A sentiment that surfaces in the church every now and then is that mission outreach and evangelistic efforts are not necessary. The reasoning goes: God has predestined people to salvation; He will convert whom He will convert; all we need to do is wait for the elect to become part of the flock and feed them faithfully.
Professor Kenneth J. Stewart noted: “Churches standing in the Reformed theological tradition have regularly been suspected of constituting a “weak link” in support for world missions and evangelism. More than anything, Reformed theology’s endorsement of the doctrine of predestination has been singled out as the reason for this, as it has been reckoned by non-Calvinists to provide a kind of respectable subterfuge for lethargy in missions and evangelism. ‘After all,’ Calvinists are alleged to think, ‘God will see to it that the proper number of elect persons are saved— irrespective of whether we are active as His agents.’” Steward proceeds to highlight Reformed mission efforts and some myths regarding Reformation mission attitudes. (See the entire article.)
The theological question is an important one. If we believe, teach and confess that God has chosen His redeemed people since before the foundation of the world, is mission outreach necessary? Or, are Gospel sharing efforts simply vain gimmicks of a church growth mentality implemented to please the egos of ambitious, success-oriented pastors and Christians? Should followers of Christ stay where they are, humbly and faithfully guard the truth of God’s Word, and feed the flock gathered by the Holy Spirit?
Much is at stake in these questions, but allow me to highlight two Scriptural and Confessional truths that hang in the balance when mission is viewed as dispensable.
First, the means of grace are at risk. Hear Francis Pieper and Martin Luther:
“In so far as the Reformed teach a creation and preservation of saving faith not through the means of grace, but through an immediate operation of the Holy Spirit, they are divesting the Church of the condition essential to life. Men are organs (causa instrumentalis) for the expansion and preservation of the Church only in so far as they proclaim and teach the Gospel…Luther: ‘Sarah, or Jerusalem, is our free mother, the Church, the bride of Christ, of whom all of us are born. This mother gives birth to children without ceasing, to the end of the world, by exercising the office of the Word, that is, by teaching and spreading the Gospel; for thus she bears children’” (Christian Dogmatics, Volume 3, 415-416).
Luther goes on to laud a multiplying church, not one that sits in the shadows waiting for God to bring in His elect. The means of grace are at risk of being cast aside if the church retreats from mission.
Second, the purpose of the doctrine of eternal election is twisted when it is used to minimize mission outreach. Hear Pieper again: “Scripture explicitly and definitely states the purpose of [the doctrine of election]. Its purpose is not to deny or restrict the gratia universalis, as many before and after Calvin have thought, but to confirm and impress on us the sola gratia. Christians, in comparing themselves with non-Christians, are not to get the idea that God has chosen them as His people in view of their ‘different behavior,’ their better conduct, or their lesser guilt, etc., but they should always and in all circumstances remain aware that, compared with unbelievers, they, too, behaved wickedly and are themselves just as guilty before God as are the reprobate. If they took the opposite view, they would be canceling their membership in the Christian Church, the Kingdom of Grace, and be joining the kingdom of the Pharisees, which lies under the curse” (Christian Dogmatics 3, 490).
Pieper goes on to cite the Formula of Concord: “Thus this doctrine affords also the excellent and glorious consolation that God was so greatly concerned about the conversion, righteousness, and salvation of every Christian, and so faithfully purposed it that before the foundation of the world was laid, He deliberated concerning it, and in His [secret] purpose ordained how He could bring me thereto [call and lead me to salvation], and preserve me therein” (Christian Dogmatics 3, 492-493).
Shall we sit back and cite the doctrine of eternal election as a reason to make mission dispensable? God didn’t. He sent His Son Jesus to die and rise for us. He provided the means of grace and made us His causa instrumentalis for the expansion and preservation of the Church as we bring these gifts to the world. The doctrine of election is not an excuse for mission lethargy. It is evidence of salvation by grace alone from a God who stops at nothing to reach the lost.
Shall we follow in those steps as Jesus calls us to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation?
By: Rev. Michael W. Newman
Mission & Ministry Facilitator, Area C