Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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Reformed Evangelism

Rev. Ronald Hanko


1. Sovereign Grace

Several people have asked for a Reformed perspective on the important issue of evangelism.

First of all, let us be sure that the biblical and Reformed faith is not uncomfortable with evangelism. The two are not incompatible. Indeed, the Reformed faith and churches have the only real ground for evangelism. It is the Reformed doctrines of sovereign unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace that give a reason to do evangelism and hope for fruit in this great work.

Think of it this way: how can there be any real hope of lost sinners being saved through evangelism if salvation depends on their free will? Sometimes, sinful men and women have difficulty choosing which shoes to wear when dressing in the morning. How then shall they choose to be saved, especially if they truly are lost? How shall sinners, whose minds are darkened by sin (II Cor. 4:4) and at enmity with God (Rom. 8:7), come to the knowledge of the truth, unless it be by His sovereign, effectual grace enlightening their minds and freely granting them all of their salvation?

It is here first of all, therefore, that Reformed evangelism is unique. It sets out the true biblical basis for evangelism. It does not believe that God loves and desires the salvation of all, that He sent Christ to die for all without exception, and that it now depends on man’s free choice whether he will or will not be saved.

Rather, the Reformed faith teaches that God chooses who shall be saved (John 1:12-13; 15:16; Rom. 8:30; 9:16; Eph. 1:4; James 1:18) according to His eternal love for them in Christ; that He provided salvation for them in the death of Christ on the cross (Gal. 6:14; Col. 1:21-22) and that He powerfully and infallibly gives them that salvation by the irresistible work and grace of the Holy Spirit (John 6:37, 44; Eph. 2:8-10). Thus, in biblical and Reformed evangelism there is the sure hope that these will certainly and effectually be saved. There is no such hope in the teaching that salvation depends on man’s willing or running (Rom. 9:16).

But how does the preaching of the gospel fit into this? Does this not, as some charge, make the preaching of the gospel unnecessary? Evangelism, after all, has to do with the preaching of the gospel. That is what the word "evangelism" means.

In answering these questions the Reformed faith teaches two things about the preaching of the gospel. First, it insists, as holy Scripture does, that the gospel is the means God uses to gather His elect and to bring them to saving faith in Christ and so to salvation (Acts 13:47-48). In the second place, the Reformed faith teaches that the gospel is powerful. That power by which men repent and believe does not lie in the sinner or in his will, but in the Holy Spirit’s operation through the gospel. By it sinners are effectually called (Rom. 10:17), given repentance and faith (Acts 11:18), have their minds and wills changed, and are thus sovereignly, irresistibly and sweetly drawn to Christ (Rom. 1:16; I Cor. 1:18, 24).

It is the doctrine of free will, therefore, that destroys evangelism. The teaching that God loves all men simply reassures sinners that all is well with them (cf. Eze. 13:22). The idea that Christ died for them only confirms them in the mistaken notion that their situation is not desperate. To say that they have the critical choice in their own salvation—that God depends upon, and is waiting for, them—just establishes them in their rebellion against God and teaches them that they are as gods! It does nothing for the salvation of lost sinners!


2. Preaching the Gospel

As we continue to give a Reformed perspective on evangelism, we emphasize the important truth that evangelism is nothing more or less than preaching the gospel! If we are preaching the gospel, we are faithfully doing evangelism. This is the great commission: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:19-20).

As obvious as this seems, many have forgotten it. Thus they talk endlessly about evangelistic methods and spend a great deal of time drawing up complicated and expensive evangelism schemes for their church. It never seems to enter their mind that evangelism means preaching.

Believing that evangelism is preaching the gospel, we reject the dreadful, though (for some a) long-established, practice of setting aside every Lord’s Day evening for an evangelistic message—teaching in the morning, evangelism in the evening. There is nothing biblical about this practice.

Apart from the fact that such evangelistic services tend to degenerate into services where the same message is heard week after week, but "hung" on different text each time to the utter boredom and frustration of those who desire to learn the truth, this practice has forgotten the simple truth that all gospel preaching is evangelism. No matter what passage of Scripture a person is preaching upon, if he is preaching properly he is preaching the gospel. There is no such thing as a special "evangelistic" message.

