If everything is predestined, then why bother? This question takes a particularly sharp focus for the Christian church when applied to evangelism and missions. It is hard to talk to our neighbors about sin and salvation. It is even harder to send preachers around the globe. Someone may say, “If we believe that God is sovereign and will save whomever He has chosen, then we can sit back and watch while He does His will.” At least, that is the assumption that some people make about Reformed theology and its great teachers such as John Calvin.
This assumption does not square with the facts. Calvin taught evangelism. Though Christ gathers His church by supernatural power, he wrote, the gospel “does not fall from the clouds like rain” but is “brought by the hands of men to where God has sent it.” Christ teaches us that God “uses our work and summons us to be His instruments in cultivating His field.” Calvin said that God’s sovereignty encourages us to pray daily for Christ’s kingdom to advance, to patiently persevere when we do not see evangelistic success, and to hope in Christ’s victory. Yet Calvin also stressed our human responsibility in evangelism. God’s evangelism causes ours; we are His coworkers, and He allows us to participate in “the honor of constituting His own Son governor over the whole world.” As Christians, we should evangelize, Calvin said, because God commands us to do so; we want to please and glorify God, in thankfulness to Him for saving us; and it is our duty to both God and our fellow sinners.
History also teaches us that Calvin practiced evangelism. Calvin did not presume that everyone in his congregation in Geneva was saved, and he preached thousands of sermons calling people to follow Christ. Calvin established the Genevan Academy, which from 1555 until his death in 1564 sent out hundreds of gospel preachers. Many of these courageous men accepted calls in France, where they suffered persecution and death at the hands of Roman Catholic authorities. Before Calvin’s death, more than two thousand Reformed churches had been planted in France.
So, history dispels the illusion that Calvin’s doctrines discouraged evangelism and promoted passive uninterest in missions. On the contrary, the truths of God’s sovereign grace in Christ alone fueled a tremendous thrust of missionary endeavor. Whenever biblical, Reformed truth is rightly understood and believed, people go out to the nations for His name’s sake.
Calvin was not the first to wed the doctrines of grace and the necessity of evangelism, nor was he the last. Christian history is adorned with the names of godly men and women who poured out their lives to bring God’s Word to lost sinners in full confidence that the God who has determined the end also has appointed and will use the means.