Do the Reformed Confessions Affirm the Duty of Evangelistic and Missionary Outreach?

Discussion in 'Evangelism, Missions and the Persecuted Church' started by Dr. Bob Gonzales, Sep 13, 2008.

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  1. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior


    It doesn't appear to me that the WCF, Savoy, or 1689 adequately articulate and underscore the church's and individual Christian's obligation vis-a-vis evangelistic and missionary outreach (i.e., the Great Commission). Chris Coldwell has noted that Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 191 urges believers to pray for the spread of the gospel [C.C. see previous thread]. I haven't done a careful study of the Three Forms of Unity to venture an assessment on those continental symbols. I'm curious to get your input. Do you believe the Puritan confessions give sufficient space and attention to what is arguably one of the church's and Christian's central roles in a lost world? On a related note, would you agree with the Presbyterian theologian John Frame when he writes, "A church that is not preoccupied with reaching the unsaved is not merely a weak church; it is not properly a church at all"?
  2. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    The short answer to this is that Reformed Theology ordinarily sees evangelism as being done by discipleship through the local church. For example, in the PCA, a young person ordinarily makes a profession of faith to the Elders, is examined, and then becomes a "communing member." This happens regularly and it is evangelism.

    Many Reformed churches are heavily involved in "mission" work with the method being church planting, that is discipling a community.

    There is a tendency in Reformed Theology to teach the full counsel of God's Word, both Old and New Testaments, and draw out God's plan of redemption through that. The Confessions emphasize the authority and revelation of the person and work of Christ through Scripture, so it tends to come in that manner.
  3. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Most would say that, by extension, praying for God's Kingdom to Come is a prayer for at least some sort of expansion of Christianity.
  4. JTDyck

    JTDyck Puritan Board Freshman

    Canons of Dort

    In the Second Head of Doctrine of the Canons of Dort, the part that deals with Limited Atonement, Article 5 says:

    I think this is one of the best uses of the word promiscuous that I have ever heard!
  5. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks, Scott. I don't doubt that many Reformed churches are doing missions and church planting. Moreover, I agree that evangelism should be done in connection with the local church. My primary question is whether the Reformed Confessions adequately articulate the church's obligation to fulfill this role. A secondary and related question: Is evangelism through discipleship is fulfilled solely by means of inviting unregenerate people to church so they can hear a gospel sermon? Or are individual members of a local church responsible to propagate the gospel both by life and also by lip?
  6. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    George Gillespie, one of the Scottish Commissioners to the Westminster Assembly, says this regarding the work of an Evangelist:
    'Tis therefore most agreeable to the Primitive pattern, that where Synods or at least Classes may be had, and are not by persecution scattered or hindred to meet, such as undertake either to goe & preach the Gospel to Infidels, Papifts, Turks or the like, or go about any negotiation abroad in any common bussines of the Church ought to be approved, and authorized by a nationall Synod, or (when that cannot be had, & if there be withal great danger in the delay) by a provinciall Synod, or at leaft, (where this cannot he had ) by a Classis. Treatise of Miscellany Questions 1649), Chapter VII, “Of Prophets and Evangelists, in what sense their work and vocation might be called extraordinary; and in what sense ordinary,” 96-97.
  7. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    John, thanks for the citation. That article clearly defines the publication of the gospel as a duty. So it looks like one of the continental symbols provides a good statement. Do you think the framers of the Canons of Dort would have made a distinction between the ordained minister's role in publishing the gospel as proactive and the layman's role as reactive (ala 1 Peter 3:15)?
  8. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    No. It's part of all-of-life discipleship. One is a missionary whether a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker.

    God uses each of our lives as a means to reach the lost with the Gospel and to disciple one another in His Truth through the ordinary encounters in life. The difference is the Confessions don't emphasize pressing the lost to make "decisions" for God because man lost the natural ability to do so in the Fall.