Perhaps, however, Christians and Christian ministers have forgotten or do not understand that all Scripture reveals Christ and is therefore the gospel in the fullest sense of the Word (John 5:38-39). If the Scriptures are properly preached, Christ is preached. If Christ is being preached, the gospel is being preached. And if the gospel is being preached, then sinners will be saved by it. It is God’s appointed means for their salvation.

We are afraid that the practice of having Sunday evening "gospel services" betrays a lack of trust in the gospel as the means God has chosen to use for the salvation of His own. Thus, such services tend to become attempts to arouse emotions, to frighten people or to produce some kind of "decision." Certainly there is very little of the Word of God expounded in such services and even less dependence upon the Holy Spirit for fruit.

But there are other reasons why devoting a service each Sabbath to preaching to unbelievers is wrong. It betrays a wrong view of the church, as if the church is ordinarily a place for unbelievers, and it overlooks the teaching of I Corinthians 14:23. There the Word suggests that it is not a normal but an exceptional thing that an unbeliever comes into the worship services. The church is for believers and their children.

There is another problem here as well. That is the idea that the work of evangelism ceases as soon as someone "gets saved." If evangelism is preaching the gospel, and if preaching the gospel is preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), then the work of evangelism has only begun when a person repents and believes. At that point he still needs by gospel preaching—evangelism—to have the way of God expounded more perfectly (Acts 18:26) and to be rooted and grounded in the truth (Col. 2:6-7). This aspect of evangelism is almost entirely neglected today.

This does not mean, however, that there is not a difference between preaching the gospel in the church and to those who are outside the church, or that Reformed people believe only in preaching the gospel within the church. The gospel must be preached everywhere that God in His good pleasure sends it!


3. The Promise of the Gospel

We have established the fact that evangelism is nothing more nor less than the preaching of the gospel. That is what the word "evangelism" means. From this it follows that all preaching of the gospel is evangelism, including preaching to those who are already saved, the members of the church. This aspect of evangelism is almost entirely neglected today so that God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos. 4:6).

We have also established the fact that gospel preaching is preaching the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27), that is, all of Scripture. There is, therefore, no such thing as, nor any need for a special "gospel" message or "evangelistic" service, especially when that is nothing more than haranguing sinners or pressing them for some decision.

We would add that the call to repentance and faith is not just for unbelievers either. Those who are already saved need to hear that call in order that they too may turn from their sins (and they do commit sin as long as they are in this body of flesh) and that their faith may be stirred up and strengthened. This is also part of true evangelism.

With this in mind there is no need for the preacher to divide the congregation up into groups in his own mind or in his preaching, directing some of his preaching to one group and some to another. ALL the hearers need to hear whatever God the Lord says in a particular passage of His Word. There is not one message for the church, another for the world, one for the "unconverted," another for those who are "saved and safe" (as a certain preacher once put it).

Even the promises of the gospel, though they are only for the advantage of those who repent and believe, must be preached to, and heard by, all, if for no other reason than that they may be without excuse and their condemnation may be the greater when they do not believe (John 15:22; II Cor. 2:16). True gospel preaching is the exposition of the Word of God, including its solemn call to repentance and faith, to ALL who hear (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30).

In that connection, we wish to emphasize here that the Reformed faith believes in the preaching of the gospel to those who are outside the church as well as to those who are saved and are members of the church, to the heathen as well as to Christians. Here also the Reformed faith is not the enemy of evangelism.

Even here, however, evangelism may not be limited to those who have never heard the gospel. Those also who have heard and departed, those who make a profession of Christianity but do not know the truth of God’s Word and those who are members of churches where the gospel is not preached or not preached purely are also the objects of evangelism. When Jesus spoke of fields white for harvest, He was thinking especially of the multitudes who were fainting and scattered abroad in Israel as sheep that have no shepherd (Matt. 9:36-38).

