apart from the Crucified. Jesus
Christ Himself is preached as the message of evangelism; He is preached
as the eternal Son of God come in the flesh, so that His blood was
precious blood, blotting out sins.
If this is Who Jesus is and if this is what His cross
is, the love of God is preached when remission of sins is preached. For
it was God Who gave His Son on behalf of sinners—not all
sinners, but sinners, just the same. "For God so loved the world, that
he gave his only begotten Son . . ." (John
Yet another crucial element of the message of
evangelism is repentance: heartfelt, godly sorrow over one's sins. In
Luke 24:47, Jesus charges that "repentance and remission of sins
should be preached." In obedience to the Lord's mandate to him, Paul
showed all men "that they should repent." Then, he called them to "do
works meet for repentance (Acts
26:20). Repentance is the way, the only way, in which sinners
receive and enjoy forgiveness. This is exactly Jesus' meaning in
Luke 24:47: the apostles are to preach repentance as the way to have
Here, someone will say, the Reformed faith is unable
to do what is necessary for evangelism. Obviously, Jesus intended that
the disciples call men to repent and that they proclaim the promise that
everyone who does repent will have remission and, thus, salvation. But
the Reformed faith cannot give the call of the gospel; nor can it
promiscuously proclaim the promise. So says the critic of the Reformed
faith. At the critical point, the Reformed faith proves to be impotent.
The charge, or fear, as the case may be, is
groundless. There is not a shred of truth to it. It is true that the
Reformed Faith cannot and will not extend a well-meant offer to all
hearers, i.e., an offer of salvation supposedly made by God to all
hearers in love for them, with a sincere desire to save them, and on
the acceptance of which by the sinner salvation depends. For the
well-meant offer is nothing but a variation of the Pelagian-Arminian
"whosoever will gospel." Long ago, the stalwart Presbyterian
theologian, B. B. Warfield devastated this pretender-gospel: It is
useless to talk of salvation being for "whosoever will" in a world of
universal "won't." Here is the real point of difficulty: how, where,
can we obtain the will? Let others rejoice in a "whosoever will
gospel": for the sinner who knows himself to be a sinner, and knows
what it is to be a sinner, only a "God will" gospel will suffice. If
the gospel is to be committed to the dead wills of sinful men, and
there is nothing above and beyond, who then can be saved? (The Plan
of Salvation, Eerdmans, 1966, p.49).
But the Reformed faith can and does call, with
authority and urgency, in the name of Jesus the Christ, all who hear, to
repent and believe; and it can and does proclaim that everyone who does
repent and believe shall be forgiven and saved eternally. It preaches
The repentance which it preaches includes a life of
godliness. Repentance, on the Reformed view, is a radical change of mind
about sin and, therefore, a radical change of life—a spiritual
turning, a conversion. Reformed preaching outside the congregation does
not hide from the hearers that the gospel-call is a call to
discipleship, to cross-bearing, to self-denial, to Jesus as Lord, as
well as Saviour. It is sometimes overlooked that in the Great Commission
Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus told the apostles to disciple the
nations and that conversion and baptism are followed by instruction "to
observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." Evangelism does not
end with "getting someone saved," but continues in their being taught to
confess the truth in the true church; to love one another; to honour
marriage; to submit to civil government; to live in separation from the
world and its works; and to keep all the commandments of King Jesus.
Reformed evangelism will do this. Much of non-Reformed evangelism leaves
this completely out of sight. For this reason, it is also essential in
the work of evangelism that those brought to the saving knowledge of the
truth be directed to join a true church, a soundly Reformed church. No
Reformed missionary could say to a convert, "Now join the church of your
These are essentials of biblical evangelism. The
Reformed faith, so far from being embarrassed by any of them, proclaims
all of them as no other faith can.
But what of the distinctive truths of the Reformed
faith, the "doctrines of Calvinism," on account of which men charge that
the Reformed faith is unable to evangelise? Granted that the Reformed
faith can preach repentance unto remission, does it leave the great
doctrines of grace in the pulpit of the established church?
