Baptists and Calvin: Does Calvinism Lead to ‘Antimission’ Sentiments?

The accusation that Calvinism leads to antimission sentiments has sometimes been leveled, but as Michael Horton shows in his recent book For Calvin, nothing could be further from the truth. Horton observes, in the section titled “Calvinism and Christian Missions” (p. 151), that, in fact, Calvinism has been and remains one of the most important sources of Christian missionaries, with no less than Thomas Mayhew, David Brainerd, David Livingstone, Robert Morrison, and Jonathan Goforth stemming from Reformed churches and practicing Reformed theology. Quoting Horton—

With growing interest in Calvinism in Southern Baptist circles, some leaders have expressed alarm that it will dampen the denomination’s enthusiasm for evangelism and missions . . . . [But] the Southern Baptist Convention sponsors “about 5000 home missionaries” and “more than 5000 foreign missionaries.” For a denomination of sixteen million, this comes to approximately “0.000625 missionaries per capita.”

By contrast, the 310,000 member Presbyterian Church in America has “about 600 foreign missionaries.” That is 0.001935 foreign missionaries per capita, commissioned and supported by the PCA. Thus, the PCA supports three times as many foreign missionaries per capita as the SBC supports foreign and domestic missions combined (p. 162).

And the PCA gives twice as much per dollar to international missions as the SBC does (p. 162).

So much, then, for the absurd assertion that Calvinism leads to antimissionary sentiments.

But, some may protest, Calvin himself laid the foundation for less interest in missions with his understanding of the doctrine of predestination. So what does Calvin say himself about missionary activity? In his commentary on the Gospels, at Matthew 28:19, he writes

Here Christ, by removing the distinction, makes the Gentiles equal to the Jews, and admits both indiscriminately to a participation in the covenant. Such is also the import of the term go out; for the prophets under the law had limits assigned to them, but now, the wall of partition having been broken down, (Eph. 2:14,) the Lord commands the ministers of the gospel to go to a distance, in order to spread the doctrine of salvation in every part of the world. For though, as we have lately suggested, the right of the first-born, at the very commencement of the gospel, remained among the Jews, still the inheritance of life was common to the Gentiles. Thus was fulfilled that prediction of Isaiah, (49:6,) and others of a similar nature, that Christ was given for a light of the Gentiles, that he might be the salvation of God to the end of the earth. Mark means the same thing by every creature; for when peace has been proclaimed to those that are within the Church, the same message reaches those who are at a distance, and were strangers, (Eph. 2:17, 19.) How necessary it was that the apostles should be distinctly informed of the calling of the Gentiles, is evident from this consideration, that even after having received the command, they felt the greatest horror at approaching them, as if by doing so they polluted themselves and their doctrine.

I’ve emphasized the most relevant materials. Calvin was himself convinced of the necessity of the preaching of the Gospel to the ‘ends of the earth.’ Calvinism, then, does not in any respect lead to ‘antimissionary’ sentiments. Quite the contrary.

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Jim West

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One Response to “Baptists and Calvin: Does Calvinism Lead to ‘Antimission’ Sentiments?”

  1. Curious Chap August 6, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    great stuff mate

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