July 10, 2009 marked the 500th birthday of John Calvin. There is a sad notion, begun somewhere a long time ago, that views John Calvin as sort of a Missions Killer. Somehow, the doctrines of grace, often labeled as “Calvinism,” are suspiciously viewed as pious and intellectual-sounding excuses for those who refuse to share the gospel. This anti-missions thinking plagued William Carey’s religious world of the 1790s. One old pastor, hearing of Carey’s crazy ideas on foreign evangelism said, “Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.”
Don’t blame John Calvin.
What follows is not a scholarly defense of John Cavin’s missiology, but a little (belated) birthday present to John on the occasion of his 500th. We can thank God for his profound impact upon church history, among which includes a significant contribution to world evangelism.
1. In a very unmissions minded age, John Calvin was himself a missionary. He left his native France and ministered in Switzerland.
2. John Calvin pastored a missionary-sending machine. His church sent hundreds of missionaries to Catholic-blinded France, into England, Germany, Scotland, and even far-flung Brazil.
3. John Calvin taught missions, because the Bible teaches missions.
God certainly desires nothing more than for those who are perishing and rushing toward death to return to the way of safety. This is why the gospel is today proclaimed throughout the world, for God wished to testify to all the ages that he is greatly inclined to pity. (From his commentaries)
We must labour as much as possible to draw those to salvation who seem to be afar off. And above all things, let us pray to God for them, waiting patiently till it please Him to show His good will toward them, as He hath shown it to us. (From a sermon)
The gospel does not fall like rain from the clouds, but is brought by the hands of men wherever it is sent from above. (From his commentary on Romans)
The principle thing we have to look to is to teach the ignorant and to show them the way of salvation. (From a sermon in Ephesians)
“Our duty is, to be employed in sowing and watering, and while we do this we must look for the increase from God.” (From his commentaries)
So please, do not blame Calvin (or even biblical Calvinism, properly defined) for being a missions killer. Most importantly, listen to what the Bible has to say, not just John Calvin:
Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 18:19-20)