The Reformed faith preaches the misery of men to be
sin; and it preaches the extent of that misery to be total depravity. It
passes upon every sinner the judgment of the gospel, that he is dead in
2:1), incapable of any good (Romans
3:9-18), and guilty before God (Romans
3:19). Specifically, it judges the sinner to be unable to repent,
believe, and come to Christ, as the gospel commands him to do. The
Reformed faith preaches this in evangelism. To the man who
objects to this as poor evangelism, it responds by pointing out to him
that this was the evangelistic message of the Chief Evangelist Himself.
John 6:44, Jesus cries out to His audience, "No man can come to
me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him." Thus, the sinner
is made to know his great need and utter helplessness.
The Reformed faith preaches that the coming to Christ
required in the gospel-call, as the only way of salvation, is God's
drawing of a man. We come, but our coming is the work of God in us to
draw us efficaciously. Repentance and faith are divine gifts, not human
works. The grace of God is irresistible by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Reformed faith proclaims this in evangelism. To the man who
objects to this as poor evangelism, it responds by pointing out to him
that this was the evangelistic message of the Chief Evangelist Himself.
John 6:44, Jesus declared, '"No man can come to me, except the
Father which hath sent me draw him."
In addition, the Reformed faith preaches, in
evangelism, that all such coming is grounded in the eternal, gracious
election of God. That one comes to Christ is due to God's gracious
election of him in eternity. Election is preached on the mission field,
election involving and accompanied by reprobation—the only election
that Scripture knows. Sinners being drawn to Christ are not left in
doubt whence all this springs. Penitent and believing hearts must be
assured of the eternal purpose of God's love for them and must glorify
God with the confession that salvation, their salvation, is of the Lord.
This was the evangelistic preaching of Jesus. As He preached Himself to
the Jewish multitudes and called them to come to Him, He exclaims,
"All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh
to me I will in no wise cast out" (John
The Reformed faith can do evangelism, because it has
the gospel to preach. A message of the mere possibility of salvation is
no gospel. A message of a Jesus Who likes to save, but cannot save, is
no gospel. A message of salvation dependent on man's running or willing
is no gospel. As Warfield wrote, in The Plan of Salvation, this
is merely another form of "autosoterism"—the gloomy news that man must
It is only in almighty grace that a sinner can
hope; for it is only almighty grace that can raise the dead. What
boots it to send the trumpeter crying amid the serried ranks of the
dead: "The gates of heaven stand open: whosoever will may enter in"?
The real question which presses is, Who will make these dry bones
live? As over against all teaching that would tempt man to trust in
himself for any, even the smallest part, of his salvation,
Christianity casts him utterly on God. It is God alone who saves, and
that in every element of the saving process.
Our objection to the free-will preachers is not so
much that they offer salvation, as it is that they have no salvation to
offer. All who believe their message are themselves proper objects of
genuine evangelism. We call them to turn from the dead idols of their
own works and will, and to trust in the living God.
We have a message, the like of which there is not in
all the world: not a new requirement for man to do something for his
salvation, but the announcement of God's gift of salvation. True, we
call men to repent and believe; but this repentance and faith are not
works of man that accomplish salvation, but the way of receiving
salvation. They are not human effort, but the renunciation of all human
effort. They are not man's contribution to salvation, but the gift of
God to men. True, we call repentant sinners to a life of good works, a
life on a "narrow way"; but this life, the life of holiness, is itself
part of God's deliverance of us from sin, His work of sanctification.
Besides, our holy life is not meritorious, but thankfulness.
The message of the Reformed faith is the message of
grace. It is good news, the "evangel."
The Method of Reformed Evangelism
Just as it has its own message of evangelism, the
Reformed faith has its own method of evangelism: the biblical method of
preaching and teaching. The proper, effective method of evangelism is
prescribed by Holy Scripture. No more than the Church may invent her own
message may she invent her own method. She is bound by the commandment
of the Bible. Christ determined the method in
Luke 24:47, when He told the disciples, "... repentance and
remission of sins should be preached in his name among all
nations." According to
Mark 16:15, the Lord charged His church in these words, Go ye into
all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. To
this method, and this method only, is attached the promise that there
will be the fruit of those who believe and are saved (v.16). This is the
pattern of the ministry of the apostles, set forth by Paul in the first
I Corinthians 2: "And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with
excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the
testimony of God."
