If Divine Election is True then What Need is There to Preach the Gospel?
Someone recently asked:
"Since a Calvinist believes salvation is wholly God's work without any partnership with man, he or she approaches evangelism nonaggressively. Calvinism teaches there is nothing whatsoever a person can do to become savedâ€”we can't "decide for Christ" or "receive Christ" enabling a person to "become a Christian." To do this would give man a part in salvation. Calvinists believe salvation is from God and God alone. To make salvation hinge on an individual's "accepting Christ" or "receiving Christ" makes salvation partially a human endeavor. A true Calvinist believes that nothing whatsoever a person does or is contributes anything at all to salvation. Salvation is God's work alone and we play no part in itâ€”not even receiving salvation counts. If divine election is True then what need is there to preach the gospel?" Therefore most Calvinists are really practicing Arminians
Response: Hi, and thank you for your excellent question. Right off the bat, it may be that you may be confusing the concepts of justification with regeneration. All historic Calvinists have believed that the ministry of the Word is vital to the purposes of the gospel. It must be preached to the unregenerate sinner in order for him/her to be saved. The Reformers called this the ministry of Word and Spirit. No one will ever be justified or made right with God without receiving Christ, as preached from the Scripture. ... that is one of the reasons why I have personally spent time as a missionary for 10 years. The issue ultimately is whether or not anyone is naturally willing to accept the humbling terms of the gospel (1 Cor 2:14; Rom 3:11, 12, 8;7). All true gospel preaching is only effectual "with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven" (1 Peter 1:12). Otherwise it comes to men only in word, with no saving effect at all. The Apostle Paul, when speaking to the elect at the church of the Thessalonians said, "for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction." (1 Thessalonians 1:5). Where the Holy Spirit is active, convicting men of sin, righteousness and judgment, the gospel is spoken with power. Illumination and the regeneration alone can open the eyes of our spiritual understanding and raise us from spiritual death so that we might have spiritual desire and thus heed the gospel when preached. In other words, the word of God does not work "ex opere operato," (automatically) rather, it is the work of the Holy Spirit sovereignly dispensing grace (John 3:8), quickening the heart THROUGH THE WORD to bring forth life. So the written word is not the material of the spiritual new birth, but rather its means or medium. "The word is not the begetting principle itself, but only that by which it works: the vehicle of the mysterious germinating power". It is because the Spirit of God accompanies it that the word carries in it the germ of life. The life is in God, yet it is communicated to us through the word. In other words, election is God's blueprint and has no saving value in itself. Divine election is accomplished through the redemptive work of Christ applied to His people by the Spirit using means (prayer, preaching) to accomplish His end.
Repentance and faith (commands of God) are themselves God's working in us the desire both to will and to do (2 Tim 2:25, Eph 2:5, 8) and not something that the sinner himself contributes towards the price of His salvation. Repentance and faith can only be exercised by a soul after, and in immediate consequence of, its regeneration by the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:1, 10; Acts 16:14b; Acts 13:48; John 10:24-26; Ezekiel 36:26-27; John 6:37; John 1:13; 1 Cor. 4:7; 1 Cor. 15:10; Jas. 1:17; John 3:27; 1 Pet 1:3). God regenerates, and we, in the exercise of the new gracious ability given, repent. God disarms the opposition of the human heart, subduing the hostility of the carnal mind, and with irresistible power (John 6:37, 63-65), draws His chosen ones to Christ. The gospel confesses "We love him because He first loved us." Whereas before we had no desire for God, but now God's regenerating grace gives us the desire, willingness and delight in His person and commands that infallibly gives rise to faith. Faith and works are both the evidences of the new birth, not the cause of it. This is clearly indicated in the following text from the Scripture:
"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God...Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony [of God] in himself...And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life."(1 John 5:1, 10, 20)
A persons without the Spirit cannot understand spiritual truths (especially the natural man) So according to this text we first require spiritual understanding prior to believing and knowing the Lord. The verb tense of 5:1 makes this undeniable, putting belief squarely as the result of the new birth. Ask yourself, was this understanding ever given to someone who would reject the gospel, according to this passage? The text says, we were "given understanding SO THAT WE MAY KNOW HIM who is true..." The text says that those given this understanding infallibly come to know Christ.
