Why did the Reformation not lead to greater missionary activity?

Don Warrington has posted this segment at his blog:

From J. Herbert Kane’s A Concise History of the Christian World Mission:

One would naturally expect that the spiritual forces released by the Reformation would have prompted the Protestant churches of Europe to take the gospel to the ends of the earth during the period of world exploration and colonisation which began about 1500.  But such was not the case.  The Roman Catholic Church between 1500 and 1700 won more converts in the pagan world than it lost to Protestantism in Europe.  Why did the Protestant churches take so long to inaugurate their missionary program?  What were some of the contributing factors?

The first, and perhaps the most potent, factor was the theology of the reformers.  They taught that the Great Commission pertained only to the original apostles; that the apostles fulfilled the Great Commission by taking the gospel to the ends of the then known world; that if later generations were without the gospel, it was their own fault–a judgement of God on their unbelief; that the apostolate, with its immediate call, peculiar functions and miraculous powers, having ceased, the church in later ages had neither the authority nor the responsibility to send missionaries to the ends of the earth…

Moreover there were the Predestinarians, whose preoccupation with the sovereignty of God all but precluded the responsibility of man.  If God wills the conversion of the heathen, they will be saved without human instrumentality.  If God does not will the salvation of the heathen, it is both foolish and futile for man to intervene.  Calvin wrote: “We are taught that the kingdom of Christ is neither to be advanced nor maintained by the industry of men, but this is the work of God alone”.

Added to this was the apocalypticism which anticipated, with some dismay, the rapidly approaching end of the age.  Luther particularly took a dim view of the future.  In his Table Talks he wrote: “Another hundred years and all will be over.  God’s World will disappear for want of any to preach it”.

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Author: duanemiller

I was born in Montana and grew up in Colorado and Puebla (in Mexico). I completed a BA in philosophy at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and then an MA in theology at St Mary's University (also in San Antonio). Later life took me to Jordan where my wife and I studied Arabic, to Israel where I helped found a seminary, and to Scotland for doctoral work, among other places. I'm highly interested in the interactions of Islam, Christianity and secularism in modern contexts. My main areas of research for my PhD in divinity were religious conversion from Islam to Christianity, contextual theology, and the shari'a's treatment of apostates. I've also published research on global Anglicanism and the history of Anglican mission in the Ottoman Empire. I've had the pleasure of teaching in many places over the years: from Costa Rica to Turkey, and Kenya to Tunisia. Presently, I live in San Antonio where I am lecturer and researcher in Muslim-Christian relations at The Christian Institute of Islamic Studies (ticks.org), and sometime adjunct professor of theology at St Mary's University. Visit my blog (duanemiller.wordpress.com) or academia.edu page for more information or to have me speak at your church, university or seminary.

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