Article 5: The Mandate to Proclaim the Gospel to All
Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.
Having labored in articles 1-4 to establish the point that the purpose of the death of Christ is to be found in the satisfaction of God’s wrath toward sinners who have sinned against his infinite holiness, the authors now move on to make the point that the very nature of the saving work of Christ demands that it be proclaimed to sinners everywhere. This is because the proclamation of the cross of Christ (i.e., the gosepl) is the primary means by which God calls his elect to faith.
As we saw under article 3 of the first head of doctrine, the Canons make the point that God has not only ordained the ends (who will be saved), he has also ordained the means by which he will save them, and that is through the preaching of the gospel. As we have seen, the Scriptures themselves connect the end (the salvation of God’s elect), with the means by which God saves his elect (the death of his only begotten son, whose shed blood is more precious then gold or silver).
It is clear that the death of Christ is the only possible means by which God’s anger towards sinners can be satisfied and turned away from them. Therefore, it is the gospel--which is defined by Paul as the proclamation of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-8) in such a way that Christ’s death is publically placarded before sinners (Galatians 3:1)--which must be proclaimed to sinners. This is so that sinners might understand that God’s anger toward them is satisfied only by the death of Christ. This is so that sinners may trust in the satisfaction of Christ to save them from God’s anger toward their sin. This is so that sinners might receive the forgiveness of sins, and the free gift of eternal life.
To put it more simply, God's end—the salvation of his elect—determines the means of saving the elect. It is the death of Christ which assuages God’s holy anger towards sin in a display of his justice and mercy. Since the only way any can be saved is through the death of Christ for them and in their place, this gospel must be preached to all nations (people) without exception. Since God has determined to save his elect through the death of his son, this necessitates that the gospel be preached to all so that God’s elect, scattered throughout all the nations, might come to faith in Jesus Christ and thereby be saved from God’s wrath to come.
Sadly, it is so commonly argued that if you believe in the Reformed conception of election, you will inevitably depreciate the need for evangelism, I am afraid that many Reformed Christians have tragically come to believe the falsehood foisted upon them by the other side. There are indeed a number of faithful Reformed churches and missionary organizations, yet sadly, the Reformed do not have a reputation for being “evangelistic.” This is a shame. Let us all endeavor to do better.
But apart from the question “How are the Reformed doing at evangelism today?” let us be careful not to forget that the real question here is, “How does the Reformed view of election affect the Reformed view of evangelism?” As is clear from the Canons, the Reformed believe that election and the preaching of the gospel are necessarily connected in terms of divinely appointed ends and means. The Reformed should, therefore, be quite zealous to see the gospel preached to their neighbors as well as to the nations. When the Reformed neglect evangelism, they are not being faithful to their own confessions and heritage.
Thus the two great errors which arise at this point are the error of neglecting evangelism—of which the Reformed are often times guilty—and the error of basing the success of the evangelistic enterprise upon the ability of the fallen human will and not in the sovereign power of God which is made manifest in the preaching of Christ crucified. This latter error has moved much of Christ’s church away from a cross-centered faith to an enticement, entertainment-centered faith.
This change in emphasis has produced a host of problems, from the altar call to the mass evangelistic crusade which takes places apart from the auspices of a local congregation and the means of grace. Whenever this enticement-entertainment approach is adopted, the emphasis inevitably falls upon the enticements themselves and there is always a subtle but real tendency to manipulate people to respond to the stimuli. The focus is no longer upon a clear and faithful proclamation of the saving work of Christ in which the hope of effective evangelism is grounded upon God’s grace and power. Instead, too often we trust in the natural ability of fallen men and women to come to faith if enticed to do so.
As Reformed Christians let us carefully take note of what our confessions teach about the relationship between election and evangelism, namely that “it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.” It is the Paul who teaches us that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of whoever believes (Romans 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:17). Thus we must place our confidence in the proclamation of the saving work of Christ, if we wish to see men and women come to faith in the Savior. If we believe in total depravity and unconditional election, we must equally believe in the centrality of the preaching of Christ crucified, since of these things are necessarily connected.