From Luther to Carey: Pietism and the Modern Missionary Movement -- By: Kenneth B. Mulholland

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 156:621 (Jan 1999)
Article: From Luther to Carey: Pietism and the Modern Missionary Movement
Author: Kenneth B. Mulholland


From Luther to Carey:
Pietism and the Modern Missionary Movement *

Kenneth B. Mulholland

On October 31, 1517-nearly five hundred years ago-Martin Luther tacked his Ninety-five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg, Germany, and sparked what we know as the Protestant Reformation. Soon the gospel-salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, based on the infallible Scriptures alone-was being trumpeted all over Europe. Is that correct? Yes. Then came a tremendous explosion of missionary expansion in the wake of the Reformation, as missionaries almost immediately began to go to the ends of the earth. Correct? Wrong.

Why Missions Was Missing after the Reformation

William Carey did not launch the modern Protestant missionary movement until 275 years after the Reformation began. Virtually no Protestant missionary activity took place between 1517 and 1792. Yet those years constituted the golden age of Roman Catholic missions. The Roman Catholic Church was sending missionaries all over the world, whereas Protestants were sending almost none. Why is that?1

* This is article one in a two-part series adapted from “Planks in the Platform of Modern Missions,” delivered by the author as the Missions and Evangelism Lectureship at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 2-5, 1997.

Kenneth B. Mulholland is Dean and Professor of Missions and Ministry Studies, Columbia Biblical Seminary and Graduate School of Missions, Columbia, South Carolina.

Theological reasons account partly for this phenomenon. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and even the Anabaptists-though their writings contained materials on which it would be possible to construct a theology of missions-had relatively little vision for missions. In fact Luther taught that the Great Commission had already been fulfilled. Christ, Luther said, gave the Great Commission to the apostles. And they preached the gospel throughout the world. Since that was done, no longer is the church responsible to carry the gospel to other lands. So Luther said, “There is no need for missions.” John Calvin was responsible for sending four missionaries to Brazil in 1551. Nevertheless many hyper-Calvinists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries believed there was no basis for missions. Missionary activity, since it involved human initiative, was an affront to the sovereign predestination of God. Missions was simply not on their agenda.

Then the Anabaptists, believing that Christ would soon return, and facing severe persecution, had little time for missions. So, as a result of the belief that there was no need for missions (Luther), no ba...

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