    There is also particular emphasis on discipling in God's Word (all of it, including the Gospel) with the family, that is, the covenant family. There is a high priority placed there, too.
  9. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian


    J.L. Van Popta, Evangelism: The church's missionary task in the world (1)

  10. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Westminster Directory of Public Worship on Public Prayer before the Sermon:

  11. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

  12. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    See CHAPTER XVIII, Of The Ministers of The Church, Their Institution and Duties in the Second Helvetic Confession on how God uses ministers to build the church.
  13. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    Great questions.

    We get into deeper theology here.

    Basically, Reformed Theology recognizes an "outward call" and an "inward call." The outward call is done when the Gospel is explained to people. The inward call is something only God the Holy Sprit can do, in accordance with God's will in eternity past (eg God decided this before the person was created, born).

    When God (unilateraly) regenerates a person, something happens to the constituent nature of a human being. They are not the same ever again. This regeneration affects every aspect of man's being (mind, will, soul, etc) and inclines the person to Christ. They were not inclined that way before God did this. Immediately, God gives faith to believe in Christ and to rest on that for salvation, something the person could not do before- they could not rest on this because they had a tendancy, a bias, a bondage toward sin before.

    After God regenerates (effectually calls with an inward call) and gives faith, the person is free to "decide" for God and the person most freely does because now they really want to- because God changed their nature. This is marvellous.
  14. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member


    I think the issue is that Reformed Word and Sacrament are measured against revival techniques more than Scripture in many cases and that assumptions about what constitues "Evangelistic and Missionary Outreach" are very rarely examined to determine if they are Scriptural and, in fact, whether or not they actually do the good that many actually believe they do.

    I'm not the kind that likes to throw the baby and the bathwater out and acknowledge that there can be a complacency about being prepared to give an account for the hope that lies within. Nevertheless, what has supplanted Word and Sacrament in many corners is a success-oriented pragmatism that sees Church as too slow or inadequate for the job of reaching the lost.

    The irony, however, is that as soon as a man strikes out on his own, apart from the Church, it is impossible to fulfill the Great Commission. Why? Because we are commanded to make disciples: 1) baptizing them and 2) teaching them everything the Lord commanded us.

    What alarms me is not that the Reformed Church has a way of reaching the lost that I believe is completely Scriptural but that many that call themselves Reformed abandon Word, Sacrament, and Discipline and imitate the people that are "getting results". Seeing the results firsthand, I don't believe there is much that ought to be imitated.

    I was recently very saddened to visit a Church in the NoVA area that was reporting on a mission trip to Peru. Teenage children of the members of the Church had done some good work for their neighbors in Peru and even helped a missionary with catechism. What was sad, however, was that the "testimonies" of these teenagers was a mis-apprehension of the Gospel itself and the missionary work was seen as a way to "get serious" about God as a way to draw near to Him. The poor children they were helping were viewed as "closer to God" because of their circumstances. As the young men and women recounted their "favorite verse" eisegesis ran rampant - especially true for one of the older men in the congregation known both for his zeal but, unfortunately, for his misapprehension of Scripture passages.

    What is misfiring at this Church that has zeal for "missions" is that they're not firing on the "teaching them everything Christ commanded" cylinder. In other words, they have disciples in their midst and they do not train them. "Outreach" is seen as a higher priority than training. Thus, what is typical of many Churches today are ignorant disciples that are concerned about outreach to add to the ignorant Body of Christ.

    I don't say this with arrogance but with sadness at the testimony of these disciples who are supposed to be trained. Left un-checked, many of these zealous adults and teens are borderline Pelagians. There's absolutlely no "borderline" about it at Churches that are not Reformed at all and I've seen Pelagianism on full display across the Evangelical spectrum.

    Hence, you ask about evangelistic and missionary outreach in the Confessions and seem to assume it's not there because it appears that something explicit to the notions of "outreach" as currently defined must be found. I would argue that evangelism and missions are implied and will naturally result when Word, Sacrament and Discipline are Biblically applied.
  15. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    One is a missionary whether a butcher, baker, or candlestick maker.

    I would like to explore this.

    If every Christian is a missionary, than no one really is.

