Is there something inherent in Baptist theology that makes evangelism such a overwhelming priority, or does this merely reflect the personality and passion of individual pastors?
That is a very good question and not easy to answer, so I asked a friend who was raised in Baptist churches and attended a Baptist college but is now a Presbyterian pastor.
A "passion for souls" is not the exclusive domain of Baptist churches or pastors. Some of the greatest evangelistic preachers have been Reformed (Whitefield, Edwards, etc.). The Reformed faith has the greatest cause for zeal for evangelism in light of the understanding of the importance of God's glory and sovereignty in the salvation of sinners. Reformed preaching always should be Christ-centered and gospel-centered, that is, preaching that opens up the Word of God and points to Jesus Christ as the Savior who meets the desperate situation of sinners by laying down his life for his sheep.
It is perhaps, though, more than just the derisive title that Reformed folks get as "the frozen chosen" who aren't very zealous for evangelism. In the history of the OPC there have been many pastors who pursued evangelistic opportunities or even developed evangelistic outreaches like the Boardwalk Chapel in Ocean City, N.J., or Keys Chapel in Key West, Fla. I think it may be that the Reformed faith sees evangelism as part but not the whole of both the Christian life and the purpose of the church. If we are saved to witness, as some people put it, then a great deal of the New Testament's teaching goes by the board. If the church exists only to do evangelism, then God being at the center of worship is lost. Worship will (or should) foster true zeal for God's glory in the salvation of sinners and a deep desire to have those around us worship him. That is the understanding of the Reformed faith. It keeps us from making our worship or our churches man-centered, that is, geared toward drawing people in regardless of whether God is pleased with what we are doing or not.
Reformed churches need to appreciate the passion for witnessing seen in many Baptist churches and certainly ask themselves if they share that same zeal, but that is different than skewing our understanding of Scripture to make soul-winning the sole and all-important task of the church.
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