Theology affects practice. Practice affects theology. That is inevitable. Reformed theology has a practice of worship and evangelism that is consistent with its theology, and that sort of evangelism and worship reinforces Reformed theology.
Many in the broader Christian world would say that Reformed theology affects evangelism by killing it, but we simply believe that the command of God is motivation enough for evangelism. In other words, the way that Reformed theology affects evangelism is in the use of the simple (as to form) means of God’s Word and sacraments. Since we believe that God is the author and finisher of salvation, we also believe that He ordains the means whereby men will come into salvation. Those means are Word and sacrament plus nothing.
Since we do not believe that it is man’s will that is the ultimate determiner of the rejection or acceptance of salvation, we believe that what God commands is most important in evangelism and worship. God desires that we simply use the means of preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified so that the power of the Spirit might be demonstrated and that our faith would not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Over against this view, Arminianism says that man’s will is the ultimate determiner of salvation and, consequently, we must use all possible means to convince men to change their wills. Of course, they will use the Word of God at some point, since men must know what message they are being asked to believe, but all sorts of other things will be added to it. The natural consequence of such a belief is that we must continually be worrying about how our building looks, what type of building we meet in, how the lighting is, how neat things look, what type of music we have, whether or not we are too offensive, or whether or not we are too deep. In addition, we must use all sorts of gimmicks to try to get people in. We all know examples: forty days of purpose, Promise Keepers, popcorn night, concerts, movies, and Superbowl Sunday.
The types of concerns and gimmicks that I have mentioned above are the dominant concerns in most churches today. The reason for that is the dominance of Arminian theology in American churches. They have an Arminian theology, and they follow an Arminian practice.
The sad thing is when Reformed churches act inconsistently with their theology and think it necessary to take on an Arminian practice in order to grow their churches or get people saved. This can happen in two ways.
First, the church puts the focus on the outward presentation and relies on the same gimmicks as the Arminians. This is all too common today. We should not be surprised to see these churches unable to root out Arminianism and ultimately moving toward an Arminian theology.
Second, it happens all too often in the laity. I have talked to members of Reformed churches who were rather zealous for Reformed theology. But they felt awkward about inviting people to church. The reasons they give: it’s too deep, it’s too offensive to new believers, and people aren’t friendly enough.
But they should have faith in the power of the Word. If the Word is preached, then the Holy Spirit will use it for His own purposes. It is only a lack of faith in the power of the gospel that makes us have doubts about inviting people to our churches. It is a practical Arminianism.
In our day, we are surrounded by Arminianism and practical Arminianism. We must make great effort to withstand it. Many who come to our churches will not understand why we do things the way that we do them, but we must stand for a practice that is consistent with Scripture and consequently our theology.
Ultimately, at issue here is the glory of God. God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the wise. Paul deliberately did not use the powerful methods of his day in communicating the gospel but rather came in weakness (1 Cor. 1:26–2:1). The reason was that no flesh should glory in God’s presence (1 Cor. 1:29, cf. 2:5).
When we use a fabulous presentation with all of the world’s marketing methods, when we bring in all the bands and the lights and the graphics and the cartoons and the humor and the drama that we can to get people into church, then who gets the glory for the “success”? It is man. But when we stick to the simple form of Word, sacrament, and prayer, God gets the credit. The world would never expect that this simple thing would be enough to overturn the world, bring in salvation, and overcome the powers of darkness. Yet it is, but not because it is acceptable to the world (1 Cor. 1:20–24) but rather because it is the power of God (Rom. 1:16, 1 Cor. 2:4).
Rev. J. Wesley White is pastor of New Covenant PCA, a small church nestled in the Black Hills of Western South Dakota.