How do Reformed churches conceive of evangelism?


The issue of evangelization in the Reformed church is a very important one. Historically, Reformed churches have been very dedicated to personal evangelism. The biggest movements in evangelism in the United States have grown out of Reformed churches. For example, Billy Graham, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Evangelism Explosion are all rooted in Reformed Presbyterianism.

Sometimes our critics say that because we believe in predestination, Reformed Christians have no real motivation to evangelize. But nothing could be further from the truth. We believe that God has elected some people to salvation, and that he has called us to bring them to faith through the preaching of the gospel. That means that we are guaranteed to be successful in evangelism — the elect will certainly come to faith.

We also believe that regeneration precedes faith. That is, the Holy Spirit must do a miraculous work to renew a person's spirit before that person can respond positively to the gospel and receive Christ as savior (John 3:5,8). That takes the pressure off us as evangelists. We never have to worry that if only we had studied harder or argued better, the person might have come to faith. On the contrary, our call is fairly simple. We present the facts of the gospel, and if God is pleased to do so, he regenerates the person and draws the person to himself. Yes, we should study and offer good answers, but the salvation of others does not depend on our clever arguments; it depends on our faithful presentation of the facts of the gospel, and on God's miraculous work in bringing people to faith.

When it comes to specific gospel methods, Reformed theologians affirm many different approaches. Basically, any method that tells the truth about Jesus and man's plight, and that freely offers the gospel to all who repent, is a biblical method, and may be used. In fact, many times we have to invent new methods to reach new kinds of people.

In the past, Reformed evangelists have often stressed ways of applying the gospel to specific people in their specific circumstances. If a person feels guilty, we emphasize the fact that man is a sinner and that God will judge us, and we emphasize the forgiveness that comes in Jesus Christ. If a person feels lonely, we emphasize the fact that our sin prevents us from having fellowship with God and with others, and the fact that restoration of that fellowship is available through Jesus if we repent and follow him. If a person feels hopeless, we can agree that life in this sinful, fallen world offers no real significance or hope for human existence, but we can also speak of the restoration of the creation that God is accomplishing through Jesus, and of the hope of resurrection and fulfillment that all believers share.

Whatever the situation, there is an aspect of the gospel that applies directly to each sinner. Finding that point of contact helps us to speak meaningfully to people. And because every aspect of the gospel is related to every other aspect of the gospel, each point of contact can be expanded to reach all the other details of the gospel. So, if we have a "big picture" of the gospel, we have many ways available to present the gospel to others.

There are many ways to summarize the gospel. Of course it includes personal elements, but at its core it is the gospel of the kingdom of God. That is, the gospel is the good news that God is restoring creation, making it fit to be his kingdom. God is extending his royal reign to earth, and redeeming humanity to be his royal priesthood. He is redeeming humanity by forgiving the sins of those who repent and have faith in him. This forgiveness is offered on the basis of the atoning death of Jesus Christ. When we repent and plead for salvation on the grounds of Jesus' death, God begins to apply to us the benefits of Jesus' death, including justification and eternal life. The goal of our Christian lives is to glorify God our king, and to live as joyful, happy people in his kingdom. Life on earth can be hard and difficult for believers, but we look forward to the day when God will finish the gospel work he started, making a new heaven and new earth, and giving us glorified bodies and complete freedom from the presence of sin so that we can live eternally and reign with him.

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Finance and Administration at Third Millennium Ministries.