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 (vs. 16). This is the pattern of the ministry of the apostles, set forth by Paul in the first verse of 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 covetousness (II Pet. 2:3).
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” (vs. 47). Romans 10:15lays 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 the Church.
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 13:1-4; 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 evangelize? Is not every child of God a missionary? Emphatically not! It is un-Biblical to hold that every believer may and must evangelize. 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 teenage 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 behavior. By our godly conduct, others may be gained to Christ (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 86).
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 evangelize through the missionary. Missions is not the work of the missionary; it is the work of the people of God.
The saints are active in this labor of the Church. They pray for the work of missions. This is the cooperation 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 labor; and. evangelism depends wholly upon the Spirit of Christ.
The means of evangelism is the Holy Spirit; He is the power of it. He sends forth the laborers 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 un-Biblical methods, but also that they fall back, in the matter of missions, upon their own resource—-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” (vs. 14). “But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit” (vs. 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 ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). We must beware lest we suppose that for effective evangelism we need millions of dollars; farflung 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 laboring in His might.
The Motivation of Reformed Evangelism
The motivation of the Reformed Faith in evangelism, 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 labor 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 so.
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.