Reformed Christianity throughout its history has been plagued by a defect. It is not inherent in historic Reformation theology itself but is a mutation—a departure from the original. This defect is the notion that there is no meaningful place for evangelism in the Reformed faith.
Like any mutant, far from being a true expression of the original, it is an aberration. It departs from what is true and authentic. So, in that sense, the idea of there being no need to engage the lost with the gospel was never part of the teaching or practice of the Reformers, their theological ancestors, or their true heirs and successors. The true doctrine of evangelism, like any doctrine that is genuine, will bear the hallmark of having been shaped in every way by Scripture.
Just as the Apostle Paul anathematized those who proclaimed the aberrant gospel that had crept into the churches in Galatia (Gal. 1:9), so the great missionary Apostle’s blood would have boiled with anger at the thought of Christians who deny the necessity of gospel proclamation.
This issue has surfaced repeatedly and in different forms wherever Reformation truth has been taught. It happened in Britain with the rediscovery of these great truths after the Second World War. And it was largely in response to this that J.I. Packer wrote Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.
The fundamental premise of Packer’s argument is that there is no contradiction between divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Even though they cannot be reconciled in a manner that answers all our questions, they nevertheless coexist harmoniously for one very simple reason: “The Bible tells us so.” The same divine Word that says God has chosen a people for Himself from before the creation of the world (Eph. 1:4) also says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). What seems irreconcilable within the limits of finite, fallen reason makes perfect sense to the Author of all things—and therefore should be welcomed by us as His people.
It is striking to see how this becomes the driving force behind the church’s urgent missionary endeavor in both old and new covenant epochs. In the Old Testament we see Israel, God’s light to the nations, engaging in a polemic against false gods and all forms of idolatry. They present a compelling apologetic against worshiping the work of human hands, but also for the reasonableness of devotion to the One true God of Scripture. In the New Testament, we see the Apostles and all believers going out with the message of Christ crucified to reach the lost. Wherever they went they did not preach this message mindlessly but rather preached by reasoning and with persuasion.
Just as Paul was persuaded to press on with his evangelistic mission to Corinth by God’s telling him, “I have many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:10), we should be encouraged to do so in the neighborhoods where we live.