What the Reformed faith does oppose is the preaching of lies—that God loves everyone and wants to save everyone (contrast Ps. 5:4-6; Matt. 11:25-26; Rom. 9:13), leaving the impression with the unbelieving that all is well.1 It is the enemy of the idea that the promises of gospel are for the advantage of all (though they must be preached to all). The wonderful things promised are only for such as repent and believe under the preaching of the gospel, not for everyone conditionally. To preach otherwise is to give false hope to those who do not believe and to suggest that God is helpless in the face of continued unbelief. This Reformed evangelism may not and will not do!

1Cf. "Resources on Calvinism" for free pamphlets, articles, audio, etc., on God’s sovereign, particular grace in Jesus Christ for His elect alone.


4. Mission Preaching

We have been emphasizing the truth that evangelism is nothing more nor less than the preaching of the gospel. Since this is true, ALL gospel preaching is, strictly speaking, evangelism, whether it be to the heathen, to the scattered sheep of apostatising churches or to the congregation of God’s people.

Evangelism can be described, however, as preaching the gospel to those who are outside the true church with a view to their salvation. There is a difference between preaching the gospel in the church and to those outside, to Christians and to the heathen, whether to the heathen living in foreign countries who have not heard the gospel or the to the heathen who are so numerous in our own Western countries where the gospel has been preached for many years. These differences while important are not essential.

The differences, we believe, are three.

First, in preaching to those who have not heard the gospel before, the message must be simplified and preached in such a way that those who hear understand clearly what the evangelist is saying. This is especially difficult when preaching to heathen who have never heard of sin, grace, redemption and of so many other great gospel truths.

Let us remember here that Jesus, when He preached to the people, preached to them in parables, so that even those who continued unbelieving would hear and see what Jesus was saying. Thus, in His parables, he used illustrations taken from their everyday life to make the truths of the gospel as plain to them as possible.

Second, this kind of gospel preaching will address the audience as unsaved in showing them the need for repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation. The preacher will beseech and exhort those who hear, pressing upon them the demands of the gospel and the urgency of their own need (II Cor. 5:18-21; cf. Matt. 3:7-12).

There is, however, no essential difference in the message that is preached to professed unbelievers and to the church. The difference is in the audience and their need, and in the aim of the preaching (saving the unsaved). This will to some extent affect the presentation and emphasis of the message, but it is the gospel which must be preached.

Indeed, we must see that even in preaching to the heathen and unbelieving, the whole counsel of God must be preached, including predestination, limited atonement, the Trinity, creation, providence and all the other truths of Scripture. Jesus and the apostles preached these truths even to those who were not saved (John 10:11; Acts 2:23; 13:17; 14:15-17). We must continue to preach them today.

These truths are very often neglected in mission preaching and even rejected as unsuitable for preaching to the unsaved. This is not only contrary to the example of Jesus and the apostles (John 6; Acts 17:22ff.), but cuts out the heart of the gospel message, i.e., that GOD was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself (II Cor. 5:19).

Third, mission preaching involves going out to preach to the unsaved (Matt. 28:19). We have already pointed out that the church is seen in Scripture as the gathering of believers and their children and that the presence of unbelievers is thought of as an unusual and exceptional thing (I Cor. 14:23). It will not do, therefore, for the church to attempt to carry out its calling to engage in missions by holding an "evangelistic service" every Lord’s Day evening.


5. God’s Sovereignty Controls Evangelism

We have emphasized that evangelism is preaching the gospel and that, whether in the church or in missions, it is the whole gospel—the whole counsel of God—that must be preached (Acts 20:26-27). It is wrong to neglect certain revealed truths or to suggest that they are a hindrance to evangelism.

Biblical and Reformed evangelism, however, not only preaches the sovereignty of God and the doctrines of grace, but it is controlled by them as well. We have already seen how the doctrines of grace control the evangelistic message in that they require a message that does not declare a Christ for all, a desire of God to save everybody or a universal love of God.

The sovereignty of God also controls the goals and methods of evangelism. For one thing, God’s sovereign command limits the means of evangelism to the preaching. As important as such things may be, medical work, education, building and agriculture are not evangelism and are not the calling of the church as it engages in evangelism. In Scripture there are no such things as medical and agricultural missionaries. These things may and even ought to be done alongside the work of evangelism, but they are not the church’s work, nor does one need to be ordained and sent by the church to do them.

