About a block from the church I attend, there is another church. Actually there are about five churches in a one block radius of our church. Hey, it’s East Tennessee, the buckle of the Bible Belt. But one of these churches is a Primitive Baptist Church.
For those of you who don’t know, Primitive Baptist does not mean old Baptist. Primitive Baptists are Baptists who are Calvinists. They have been mischaracterized by some as being hyper-calvinists, but this is not so. They are simply Baptists who will not use any means whatsoever to evangelize. It is not that they are against evangelism, but against the use of tracts, missions agencies, etc. They also deny the proclamation of the Gospel as the means of regeneration. Notice that I said that they deny that the proclamation of the Gospel is the means of regeneration and not that they deny the need to proclaim the Gospel to the lost.
Instead they believe that the proclamation of the Gospel is needed for faith, with which we would all agree. But where we differ is in that they believe that the proclamation of the Gospel is only received once that one has been regenerated by the Spirit, whereas Southern Baptist Calvinists generally believe that the Spirit uses the proclamation of the Gospel to regenerate the lost so that they may receive the Gospel.
It’s a small difference, but a difference big enough to cause them to distance themselves from other Calvinistic Baptists by creating their own denomination. Which brings us to our point, There are no Calvinists who oppose the proclamation of the Gospel to the lost. To be sure, there are hyper-calvinists who have adopted a fatalistic view of salvation where God is willy-nilly picking whoever he wants to be saved and there is nothing we can do about it. But they are not Calvinists.
Calvinists have always been an evangelizing lot. Especially the Calvinists among the Southern Baptist denomination. (For the record, you cannot be a Southern Baptist and be against evangelization. The whole denomination is a mission board.) While there have been disagreements with others as to the methods of evangelization or whether methods should even be used in evangelization, the fact of the matter is that Calvinistic Baptists have always spread the Gospel among the lost.
So where did the idea come from that Calvinists don’t spread the Gospel? Well, to begin with it comes from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of election. Secondly, it comes from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of Total Depravity. But mostly it comes from a misunderstanding of the Calvinists understanding of the role of Scripture and preaching in salvation.
For the Calvinist verses like 1Peter 1:23 (since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;) are not without meaning.
It is clear from this verse that regeneration takes place in connection with the word of God, but only by the power of the Spirit who blows where He wills. So Calvinists do not believe that just the words by themselves have the ability to regenerate, otherwise everyone who ever heard the Gospel would be saved, but that the Spirit uses the Gospel as His vehicle by which He blows new life into the elect.
Adding to this is the belief that conversion is a response to the Gospel. It is impossible to have true biblical faith unless that faith is focused upon Christ who is proclaimed in the Gospel message. Repentance form dead works and sin is a response to the commands of the Gospel. Turning from self-reliance, sin, and self-love are responses to the command of Christ to leave all and follow Him.
So for the Calvinist evangelism is an imperative. We must preach the Gospel to every creature. The preaching of the Gospel is God’s ordained means of bringing the elect to Himself. His Spirit uses the word preached to regenerate the dead and create faith in Christ in the unbeliever. So…why do Calvinists evangelize the lost? Well, because we are commanded to (Luke 24:46,47), but also because the evangel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. (Romans 1:16, I Corinthians 1:21)
In the previous Calvangelism post I tried to show that even some of those who are normally reckoned to be hyper-calvinists are not so. Even they are not opposed to sharing the Gospel of Christ. I also tried to show that the Calvinist understanding of Scripture’s role in regeneration precludes any anti-evangelistic sentiments. Now I want to show how that the doctrine of Unconditional Election does not thwart mission activity, but rather gives evangelism it’s backbone, so to speak.
Usually the allegation is made that Calvinists shouldn’t evangelize if they really believe that God has from all eternity decreed that the elect will be saved. But what those who make the allegation do not understand is that God has not only decreed that the elect will most surely be saved, He has also decreed the conditions and means of their salvation. What this means is simply this, the doctrine of election guarantees that Calvinists will be missionaries!
