Evangelism remains a huge emphasis in the modern church world. Examine how it is done and we will see that they are filled with massive campaigns with the emphasis on numbers — the number of people who made a “decision” for Christ. “Alter calls”, coupled with dimmed lights and music, manipulate the emotions of the hearers in an “evangelistic rally” promoting impulsive “decisions for Christ”. Worse still, decisions are seen equivalent to conversions and the “evangelist” returns with a happy report of seeing many “saved”. The underlying doctrine is not-all-that-unexpected – that God (or rather, the god that they believe in) loves every single person and wants to see as many saved as possible. Only that he has done all that he possibly can and is unable to touch the will of the sovereign sinner. Sadly, all these are seen as good. After all, who would accuse that the desire to see as many saved as possible is evil? Applause lls the auditorium when reports of thousands upon thousands of decisions have been made for Christ.
While all that is celebrated in the church world, if we are to be Reformed, by the grace of God, we have to measure the popular approach of evangelism against the teachings of Scripture. It is only before long that we realise that the popular approach to evangelism cannot stand.
“Evangelism and the Reformed Faith” is a pamphlet written by Professor David Engelsma of the Protestant Reformed Church of America (PRCA). This pamphlet deals with the topic of biblical and reformed evangelism against the contemporary practice and is discussed under the various sections: Introduction, Meaning of Evangelism, What the Reformed Faith is, The Message of Reformed Evangelism, The Method of Reformed Evangelism
and The Motivation of Reformed Evangelism.
The pamphlet, under the heading of Introduction, introduces the topic by the charge made by some that there is an incompatibility between the Reformed faith and evangelism. Interestingly, the first word of the pamphlet is the word “strange”. In other words, Prof Engelsma states that the charge is absurd. He also states few of the current practices and sayings in modern evangelism. Some sayings include, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” He then went on and asserted the duty of those whom God has given the Reformed faith to show the perfect harmony between the Reformed faith and evangelism and thus we must see that they are perfectly compatible.
This pamphlet would define certain things such as the meaning of evangelism. Simply put, this is “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.”
One thing that struck me was that though many would not see the Reformation as evangelism, the pamphlet explains that by definition, “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 Catholicism.”
Do we not sometimes wonder if the Reformed faith is compatible with Evangelism? One train of thought by those who assert their incompatibility as highlighted in this pamphlet is as such, “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.” This pamphlet would therefore answer that erroneous view.
Another reason why one should pick up this pamphlet and study it is because evangelism, if done wrongly, is not a victimless crime. Prof Engelsma writes, “A Reformed preacher would not dare to engage in evangelism of this kind [evangelism filled with unbiblical notions]. 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 evangelist.” And let us not forget that those who hear are also being deceived by that kind of evangelism and that the evangel is lost.
Though not every single person is to do the preaching of the gospel but only the ordained minister(s), nevertheless, the church as a whole is responsible for the preaching. Prof Engelsma states how the people ought to live within the church so that the Holy Spirit may bless the work outside the church. Also, it states what the church ought to do to support the minister and the work of evangelism. Since we are all responsible for the preaching of the gospel and since this review would neither do justice to the content nor give a sufficient idea and scope of the meaning of Reformed Evangelism, why not read the pamphlet for yourself?
On a side note, by the time you read this, the Reformed Reading Book Club (RRBC) would have gone through this pamphlet, but you can always join us the next time to study another literature of significant importance to the Reformed faith.
Written by: Woon Tian Loong | Issue 9