So too, we would emphasize the biblical truth that evangelism is the work of the church, not of mission boards and societies. The command to preach the gospel is a command that Christ gave to His church and to no one else (Matt. 28:19-20).

And, since Scripture teaches that evangelism, the preaching of the gospel, is the work of ordained men, there is no place for women missionaries (I Tim. 2:12). We find it very curious that churches who would never allow women to preach and hold office at home, see nothing wrong with sending them out as missionaries to preach the gospel to the heathen.

Nevertheless, the sovereignty of God does not only control evangelism in requiring preaching as the God-ordained means of evangelism. The doctrine of God’s sovereignty controls even the aims of evangelism.

For example, a church that believes in election ought not think that the goal and purpose of evangelism are to "give everyone a chance." In that case, her goals in evangelism contradict the truths of predestination and limited atonement she confesses.

Nor is the goal of evangelism to save everyone. In preaching the gospel both in the church and on the mission field the evangelist (i.e., preacher) must understand that preaching has a twofold purpose. That purpose is the salvation of God’s elect and the hardening and condemnation of the rest (Rom. 9:18; 11:7; II Cor. 2:14-17).

Those who are not willing to preach the gospel on those terms ought not be engaged in the work. Indeed, Paul suggests that ignorance of this twofold purpose of the preaching is the reason many corrupt the Word of God as they do today by hiding, neglecting or rejecting certain truths of Scripture in their evangelism (II Cor. 2:14-17).

The goal of evangelism is not even preaching to everyone. Both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament the gospel is sent by God when and where He wills (Acts 16:6-8). There are those who lay a huge burden of guilt upon the church by suggesting that the church is not fulfilling her calling as long as the gospel is not preached to every living person, when the Lord has given neither the opportunity nor means to do it. This is wrong. Our sovereign God determines also when and where the gospel will be preached.


6. Concluding Remarks

In this last instalment on Reformed evangelism there are several more things we wish to emphasize.

First, and in connection with our last section, we wish to point out that evangelism is the calling of the church and must be pursued vigorously, both within and outside the church. The fact that God does not desire the salvation of all men without exception and that the gospel throughout history is only preached when and where God wills, should not limit the church or cause her to neglect her work.

In the work of evangelism, the church of Jesus Christ, in obedience to His command, for the glory of God and for the salvation of God’s elect, must seek and pray for the opportunity to preach the gospel (Col. 4:3-4; II Thess. 3:1), for men to preach it (Matt. 9:37-38) and for fruit on the work of preaching (Rom. 10:1). And, when God graciously gives the means, men and opportunity, then she must use that opportunity to the utmost.

Indeed, the opportunity to preach the gospel, referred to in Scripture as an "open door" (Rev. 3:8), is seen as one of the blessings God in Christ gives to the church when she is faithful. What a disgrace if the church despises that blessing of God!

Second, since it is the calling of the church to do evangelism and to engage in missions, then it is also her calling to support those who are sent to do that work. Missionaries and evangelists are preachers of the gospel and it is to the preachers of the gospel, wherever they labour, that Scripture refers in such passages as I Corinthians 9:7-14. We abhor the practice, common in so many places, of sending the mission preachers out to raise their own support. So too if mission work is the work of the church, it the calling of the church to provide this support, not mission societies and mission boards.

Third, we need to emphasize the fact that because evangelism is the work of the church all believers have an important part in that work, though they themselves do not preach. They have the important calling to pray for the work, to support it in that way and with their gifts, and to be themselves witnesses of the truth in all their life. Without faithfulness on the part of God’s people, no evangelism work can prosper.

May this important and necessary work be done faithfully, therefore, and may God add His indispensable blessing to it.