The method of evangelism is not stirring music;
puppet-shows; testimonies by worldly celebrities; performances by
worldly artists; or dramatic productions. Nor is it the eloquence,
charisma, dynamic personality, flamboyance, persuasiveness, or enticing
words of the evangelist. Jesus Christ is disgraced today by the
gospel-rock (sic!), immodest Hollywood starlets, and Sabbath-desecrating
athletes that are used to promote the gospel. Jesus Christ is all but
lost sight of behind the big-name ecclesiastical showmen who claim to
preach Him. It surprises us not at all that it is continually being
disclosed that these evangelistic enterprises are money-making schemes
for the personal enrichment of the evangelists and their families. These
are the gospel-hucksters (II
Cor. 2:17), those who make merchandise of the Church through
It has pleased God to call His people to salvation by
the foolishness of preaching (I
Cor. 1:21). Preaching is the announcing of the gospel by a man (I
use the masculine gender deliberately, here) called and sent by Christ
through the Church; it is official, authoritative proclamation. In
Luke 24, Jesus sends the apostles out; and He sends them "in his
name" (v. 47).
Romans 10:15 lays down the rule when it asks, "And how shall they
preach, except they be sent?" There are no longer evangelists in the New
Testament sense. That office was temporary, like the apostolic office.
Evangelism is done today by ordained ministers set apart for the work of
going with the gospel to those outside the established Church: our
missionaries. The reason for this is that Christ Himself gathers the
Church. He has revealed in Scripture that He does His work through the
preaching of God's Word, which preaching belongs to the office in
Evangelism, or missions, therefore, is the work of
the church. It is the church, the instituted church, that preaches the
Word. This is the biblical pattern: the congregation at Antioch, Syria
sent out Paul and Barnabas on the first missionary journey and
supervised their work (cf.
Acts 14:26-27). Evangelism is not to be done by societies and
para-ecclesiastical organizations. They have no authority. They have no
power—they lack the office of preaching.
But does not every saint have the duty to evangelise?
Is not every child of God a missionary? Emphatically not! It is
unbiblical to hold that every believer may and must evangelise. This is
to maintain that every saint can and must preach the gospel. Where in
Scripture is this authority given to every believer? Where in the
practical parts of the New Testament epistles is this made the
responsibility of every Christian? The notion that every member of the
church is a missionary destroys the fundamental truth of the office in
the church. Most pernicious of all is the utterly reckless act of
putting this awesome burden on the shoulders of our teen age children
who, altogether apart from the matter of office, ought not to be
teaching, but learning the Word of God.
This is not to say that the believer should not
witness to the truth as he has opportunity; he should—this belongs to
the office of believer (I
Pet. 3:15). Let us not forget, however, that we witness, not only
with our mouths, but also—and very powerfully—with our behaviour. By our
godly conduct, others may be gained to Christ (Heidelberg Catechism, Q.
Nor do we intend, by denying that every believer is
an evangelist, to exclude the saints from the great work of evangelism.
How could this be? Evangelism is the work of the church; and the saints
are the church. Although the instrument of evangelism is the man called
to be missionary, it is the church, the body of believers and their
children instituted in the offices of elder and deacon, that is doing
the work through him. Just as the body speaks by means of its tongue
(you do not say, "My tongue is speaking," but you say, "I am speaking"),
so does the congregation of saints evangelise through the missionary.
Missions is not the work of the missionary; it is the work of the people
The saints are active in this labour of the church.
They pray for the work of missions. This is the co-operation Paul asked
of the believers: "... brethren, pray for us, that the word of the
Lord may have free course, and be glorified" (II
Thess. 3:1). They support the work financially. Paul praises the
Philippians for helping him in his material need: "Ye have well done,
that ye did communicate with my affliction" (Phil. 4:14).