    A missionary is one who is sent out. Your local butcher is not sent out anywhere except for your local environs. Acts gives us examples of those home local churches sent out and who went far to preach teh Gospel. This seems to be the missionary pattern.
  16. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    For some Puritan works on evangelism (see Joel Beeke, Puritan Evangelism; Erroll Hulse, Add to the Church: The Puritan Approach to Persuading Souls; Sidney H. Rooy, The Theology of Missions in the Puritan Tradition: A Study of Representative Puritans: Richard Sibbes, Richard Baxter, John Eliot, Cotton Mather & Jonathan Edwards; and James A. De Jong, As the Waters Cover the Sea: Millennial Expectations in the Rise of Anglo-American Missions 1640-1810 for a few modern treatments), see:

    Samuel Lee, What Means may be used towards the Conversion of our Carnal Relations?, Puritan Sermons 1:142-69
    George Hamond, How May Private Christians be Most Helpful to Promote the Entertainment of the Gospel?, Puritan Sermons 4:410-36
    Daniel Burgess, Wherein may we More Hopefully Attempt the Conversion of Younger People, than of Others?, Puritan Sermons 4:550-84
    Thomas Boston, The Art of Man-Fishing
  17. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    Not sure why "outreach" and "training" even need to be done separately.

    Jesus took his students with him as he ministered. There was outrech during the training and Jesus used the training to do outreach it seems... an action-oriented mentorship whereby Jesus lectured his students, engaged in Q and A and even gave out assignments (the 70) and checked back on results.
  18. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    Not to discount at all the hard work you are doing out there in the hinterlands as a missionary.

    Generally, Reformed would see you as an Evangelist or Church Planter (Church officer under authority) whereas the all-of-life discipleship for every Believer makes them a missionary (in a sense) in whatever sphere God calls them.

    Whereas broad evangelicalism tends to dichotomize sacred and secular, Reformed tends to see a unity of the two, all-of-life discipleship of every Believer.
  19. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Those distinctions sound good to me. Please explain more, you've made some interesting points.
  20. Semper Fidelis

    Semper Fidelis 2 Timothy 2:24-25 Staff Member

    I don't believe they need to be separate. My point is that training is often neglected as if outreach is the sole goal of the Great Commission.
  21. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    In Reformed Theology, power tends to be de-centralized, especially to individuals and families. This comes partly from the "priesthood of all believers." Everything should not be dependent on the Minister, Elders or Deacons not merely for pragmatic reasons but because, biblically, each man stands as his own priest before God.

    If God gives such responsibility to disciple to each believer, its not hard seeing each person as being a "missionary."

    For example, someone called to be a computer architectural engineer is a "missionary" there, in that sphere as much as someone who braves the wilds of Africa to take the Gospel there. One can see how that view makes for a higher level of involvement for "layman" in the church because this is part of the all-of-life discipleship they are called to. One can also see this is a context which much Reformed evangelism gets done (Dr Gonzales).
  22. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)


    Amen. "disciple" all nations, not merely get them in the door....
  23. tcalbrecht

    tcalbrecht Puritan Board Junior

    I believe this points out the superiority of the Westminster Standards when taken as a whole over Savoy or the LBC insofar as the Confession is a "this is what we believe" document while the Catechisms are more "this is what we do" oriented. Missions and evangelism are not a thing that lends itself to confessional language, in my opinion.
  24. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Are you sure about this? Here on the PB the concept of "every member ministry" has been criticized.
  25. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritan Board Doctor

    There is definate ecclesiastical authority in church office but all-of-life discipleship and the priesthood of all believers are very much a part of Reformed theology.

    Remember what Martin Luther told the shoemaker who got saved when the shoemaker asked him, what must I now do? The shoemaker was thinking he had to go away and become a minister.

