Friday, February 20, 2009

Evangelism and Calvin

Evangelism and the church

“[The people asked] What shall we do? Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of yor sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call…Those who accepted his message were baptized and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

There is very little debate these days about evangelism, but perhaps that debate needs to be raised, considering the demise of the mainline churches. The secular world would not have us evangelize. They want peace- the peace of being left alone- which is the peace that comes from the grave- not the eternal peace that comes from God. It would be easy for the church to comply with their wishes. In fact, when we evangelize things get messy. People from other cultures, races, backgrounds, and ideas start coming to our church and changing things. If we don’t evangelize the church will be more comfortable, but it is the comfort of staying in the death bed. This past week our presbytery closed two churches that at one time were vital. We have been started two new churches for seven years and they are doing well, but we have closed five churches in those seven years.
Calvin was concerned about the spread of the gospel. He sent out ministers to start churches- evangelists if you will. He wrote many volumes to spread his ideas. Lay people would read these and seek the Lord. However, Calvin lived in a time when most people went to church out of obligation and as the only alternative. The parish church thrived in Calvin’s day. Today there is not the same sense of Christian community and obligation. Leith has argued that Reformed evangelism is inclusion into the church. This is a major emphasis in Calvin. Yet another major emphasis is that it is not just outwardly being included, but also inwardly being regenerated. Calvin was against empty liturgy. He was opposed to outward pomp and inward emptiness. Prayer must be from the heart.
Faith alone is important- not faith and outward good works. The Holy Spirit convicting, illuminating, causing repentance was an important part of Calvin’s teachings as well as biblical teaching.
While certainly evangelism is doing things like inviting those who visited church back, and starting new churches (inclusion into the church). It also is proactively going to those who have not heard with good news. When Leith wrote that evangelism is inclusion into the church (1988), the church was still a force to reckoned with in secular society, albeit slipping. Today the church is secondary. The gospel is not about the institution, but the institution comes in response (as a need to get organized, be efficient, fellowship, encourage each other, pray together) to the gospel. If the church does not do more proactively to reach out to those who have never heard, it will shrink to only a stalwart few. Loving neighbor is a primary emphasis in Calvin. Certainly part of loving our secular neighbor is inviting them to church- yes. But also reaching out to them when they may not want to come to church (hopefully when they are regenerated they will want to come).

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