The Goal of the Gospel & Missions through the Eyes of a Calvinist

A common question is often raised, often in hostile dialogues, “If one believes in a God who has determined beforehand the destination of souls, why would one ever evangelize or do missions?” When that question is raised, I, more often than not, hear an inadequate or just plain bad response given instead of a proper response. Usually the answers are given by some poor, young soul who has not given much thought to the matter and does not want to get burned at the stake for the denying the present validity of the Great Commission, thus he says something like, “God has commanded us to do missions. We do not know who the elect souls are. Christ will not return until the Gospel has reached the ends of the Earth, etc.” All of these are true statements, but none of them are a proper answer to why we as Christians are to be about the work of evangelism and missions.

However, contrary to the popular belief that those who hold to a more Reformed view of theology are less apt and motivated to preach the Gospel and to reach the Nations than those who are not, I believe that the opposite is true, namely that those who are truly Reformed in their theology are better equipped both doctrinally and historically to be about the work of the Great Commission. Therefore, I hope that this post will not only adequately answer the question, “Why do Calvinists do missions?” but will also demonstrate that those who are genuinely Calvinists cannot help but “to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of [Christ’s] name among the Nations” (Rom. 1:5).

The End Determines the Means and Motivation
A question that is seldom asked is “Why do we as Christians, regardless of doctrinal persuasion, evangelize and do missions?” In other words, “What is our chief goal in doing missions?” To such a question, the overwhelming response, I believe, would resemble something like this: “We evangelize and do missions so that people might hear the Gospel and be saved.” This is indeed a noble endeavor–to preach the Gospel so that souls might be saved–but is this our chief goal? I believe that this is for many their chief goal, for it is from this goal that the question arises, “Why, if you believe in the sovereignty of God over the salvation of souls, do you preach the Gospel?” If one’s belief is that the chief end of evangelism is to win souls to Christ, then that question is the natural one that one would ask of those who believe in God’s fore-ordinances.

However, I am convinced that our chief goal in and our driving force behind the Great Commission should not be the salvation of souls but it should be the proclamation of the name of Jesus Christ throughout the world. Yes, I do believe that we are called like the apostles to be fishers of men and harvesters of the ripe fields, but I believe that salvation of men is the result of our endeavor not the endeavor itself.

Romans 1:5, in its brevity, packs in several profound declarations, but I only wish to look at one those. In it, the apostle writes, “Through [Jesus Christ] we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for his name’s sake among all the Nations.” In this verse, Paul declares that the reason of his journeys, the very core of his work is the name of Jesus Christ. In other words, Paul did his evangelism and his missionary work just as he did his eating and drinking, viz. to the glory of God (cf. 1Cor. 10:31). And lest I be accused of building a theology off a single passage, the apostle writes elsewhere:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ (2Cor. 2:14-17).

In this text (one of my favorites, by the way), the apostle likens the spreading of the Gospel around the world to a victory march. He declares here that our business in our labors is to spread the fragrance of the victorious Christ around the globe, not to save souls. Notice the language that he uses concerning men: “To one [Christ is] a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” In other words, Paul intimates that the chief end of his labors was not to save the souls of men, but it was to spread the aroma of Christ. This is not to say that Paul was ignorant or apathetic to the effects of the Gospel, but it is to say that he knew his role in the salvation of souls. He said it elsewhere in these words: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth (1Cor. 3:6). Paul understood it is God who saves men, not Paul, and he therefore preached the Gospel to the glory of Christ recognizing that to some it would be a fragrance from life to life, and to others it would be a fragrance from death to death.

The Consequences of the Wrong End
In the same passage where I demonstrated the end of Paul’s apostolic work was the glory of Christ, he writes this sentence: “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” A profound problem arises from our evangelism and our missions when the salvation of souls is at its center and not the glory of God and his sovereignty, namely, we become peddlers of the Word of God. For this reason, the salvation of God is presently warped and twisted from its orthodox view–the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit who brings about faith through the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to a sales pitch and a prayer. This wrong end manifests and has manifested itself in thousands of different ways throughout the Church’s history. For example, today, we print thousands of different “Gospel” tracts every year that work in the same way that a travel brochure does–it lures someone in and makes the sale. On the academic side, we find those who become really smart by studying philosophy so that they argue with atheists and persuade them that they are wrong, and then they brag about how they can give a Gospel presentation in under three minutes as supplement to their “evangelism.”

What have we become? We are not prophets and preachers of the Gospel of God promised beforehand in the Scriptures, we are salesmen and debaters who think little of God’s part in salvation and much of our part. We, rather than boldly proclaiming repentance and belief in Jesus Christ, slither and snake people into coming to our churches and praying some concocted prayer. We lure them with our music, our feel-happy preaching, and our open doors, all for the sake of saving their souls when in actuality we a killing them. Our churches are malnourished and dying from all the fluff that has been preached for decades for the sake of bragging about sales numbers, so much so that the church is now filled with people who think that they are saved because they bought the sales pitch and said the magic words. And people wonder why the American church looks no different from the rest of the world!

Paul continues this same theme a couple of chapters later is his letter to the Corinthians, and I think it is fitting passage to conclude with:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2Cor. 4:1-6).



Categories: Theology

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2 replies

  1. John 10:16 "I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them in also, and they will listen to my voice."

    John Piper discusses this verse in "Let the Nations be Glad" (p. 55 in the 2nd edition) and goes on to say that "[the doctrine of election] does not make missions unnecessary, it makes missions hopeful." He also mentions how an Intervarsity staff worker at an Urbana conference said that he thought at the beginning of his missions career that he could never be a missionary if he believed in predestination, but after 20 years in missions he came to the conclusion that he could never be a missionary if he didn't.

    In other words, the hope that God goes before you, and that Christ will bring in His elect when the Gospel is preached to them gives us a hope that fuels mission, not a crass belief that extinguishes it.

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  2. In other words, the hope that God goes before you, and that Christ will bring in His elect when the Gospel is preached to them gives us a hope that fuels mission, not a crass belief that extinguishes it.

    @Brad
    That is one reason that many lack boldness in proclamation and rather tip-toe around the truth. We don't need any badgers here at Johnson's Church;-) (sorry, if you miss the allusion).

    I haven't read Let the Nations be Glad, but I am planning to. I assume that Piper has a similar but more exhaustive view.

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