A real world demonstration of this is recorded in the book of Acts when Paul is preaching and a woman named Lydia, "... was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul."(Acts 16:14) This should remove all doubt as to the biblical nature of this doctrine.
Earlier, when the apostles were preaching to the Gentiles we find another clear illustration of this:
"When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." Acts 13:48
This passage is a perfect example of the point I am making. The gospel is being preached to the Gentiles but only those appointed to eternal life believed. Both election and the preaching of the gospel (applied by the work of the Spirit) are necessary to produce this result. Election itself does not save someone without Christ. And since God uses means (prayer and preaching) to accomplish our redemption, this is directly contrary to your claim that Calvinist doctrine would make us unconcerned about the need for evangelism or your denail for the need of evangelism) Furthermore, if the Arminian position is true you would have to eliminate or ignore this passage.
No one is saved without hearing the gospel. No Calvinist has ever taught that God works to save people apart from the word of God, missionaries and preachers (see John 10) and that we Christians can just nonchalantly wait for God to save people apart from the concurrent use of means. We believe God not only ordained the ends but the means as well. The end is salvation and reconciliation with God and the means are prayer and preaching of the gospel. The Holy Spirit applies the means (the gospel) to the heart of His people. Those dead in sin (Eph 2:1,5,8), play no part in their own new birth (Rom 3:11, 12; 8:7). Once the sinner is restored with a new sense, given spiritual understanding and holy affections through Word and Spirit, the soul's new disposition immediately plays an active roll in conversion (repentance and faith). Thus, man does not cooperate in his regeneration (new birth) but rather, infallibly responds in faith to the gospel as the Holy Spirit changes our hearts' disposition (John 3:6-8; 19-21). Faith is, therefore, not something produced by our unregenerated human nature. The fallen sinner has no moral ability or inclination to believe prior to the new birth. Instead, the Holy Spirit must open one's ears and circumcise their hearts to the preaching of the gospel if one would desire to hear and believe.
Calvinist Paul Mizzi, speaking on this important issue, says,
""Predestination in no way hinders the zeal of the evangelist; rather the contrary. For as we know that God foreknows his own (though we have no idea who they might be) we can be sure that those (and only those) will finally believe and turn to Christ. For their sake the church is willing to preach the gospel far and wide. "For many are called but few are chosen.â€ The call goes out to all and sundry, but the fact that many continue in unbelief is to be traced to their corruption and sinfulness. "For men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light..." ...As Calvinists present Christ to a fallen world they do not do so believing that people have power within themselves to turn to Christ. They do so because they believe in the power of the Spirit to resurrect dead bones and make them live (Ezekiel.). Their faith is in the power of God, not in the goodness of men...Men are unable to believe: "How can you believe who receive honour from one another and not the honour that comes from the only God?" (free translation). "Therefore I said unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father" (John 6:65). "A man can receive nothing, except it be given unto him from heaven" (John 3:27; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:7)...Because of original sin and all it entails, men are unable and unwilling to believe; but God can make them willing to believe. For what is impossible for men is possible with God!"
To conclude, I believe I have more than adequately proven the fallacious nature of the underlying thesis of your article. To claim that receiving Christ for the forgiveness of sins is exclusively an Arminian doctrine is thoroughly erroneous. In critiquing modern evangelical leaders who claim to be Calvinists but are "practical Arminains" you said, "While maintaining that God alone does the saving, today's church figures that men and women have a part to playâ€”confessing sins and receiving Christ. To today's average Christian, Christ's death on the cross provided completely for our salvation, but forgiveness is not effective until an individual receives God's forgiveness. In this most Christians are "practicing Arminians." My hope is that this letter has corrected your mistaken view. Historic Calvinism has always taught that sinners must repent of trusting in their own righteousness and must exercise faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance and faith are both the commands of God and the responsibility of sinners. To portray historic Calvinism in any other way is less than truthful.