Evangelism Crisis within Reformed Churches

Reformed churches have often been considered uninterested in evangelism. Many assert that Reformed Christians are apathetic for reaching out to the lost because our belief in God’s Sovereignty, but the real crisis lies elsewhere.  The conflict over evangelism and the question of who is called to it is long standing. Even within the Reformed denominations there are many who adopt an ‘every-member-ministry’ model and assert that each congregant should be a ‘Philip’ (see Acts 8:26). On the other side of the spectrum is the mentality that only those ordained to the ministry of the Word are called and equipped to spread the good news. The first position intimidates lay Christians and overwhelms them, resulting burn-out and eventual retreat. The second position underwhelms and leads to apathy. It is these polar opposite positions that have caused the crisis. The solution can only be to step out of the spectrum set by these opinions and discover, or rather recover, a more biblical model for lay evangelism.

Rejecting Evangelism formula. The first step is to get rid of the idea that the gospel can be presented in a easy 1-2-3 manner. Of course the basics can be covered – but God willed to bound his revelation within 66 books and many centuries of development. When we look at the ‘Evangelism’ of the New Testament we see the apostles and teachers of the church “reasoning” from the Old Testament that Jesus is the Christ! Those wonderful Redemptive History studies that ended with an authoritative plea to repent and believe could hardly have been reduced to a pamphlet.

Embrace Evangelism as a Lifestyle. Next we should take seriously the “body” metaphor. Evangelism is a complex concept. On the surface it seems simple enough – spread the ‘good news’. Yet, how we are to ‘spread’ is where the complexity comes in. Not everybody has the gift of speech. Not every Christian is called to be the mouth of God. The Apostle Paul recoils at the idea of every Christian being gifted in the same way (1 Cor 12:14-18). Multiplicity of gifts and functions within the ‘Body” means multiplicity of methods of evangelism. By multiplicity of method I do not mean that there are various moods or strategies to the gospel presentation. As though one member might present the gospel in a ‘hell-fire and brimstone” manner, while another might soft peddle the gospel as “good news of love”. Both of these are verbal presentations and require the same word gifts. No, the body metaphor forces us to see the usefulness of Church members in evangelism beyond what comes out of their mouth and embraces the lived out fruit of the Spirit. In other words, evangelism is a call to every Christian but is suited to the God given giftedness of Christians living in concert with the body. Evangelism is a lifestyle, but it is a lifestyle that must include the church.

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