The first in a series of three posts on evangelism and discipleship in the church (or on campus).
"The more consistently Reformed a church is, the more active will it be in evangelism."
This is a simple, yet profound, statement from the former Westminster Seminary professor and president of Calvin Seminary, R.B. Kuiper. The connections between Reformed theology and evangelism are so strong that, according to Kuiper, no one has a greater incentive for engaging in evangelism. Why? Because for the Reformed, everything revolves around the glory of the Triune God, and this includes evangelism.
As Kuiper puts it:
Reformed evangelism is God-centered. The danger is ever present that evangelism will become man-centered. In many instances that has occurred. The salvation of souls is often regarded as the one end of evangelism. It is most certainly an end of evangelism, and an important one, but it is by no means the ultimate end...[Evangelism] is a means to a more comprehensive end—the growth of the body of Christ, the church. That again is a means to a still more comprehensive end—the coming of Christ’s kingdom in every domain of life. And that is a means to the highest of all ends—the glory of God.
In his book, To Be or Not To Be Reformed, Kuiper begins by laying out the more common apologetic for Reformed evangelism: Election. In light of God's gracious choosing of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation (people group), Reformed Christians should approach evangelism with confidence in both the universal gospel and universal church; a message of good news for all peoples and a church of those united to Christ from all peoples. The good news is that the good shepherds sheep hear his voice, they follow him, and no one can steal them away (John 10).
However, it is his second argument--the glory of God--that I find particularly fascinating and compelling. In this argument, Kuiper cuts through the dualism that often marks evangelical approaches to evangelism (the saving of souls for heaven), while also challenging Kuyperian neo-calvinists (Christ's lordship over every sphere of life). And he does so, not by tearing anyone or anything down, but rather by building up, stacking telos upon telos until he reaches the chief end of humanity: to glorify God. Evangelism serves the building of the Church, and the building of the Church provides the foundation for witnessing to the Kingdom of God in all of life, and such witness fulfills our created purpose as image-bearers of God in His world.
Notice, too, what is at the heart of this chain leading to the glory of God: the Church. As institute, the church fulfills her calling to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments, sending out the church, as organism, to fulfill her comprehensive calling as witnesses to Christ and the Kingdom.
So if we are committed to being consistently Reformed, we must engage in evangelism: "But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? (Rom. 10:14, NLT)" It is not an option, nor is it a burden. Rather it is a serious responsibility and incredible opportunity. However, beyond this, we must engage in evangelism because it ultimately serves as a vital way to glorify God. Through the faithful word and deed proclamation of the gospel, we will see the body of Christ, the Church, grow, and the Kingdom advance in the lives of those who entrust themselves to the good and gracious king, Jesus Christ.
Next week, we will take a brief look at the shape of our evangelism.