There certainly are Calvinists who are evangelists, but one issue worth discussing is how the theology of Calvinism impacts evangelism. Some are turned off from Calvinism because of how it is perceived that it would affect their own evangelism—why bother? In other words, if humanity is divided between eternal elect vs. non-elect camps, in which some will be saved, no matter what, and some will remain lost, no matter what, then what difference do we make? Calvinists often respond by suggesting that our personal efforts in evangelism may be part of a larger, predestined chain of events, resulting in the means by which various elect people become saved. Nonetheless, non-Calvinists remain unsatisfied:
Adrian Rogers: “There are those who believe that some being born today, no matter what age they may attain, whether they die in infancy, or whether they die of old age, will never have an opportunity, a chance, to be saved, no matter what else happens, if they are not one of the elect, they cannot be saved. … Did you know that there are some people who believe, honestly believe this, have a form of theology that teaches this, they’re very serious about this, that God does not love everybody…that God only has a select few that He loves, but that He does not love the entire world, that some are loved and therefore predestined for heaven, and there are others who are not loved of God, not chosen, not elect, and therefore, have no chance, none, nada, none, of ever going to heaven. There’s some who believe that. There’s some who teach that. I reject that with all of the unction, function and emotion of my soul! I believe that God wants everybody saved! …Now some of these people who believe that God only loves some are missionaries. I want to say in all honesty, and fairness, some of them are soul-winners, and I thank God for that. But I’m going to tell you, if you take this kind of belief and let it go to the extreme, it is deadening to evangelism; it is stultifying to soulwinning. … Now I want to make it very clear. I believe in the Sovereignty of God. I believe in Election. I believe in Foreknowledge. I believe in Predestination. But I do not believe in Fatalism, that says that some can never, ever, be saved, no matter what.”118
For Calvinists, in addition to the biblical command for evangelism (Ezekiel 33:7-11; Matthew 28:19) and the reasoning that they might be the predestined means whereby God dispenses an Irresistible Grace, they also reason that God may have seeded their audience with a member of the secret elect, thus guaranteeing the success of their work and hencesupplying the boldness to carry on. The problem, though, is that evangelism then becomes a round-up of the elect, rather than an authentic saving mission. In Calvinism, elect-unbelievers would be lost sheep, but who were also born in such a way that they were never, at any time, in danger of the fires of Hell and judgment. Moreover, in Calvinism, evangelism no longer becomes an open offer to anyone like in the parableof the Wedding Feast of Matthew 22:1-10 (since in Calvinism, Jesus didn’t die on the Cross for everyone, as per the Calvinist doctrine of a Limited Atonement) but simply a command that the non-elect cannot receive while the elect cannot ultimately resist.
Evangelism is also what typically creates a distinction between a “High Calvinist” and a “Hyper Calvinist.” A “Hyper Calvinist” personally applies Calvinism with logical consistency in such a way that often results in going from being an evangelist of the gospel to a debater of Calvinism against other Christians.
An additional manifestation of Calvinism upon evangelism is a Calvinist’s steadfast rejection of a “Gospel Invitation” or “Altar Call.” In fact, Calvinists can become quite hostile toward a non-Calvinist’s method of evangelism, particularly in the way that it presumes human free-will.
The ministerial practice of extending invitations through what is commonly referred to as an “Altar Call,” invites the unsaved to publicly pray to receive Jesus Christ into their heart and become saved. From the Calvinist perspective, though, such a practice necessarily results in a theology of “decisional regeneration,” whereby a decision for Christ results in salvation, thus placing the matter of salvation within the power of human choice, when yet in Calvinism, elect people are total haters of God until regenerated by an Irresistible Grace. Therefore, Calvinists have a theological pre-commitment to reject giving a gospel invitation.
Whereas sanctification is a process over time whereby the Holy Spirit develops the believer into greater spiritual growth through a deeper relationship with God, salvation is instantaneous, representing a point in time when a person goes from lost to saved and judged to redeemed.
Romans 10:8-13 illustrates this process:
Romans 10:8-13: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”
Moreover, the prayer of the remorseful tax-collector of Luke 18:9-14 resulted in him walking away “justified.” So, the evangelist is essentially a middle-man, placing two parties together—the lost sinner like the aforementioned tax-collector begging for mercy and forgiveness, and a willing God who stands ready and able to give it. Bible verses cited in support of a gospel invitation are as follows:
Matthew 11:28: “‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavyladen, and I will give you rest.’”
John 14:23: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.’”
Acts 2:37-38: “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
Revelation 3:20: “‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.’”
