Does Reformed Theology Cause Neglect of the Great Commission?

TULIP-and-Reformed-Theology_620Anonymous states: “Reformed theology is fundamentally flawed in that it’s high view of the sovereignty of God creates a mindset among believers that neglects the great commission.”

If you are not a Reformed Christian, like my anonymous friend, you may have made that or a similar charge ( or at least thought it) against Reformed Churches and believers.  Let me assert that the Reformed belief that God is sovereign in grace and in salvation should not affect evangelism. Reformed theology teaches that evangelism is necessary, because no one can be saved without the gospel.  Salvation depends on faith, and faith on knowing the gospel. God’s way of saving sinners is to bring them to faith through bringing them into contact with the gospel. So, evangelism is necessary if anyone is to be saved.

The Canons of Dordt  is a Reformed document written to refute the Remonstrants. It was never intended to be the all encompassing “Calvinist” theology, but this is where the “doctrines of grace,” more commonly (and crudely) known as the “5 points of Calvinism,” originated.  These 5 points, best known by the acronym “TULIP,” have been abused and misused by both “Calvinists” and opponents of Calvinism alike.  While it does not completely define Reformed Theology, it does have it’s place in defining the Reformed  doctrine of salvation.  And it does speak of evangelism.

Let me quote Kevin Deyoung:

The Canons of Dort—if it’s known at all—often gets a bad rap. It’s considered by some to be too dogmatic, too scholastic, and too harsh. People outside of the Reformed camp don’t agree with its high view of divine sovereignty and especially its teaching that Christ died particularly for the elect. People within the Reformed camp often don’t read the points of doctrine carefully and sometimes aren’t comfortable with what they know (or think they know!) about them. And hardly anyone hears “Canons of Dort” and thinks, “Ah, yes, missions!” But it’s in there.

COD Second Head of Doctrine, Article 5

Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. The promise, together, with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation and discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

What a beautiful statement. And notice the carefulness of the language.

  • The promise we ought to announce is the good news of eternal life in Christ. And not just Christ but specifically “Christ crucified.”
  • This promise should be announced together with the command to repent and believe. It isn’t enough to make an open promise. We must make known the means of entering into this good news: faith and repentance.
  • This message should be announced to all nations and people. We must not differentiate or discriminate. Everyone needs to hear this saving gospel.
  • Ultimately, that anyone receives this good news and than anyone hears it in the first place, is a testimony to God’s grace. It is according to his good pleasure that the gospel goes forth.

So the document that we get our so called “5 points” from, the one that gets beat up by other Christians as being anti-missional, anti-evangelical, and anti-great commission, in fact demonstrates that Reformed Theology is missional, evangelical, and pro-great commission.  So to answer the question…

No. Reformed Theology doesn’t cause neglect of the Great Commission.

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”  For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”  But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”  So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:10-17

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  1. JS Park says:

    I agree with your assessment. But if we strip all that down, Reformed Theology is always defending itself against the claim, because most of its adherents (like myself) subconsciously find an escape clause out of the Great Commission. Give someone even the slightest reason not to follow through, and they won’t.
    I think any theology can cause a neglect of anything, mostly because of our inaction, not necessarily from the theology itself.

    • Hi Joon,

      I too have been guilty of thinking that God gets what he wants, so if I don’t say anything here…to these angry looking biker dudes…God still gets what He wants…right? But as you say that is not a flaw of the theology, or of the bible, but of man. We are inherently selfish and sinful always looking for a way out. Thanks for the comment brother!

  2. cecile says:

    Thankfulness for the grace of God in our lives should prompt us to eagerly share the gospel. So why is it then that we are often so timid (myself included)?

    • Hi cecile,
      I understand completely. When I think of passages like Romans 5, where I read that Christ died while we were yet sinners, I get fired up so to speak, but then that fire seems to dissipate when I have opportunity to present it to an unbeliever. We should pray for boldness in Christ, for he is our strength.

  3. The Reformed teachers of past and present have well clarified that we preach the Word precisely because He is sovereign. Only He can make the bones live – by the Living Word. And they must hear to believe.