Major fruits of the Reformation have been in the inseparably related fields of evangelism and missions. Evangelism is seeking so to present the Gospel to men and women that through it they may be born anew. If they have entered into the wonder and joy of the new life made possible through Christ, men and women will inevitably seek to spread the Good News throughout the world, whether among their immediate neighbors or in other lands.
In its essence the Reformation originated among those who had experienced the new birth. Because Luther had learned through painful struggles the amazing truth that is at the heart of the biblical revelation and the New Testament, that salvation is achieved not by good works but by faith—“the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17); “by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8)—he sparked the Reformation. Many factors contributed to the spread of the Reformation, some political, some related to the ambitions of kings and princes to control the Church; but at the heart of it were men who were moved by God’s grace in giving his Son, by the willingness of Christ to follow his Father’s will and go to the cross, by the marvel of the Resurrection, and by the gift of the Holy Spirit. The new birth came in a variety of ways: to some, as to Calvin, in such a way that they were reticent about the details; to others, as to Menno Simons, by stages. But always it issued in the fruits of the Spirit and always it was contagious.
From time to time across the centuries, from the currents finding channel through the Reformation fresh streams of evangelism have issued. Such was Pietism. When, in Protestantism in the Netherlands and Germany, a deadening formalism seemed to have blocked the springs of the new life, preachers and pastors such as Spener spoke of the necessity and possibility of the new birth and gathered about them those who experienced it, cultivated it through fellowship in prayer and Bible study, and sought to win others. John Wesley was an outstanding leader of those, not alone in Methodism but as well in other circles, who experienced the new birth. As he described it, in an hour which was to him transforming he felt his heart “strangely warmed,” felt that he did “trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation,” and received an assurance that Christ had taken away his sins and saved him from the law of sin and death. In a way that was different and yet essentially the same, God’s grace gripped Jonathan Edwards, Charles G. Finney, Dwight L. Moody, and in our own day Billy Graham. From them, and thousands of lesser fame, flowed “rivers of living water” (John 7:38).
The Reformation was late in giving rise to foreign missions. One reason was the belief of some of the early Reformers that the Great Commission was given only to the apostles. Another was that the Reformers were so engaged in the transformation of the Church in their own lands that they had little time for spreading the faith outside Europe. The major reason, however, was that for nearly a century after the start of the Reformation Protestant peoples had little contact with non-Christian peoples. The great exploring and colonizing powers of the sixteenth century were Spain and Portugal. Significantly, the great surge of Catholic missions that accompanied and followed their exploits was the fruit of the fresh awakening in the Roman Catholic Church which we sometimes inaccurately call the Counter-Reformation. That awakening arose through great spirits who wished the Catholic Church purified. Like Ignatius Loyola, a contemporary of Martin Luther who had had a profound and transforming experience of Christ and who founded the Society of Jesus dedicated to “the greater glory of God,” they were moved by a passion for souls. They planted the Gospel as they understood it in the Americas, Africa, and Asia, attempting to win the nominal Christians among their fellow countrymen to a vital faith and to protect the non-Europeans against exploitation and bring them into the Church.
Protestants planted missions wherever they had colonies and commerce. That was true of the early settlers in Virginia, of John Eliot and the Mayhews in New England, and of the Dutch in Ceylon and the East Indies. Those missions were minority enterprises; the majority of the settlers and merchants were not interested in them and even opposed them. Yet they were early fruits of the Reformation.
The major Protestant missions arose from Pietism on the continent of Europe and the related evangelicalism in the British Isles and America. The great pioneers were the Moravians. Refugees from persecution in Bohemia, they settled on the estates of Count Zinzendorf, who was a godchild of Spener. Zinzendorf saw in the little company of refugees, with their center in Herrnhut, instruments for fulfilling his dream of carrying the Gospel to all mankind. Under his initiative the Moravians founded missions in some of the few parts of the world to which Protestant peoples had access—among them Greenland, the Thirteen Colonies, and the Danish West Indies. German Pietists were the first Protestant missionaries in India, sent by the King of Denmark to a Danish trading post in Tranquebar. Out of the Great Awakening in New England came missions to the Indians, with David Brainerd as a famous figure. A prospective son-in-law of Jonathan Edwards, Brainerd died of tuberculosis contracted during heroic labors among the red men.