The Sunday Evening "Gospel Service"

Rev. Angus Stewart


In some churches in the British Isles and in N. Ireland in particular, it is the custom that the Lord’s Day evening service contains a "gospel sermon." Occasionally, the morning speech is also largely, or even especially, addressed to the unbeliever. Sometimes churches which do not hold Sunday night "gospel services" are criticised for this, as if they were not truly biblical, evangelical and Reformed. There are, however, problems with this practice of Lord’s Day evening "gospel services," especially with regard to forced exegesis or Bible interpretation, the "potted gospel," shallow preaching, will worship, Arminianism, hawking Jesus and a misunderstanding of the church.

(1) Forced Exegesis

Of the two testaments, obviously, the New Testament is more interested in evangelism and the growth of the universal church of Christ. Of the 27 books in the New Testament canon, 13 are epistles written by the apostle Paul, either to believers corporately (the churches of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, etc.) or to individual believers (I and II Timothy, Titus and Philemon). Thus Paul, by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, writes, for example, "to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse" (Col. 1:2). Hebrews was addressed to Jewish believers, referred to as "holy brethren" (Heb. 3:1). James wrote to his "brethren" who hold "the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory" (James 2:1). I and II Peter are addressed to those who are "elect," sanctified and redeemed (I Peter 1:2), who have obtained "like precious faith with us" (II Peter 1:1). I, II and III John were written to John’s spiritual "little children" (I John 2:1), "the elect lady and her children" (II John 1) and "the wellbeloved Gaius" (III John 1), respectively. Jude was addressed to "them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called" (Jude 1). Revelation was originally penned for the "servants" of God in seven churches in Asia Minor (Rev. 1:1, 4). Of the five remaining New Testament books, two of them (Luke and Acts) were written to a particular Christian, Theophilus (Greek for "friend of God;’’ Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1), in order that he might "know the certainty of those things, wherein [he had] been instructed" (Luke 1:4). We are not told to whom Matthew or Mark were originally addressed, but amongst the purposes for which the Gospel According to John was inspired, the evangelistic is certainly included (cf. John 20:31).

In short, the Scriptures are written primarily for the church and simply do not contain enough texts to preach exegetical sermons for unbelievers 52 times or more a year, year in and year out, in the public worship on the Lord’s Day. This results in the preacher engaging in forced, and thus flawed, exegesis. As a former lay preacher entrenched in this system and as one who has heard many such sermons, I know whereof I speak. Since often the text does not lead where the preacher wants it to go, it must be compelled to yield the desired evangelistic sermon. As well as grieving the Holy Spirit who breathed forth the Holy Scriptures (and the child of God who understands what is going on), this practice fails to teach the congregation to interpret the Bible rightly.

(2) "Potted Gospel"

This forced exegesis results in the "potted gospel," which always contains what the minister considers the bare essentials of the gospel (and often not much else) and frequently finishes with an appeal of various length tacked on at the end. After a little exegesis at the start of the sermon, the message often consists of something little more than an expansion of the "five spiritual laws" with a concluding exhortation very like that of the week or month or year before. Yet the vast majority of those present are professing Christians: "We’re forever hearing that people need to be saved, but we’re already converted. In at least half of the sermons we hear, the holy God of heaven and earth has little or nothing to say to us, His people, by way of doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness (cf. II Tim. 3:16)."

Hebrews 6:1 declares, "Therefore leaving the [first or elementary] principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection." Commenting on this verse, John Owen states that Christian ministers should preach so that the congregation makes "progress in the knowledge of the truth." The human penman of Hebrews (and thus the Holy Spirit) "would not have them always stand at the porch, but enter into the sanctuary, and behold the hidden glories of the house of God."

Hebrews 6:1, explains Calvin, refers to the "first principles" or "first rudiments, taught to the ignorant when received into the Church." The Reformer continues,

Now, he bids them to leave these rudiments, not that the faithful are ever to forget them, but that they are not to remain in them; and this idea appears more clear from what follows, the comparison of a foundation; for in building a house we must never leave the foundation; and yet to be always engaged in laying it, would be ridiculous. For as the foundation is laid for the sake of what is built on it, he who is occupied in laying it and proceeds not to the superstruction [i.e., superstructure], wearies himself with foolish and useless labour. In short, as the builder must begin with the foundation, so must he go on with his work that the house may be built. Similar is the case as to Christianity; we have the first principles as the foundation, but the higher doctrine ought immediately to follow which is to complete the building. They then act most unreasonably who remain in the first elements, for they propose to themselves no end, as though a builder spent all his labour on the foundation, and neglected to build up the house. So then he would have our faith to be at first so founded as afterwards to rise upwards, until by daily progress it be at length completed.

