Several of our readers have asked for a Reformed perspective on evangelism. Since this is such an important matter, we hope to spend several issues on it.
First of all, then, let us be sure that the 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 that 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? 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 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 wills 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 (Jn. 1:12-13, 15:16, Rom. 9:16, Phil. 2:13, Jas. 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 (Jn. 6:37, 44, Eph. 2:8-10). Thus, in Reformed evangelism there is the sure hope that these at least will be saved. There is no such hope in the teaching that salvation depends on man's willing or running.
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 Scripture does also, that the gospel is the means God uses to find His elect (Acts 14:47-48) and to bring them to saving faith in Christ and so to salvation. In the second place, the Reformed faith teaches that the gospel as means is powerful. That power by which men repent and believe does not lie in the sinner or in his will, but in the gospel. By it sinners are powerfully 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. 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! Rev. Ronald Hanko
We would offer a free pamphlet by the Rev. Barry Gritters: "Public Worship and the Reformed Faith." Send to the address in the heading of this leaflet.
(Calvin comments on I Tim. 2:4): "The other texts adduced are not declarative of the Lord's determination respecting all men in his secret counsel: they only proclaim that pardon is ready for all sinners who sincerely seek it (Ps.145:9). For if they obstinately insist on its being said that God is merciful to all, I will oppose to them, what is elsewhere asserted, that 'our God is in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased' (Ps. 115:3). This text, then, must be explained in a manner consistent with another, where God says, 'I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy' (Ex. 33:19). He who makes a selection of objects for the exercise of his mercy, does not import that mercy to all. But as it clearly appears that Paul is there speaking, not of individuals, but orders of men, I shall forbear any further argument...."
(Calvin's Institutes, Book III, Chap. 24, XVI)
- Volume: 5
- Issue: 18
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
Address13823 Clear Lake Rd.
State or ProvinceWA