Monday, May 22, 2006

Missions and the Doctrines of Grace

As a Calvinist, one thing I often hear from those on the other side of the theological fence is that Calvinism stifles missions. I am sure that if you are a Calvinist, you have also heard or read this same thing before. Especially if you are like me, and are part of the Southern Baptist Convention. It seems like everywhere I turn, someone is trying to explain to me how Calvinism is contradictory to the way Southern Baptists believe. Many well meaning brothers will say, you can not be a Calvinist and a Southern Baptist at the same time, because Southern Baptists have always been missions minded, and Calvinists are not!

My friend, this is simply not true! Not only were Southern Baptists historically mission minded, but they were also historically Calvinistic, and their theology did not stifle their missionary efforts, it encouraged them.

So where does this misunderstanding come from? Well first, let me say that, I believe the reason for the majority of these accusations is simply ignorance. The vast majority of our accusers have either forgotten or they have never known where we as Southern Baptists came from. They have no idea that historically, the vast majority of those involved in the modern day missionary movement were Calvinists. For example, Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice, and Andrew Fuller – all Calvinists! They all believed in and taught the Sovereign Grace of God! Even the “father of modern missions,” William Carey, was also a Calvinist. Yet he had a great missionary zeal and wanted to use every means at his disposal to win the lost to Christ. He was part of the “Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Heathen,” and Southern Baptists, are descended from those Particular Baptists, Baptists who believed in and taught the Doctrines of Grace, AKA Calvinism.

OK, I can already here you say: “So these early missionaries, who were also Calvinists’, were the forefathers of Southern Baptists, but how can that be?” Why would you go on a mission trip to proclaim the gospel to the lost, if God has already pre-determined who was going to be saved?

This I believe stems from the second and maybe even more common error; and that is an extremely skewed view of what true Calvinism really teaches. For example, if you were to ask most of those that bring these accusations to define Calvinism, you would likely get something like this; “a Calvinist is someone who denies the responsibility of man and appeals to the sovereignty of God.” In other words, a Calvinist is one who believes that God has made an arbitrary choice to save some, and those that He chose, He will drag, kicking and screaming into the Kingdom of Heaven, whether they want to go or not. The problem with this definition of course, is that it is totally untrue. This is however a pretty good definition of Hyper-Calvinism.

So while a true Calvinist would definitely not deny the sovereignty of God, he would also not deny the responsibility of man. Both are taught in scripture, and both are true! God chose his elect before the foundation of the world, not arbitrarily, and not because of some foreseen merit, but based on His own good will and pleasure. He regenerates them and calls them through the gospel, and they are saved! That is what God does. Man, on the other hand, who in his fallen state, can not and will not repent and believe in God. But once regenerated, he then realizes his state and his need for a savior, and in repentance and faith, turns to God for salvation. That is his responsibility! And if he does this, he will be saved!

So why do we go? The Scripture says in Romans 10, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” Because we know that this, going and preaching, is the primary means or instrument by which God uses to save the lost. William Carey knew this full well. He knew that he was one of God’s chosen instruments! He was given the privilege to preach the gospel to the lost. Like Paul, he wanted to be all things to all men so that he might save some. He knew that all wouldn’t accept his message, but he also knew that some would. That’s why he went, because he knew that God had already gone ahead of him and ensured his success, and He will ensure ours as well.

So while many in the SBC may think it's heresy, it's really just history or His Story. Calvinism does not stifle missions, it encourages it, and it guarantees our success!

Recommended reading:

If you are interested in learning more about Southern Baptist and their history, let me recommend a book by Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology at Southern Seminary, entitled “By His Grace and For His Glory, a historical, theological, and practical study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life.”

Grace & Peace
Dave Scarbrough


Gordon said...

My I be a pragmatist of some sort here? I cannot understand why people make the claim that 'Calvinism' undermines missions and evangelism. (I really don't like the term because I do not believe all that calvin taught and be cause I know that such teaching did not originate with him. it is sad that It got stuck with him)

As I look at the doctrines and apply them there are some very important ways that its tenets influence our lives as Christians and gospel movers.

1. It influences humility and praise before God. It elevates our minds to sheer awe knowing how glorious and infinitely sovereign God is yet he chose to love us.