Not least, the people of God are to live with each
other in the church in such a way that the Spirit will bless their
witness outside the church. It is striking, in the book of Acts, that
the church grew as it lived in faithfulness to the doctrine of the
apostles; in zealous worship of God; and in peace among themselves.
Where there is heresy, disinterest in spiritual things, carnality,
worldliness, immorality, hatred, strife, and division, evangelism cannot
be expected to prosper. For the Holy Spirit cannot be expected to bless
our labour; and evangelism depends wholly upon the Spirit of Christ.
The power of evangelism is the Holy Spirit. He sends
forth the labourers into the harvest; He opens doors; He opens the
hearts of men and women to receive the Word; He unites the elect to
Christ; He places men in the body of the church as it pleases Him. There
is great concern today over methods of evangelism. Men try to discover
what will make evangelism effective. The danger is, not only that they
resort to unbiblical methods, but also that they fall back, in the
matter of missions, upon their own resources—their own wisdom, their
own strength, their own inventions. The method of
evangelism is preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified; and that which
makes this effective is the Holy Spirit. This is the profound, gripping
doctrine of Paul in
I Corinthians 2. "The natural man receiveth not the things of the
Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know
them, because they are spiritually discerned" (v.14). "But God hath
revealed them unto us by his Spirit" (v.10).
Christ pointed out the indispensable place of the
Holy Spirit in missions when, immediately after He had charged the
apostles with the duty of going out to preach in His Name, He instructed
them: "And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry
in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high" (Luke
We must beware lest we suppose that for effective
evangelism we need millions of dollars; far-flung radio networks; catchy
radio formats; professional television productions; and handsome,
eloquent speakers. Once, two men set out on foot into countries of
unbelief and immorality, with nothing but the gospel of Christ—and
turned the world upside down. Once, an obscure monk in the hinterlands
of barbarous Germany spoke out for the truth—and let loose the Word of
God over the whole world. The Holy Spirit is the power of missions. We
must depend upon Him. We must always be beseeching Him to make our work
fruitful. We must consciously be labouring in His might.
The Motivation of Reformed Evangelism
The motivation of the Reformed faith in evangelism,
generally, is that God, by His eternal election of grace, has a church
to be gathered at all times and among all peoples; and He wills to
gather this church by the gospel.
Specifically, our motivation is obedience, obedience
to the command of our Lord, Jesus. He has said to us "that repentance
and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations";
and this settles the matter. Is there any obedience like the obedience
of the Reformed faith with its knowledge of the sovereignty of Christ?
Second, we have the fervent desire that God be
glorified in all His creation. We are grieved and angry that the name of
God is hidden and profaned everywhere. We share something of the spirit
of Paul in Athens, whose spirit was stirred within him when he saw the
city wholly given to idolatry, so that he could not but speak on behalf
of the one, true God, the Father of Jesus (Acts
17:16ff.). In love for God, we bring His name everywhere and labour
for the establishing of churches that will be light in the darkness.
Should any outstrip the love of the Reformed faith for God?
Third, we love the people of God who are to be
restored, or converted. Jesus had compassion on the fainting, scattered
sheep who, without the Word, were as sheep without a shepherd (Matt.
9:36-38). Do we? Should we not? Should any love be stronger than
that of the Reformed faith which knows the people of God to be eternally
loved of God, redeemed by the precious blood of God's own Son, and
destined for the bliss of glory?
Besides, there is the purpose of God with missions
that the wicked be rendered without excuse and that the day of Christ
may come quickly.
The Reformed faith can engage in this work with the
confidence of victory. The difficulties and enemies are many and great.
There are materialism and pleasure-madness. There are communism and
humanism. There are the heathen religions and the cults. There is
dreadful apostasy in the Christian churches. At bottom, there is the
spiritual death of every human heart, the blindness of every mind, and
the bondage of every will—and the energetic work of Satan to keep it
But the Reformed church is not discouraged, is not
pessimistic. For the Son of God has come, has died, has risen again, has
been seated on the right hand of God. All power in heaven and on earth
is His. We preach in His Name. He shall certainly gather His church.