William Carey, rightly esteemed the major pioneer in modern Protestant missions, was converted in his youth. In 1795, three years after the founding of the Baptist Missionary Society which sent Carey to India, evangelicals of several denominations inaugurated the London Missionary Society. In 1799 evangelicals within the Church of England began what is known as the Church Missionary Society, to this day the largest missionary society supported by Anglicans. Out of what was known as the Second Awakening came the lads who at the Haystack prayer meeting in Williamstown, Massachusetts (1806), formed themselves into the Society of the Brethren with the purpose “to effect in the persons of its members a mission or missions to the heathen.” Through them came the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (1810), which, except for an earlier Moravian society, was the first in the United States to begin missions in other countries. This Protestant missionary effort of the last decade of the eighteenth and the first decade of the nineteenth century sprang from evangelicals at a time when Europe was racked by the French Revolution, with its religious skepticism, and the Napoleonic Wars. It showed that, in the darkest days, from the minorities of evangelical faith can come movements that will bless the world.
Significantly, too, the missionary awakening came when the British Empire was beginning the expansion that in the nineteenth century opened much of the world to Protestant missions. In 1815, just at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, German and Swiss Pietists opened a seminary in Basel. For a time its graduates went out under British societies, but in 1822 it began sending missionaries under its own auspices. Before the middle of the century several other German missionary societies were organized, some of them the outgrowth of Basel.
In 1865 J. Hudson Taylor founded the China Inland Mission. The son of warmly evangelical parents, Taylor had been converted in his teens. He soon determined to be a medical missionary in China, then only beginning to be opened to the foreigner. While studying medicine, through discipline and prayer he taught himself to depend completely on God for his physical needs. He continued that reliance during his initial years in China. Invalided home, he resumed his medical studies. The weight of China’s millions, dying without hearing the good news of Christ, became a crushing burden. He believed that God wished none of them to perish but all to come to a knowledge of the truth. He also believed that God must be waiting for someone to offer to be the instrument through whom the Gospel could be brought to the Chinese. With no organization behind him and no influential friends, he undertook, in faith, to be that instrument. The China Inland Mission was the result. Its program was to send its members to the interior where no other Protestants were at work, to depend entirely on God for personnel and funds, to have no fixed salaries, and never to go into debt.
Taylor found great strength in such biblical words as Ebenezer and Jehovah Jireh, carrying the assurance “hitherto hath the Lord helped us” and “the Lord will provide.” He accepted “willing, skillful workers,” regardless of their denomination. At the end of its first half century the China Inland Mission had more than 1,000 missionaries on its rolls. Wide attention was brought to it when in the 1880s it was joined by “the Cambridge Seven,” athletically and socially prominent converts of Moody in that university. Affiliated organizations sprang up in several countries, and other “faith” missions were inspired by it.
Marked reinforcement to Protestant missions came from the United States through the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions. That movement began in 1886 in a conference at Mt. Hermon, Massachusetts, led by Moody. Its members signed the “declaration”: “It is my purpose if God permit to become a foreign missionary.” By its “watchword,” “the evangelization of the world in this generation,” was meant, not that the world was to be converted in that generation, but that it is the obligation and privilege of each generation of Christians to make the Gospel known to everyone in the world of its day. The movement spread to other countries, and through it thousands of students were enlisted for missions. The Laymen’s Missionary Movement, begun in 1906, had as its object the raising of the funds needed to fulfill the watchword.
From the Student Volunteer Movement came a great enlargement of the missionary enterprise. John R. Mott, one of the original hundred who at Mt. Hermon inaugurated the movement, became the chairman of its executive committee. He himself had made his full commitment to Christ through contact with one of Moody’s Cambridge converts, Kynaston Studd, who was a brother of one of the Cambridge Seven and who later was knighted and became Lord Mayor of London. Mott succeeded Moody as chairman of the annual student conferences at Northfield, Massachusetts, in the buildings of the girls’ school founded by the evangelist. He became an evangelist to students and held evangelistic meetings in many of the universities of the world.
From the conviction that students were to be the future leaders of their peoples and, if won to Christ, would be the best means of giving the Gospel to their nations, Mott organized, in 1895, the World’s Student Christian Federation. In 1910 he and J. H. Oldham, a leader in the British affiliate of the Student Volunteer Movement, organized the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. Mott presided and became the chairman of the Continuation Committee of the conference, and later the chairman of the International Missionary Council which followed. He saw in that council a means for coordinating all Protestant foreign missions in such a way that the dream of “the evangelization of the world in this generation” could be realized and churches planted and strengthened in every land. From former members of the World’s Student Christian Federation came most of the initial leadership of the World Council of Churches. Fittingly, Mott, then in his early eighties, became the first honorary president of that organization.
In light of such a record, of which this is only the barest outline, something of the contribution of the Reformation to evangelism and missions can be discerned. The original impulse from which the Reformation sprang—the joyous recognition of salvation through faith in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ revealing the love of God—has had global repercussions that are still mounting.
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