2. It Informs our conversion. When people know that they cannot come to Christ unless the father draws them to him they will be careful about their professions of faith. They will monitor the condition of their heart and the existence of their true love and commitment to Christ as they believe the gospel.

3. It informs our message. Because we believe that it is the "preaching of the Cross" that will be either "foolishness to those who will perish (the non-elect)" or the "Power of God" to "Those whom God is saving (the Elect" The Calvinist ensures that he understands and communicates the correct message concerning Jesus. Understanding the biblical teaching of Sovereign Grace will cause the preacher to ensure that his message is God/Christ-centered and gospel saturated. That isn't to say that he cannot use illustrations or make a joke here or there but the bulk of the message would be earnestly bible infused and an explanation of the gospel will be his primary message in Evangelism and missions work. Gimmicks and 'hooks' will not be the big deal to make the Christian faith more attractive. but Exposition of the gospel would be the main event. Also, He would not be overzealous about results (leaving them up to God) but will take his time to ensure that his hearers understand the biblical teaching of the Person and work of Christ (Throughout the whole bible).

4. It directs our methods. As I indicated above, the preacher who believes the biblical teaching of Sovereign Grace will not be pressed for results such that he utilized unbilical means to attract people to Christ. Again, this does not mean that strategy cannot be used. But the calvinist will be more inclined to carefully think about how clear and influential the message is over and above the attention paid to the strategy. Careful, continuous gospel experience through discipleship and discussion rather than one time proclamation at a crusade or street witnessing may be better.

5. Calvinism motivates the minister to preach to as many as possible as many times as possible as much of the message as possible knowing that God will fulfill his promise to save his elect (exactly who they are, by the way, we have no idea). The Calvinist who truly understands this teaching will not be demotivated because among the teachings of Calvinism is that God through regeneration quickens the dead sinner and he becomes alive with the faith, love, commitment to Christ that eh never had before, therefore it is not possible for disobedience to be the norm in his life. In that case, Obedience to the command of Christ to make disciples of him among every people group should be something the Calvinist is willing and eager and excited to be involved in. it is my contention that any Calvinist who wilfully neglects the commands of Christ on the basis of God's Sovereignty in Salvation (1) Does not understand Sovereign Grace and (2) May do well question his Salvation.

In my estimation, Calvinism really does not undermine Evangelism and missions. It does a good job of refining it and motivating it as far as I can see from the Scriptures.

CrisEmy L said...

All sounds good. But "WHY?" How is it relevant to obey God or not, to go or not to go, to preach or not to preach, if at the end, no matter what, I may be doing it all for someone who God decree will go to hell as the majority of human beings, for the "good pleasure of his will"? And how does that make a REAL difference if I go or not to preach to someone who no matter what, God already predestined from eternity past to be saved? Is it just relevant for my personal growing? I get your point. We should do it, but if we don't do it, is there a real impact in the mission field or not. Isn't God even sovereign over my obedience to go or not?
And, why do you even bother writting this blog defending your position if those you are trying to convince they maybe predestine by God to believe what they believe?
I have several SBC and other Calvinists friends. And I found out they just quit thinking and reasoning over these things. And still do a good job. BUT... I found a recurrent problem, no willingness to logic and there is no fire of the Holy Spirit.

Gordon said...

Because God's sovereignty goes beyond his freedom to choose and orchestrate. His sovereignty means that he is the one in charge and deserves to be obeyed. Good is sovereign over our obedience. The point here is we are not. We don't know the secret minute details of the plan of God. we knew the overall concept of his redemptive thrust. And that includes the proclamation of his kingdom in Christ being organized through his life, death, and resurection.

God's sovereignty in anything, including salvation is not our business to figure out in the details of his eternal decrees. We just need to know the fact that he is in control and he gets his just and perfect week accomplished.

We have his command to preach the gospel and make disciples in light of the eternal authority that Christ possess. Without God's elective element in salvation we can never knew what such a command would be successful. But because we know that God saves sinners purely by his grace and for his purposes and glory, we can be bouncing that when we preach the gospel the saving is in God's hands. And such teaching helps to actually rely on the holy spirit seeing we can do nothing more than proclaim the message.