How did the Puritans witness to a lost and dying world? How should we learn from their biblical models?
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 grave error) is consumed with the need to elicit the sinner’s prayer. So long as unchurched Harry and Sally are so encouraged (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, Calvinistic, 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, Independents, and 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.
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.