What do Calvinists believe?
Jeff Noblit: “The work of praying a ‘sinner’s prayer’ is not salvation. It can become a silly superstition and nothing more than a sacrament in Baptist clothes.”119
So, Calvinists typically hold that the notion of “praying to receive Christ” is not an authentic act resulting in salvation. Ironically, though, some Calvinists consider one’s decision to convert to Calvinistic theology as a form of “salvation within salvation.”120 In Calvinism, salvation is not something you do to receive, such as, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31), but something you passively receive, in terms of a secret regeneration, resulting in faith and repentance. Therefore, salvation in Calvinism is a matter of self-discovery, in terms of coming to discover one’s place within divine providence as one of the elect.
An important thing to remember is that while salvation is free, discipleship is costly. Salvation is a gift for the guilty, simply at the asking, that is, God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ in terms of what He did for each of us at Calvary so that anyone can come to Jesus and be saved. So while salvation involves Christ’s sacrifice, discipleship involves our own sacrifice, and when salvation is conflated with discipleship, Legalism necessarily follows.
What do Calvinists believe?
J.I. Packer: “…the new gospel has in effect reformulated the biblical message.…we depict the Father and the Son, not as sovereignly active in drawing sinners to themselves, but as waiting in quiet impotence ‘at the door of our hearts’ for us to let them in.”121
James White: “Jesus does not seek to ‘woo’ them to a ‘freewill decision,’ nor does He strike up a lengthy invitation hymn and try to overcome their stubborn rejection of truth through an emotional appeal.”122
Although gospel invitations are opposed by many Calvinists, it does not reflect the views of all Calvinists:
Charles Spurgeon: “I further believe, although certain persons deny it, that the ‘influence of fear’ is to be exercised over the minds of men, and that it ought to operate upon the mind of the preacher himself.”123
Charles Spurgeon: “Some of my Brethren are greatly scandalized by the general invitations which I am in the habit of giving to sinners, as sinners. Some of them go the length of asserting that there are no universal invitations in the Word of God.”124
Charles Spurgeon: “I know the Lord has blessed my appeals to all sorts of sinners and none shall stop me in giving free invitations as long as I find them in this Book. And I do cry with Peter this morning to this vast assembly, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of the Lord Jesus. For the promise is unto you and to your children, even to as many as the Lord our God shall call.’”125
James Kennedy: “Are you tired of the emptiness and purposelessness of your life? Are you tired of the filthy rags of your own righteousness? Would you trust in someone else other than yourself? Then look to the cross of Christ. Place your trust in him. Ask him to come in and be born in you today. For Jesus came into the world from glory to give us second birth because we must–we MUST–be born again.”126
Perhaps the reason why many Calvinists reject an “Altar Call,” “Gospel Invitation” and “Sinner’s Prayer” is because they do not believe that the invitation to be saved is for everyone. In other words, why give someone a choice to be saved when God hasn’t given everyone that same opportunity? Remember that a Limited Atonement, as per Calvinism, guarantees that only a select few have any opportunity for salvation.
If Calvinists refuse to give gospel invitations to the lost on the grounds that the lost may not really mean it, then consider an analogy of wedding vows. While the Bible may not provide explicit instructions on wedding vows, we nonetheless still do take wedding vows, and we could argue that since 50% of all marriages end in divorce, 50% of the people aren’t keeping their wedding vows so let’s stop doing wedding vows altogether because some obviously don’t mean it and are not keeping it. Of course, that is simply an example of the proverbial “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” Has anyone ever heard a preacher say, “Well, I just don’t know if I ought to lead them in their wedding vows because I don’t know if they really mean it”? So, if pastors are still willing to lead couples in their wedding vows, not knowing whether they will ultimately keep it, why should pastors be reluctant to lead a lost sinner in a gospel invitation, not knowing whether they will ultimately keep it?
118 Adrian Rogers, Let the Earth Hear His Voice, 2004.
119 A Southern Baptist Dialogue: Calvinism (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2008), 98.
120 One Calvinist stated in a message forum at OldTruth.com: “A wonderful friend of our family once commented that coming to understand the Doctrines of Grace was akin to a type of salvation within salvation.”
121 Introductory Essay to John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ, http://www.all-of-grace.org/pub/others/deathofdeath.html.
122 Debating Calvinism (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2004), 121-122.
123 Charles Spurgeon, How to Win Souls for Christ.
124 Charles Spurgeon, The Silver Trumpet, 1861.
126 Why I Believe (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1980), 140.