Sunday, November 6, 2011

John Calvin and Missions

"If it is true that all branches of the Christian family might have done more for missions, it is also true that this branch [Calvinism] has been 'in harness' as long as any expression of Protestantism."

I just finished up a paper for a class on Calvin and missions, which I thought I would share since he and the Reformed tradition have often been accused of not being involved in missions and not caring about missions. Though my paper does not address the Reformed tradition as a whole, it does refute this charge with respect to John Calvin himself, who is generally at the center of this accusation. Below is the introduction to the paper:
John Calvin and his doctrine, the so-called Calvinism that has lived on until today, have continued to be highly controversial in the Church. They were in Calvin’s time and they still are today. One of the constant debates that goes on in the Church today is the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism (a debate that serves to divide Christians in a way that neither John Calvin nor Jacobus Arminius would approve). Within this debate one of the consistent charges leveled against Calvin (and Calvinism) is that he and his doctrine are completely counter-evangelism and counter-missions. The Roman Catholic historian, Joseph Schmidlin, held that all the Reformers, including Calvin, “were not conscious of the missionary idea and displayed no missionary activity.”  Others have echoed this charge. A. Mitchell Hunter, in his book on Calvin’s theology, claimed, “Certainly [Calvin] displayed no trace of missionary enthusiasm.”  Professor of missions William Hogg wrote that Calvinism “worked effectively to throttle missionary endeavor.”  Others have claimed that the Reformers “did not even talk about missions outreach.”  It is said of Calvin that his “horrible doctrine” of divine election makes the missionary activity “nonsense.”  This charge, however, is completely unfounded. 
Those who take a honest look at Calvin’s doctrine and history are forced to conclude that John Calvin was truly a director of missions during the Reformation and the Reformed tradition has produced some of the most active and passionate missionaries this world has seen since the apostolic period. N. Carr Sargant, a Methodist (Arminian) missionary to India, did take a good look at Calvin and wrote, “To praise Arminianism and to reproach Calvinism is the conventional judgment. In respect of missions, however, rigid Calvinism and the warm Arminianism of Wesley were in substance the same.”  He even went so far as to admit that while the Calvinists “had gone to the heathen,” his own tradition only sent preachers to places where Christians were abundant.  In this paper we will look at Calvin’s teaching as well as the Reformation period and show that, while some may have misused Calvin’s teachings as an excuse for evangelistic indifference, Calvin was a director of missions and a man committed to the spread of the gospel throughout the world.
If you would like to read the rest of the paper, you can access it here.

By His Grace,

No comments: