Puritan EvangelismHow Should we Bear Witness of Christ to the World?
“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear,” (1 Peter 3:15).
For Christians with a solid biblical worldview, it is extremely important to them to know how to share their faith, and be ready to give an answer for the truth which lies in both their heart and mind. As a help to this, we ask the question, “How did the Puritans witness to a lost and dying world? How should we learn from their biblical models?” The Puritans were masters at declaring and publishing the Gospel as preachers, and as Christians. We can learn much from their practice.
Assessing 21st century Christendom in their evangelism is heart wrenching. In light of theological truth and historical practice, today’s church has fallen into a deep ditch. They are even unaware they are in a ditch; so instead of climbing out, they cope. Some denominations remedied the problem biblical evangelism causes by becoming Hyper-Calvinistic. This anti-evangelistic (heretical) position simply throws away the need for preachers to press the Kingdom upon unconverted souls because of their ultra-logical (anti-logical) mindset that “if they shall be saved they shall be saved and I need do nothing. I can only speak, talk, counsel and encourage the regenerate.” That mindset castrates much of the Scriptures and most of the preaching of Jesus Christ and of the Apostles. On the other hand, The Arminian-based system of evangelism (also in damnable error) is consumed with the need to elicit the sinner’s prayer. So long as unchurched Harry and Sally are so encouraged (or emotionally manipulated) to such an end, and pray that prayer, then we can issue them a “born-again” card or certificate to make it official. That way they can extract the card from their wallet or purse when they begin to doubt their conversion at a later time. The church does not practice evangelism as it should. And even when it does it is theologically inept at formulating a helpful practicum on that subject.
In complete antithesis to both these fallacies, and even in contrast to much of today’s orthodox Reformed Evangelism, the Puritans set forth an ideal of biblical Evangelism that has not been considered as it should. It is thoroughly practical, Christian, biblical and, as far as is humanly possible, complete in its theological formulation. In contemporary Reformed circles evangelism is either something tacked onto the last minute of an hour and a half sermon, or it is watered down and peddled to the community in varied forms. The Puritans would have nothing to do with such things. As Reformed Christians we should be ashamed at either the lack of evangelism in our church, or the reformulated and watered down attempt at it in our communities and cities.
I believe there are three important factors why the contemporary Reformed Church (reformed Baptists, reformed Independents, and Reformed Presbyterians) have such a poor practicum towards evangelism: 1) We do not really understand the doctrine of total depravity, 2) We do not have a thoroughly biblical theology of evangelism, and 3) we often recoil at the Puritan doctrine of “seeking.” Many of the puritans spent their entire ministry writing and developing these three important points. Not only did they understand the Gospel, but also they were masters at delivering it to the unregenerate.
The Puritans believed, along with the Reformation, that it is not the responsibility of every Christian to be an evangelist, or to, in that sense, evangelize. This might go against the flow of what contemporary Christians think concerning sharing the Gospel, but those concepts are mutually different. For example, the Puritans thought that the “office” of an evangelist ceased when the office of the apostle ceased, (see John Owen on this – note his quote at bottom). They saw this as an extraordinary office, not an ordinary one. They also made a distinction between “evangelism” and “sharing the Gospel,” or, “being a witness for the Gospel.” Being a witness for Christ, or sharing a testimony or leading someone down the “Roman Road” of salvation is not evangelism as the Bible defines it in that regard. Everyone is called to be a witness to the Gospel. But not everyone is called to be an evangelist (the office which ceased when the apostolic office ceased.) “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3:15). Everyone ought to give an answer for the hope that lies in them. But that is not evangelism. Formal evangelism is accomplished by the role of the pastor, or elder, who has been set apart for the office. The offices of the church are recorded here, “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” (Eph. 4:11). The Westminster Larger Catechism says, “Question 158. By whom is the word of god to be preached?, Answer. The word of God is to be preached only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office.” Preaching is formal evangelism.
It is my hope that this section of A Puritan’s Mind would become exceedingly invaluable to both preachers and laymen; possibly the most practically important on this site. Without a proper theology of evangelism and without a practical method of implementation, as individuals and as a church, we will never be able to rise above the ditch we are in on this most critical issue.
[“With respect unto these ends, extraordinary officers, with extraordinary authority, power, and abilities, were requisite. Unto this end, therefore, he “gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists;” of the nature of whose offices and their gifts we have spoken before. I shall here only add, that it was necessary that these officers should have their immediate call and authority from Christ, antecedent unto all order and power in the church, for the very being of the church depended on their power of office. But this, without such an immediate power from Christ, no man can pretend unto.” See John Owen in his 4th volume of his works on a full explanation of the Puritan view.]