And we need to begin with the strong assertion that the title of this message—Reformed evangelism—is not an oxymoron. Sharing our faith with others is not optional. But at the same time, the way we understand that faith does have an impact on how we go about evangelism.
“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil. And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3: 8-15).
Peter begins here by urging all believers to be likeminded, full of love, compassion, and courtesy (v. 8). Rather than returning evil for evil, and snark for snark, we are to be the kind of people who return a blessing for evil done to us, so that we might inherit blessing (v. 9). If you love life, as all Christians should, then speak what is good and hate the lie (v. 10). Turn away from evil, and chase down what is good (v. 11). This is because God watches the righteous, and He answers their prayers, but He sets His face against those who do evil (v. 12). Who is going to hurt you if you follow the good (v. 13)? But if you do suffer for being righteous, that’s not bad either. Don’t let it get to you (v. 14). But set apart the Lord in your hearts, in the context of living this way, and always be ready to give an answer to those who ask why you have the hope that you do (v. 15). And rest assured, Christians who live this way will be asked.
A REFORMED PITFALL:
There is a glib misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty that has led some to minimize the importance of evangelism. This is the error of thinking that if someone is elect, I don’t have to witness to them, and if they are not elect it won’t do any good. This is an attempt to draw our duties out of the secret decrees, and not from the express commands, which is folly. If God has ordained that you will receive a paycheck at the end of the month, nothing will stop it, and if He hasn’t, nothing can make it happen. But if you stay home from work on the basis of this reasoning, it won’t take a theological genius to figure out which result was probably the foreordained one.
It is the same with evangelism. When God ordains the end, He also ordains the means. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10:13-15).
AN EVANGELICAL PITFALL:
But there is a different kind of pitfall, unfortunately common in the evangelical world. This is the idea that evangelism is a means of grace for the individual Christian, rather than an overflow of grace from the Christians to the non-Christians. In this view, “witnessing to someone”is as much a spiritual discipline and individual duty as prayer, Bible reading, or church attendance. Because the Bible never says that every Christian must present the gospel explicitly to an unbeliever at specified intervals, the legalistic burden this places on the average Christian is intolerable, and eventually provokes a reaction.
THE CHURCH IS MISSIONS:
Evangelism is not something the Church does on the side. Missions is not an adjunct activity of the Church; the Church is missions. We can summarize the two great tasks of the Church as birth and growth. Disciple the nations, baptizing them (birth), and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded (growth). But this is a corporate duty, one that the Church will be doing by its very nature, whenever the Church is healthy. Now what does the the corporate nature of the duty mean? It means body life.
THE SPIRIT AND THE BRIDE BOTH SPEAK:
The first thing is to have the reality of Christ, the reality of living in true community, take root. The center of this is worship and parish life. You can’t export it if you don’t have it. And, on the flip side, whatever it is that you are exporting is what you actually have (Matt. 23:15). Evangelism is an invitation to nonbelievers from the Spirit and the Bride. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). The second thing is that we must remember the principle from Romans 10. How will they hear without a preacher? The central means that God has appointed for the furtherance of the gospel is preaching—declarative proclamation. Tracts, books, and websites are fine, but never at the expense of what God has said to do. And the third thing is to always be ready to give an answer when people ask you about the hope that is in you.