First, God has decreed the conditions of salvation by which the elect will be saved. What are these conditions? Faith in Christ and repentance of sin are God’s conditions to salvation. (Mark 1:15) God has ordained that all of His elect will be saved by belief in the truth of the Gospel. (Acts 13:47-48) In other words, God does not elect a person and then leave him without a Gospel witness. (Romans 10:14-17) Those who have not believed the Gospel cannot be saved. Faith is a requirement to salvation.
Second, God has decreed the means of salvation, namely, the proclamation of the Gospel, to save those who will believe. (I Corinthians 1:17-24) God has bound up salvation in the Gospel message. No one will ever be saved apart from that message.
So then, it follows that if it is true that God has sovereignly chosen certain men to salvation, then He has also sovereignly chosen to send men to preach the Gospel to those whom He has elected. It is not our duty to know who the elect are, but our duty to preach the Gospel to every creature, knowing that God has chosen some to salvation. In this way we can say that the doctrine of election actually proves that those who truly believe it will be evangelists. If God has a remnant then He also has those messengers who will take the good news of salvation to them.
Finally, the fact of an chosen people gives Calvinists a great incentive to go and spread the Gospel. If it is true that God has a people who will believe, then Calvinists can relax their confidence in themselves and depend on God to work through His means to produce the conditions necessary to bring His people to Himself. Not that Calvinist become lax in the area of Gospel preaching, but that the realize that they themselves cannot change the hearts of men and so while doing their duty of preaching the Gospel, they can rest in God’s sovereign working through their preaching. At the same time, they can have confidence that some will come to faith in Christ through their preaching since God has sent them to preach. And they know that God sends His message to the elect, and the elect will most certainly believe. What a great confidence for the Calvinist!
Much better than depending on methods and men to produce a change, don’t you think?
This is probably the last post in this series. We have already seen how that both the Calvinist view of Scripture and the Calvinist understanding of Election actually make it a requirement that Calvinists be mission-minded. Now we will look at the Calvinist understanding of Depravity to see that Gospel preaching is the only hope for the world.
Calvinists believe in what has been called Total Depravity. Misconceptions about this doctrine are that it is the belief that man is as bad as he can be or that man can do nothing good. What Calvinists really believe is that man has been affected in all areas as a result of the fall, and that as such, he is as bad off as he can be and can do no saving good.
Man’s mind, will, affections, and any other part that you can name have all been affected by the fall. He cannot think right. His will is corrupt and in bondage to sin. His affections are for his own pleasure. He is a man without hope. He is lost. He hears God’s commands but cannot keep them, and he is so perverse that he desires to do that which has been forbidden and neglects to do that which has been commanded. He doesn’t fall into sin, but leaps headlong into hell. He cannot see the impending judgment ready to rain down on his head at any moment. He is blind, deaf, dumb, without feeling, in short, he is dead.
This is where the Gospel comes in. The Calvinist understands that the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation and the means by which the Spirit moves to regenerate the dead. So the Calvinist is left with two options;
1) Deprive the dead of the life-giving power of the Gospel, condemning the dead to hell, or
2) Declare to the dead the Gospel, depending on the Spirit of God to produce the results.
Only a sadistic, maniacal murderer would deprive oxygen to those who have drowned and still have a chance of survival. How much more should the Calvinist, armed with the life-giving Gospel, supply that to the corpse in front of him? We believe that men are hopelessly dead apart from the Gospel message, therefore, only a sadistic murdering Calvinist would deprive a lost world of that message.
So, Total Depravity demands that we Calvinists be evangelistic.
The purpose of these posts have been two-fold. First, they were intended to defend Calvinism against the false charges of so-called ‘hyper-calvinism’. Calvinists must, by our own definitions be evangelistic. Second, they were intended to be a goad for Calvinists. Don’t be what you know you’re not! Preach the Gospel to every living creature! It is the power of God and His ordained means of saving His elect.