In this connection, Calvin speaks of the use of "catechism" instruction, a blessing rediscovered in the Reformed churches after its lapse (in large measure) in the Dark Ages.

(3) Shallow Preaching

It is evident from all this that the congregation is not properly fed by such a system of Sunday evening "gospel services." With at least half of the church’s public worship services devoted to preaching the "potted gospel," there is simply no way in which the minister can proclaim "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27), something necessary for the great work of "edifying ... the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:12). The "wise" preacher, as Solomon states, teaches the people "knowledge" (Ecc. 12:9). Those who engage in the Sunday evening "gospel service" have lost the lively sense of the gospel as a sacred deposit of truth (II Tim. 1:13-14) that must be passed on to the succeeding generations (II Tim. 2:2). The Holy Spirit has led the church into the truth over the last 2,000 years, and the church’s calling is to declare that knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. By this means, the elect grow in grace (II Peter 3:18) and the body of Christ is edified (Eph. 4:11-16) and built up into an holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2:20-22). This requires expository, doctrinal preaching (Neh. 8:8; I Tim. 4:13-16), by a divinely called and equipped teacher (Matt. 28:19; Acts 13:1; 14:25; Eph. 4:11; I Tim. 2:7; II Tim 1:11; 2:2).

But where 50% or more of the church’s Lord’s Day services are given over to "gospel services’’ the congregation will never grasp the riches of the biblical and Reformed faith. The whole Bible and all its doctrines must be preached for God’s glory and the edification of His church! Various subjects are insufficiently covered in circles where the evening "gospel service’’ reigns, including the doctrines of God (His Being, Persons, attributes, revelation, names, decree and works), sovereign grace (unconditional election and reprobation; particular, effectual atonement; total depravity, excluding "free will;" irresistible grace; and the preservation and, therefore, perseverance of the saints) and the church (its nature, election, gathering, attributes, marks, sacraments, worship, authority, government and discipline).

This results in serious ignorance of God’s truth and weakness in the church’s members, which leaves them susceptible to further errors. Moreover, sometimes those who are not properly fed (because of shallow sermons) accuse the preaching of faithful Reformed churches of being "too deep" and so (unwittingly) condemn their own churches (Heb. 5:12-14). In various Brethren assemblies, this problem is particularly acute because they not only have a Sunday evening "gospel service" but they also have no ordained and few properly trained and able speakers. Thus they need special weekday "ministry" services through which some of their more capable men provide a supplementary diet.

(4) Will Worship

This all-absorbing focus on evangelism—what John Kennedy of Ding-wall would call "hyper-evangelism"—is not only to the detriment of the church’s edification but also of her worship, for it shapes the whole evening service. Uninspired poems (called "hymns" in popular parlance) are sung instead of the God-breathed Psalms (II Sam. 23:2; Ps. 95:2; James 5:13), in part because the Psalms simply do not serve the purpose of the "gospel service’’ for they do not create the right "atmosphere."1 Besides, the Psalms include imprecations upon the wicked which are deemed unsuitable for public worship by some who pretend to be wiser than God! Enter too the "ministry in song," whereby one or more singers, male or female, entertain the audience while seeking to sing the sinner into the kingdom of heaven. Personal testimonies in the worship service thrive in this environment, as does topical preaching filled with "wee stories." There is no basis in the Word of God for such practices and so they constitute "will worship" (Col. 2:23).2 Thus the ethos of the "gospel service’’ moulds the church’s worship and hence the members’ ideas of the church. Instead of these man-made worship practices, the Reformed faith, on the basis of the second commandment, has always maintained the regulative principle:

What doth God require in the second commandment? That we in no wise represent God by images, nor worship him in any other way than he has commanded in his word (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 96).

