John Calvin’s Missionary Influence In France -- By: Michael A. G. Haykin

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 10:4 (Fall 2001)
Article: John Calvin’s Missionary Influence In France
Author: Michael A. G. Haykin


John Calvin’s Missionary Influence In France

Michael A. G. Haykin

It has often been maintained that the sixteenth-century Reformers had a poorly developed missiology, that missions was an area to which they gave little thought. Yes, this argument runs, they rediscovered the apostolic gospel, but they had no vision to spread it to the uttermost parts of the earth. It is considered axiomatic that the Reformers had no concern for overseas missions to non-Christians and that they evidence no recognition at all of the missionary dimension of the church.

But such a characterization is far from the truth. In what follows, one reformer in particular, the Frenchman John Calvin (1509–1564), has been selected to show the error of this perspective.1 John Calvin’s theology of missions is developed by looking first at the theme of the victorious advance of Christ’s kingdom that looms so large in his writings. Statements from Calvin regarding the means and motivations for extending this kingdom are then examined to further show Calvin’s concern for the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Finally, there is a brief look at the way Calvin’s Geneva functioned as a missionary center.

The Victorious Advance Of Christ’s Kingdom2

A frequent theme in Calvin’s writings and sermons is that of the victorious advance of Christ’s kingdom in the world. God the Father, Calvin says in his prefatory address to Francis I in his theological masterpiece, the Institutes of

the Christian Religion, has appointed Christ to “rule from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the ends of the earth.” In a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:5–6, Calvin notes that Jesus came, not simply to save a few, but “to extend his grace over all the world.” Similarly, Calvin declares in a sermon on Acts 2 that the reason for the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost was in order for the gospel to “reach all the ends and extremities of the world.”

It was this global perspective on the significance of the gospel that also gave Calvin’s theology a genuine dynamism and forward movement. It has been said that if it had not been for the so-called Calvinist wing of the Reformation many of the great gains of that era would have died on the vine. While this may be an exaggeration to some degree, it does illustrate the importance of the Reformed perspective.3

Calvin, moreover, was not satisfied to ...

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