12 Comments

  1. Ah yes, this issue on the PB… I was in your shoes on this several years ago and also found the majority view on there was what you described.

    Regarding your original question, I do understand the cultural situation was different than as now (travel and how that affected missions). But, did any anyone point out our confessions chapter (and the Savoy’s) “of the Gospel…”. Studying out the question as to why that chapter was added (Westminster didn’t have it) I think is a small piece that may help.

    • Bob Gonzales

      Thanks for your remarks, Jason.

      I agree that the historical and cultural circumstances (i.e., pre-colonial times, persecution, sacral society, and so on) probably conditioned the way in which the framers of the 17th century Puritan confessions addressed the church’s mission to the world. Moreover, it’s certainly true that Savoy and 1689 do add a chapter not contained in the WCF entitled, “Of the gospel and of the extent of the grace thereof” (cf. 20).

      Yet even Chapter 20 (as it stands) focuses on the necessity and sufficiency of special revelation but fails to give a clear and explicit emphasis on the church’s responsibility to propagate that revelation. So it seems to me that the Confession only addresses evangelism and missions implicitly at best. Interestingly, Dr Tom Nettles proposed some modifications to chapter 20 that would remedy this deficiency. The reader can see Dr Nettles’ suggested modifications here: “A Suggested Addition to the Second London Confession,” Founders Journal (2005): 22-26.

      In any case, I’ll address the issue of evangelism more extensively in my next installment. I may also repost a brief article I wrote a while ago on updating the 2LBF in order to articulate and proclaim more clearly and explicitly the church’s mission to the world. This is important since the church’s mission to the world is a vital part of the church’s very identity (1 Pet 2:9). [update: click here.]

  2. Thank you for this thoughtful, well-researched position, Dr. Gonzales. This is much needed in the North American RB community today. Though I have heard it argued that the ones arguing for this ordained-minister-only approach to evangelism and ministry are in the minority in ARBCA and other RB circles, their voice is certainly loud and resonant on the web. Again, thank you for this response.

    Jason, will you be posting this on The Confessing Baptist with a click-to-listen link?

    • Bob Gonzales

      Billy,

      I do see a tendency among some Reformed leaders either to deny or to minimize this responsibility. Such a tendency is unhealthy in that it can give rise to a kind of consumerism among God’s people (in which they conceive of their duty in terms of coming merely to receive from God a good sermon and the sacraments rather than coming to get equipped to serve and share the gospel) and even potentially to a variety of hyper-Calvinism.

      I’ll be posting the companion to this article “A Biblical Defense of Lay-Evangelism” shortly. In that article I deal more with the biblical data that support the notion that all of God’s people have some level of responsibility to evangelize the lost. Of course, that responsibility is conditioned by one’s knowledge of the gospel, level of spiritual maturity, gift, and providential opportunities.

    • Billy, I’ll post it when the series is concluded.

      Dr. Bob, from what I understand, granted it is at best implicit in our confession, the practice of these churches that held to these reformed confessions (and their forefathers) was that they were indeed evangelistic. I’m thinking of these http://confessingbaptist.com/the-reformation-missions-by-ron-baines-audio/ & http://confessingbaptist.com/upcoming-book-to-the-ends-of-the-earth-calvins-missional-vision-legacy-by-michael-haykin-jeff-robinson/. (Though I am aware of the sad period in Baptist life of various forms of hyper-Calvinism which Fuller helped pull many out of.)

      That said, I recall when I was in these same arguments (with some of the same people, some I met in person with and discussed these things with) one thing I heard over and over again was that they wanted to guard against the (false?) pressure that is perhaps put on a stay-at-home mother of 3… or a businessman to have the same “ministry” as their pastor. I assume those are issues you will touch on in your following post so I look forward to how you deal with those things.

    • Bob Gonzales

      Jason,

      Thanks for your questions and input as they help me clarify my position.