... the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture (Westminster Confession 21:1; cf. Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 109).

(5) Arminianism

The Sunday evening "gospel service" scene is rife with Arminianism, with many preaching, "God loves everybody; God wants to save everybody; Christ died for everybody!" Yet Arminianism was condemned as heresy by all the Reformed churches in the Canons of Dordt (1618-1619).3 Even in congregations and denominations claiming to be Calvinistic, such teaching is tolerated, despite the fact that Arminianism proclaims a false Christ!4

Despite his denomination’s claim to hold the Calvinistic and Reformed doctrines of the Westminster Standards, in his Paisley: The Man and his Message, Rev. Ian Paisley, N. Ireland’s greatest exponent of the Sunday evening "gospel service,’’ includes amongst those who "primed [his] pulpit pump" notorious Arminians, such as John Wesley and R. A. Torrey! The evening "gospel service" approach and the Arminian hymns in his church’s hymnal mean that Arminianism is tolerated so that Arminians in pulpit and pew will not be disciplined.5 Thus confessional, Reformed Christianity and sound, doctrinal preaching enforced by church discipline are ruled out. Fundamentalist revivalism thereby excludes biblical reformation.

Moreover, hyper-evangelism readily leads to lay preaching—a great scourge in the British Isles (and elsewhere) which is condemned by the Westminster Larger Catechism:

By whom is the word of God to be preached? The word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office (Q. & A. 158).6

Those who forthrightly oppose Arminianism, and do not practise the Sunday evening "gospel meeting’’ which it foments, are then dismissed as hyper-Calvinists! Never mind that Calvin and all the Reformed fathers taught antithetically sovereign and particular grace and would have had no time for the modern innovation of the Sunday night "gospel service’’ with all its trappings!

(6) Hawking Jesus

Arminian terminology, such as "accepting Jesus," "deciding for Christ," "deciding grace," "commitments" and "letting Jesus into your heart," finds ready acceptance in many Sunday night ‘’gospel services.’’ Herman Hoeksema, in his "Jesus Saviour and the Evil of Hawking Him"—a pamphlet well worth reading in this connection—speaks of "hawking Jesus" as "one of the most sinister" of "the evil tendencies of our age" (p. 1).7 He explains,

By hawking Jesus I mean all such preaching as leaves the impression, directly or by implication, that He is impotent to save unless the sinner first wills and gives his consent. This is done directly by the denial of predestination, by the preaching of a Jesus for all, and by the teaching of the freewill of man by which the latter is able to accept or to reject the proffered salvation. But it is also done indirectly, when preachers change the grace of God into an offer of God to all and present Jesus as a poor beggar, standing outside the door of man’s heart, begging him to let Him in and give Him a chance to save the sinner. It is done in various forms and degrees. But all such preaching as finally leaves the impression that it is at all up to man, to the sinner, whether Jesus will save him or not, is hawking Jesus, or rather, it is an attempt to hawk Him (pp. 19-20).

As John Calvin put it, ‘’It is evident that the doctrine of salvation, which is said to be set apart for the sons of the church only, is abused when it is represented as effectually available to all" (Institutes 3.22.10). Another man referred to this as "making a begging bowl out of the Son of God." This is rife in N. Ireland, especially where the Sunday evening "gospel service" has gotten a hold.

(7) Misunderstanding of the Church

The Sunday evening "gospel service," with its forced exegesis, "potted gospel," shallow preaching, will worship, Arminianism and hawking of Jesus, proceeds from, and thus reinforces, a misunderstanding of the nature of the church.

The glorious body of Christ is "the house of God" and "the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Tim. 3:15) and "an assembly of those who are saved" (Belgic Confession 28). The Westminster Confession presents the Bible’s teaching on the church:

The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

Unto this catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints in this life, to the end of the world; and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto (25:1-3).

Next, the Westminster Confession sets forth the three marks of the church as the test by which the degree of faithfulness of a church may be discerned:

... particular churches ... are more or less pure, according as [1] the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, [2] ordinances administered, and [3] public worship performed more or less purely in them (25:4; cf. Belgic Confession 29).

