True postmillennial zeal promotes the primacy of the gospel. The Cross is foundational to God's eschatological victory; in fact, the Cross guarantees eschatological victory. Correlatively, theonomic postmillennialism also demands that one demonstrate evangelistic and missiological zeal as well. This article explores this latter ethical implication of optimistic eschatology.
God's Word confidently describes the Lord's expanding reign:
His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him; All nations shall call Him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, Who only does wondrous things! And blessed be His glorious name forever! And let the whole earth be filled with His glory, Amen and Amen. (Ps. 72:17-19)
Sadly, in Reformed circles, many confess evangelism's necessity, but few function in terms of that reality. An ethical gap exists between declaration and demonstration. James condemns such hypocrisy: "[B]ut be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (Jas 1:22).
Reformed Christians must ponder just how it is that the whole earth will "be filled with [God's] glory" and just how "all nations shall call Him blessed." Are these phrases just nice-sounding shibboleths? If not, then what conduct here and now is the Lord pleased to use in order to transform these proclamations into reality?
As Calvinists, Reformed Christians certainly know the academic answer to these questions: God uses "secondary causes" for effectuating His Decree.1 But again, demonstration must accompany declaration. It is humbling to see just how impoverished Reformed missiology indeed, evangelical missiology is today.
On a global scale, consider the following data: Of these 12 nations (Singapore, Norway, Finland, New Zealand, Sweden, The United States, The United Kingdom, Germany, India, Japan, Korea, and Brazil), only one of them, Singapore, sends more than one missionary per Christian congregation. The cumulative average ratio of missionaries per congregation for these twelve nations is a deplorable 0.12.2 Within these twelve countries, thousands of congregations exist. And yet, a covenantal and tangible commitment by the local churches to support live, personally known missionaries is decidedly lacking. Reformed congregations do not fare any better.
For example, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church includes dozens of congregations, but supports as a denomination only fifteen foreign missionaries.3 Money follows ministry. If a congregation's (or denomination's) heart promotes missiological zeal, then funding to effectuate that zeal will not be lacking. As someone once quipped: "God's work, done God's way, will never lack God's funding."
It is the Reformed Faith, "Christianity come into its own," as Warfield remarked, that provides the potent doctrinal foundation that both motivates and sustains missiological efforts. On paper, therefore, the Reformed churches should have the "market cornered" in evangelism and missions. Sadly, they do not. Why?
One reason the gospel is not zealously proclaimed stems from a potent heart problem: the fear of man4: "We don't want to be Arminian;" or, "Door-to-door knocking that's what those goofy charismatics do;" or, "God is sovereign; He will bring people to our [dead, lifeless, rote, unfriendly, inhospitable, clannish] church in His time, but in secret we hope He doesn't."5 As the Scripture makes plain: "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe" (Pr. 9:25 ESV). Are we more interested in "Reformedness" than being faithful?6
The reality is, as Calvinistic Baptist Ernest Reisigner declared: "The church that does not evangelize will fossilize, that is, dry up and become useless to Christ and the world."7 Evangelism and missiological efforts are not somehow antithetical to the robust Calvinism of the Reformed Faith. Just the opposite is true. And, this is especially the case when Calvinism melds with an optimistic eschatology.
The Reformed Faith in Missions
The vitality of the Reformed Faith instills great confidence in missiolgoical efforts. The doctrines of grace ascribe to God the certainty of salvation: [A]nd as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed" (Ac. 13:48 ASV). Reformed doctrine teaches — rightly that evangelistic and missionary efforts cannot not succeed.8 Enter, postmillennial eschatology.
The Bible teaches that not only does God elect, effectively call, regenerate, etc., individuals whom He has appointed unto life, but also that He has purposed and willed, according to His good pleasure, to call many multitudes into His kingdom. Indeed, the prophet avers without hesitation or qualification: "[T]he earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Is. 11:9; emphasis added). Consequently, the doctrines of grace also provide the certainty of kingdom expansion. Appropriately then, Christ is the "savior [soter] of the world" (1 Jn. 4:14; emphasis added).
This eschatological certainty should fuel evangelistic and missiolgoical zeal. Most self-conscious postmillennialists would "amen" this conclusion, but the ethical questions remain: Is this confession being demonstrated in one's life? Does one practice what one professes?
Here are a few simple but effective diagnostic questions:
- Do your family devotions contain not only instruction regarding, but also a passion for, the lost?
- Do your prayers beckon the Lord to open doors for His Word among the unconverted, or is "evangelism" directed predominantly to "converting" the non-Reformed?9
- Does your mind automatically conceive of "missions" as being an impersonal excursion to the African subcontinent while your own neighbors have never heard the gospel from your own lips?
- Does your checkbook reflect not only commitment, but sacrifice, for the gospel's spread?
- Do you routinely disparage the outreach efforts of other members of Christ's Body merely because their theological acumen fails to meet your own private convictions or preconceived preferences?
- Do your mission efforts embrace the antithesis or do you spend your efforts seeking to convert fellow covenant keepers?
Postmillennial convictions — taken to heart — embrace evangelism and discipleship with gusto. If the gospel is not primary and if one does not burn with a passion for converting and disciplining the nations, his optimistic eschatological confession is suspect. Frankly, it would be nothing more than sound and fury signifying nothing.
Eschatology matters, and it matters on a personal, ethical level. May God kindle a raging fire for evangelical and missiological zeal in His church, especially among those who embrace the Scripture's optimistic eschatology. Anything less would be, in a word, antinomian.
1. Westminster Confession of Faith, 3.1.
2. Piper, The Pleasures of God, revised edition (2000), 114.
3. To somewhat balance this equation, it should also be noted that in the past decade the OPC's efforts in supporting church planting "home missionaries" has greatly increased resulting in the establishment of many new congregations. Currently, the OPC supports 34 such "Home Mission" works, many of whom involve my friends and acquaintances. But the central point remains: Are these new congregations now expressing missiological and evangelistic zeal?
4. For a trenchant analysis of the idolatry that fuels the fear of man, see, Welch, When People Are Big and God Is Small (Presbyterian & Reformed, 1997).
5. Examples of similar functional hyper-Calvinism could be multiplied. In fact, one supposedly Reformed pastor actually expressed that he did not want the congregation to grow because he (and his relatives) would lose control. The good news is that God frequently removes the candlestick, or to change the metaphor, the shepherd, from such authoritarian churches (See, Ezek. 34:1-10). For a telling expose of churches that abuse authority, albeit from a non-Reformed doctrinal perspective, see, Chrnalogar, [sic] Twisted Scriptures, (revised edition , 2000).
6. Certainly, the Reformed Faith is Biblical faith, but sadly, even good things can become idols for a Christian's fallen heart, and thus a delight for "being the most Reformed" can replace a zeal for delighting in Christ.
7. Today's Evangelism: Its Message and Methods (1982), xv.
8. This awkward double negative construction is intentional; it is designed to create pause and reflection not unlike the Hebrew, selah.
9. This is not to deprecate the importance of "sheep rescuing" as opposed to "sheep stealing."
- Jeffery J. Ventrella, JD