Election & Evangelism
How should the doctrine of God's Eternal Choice in Christ shape the way we seek stray sheep, build disciples up, or evangelize the lost? It is my prayer, while certainly not the last word on the subject, that these musings may stimulate us to play our part and engage in this marvelous missionary task.
Seek opportunities to speak the Word of Christ.
No doubt there are many ways in which our Lord will bring people to Himself. His secret will has decreed an infinite number and variety of circumstantial coincidences - these either provide a setting for speech, or act as links in the chains, to bring about the final Christ-uniting event by grace, through faith.
A good example is the meeting Paul had with Philippian Lydia: it was fairly predictable, I would suggest, that serious-minded inquirers might be located, on the Sabbath Day, met for prayer, perched around the river bank, in this European city - this was, after all, where such women-worshippers, who were Gentile fearers of the LORD, used to meet. Had Paul prospected the environs and done a survey of this Via Ignatian roman colony? Did he inquire about where, or whether or not, such a worship site existed? That seems rather likely! Thus, abiding in Christ, led by the Spirit, after prayerful thought, he wisely made the choice to search-out an audience for Truth. It was this prudent selection that brought him into connect with the purple, Thyatiran, immigrant, worker: it was in this appointed place, through a fairly standard speech, that the Lord sovereignly opened the heart of one of His chosen sheep, who responded to His voice. Let this be a reminder that key soul-winning components are abiding in Christ, and being ready to reach out and seek openings for truth. Did Jesus preach in the open-air on hillsides and beaches and, in-doors, in houses and synagogues? Did Peter and Paul, declare the Gospel in streets, markets and Temples both sacred and pagan? Then, on our part, surely it would be rigid inflexibility, feelings of insecurity, or Bible-reading dullness (or something else) that strait-jacketed truth to four walls of God's House or ducked behind a pulpit for cover in a sadly-secluded Gospel - it would be to do exactly what Jesus forbade, in concealing light under a bushel.
We would, however, be equally unwise to build a riverside ministry (where true worshippers might be absent) on the warrant of a descriptive text like this - if we only know of one stream-side convert (excepting Naaman in the OT and the disciples of John in the Gospels), then a biblical incidental circumstance is insufficient warrant or a passcode to lost hearts. In personal work, as well as evangelistic outreach, we must not allow ourselves to be tied down to any individual time or place: every true believer has his or her own gift from God with opportunities to share Christ (at home, school, arena or work) that are completely unique to them; so, abide in the Word, keep a burdened heart, avoid a one-track mind, pray for when and where, obtain wisdom from above, and when the door swings wide, proceed to speak the Word - our only rule of faith and practice is to do what God commands and avoid what Christ forbids.
Use Means of Grace appointed in God's Word.
There is no doubt, at all, about the primary means God has appointed, before the beginning of time, for the salvation of the elect. To err in this matter is to work in flesh not faith, dilute disciple understanding of our Great Commission task of His Church, and invite (or induce) a raft of false, manipulated, decision-based, conversions without conviction, however well-intended (yet, in spite of many mis-steps, God often gains glory for Himself in the salvation of the lost or edification of saints - yet that it not to be taken as a warrant for an unwarranted course). If employing carnal means has the allure of immediate, apparent, success, the long-term net-effect may be reversal of early gains and reduced confidence in God's Word. Let us never forget, Christ offers Himself in His Word: it was just as Paul preached that the efficacious Word unlocked Lydia's sin-bolted heart - just, as at Creation, daylight broke the darkness, the creature was renewed and Lydia was reborn.
For over four decades I have observed steady, then accelerated, church decline in the West (that may not be your own experience). It would be far too simplistic to identify one factor that accounts for the generalized emptying of God's Church - the whole truth, doubtless, is deep, complex, multifactorial, and liable to differ on a local, regional, national or even denominational basis. Yet what I have witnessed, for now nearly half a century, is ever more innovative and desperate attempts by godly folk to win the lost with increasingly more miniscule aliquots of truth.
In our desire to win the lost we must never surrender this basic premise and presupposition of the Gospel: Christ died for the elect who, sooner or later, inevitably and inescapably, will listen to His voice - that principle is decreed and fixed by God. If, as we are convinced, the Saviour speaks through His Word, and especially through Truth preached, we need not be ashamed to abandon barren church-projects which do not bear fruit or result in abiding additions to the Church (how exhausting and inexplicable to repeat unprofitable mistakes when losses must be cut). Of course, we cannot see what God is doing behind the scenes in secret places of the heart. However, we should not cite the odd example of a "one-off" foreign missionary whose ministry bore much after death but no fruit in this life, as a standard evangel model - that might be valid in ground-breaking, frontier service, but is hardly justifiable if the Covenant vocation in Christ has called us to bear fruit. So, it is not unfair, I believe, to note, if the general approach to outreach has been largely energetic, zealous, prayerful and sincere, that passion for souls has not always been pursued along the Bible's well-worn paths. If Paul could counsel Evangelist Timothy to devote Himself to public Scripture reading and exposition, this "Bible box" has all the power-tools to erect God's Holy Temple, the pillar and buttress of the Truth, resting on Apostolic Foundations, united round Chief-Cornerstone Christ.
Preach the unabridged, unmuted, true, full, Gospel.
The Lord Jesus Christ is received through penitent faith in His Word. He, alone, is the Appointed Mediator: He it is, uniquely, who has provided hope of eternal life, for every true believer, and in whom saints finally and fully escape from sin, death and Hell. Spiritual union to Him remakes the whole new man.