      I’ve never claimed that Calvin or the Puritans weren’t evangelistic. I believe the opposite. Indeed, some of the greatest evangelists and missionaries have come come from Calvinistic and Reformed stock. My burden, rather, has been twofold:

      First, with respect to the Confession: I do not believe the WCF, Savoy, or 2LCF adequately articulates and expounds the church’s evangelistic and missionary responsibility to the nations. If the Savoy or 2LCF did, why would a respected confessional Baptist historian like Dr Nettles suggest the need for additions to Chapter 20 in order to (in his words) “articulate a clear theological motivation for personal and world-wide evangelization, avoiding the error of the hyper-Calvinist” and to “help correct the tendency to abort evangelism from its theological womb”?

      Second, with respect to the article above: I have never argued that the stay-at-home mom or the business man have the same responsibility to evangelize the lost in the same ways as the ordained church-planter, missionary, or pastor. While I believe every believer has some measure of responsibility to evangelize unbelievers proactively, I’ve always affirmed that that responsibility is conditioned by such factors as (1) the depth of his or her knowledge of biblical (gospel) truth, (2) the level of his or her spiritual maturity, (3) the degree of his or her communicative gift, and (4) the kind of providential opportunities that present themselves, which, in turn, relate to his or her vocation or calling in life. So my thesis is not that every stay-at-home mom or businessman has to engage in street preaching or door-to-door evangelism. Nevertheless, the 6th commandment, the Golden Rule, and numerous other biblical data constrain me to conclude that all of Christ’s disciples are called to take not just a reactive (1 Pet 3:15) but a proactive part in the church’s mission to the world.

      Hope that helps. And grace and peace to you, dear brother!

  3. Oh ya, I wasn’t reading you saying any of those things, just saying those were some of the arguments that kept coming up to me and I was looking forward to your future post on this and wanted to know if what I understood about church history was true. Sorry for the confusion, wasn’t meaning to assert anything. I see your point about it not being explicit, just implicit at best, all I meant to ask was I wonder if it was needed at that time… but whether it was or was not I can see Dr. Nettles’ (and your) point.

    • Bob Gonzales

      No problem, brother. The Confession was written in a day in which the citizens of the land were expected to go to church. So it’s not that surprising that much evangelism took place within the church on Sunday. In other words, much Puritan evangelism took place from the pulpit. But we live in a different time and context. Accordingly, I believe there needs to be greater and more explicit stress on the command to go and make disciples. That is, I’d like to see a fuller and more explicit affirmation of evangelistic and missionary outreach in the Confession itself. Moreover, while I agree with those who don’t want to impose false guilt on stay-at-home moms or businessmen, I think it’s a mistake to assign the sole responsibility for evangelism to the trained clergy. But more about that in my next post. 🙂

      Once again, thank you for the helpful interaction.

    • There seem to be two errors against which we must guard: the tendency to stress “baptize and teach” in place of “go and make disciples” and the tendency to stress the “go and make converts” while neglecting to “baptize and teach.” We live in a day when Calvinistic theology is on the rise in the Western church. Many who were previously converted under Arminian, non-Calvinistic, or anti-Calvinistic ministries are coming to a more Reformed understanding of the faith. As such, they are gravitating to Calvinistic, Reformed, or Reformed Baptist churches. It can be quite easy to see this “growth” in numbers in one local church as evangelistic success, while never truly seeing one genuine convert result from a church’s evangelistic ministry (teenagers in the pew aside).

      On the flip side, there is a tendency among non-Calvinist and Calvinist evangelists alike to “make converts” in public places who are then just left to fend for themselves, which leaves off the last two thirds of the Great Commission (baptize and teach). It seems to me that, in our reaction to these two errors, we must tend toward a robust emphasis on the whole of the Great Commission, lest our proverbial pendulum swing into the opposite error.

  4. Steve M.

    Thank you Dr Gonzales for this timely article. I think you have well identified an unhealthy dichotomy in reformed circles. It is important to remember that a discussion of semantics is rarely as inconsequential as it sounds. Semantics are the building blocks of orthodoxy, which in turn inform orthopraxy. Rightly defining “ministry” from the outset will properly put the onus of responsibility on the entire Body of Christ to serve in multifaceted and meaningful ways.

    I trust that this will be a good resource for many who are striving to flesh out a biblical ecclesiology. Many thanks.

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