Calvinism: Ministry Killer Or Ministry Motivator?

If you want to start a fight in a church, start a debate on the Doctrine of God’s Election. If you are not sure what that means then read how The Belgic Confession briefly summarises it:

‘We believe that all the posterity of Adam, being thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of our first parents, God then did manifest Himself such as He is; that is to say, merciful and just: merciful, since He delivers and preserves from this perdition all whom He, in His eternal and unchangeable council, of mere goodness hath elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without any respect to their works: just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.’

This is a doctrine hated and loved, in equal measure, by many down through the centuries. Nowadays, young, evangelical Christians are more likely to have read the ‘The Shack’ than any good, historical, doctrinal work. Sadly, today, the terms ‘Doctrine’, and ‘Election’ are sniffily dismissed with a wrinkled nose without so much as 5 minutes thought, because it doesn’t ‘feel’ like it should be true. Even more shocking than that is the widely held view that belief in a doctrine of election actually leads to a downturn in evangelism and missionary endeavour.

I remember as a baby Christian giving my testimony at a church and speaking to a leader afterward. He was giving me the usual ‘trophy of grace’ speech and then he said something that always stuck with me. ‘The problem with this Calvinist lot is that they kill evangelism and missions.’ Now, I hadn’t been a Christian very long and I wasn’t sure what a Calvinist was, but they did sound like a bunch of morons. When I went back to my home church and asked the pastor what a Calvinist was, he gave me a wry smile and handed me a book. The title was, A Journey into Grace’ (available here for the kindle) and this was the first (and I think only) doctrinally minded novel I ever read. It chronicles the story of a young man going through Bible College trying to discover whether the doctrines of grace (or the 5 points) are true and biblical, and along the way he meets up with a variety of opponents and fellow enquirers as he works out what the Bible actually teaches. I have given it to many people over the years with the advice that if they are going to oppose something then they better understand fully what it is first. Some have taken the book and been convinced, some not so much but have been notably less antagonistic toward me, and some have rejected it outright. That goes with the territory.

Now, there is an evangelist in the UK who like to crack a (tired/lame/unfunny – delete as applicable) joke when he goes to city centres handing out tracts. The longer the day goes on and the more tired he feels, ‘the more Calvinistic I get’, is his (hilarious) line. You get the picture. He’s even written a number of articles on why Calvinism kills evangelism. The problem with this attitude is that it belies a breathtaking ignorance of church history and a deep misunderstanding (if not misrepresentation) of what the Bible teaches about the  doctrine itself. It is correct, of course, to question how God calls His elect. Do we just sit back and let Him get on with the job (as implied by said evangelist)? Is that how it works? The, ‘if they are called, then they will come’ approach to evangelism? Because I don’t know one person with a deeply held conviction of the Doctrine of Election who reads it like that. Not one. In fact, that is a shameful caricature of this doctrine. So, then, how does God call His elect? Simple really. Primarily, through the preaching of the gospel and through the working of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of human beings. In other words, where the Doctrine of Election is properly held and adhered to, the gospel must be preached! We cannot help but spread the good news of Jesus Christ in prayerful anticipation that God, by His Holy Spirit, will do His work and bring His elect to salvation. We then jump back on board the train and get into the arena of discipleship. Somebody please tell me how that is a death knell to evangelism and mission? If anything, it is a huge motivation.

When I was first interviewed for my position here at Niddrie, a member of the congregation at the time asked me whether I was ‘one of those Calvinists’.

‘One of what Calvinists?’ I questioned.

‘You know. AV, hats, organs and all that.’

‘Ahh…No. I am not one of those Calvinists. But I am one of these Christians.’

Then I opened Ephesians 1 and read verses 3-5 to him. He had confused the doctrines of grace with the miseries of Pharisaical moralists who often hide behind the tag, ‘Calvinists.’

In Yorkshire, When I was growing up my friends and I had a name for people who tried to dress up in trendy ‘named’ labels like ‘Lacoste‘ or ‘Nike‘. They couldn’t afford the real thing so they bought obvious fakes to try and fool people. We called them ‘Plastics‘ (don’t know why). The point is that the only people who were fooled by ‘plastics’ were those who didn’t know what the real brands looked like. That’s how ‘Plastic Calvinists’ work, with their distorted views of scripture and their entrenched church traditions. They think they’re ‘Reformed’ because they googled the name ‘John Flavel’ once or they used a quote from John Bunyan as their Facebook status (scrap that, Facebook is unbiblical and of the devil), but they’re not really. They fool many people into thinking they’re the real deal because our churches are full of doctrinal and biblical illiterates, who wouldn’t know a correctly stated doctrinal position if it fell on top of them in a Sunday service. Dour faced, moralistic, repressed and joyless ‘plastics’ have held sway over our people for far too long. It’s one reason (among many) why so many young people turn away from the doctrines of grace without so much as a thought.

A true, genuine, biblically thought out belief in the doctrines of grace (of which election is but one), on the other hand, promotes the good news, outreach and blissful joy in the great grace, mercy, justice and love of our Almighty God. That’s why I can preach the Word, plant churches and hold to the Doctrine of God’s Sovereign Election without any bother whatsoever.

Here’s quote from a dead dude to sum it all up:

“Yet we honestly subscribe the Westminster Confession. We believe in Christ’s redemption of His chosen Church; in the efficacy of His blood and the perfection of His righteousness. We believe in human impotence, in the bondage of the human will, in the enmity of the human heart to God. We believe in the sovereignty of Jehovah, and His eternal purpose. We believe in the absolute necessity of the Holy Spirit’s work, alike before and after conversion. At the same time we preach a free and world wide gospel; we proclaim a free and world-wide invitation to sinners; we present to every sinner a gracious welcome to Christ, without any preliminary qualification whatsoever. We bid no man wait till he has ascertained his own election, or can produce evidence of regeneration, or sufficient repentance, or deep conviction. We tell every man, as he is, to go to the Savior this moment, assured that he will not be cast out or sent away.” Horatio Bonar

Posted by Mez McConnell

Mez McConnell, is the Senior Pastor of Niddrie Community Church (Edinburgh, Scotland) and the founder and Ministry Director of 20schemes. He has been involved in full time pastoral ministry, both church planting and revitalisation since 1999.

  1. kevin deyoung preached a brilliant sermon on Calvinism being a missions-motivator at the 2013 crosscon and it brought the truths of the gospel home to me in a very new, real, practical way. thank you for this!

    Reply

  2. Matt Triplett 17 April 2014 at 5:52 am

    Great article Mez. Thanks.

    Reply

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