The Sunday night "gospel service," however, has its roots in an Arminian, revivalist, fundamentalist, baptistic and individualistic conception of the church. It does not proceed from, teach and reinforce the biblical and Reformed doctrine of the church of Jesus Christ, consisting of believers and their elect seed (Westminster Confession 25:2), labouring "for the gathering and perfecting of the saints" (25:3) and showing the three marks of the church (25:4).

Return to the Old Paths!

Instead of the Sunday evening "gospel service," which was not the practice of the Reformers or their successors, the church should return to the better way, the preaching and worship of the faithful church through the ages.

Hughes Oliphant Old, in his magisterial, seven-volume work on the history of preaching, has some insightful remarks on what is commonly called II Clement (c. AD 125), which "is frequently claimed as the first Christian sermon [outside the New Testament] to have come down to us."8 A lengthy quotation is warranted:

This sermon is also interesting because of what it tells us about how the second-century Church approached evangelism. It is preached to a Christian congregation and yet it is also a witness to non-Christians. That the sermon is to be understood as having an evangelistic purpose is clear from the auxiliary text chosen from the Gospels, "I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt. 9:17 and par.). We see here that the Church of the second century did its evangelistic preaching in the midst of the worshiping congregation, and it was the worshiping congregation which did the evangelism. This is not an evangelism based on some sort of theology of decisional regeneration, nor one based on a theology of baptismal regeneration. It is rather an evangelism based solidly on justification by faith, on the confidence that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. But this evangelism also puts a strong emphasis on sanctification. The Christian life is lived out of gratitude to God for the gracious gift of salvation. Non-Christians are present in the service of worship, both Jews and Gentiles, and non-Christians as well as Christians need repentance. Our sermon ends by calling all who are present to repentance. The preacher begs his listeners to repent from the bottom of their hearts that they might be saved. Evangelism did not require a special message preached for the unconverted, different from the one for the converted, nor did it mandate that the faithful hear and enthusiastically support again and again evangelistic sermons that were not really directed to them. Rather, when Christ is proclaimed as Lord and Savior, when God’s promises are proclaimed and a witness is given that God is faithful and that in Christ those promises have been fulfilled, and will yet be fulfilled, then evangelism is done. Whenever the way of life which Christ taught his disciples is shown to be the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets, then evangelism is done. Whenever the beauty and the power and the sheer joy of holiness are proclaimed and God’s people see that this is something for them, evangelism is done. When Christian preaching is done the way it should be done, then it is evangelistic.9

This sermon is typical of preaching in the early church, including that of Augustine, and of the preaching of the Reformers, such as Luther, Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Calvin, Knox, Beza, etc., and their successors.10 It is not the way, however, of the modern Sunday night "gospel service," which has its roots in Arminian, baptistic and revivalistic fundamentalism.

"Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein ..." (Jer. 6:16).


1 Cf. "Resources on Psalm-Singing" on the CPRC website, including a video of a debate between Rev. Stewart and Rev. Ivan Foster on Psalm-singing which can be watched free on-line.
2 Cf. an audio sermon on "Will Worship."
3 Cf. "Resources on Calvinism," including a video of a debate involving Rev. Stewart on sovereign grace, which can be watched free on-line.
4 Cf. Steven Houck, "The Christ of Arminianism"; Robert C. Harbach, "Calvinism ... the Truth [Arminianism, the Lie]"; David Engelsma, "A Defence of Calvinism as the Gospel." Hard copies of these pamphlets and many others are available free from the CPRC Bookstore.
5 Cf. "Our Own Hymn Book Versus God’s Own Hymn Book: A Critique of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster Hymnal."
6 Cf. quotes "Against Lay Preaching" by John Calvin, John Owen, Thomas Manton, etc.
7 Herman Hoeksema, "Jesus Saviour and the Evil of Hawking Him."
8 Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), p. 278.
9 Ibid., p. 283.
10 The CPRC Bookstore sells books of John Calvin’s sermons.