Are Election and Evangelism Compatible?

Does the reformed faith have a distinctive approach to evangelism? This question arises from observation. Reformed preachers are taking a current interest in reaching the masses with the Gospel-but many of them seem to be embarrassed by their own efforts. They find themselves teaming up with Arminian cohorts, or else they themselves are sounding an unsteady note.

There is a different atmosphere in the community rally than in the congregational gathering. You cannot assume that everyone present has come for the purpose of worshipping God. You dare not think that everybody there is going to give you a sympathetic hearing. You are stripped of most of the protection which adheres to your ecclesiastical office. You stand there as a man before men.

10 this setting, the Reformed evangelist must make his appeal. He cannot stand aloof. He wants to say with the Apostle Paul, “We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God” (II Cor. 5:20). He feels so deeply for the needy souls before him that he would like to say to each one, “Christ died for you, too!” But he is troubled in his heart by the thought that this may be acting against the divine will. So he heSitantly extends his hands in invitation and then tries to cover up his own unsureness by impassionately crying out, “Will you not, my brother, come?”


Whether or not anybody does come is beside the point. The thing is that the witness himself is under attack. Sometimes there is an assault by others—either verbally or in writing. At other times there is the cry of conscience: “Would you include the reprobate in the grace of God?”

Here is the crux of the problem. The Scriptures teach and strongly emphasize the sovereignty of God. “Jehovah hath made everything for its own end; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Prov. 16:4). “Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? Shall the saw magnify itself against him that wieldeth it” (Isa. 10:15)? “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own” (Matt. 20:15)? “So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth…Or hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor” (Rom. 9:18,21)? Well has this teaching been summed up by the Canons of Dordt: “Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, He hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of His own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom He from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of salvation” (1,7).

How, then, can the Reformed evangelist appeal to men in general? He is trying to be true to the Great Commission. But he cannot use the popular formula: “Christ died for all men. You must decide whether you want to serve him. It’s all up to you.” The Reformed faith appears to pose a dilemma. Either the preacher must act against his beliefs or else he must give up the work of community evangelism.

But the difficulty is only apparent. Actually, the Arminian starts at the wrong end of the Gospel. “That whosoever believeth on him [ Christ] should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) is not the condition of salvation but the assurance of it. This assurance stems from obedience to the command to believe the Gospel. And the Gospel is of salvation by grace through Jesus Christ.

The Scriptures are plain in their statement of the Gospel. “Look unto me, and be ye saved all the ends of the earth; for I am God and there is none else” (Isa. 45:22). “As I live, saith Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked tum from his way and live” (Ezek. 33:11). “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). “And he that is athirst, let him come; he that will, let him take of the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17). How beautifully these texts present the Gospel—and all to the praise and glory of God!

Precisely here we discover the distinctively Reformed approach to evangelism. It is not an appeal to the natural man. It is basically a proclamation—a proclamation of God’s gracious redemption through Jesus Christ. It is not an urgent plea for sinners to gain salvation at the price of faith, but it is the sincere invitation to believe that Christ obtained salvation for all who believe on him.

The Reformed evangelist knows that only the elect of God will respond in true faith—but he does not know who are the elect. Therefore he universally proclaims the well-meant offer of remission of sin and imputation of righteousness. He confidently affirms the promise of Jesus, “Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37). He patiently waits for the external calling by himself to be confirmed by the effectual calling by the Holy Spirit. He does not depend on the response of fluctuating feelings and emotions, but he rests his case on the word of Christ: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:28). The Reformed evangelist is not trying to change human nature—he is simply calling the sheep into the fold.