    Martin Luther told him, "Be a better shoemaker."
  26. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    I want to thank all of you for the helpful input. I also want to make it clear that my posted question is not motivated by any doubts that the Puritans believed in and practiced evangelism. (I'm excluding the strain of hyper-Calvinism that seemed to develop in the 18th century.) And I agree with the many comments that emphasize the importance of a biblically holistic and church-centered form of evangelism and missions. My original question was, "Do the Reformed Confessions Affirm the Duty of Evangelistic and Missionary Outreach?" It appears that the Canons of Dort make this affirmation. It also appears that the Directory for Worship and Larger Catechism at least encourage God's people to pray for the progress of the gospel. And I suppose that we might infer that the duty of evangelism and missions is inferred in the confessional statements related to the ministry of the Word and sacraments.

    But in a day when we no longer live in a sacral society and the majority of our fellow citizens do not attend church, is it still adequate to have a confessional statement from which we may only infer one of the church's central roles in the world? Moreover, doesn't inferring the duty of evangelistic outreach and missions from statements affirming "the ministry of the word" run the risk of downplaying the layman's role in evangelism? I have heard that some Reformed Christians believe the pastor or missionary's role is to be proactive, whereas the layman's role is to be reactive or responsive. This gives the impression, at least to me, that the lay-person is only to share the gospel when asked by an unbeliever. Are any of you aware of this view? Was this view advocated by any of the Reformers or Puritans?
  27. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Willem Teellinck in The Path of True Godliness, p. 132ff identifies the "third purpose of our lives: to promote our neighbor's salvation" and speaks at great length about the duty of Christians to witness to others.

    Heidelberg Catechism:

    BTW, a useful, indexed resource for studying the Three Forms of Unity and other confessional documents may be found here:

    Links and Downloads Manager - Confession of Faith - The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches - The PuritanBoard
  28. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    Scott, thanks for these comments. I tend to agree with this perspective. I recognize that there's a distinction between an officially recognized and commissioned "Missionary" (with a capital 'M') and a lay-person "missionary" (with a little 'm'). But I like the idea of encouraging all God's people to be "missionaries" where God has placed them in their respective vocations. Part of that involves being faithful at one's God-given task (e.g., making shoes). But I think it should entail more than living a good life and doing good work. Individuals should seek and pray for open doors to communicate the gospel. The Baptist Faith and Message (2000), Article XI: Evangelism & Missions, clearly articulates this calling:
    "It is the duty and privilege of every follower of Christ and of every church of the Lord Jesus Christ to endeavor to make disciples of all nations. The new birth of man’s spirit by God’s Holy Spirit means that birth of love for others. Missionary effort on the part of all rests thus upon a spiritual necessity of the regenerate life, and is expressly commanded in the teachings of Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ has commanded the preaching of the gospel to all nations. It is the duty of every child of God to seek constantly to win the lost to Christ by verbal witness undergirded by a Christian lifestyle, and by other methods in harmony with the gospel of Christ."
    I wish that the WCF, Savoy, and 1689 contained such an affirmation. What do others think?
  29. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    Heidelberg Catechism:

    Andrew, thanks for the quote from the Heidelberg. By "conversation," are they merely referring to one's lifestyle? Or do they also intend the verbal proclamation of the gospel?
  30. Dr. Bob Gonzales

    Dr. Bob Gonzales Puritan Board Junior

    I'm willing to concede that the Westminster Standards taken as a whole say more about evangelistic and missionary endeavor than the Savoy and 1689. My second post on "The Danger of Reformed Traditionalism" highlighted this deficiency in the 1689. I'm not so sure that I agree that "missions and evangelism are not a thing that lends itself to confessional language." Apparently, the authors of the Canons of Dort did not think so. And denominations like the Southern Baptists have accorded this role of the Church and Christian confessional status. In a context where non-Reformed churches often accuse Calvinism and Reformed theology of a lack of concern for evangelism and missions (an accusation with which I do not agree), wouldn't it be helpful to include in our declaration to fellow Christians and the world what we actually believe about this? If the Lord Jesus expressly and frequently taught on this subject, then doesn't it merit a fuller treatment in our confessions? If professor John Frame's assertion, "A church that is not preoccupied with reaching the unsaved is not merely a weak church; it is not properly a church at all," contains a substantial element of truth, then it would seem that an entire paragraph on the church's and Christian's evangelistic and missionary role in the world would enhance our confessions rather than harm them.
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2008
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