Guilt feelings associated with evangelism
One of the problems with the current form of evangelism being promoted today is that it promotes guilt feelings in both the consistories and in faithful church members.
The consistories feel guilty because they’re told that if they don’t promote this work they are being ‘inward focussed’ instead of shining their light to the world around them. It implies that the light of the Gospel only shines through evangelism and that the church is guilty of being self-centred if it doesn’t join in with evangelism.
And that teaching also makes many ordinary congregational members feel guilty; they’re taught that they’re being unfaithful in their calling if they don’t partake in evangelism.
A simple, believing woman shared with me that she often felt sombre because she couldn’t serve her Saviour by going out and evangelising. Her time was completely taken up by caring for her family and home duties. Consequently, she felt unfaithful to her calling. It was a great comfort to her when she finally began to realise that, simply by reflecting a Christian walk of life in the way she cared for her family amidst her ungodly surroundings, she was giving a good testimony of the Gospel of Christ.
The historical blessing of a godly lifestyle
Another problem with the modern focus on going out and evangelising is that it creates the impression that, in previous centuries, before Christians got involved in this sort of evangelising, the believers had left the world to itself and that the church had had no positive influence on the world. Yet this seriously ignores what the Lord achieved through His people’s godly life, and the Christian development in politics, society and education. It also ignores how through this faithfulness the (Dutch) fatherland was saved in the previous century from the power of unbelief and revolution.
Problems of present day evangelism
If it’s true, as the proponents of present day evangelism claim, that every Christian is called by God to evangelise, they can put aside their work in the family, in education, in social and political endeavours. For if it is a calling of God, it must be done. Then you must go out. The proponents of evangelism point to Jesus’ ministry and boldly declare: “That’s what Christians must do; that’s how Christ wants his kingdom to come.” But if that’s so, then everyone needs to get stuck into evangelising and there’s no time for the true labour in God’s Kingdom. Yet the converse is also true: if we really take the daily tasks given us by the Lord seriously, there is no time for the type of evangelism being promoted today.
How many believers, today, are not neglecting their families, the nurturing of their children, etc., to go out evangelising? And the way many young folks are being exploited for evangelism work, and called to form choirs and whatnot, is equally wrong. A young lady who in her youth had been involved in this work told me on her deathbed that she’d spoken so much about Jesus but now realised how far she had been from having a true faith and true self-knowledge.
To sum it up, evangelism has been a damaging influence for the Reformed and Calvinistic world view that we so desperately need today. Methodist type, superficial forms, terms and songs are much more pleasant and easy for today’s people who appear to have time for everything, except for serious thought and reflection on reformed doctrine and for a life that places heavy demands on mind and heart.
The reformed answer
So, what’s our answer to those who say: “But should we then just leave the world to itself and not worry about it?” It’s a question quickly used as a weapon to defend today’s evangelism, but it exposes a lack of Scriptural and reformed insight in the relationship between believers and the world.
There is such a thing as reformed evangelism—a witnessing of the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world. However, not in the form of organised action but simply through Christ who said, “let your light so shine before men, that they may see their good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). And He taught us to remember also the admonitions about that in the New Testament. Then, and only then, does the Gospel come to the world in accordance with the nature of the Gospel and the needs of the people.
The Gospel will then be seen to be the power of God and the wisdom of God that builds up human life in all its relationships, and that it is not merely a means to make someone “happy”. Then the believers are the “light of the World”, “the salt of the earth”. Then Christ uses them to reach all people, all spheres of life, all classes and groups of human life. That’s said so clearly by Rev B Wielenga of Rotterdam in a sermon on Matt. 5:14—16:
“The true evangelism, the best way to spread the Gospel, is through the daily walk of God’s children wherever the Lord has placed them. The daily godly walk of life is the richest, purest, certainly also the most fruitful preaching. How else could all God’s children put this Bible text into effect? … God therefore sends his children into the daily bustle of life, at the stock exchange, in the market, at the office, on the ship, in the living room and in the kitchen, everywhere God sends and places His children to preach by their deeds, by their works; mostly by their silence, but thereby no less understandable witnessing.
That’s the way all are evangelists. That’s the way God’s children, the small and the great, are to exercise their great and costly calling.”
“The confessors of the Lord’s name have a calling and task in all areas of life, in science and art, in state and society. They’re to be bearers of the light when they fight for justice and righteousness in the various relationships of life. God places them as lights at our universities, in our council halls, in our Parliament, at the ministerial office, yes, wherever.”
You know, it’s a lot easier to engage in organised evangelism than to apply the calling of the Gospel in a self-denying way in your personal life with all its temptations. Yet Christ says, “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” It’s a challenge to be faithful in the calling wherever the Lord has placed us. It requires grace to apply the principles of God’s Word in all of life.
The fervour of the evangelism movement threatens all this by troubling the faithful believers and pushing the importance of faithful witnessing through a godly walk of life into the background. As though that’s secondary to evangelism. Yet it is so important to struggle and apply the principles of God’s Word in all areas of life wherein, in our associations with others, we face a stream of unbelief and revolution.
The Church’s task
And what, now, is the task of the church in all this? It is to nourish the believers with the Gospel and thereby to enable them to fulfil their calling in the world.
“May the Word of God dwell in you richly,” says Paul to the congregation. The task of the church is to equip the believers, and ripen their faith, through Word and sacraments; home visits and admonitions; catechism and education of children. Yes, also through church discipline, so that God’s house may be built up.
“OK,” someone will say, “but all this surely doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t promote evangelism.” The answer is: You must do what your Saviour has told you to do; and do not spare any strength, time, or effort in doing it. For if you seek to be faithful to Him wherever he has placed you, then you have your hands full and there is little need to add something else to it.
You want to do evangelism? Fine. But then in the way the Lord has directed, and not organised by the church. It must flow forth from the personal life of faith of all believers and not be the hobby of some zealous souls. Let the various church organisations equip the believers for their daily task of witnessing and, where the opportunity arises, to help engage with those who are estranged from the faith.
And so the truly reformed evangelism is when Christians walk according to God’s will. Thereby they promote the coming of God’s Kingdom and the name of God is glorified. Thereby they mirror the prayer Christ taught us and whereby we call upon our heavenly Father: Hallowed by Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And then, through their godly walk of life, they show that this prayer has been heard.
Reference: Ds K J Kapteyn to Zwolle, Evangelisatie der Gereformeerden en Gereformeerde Evangelisatie, 1923. Summary by J Numan.