No doubt there are exaggerated, fundamentalist-leaning, sermons which are short on winning truth and high-octane, fearful, threat - expositions of a certain morose, morbid, angry, personality type have done much to distort the presentation of God's mercy and dissuade more-sensitive believers from a direct proclamatory approach.
Yet, on the other side, there are those, perhaps, of a more benign, smiling, bent who give too much credence to the objections of the world and, disliking doctrine or disdaining warning, have urged that the trap should always be baited with "sugar" and never sprinkled with a little alerting "vinegar".
All other things being equal, from a human standpoint, balance, proportion, wisdom and judgment are vital ingredients to faithful, effective, proclamation. Only-friendly or only-frowning preachers must not distort truth by personality abuse. Jesus and His Apostles never sacrificed warning on the altar of winning, while they always offer Heaven as the attractional alternative to Hell. How much we all need cleansing, cure and conformity to Christ, by grace - He alone is the only perfect evangelist.
Unite great protestations with glorious presentations!
There should be strong, clear, unmistakable, loud, trumpet blasts of threat - naturally stubborn sinners, and flesh plagued saints, need conviction of sin to drive them outside self and urge them to make for the Physician of Souls, Jesus. If David needed a pit, it was confrontation with pods that made the Prodigal envy well-fed pigs, and created just enough self-loathing to consider a better offer.
Yet, such shrill sirens should never last so long that we kill-off vital hope or extinguish a smoking flax (to mix my metaphors): if the Redeemer of the Elect is the gloriously-exalted, and sympathetic, Great High Priest; and if the Saviour of Sinners is the very incarnated exposition of Blood-Bought, Covenanted, Mercy of the Heart of the Loving Father; and if the Son of God is the Second Pre-existent Divine Person of the Godhead in all His infinite perfections; and if the King, who far-surpasses Solomon in discernment, is the embodiment of all God's infinite, salutary, wisdom; then, we must ask ourselves, if it is possible to justifiably present the Gospel of Christ, without opening up any vantage-point of sight of his excellence, beauty or radiance to the sheep?
Perhaps it is this sweet melodious note of the glory of the God-Man which, too often, is drowned out by other important elements in the message: if we have to err in this matter of balance, perhaps we are right to let glory of His grace and goodness hog the limelight. In other words, election gives us the confidence to teach and preach all truth in biblical proportion and balance over time (not, of course, God's whole counsel in just one single message). Our bold prayer should be that the Lord might grant such grace, to apply the truth we speak, so that conviction, confession, conversion and conformity to our Savior might be found in the elect through His own effectual offer of full forgiveness to humble, contrite, sinners.
Pray expectantly God might own His Truth.
There are sowers and reapers, planters and waterers, but God gives the growth. Leave results to God, and (making sure we declare truth with diligence and discretion) do not lose too much sleep: Luther was able to speak in these kind of terms of His ministry of the Word and its miracle-working, reformation, power: "I did nothing! The Word did everything!"
This allows the preacher not to take Himself too seriously. It urges pastor and people, who pant to see souls saved, to make public and private prayer a top-priority in church life (prayer must never, ever, be sacrificed, or bumped down the agenda, for any lesser non-essential) - this, as Charles Haddon Spurgeon recognized rightly is the engine-room of any church. Rather than encouraging evangelistic sloth (which is a fatal, fatalistic, fruitless, misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God), it excites to a holy, optimistic, realistic, evangelistic confidence, pillion-passengered by a cross, which does not take ourselves too seriously, but takes the message very seriously indeed.
Use appointed means to the fullest, positive, extent.
Such a strong view of Christ's over-all cosmic reign, ought to make us eager to max-out on Truth. There is a tendency in some circles to avoid all emotion - dead-pan delivery was not the apostolic style. It is wrongly advocated that a three-point sermon is preached (as I myself frequently do), and then God is left to finish the work of the application of truth - but a urgent faithful pastor should not leave the Word floating in Church cyberspace like that: our intention must be that the message should be uploaded from the inbox.
Not only did Christ declare and unfold the proper meaning and import of Scripture; Jesus pressed it urgently on hearers. The apostolic model was, by the Spirit, to engage and retain hearers with powerful argumentation, biblical demolition, soul persuasion, objection overcoming, canonical proof-texting, loophole closing, so that opponents could not refute it and face auditors with the facts.
The present, general, lack in this respect can be traced to many sources - perhaps it is partly due to the current unpopularity of longer sermons. Homileticians (at least on this side of the pond), right across all denominations (just to generalize a little [at least in my own experience]), urge we preach sermons that state, explain, illustrate and apply - the old practice of meeting objections and adding scriptural witness, seems to have been dismissed [or absorbed into application].
In my own judgment, this is a badly missing note, in sermons I have the privilege to hear [which are often quite good in so far as they go] - it seems dangerous to assume that urging with persuasion is included naturally in application. Perhaps it is a fair objection, in fear of becoming too manipulative, that those of a slightly more Arminian bent, are correct to detect a missing note. Intentionality its important at this point. While speakers must always be mindful of the capacity and context of their hearers, it would be wiser, in my view, and more conducive to fruit-bearing preaching, if, as we draw our message to a close, we kneel down and ask "Is there a biblical text I can call to the witness stand?" and "Where is the glory of Jesus in this sermon?".
May God give us confidence in the election of the lost to salvation through the Word of Christ! May we humbly, zealously, faithfully, seek unction for all pastors in weekly Gospel declaration! May we wait on the Lord to open up doors to share the truth! May the lives we live adorn the soul-winning, life-saving, powerful message of Sovereign Grace - all sheep hear his voice and no little lamb of Christ will be able to resist.