A theology of danger and martyrdom is not a prominent theme in our churches today.
Hesham Shehab: Did the Reformation Lack Missionary Zeal?
Did the Reformation Lack Missionary Zeal?
The Reformation is known for bringing the Gospel to light, but it is accused of lacking an intentional the missionary spirit to bring it to the world.
However, the reasons for not being more missional, they way we understand missions today, are manifold.
First, many congregations had no immediate connection to overseas countries and thus could not pursue foreign mission.
Second, the reformers spent their energies largely on reforming the church’s internal problems.
Third, even if overseas mission had been an option, the territorial ruler who had authority over ecclesiastical affairs in that European region, including the dispatching of personnel, would have had to grant permission to go ahead with a mission project. Then it would have been necessary to raise funds, primarily solicited from the nobility and rising merchant class. Thus, the lack of missionary zeal and enterprise is mostly a case of historical circumstance.
Issues of Terminology!
On the other hand, even though the reformers did not use terms such as evangelism, missionary work, mission field, this does not mean they were not committed to evangelizing, discipling, training, and sending off “workers” and “laborers” to preach the gospel and win converts.
Apostolic Missions and Suffering
One lesson we learn from the reformers is that the preaching of the gospel to all “across the street” and “around the world” for God’s glory will not be accomplished without suffering. For them, martyrdom is the path, not the exception. The reformers believed that it was right to give our bodies to defend the Bible and the gospel. They thought that even if we were not martyred, we ought to give our lives to the same task.
A theology of danger and martyrdom is not a prominent theme in our churches today. Our views of safety and security are far too often American than biblical.
The reformers—like the early church in the book of Acts—understood that suffering was an integral part of their mission, which was the propagation of the gospel to all nations.
Most of us don’t expect to be martyred while sharing our faith. However, we can’t do this work without giving our life to the task. Consider the teaching of Jesus (Matt. 10:37–39).
The reformers weren’t just struggling against theological opposition. They were under persecution, fleeing from one place to another and living as refugees throughout Europe.
It’s true that the Christian life is filled with blessings and joy, both now and forever, but we should also expect to face times of suffering during our earthly lives for the sake of the cause of Christ. In fact, every faithful follower of Christ should expect persecution and suffering (Matt. 5:10–12; John 16:33).
The Ordained and the Mission
A second lesson we can learn from the reformers regarding missions is the conviction that if there is one person in the church who ought to be concerned about preaching the gospel and making disciples of all nations, it should be the ordained minister of the gospel. In short, the pastor
For example, John Calvin was truly convinced that the ministers of the gospel are the ones to take the lead.
Luther: The Church Is God’s Mission Agency
Third, we should learn that, for Martin Luther, it was the church, under the leadership of the pastors, that was entrusted with the commission to make disciples of all nations. The reformers’ ecclesiology was central. They were Christ- and church-centered.
Also, Calvin believed that the command to make disciples of all nations was given to the church and its ministers. This was Calvin’s ecclesiology. He was committed to the biblical doctrine of the church.
Mission organizations can be a wonderful blessing to the people of God and a valuable help in the ongoing work of the church. However, many of the so-called missionaries today are not examined or recruited by local churches but are commissioned by independent missionary organizations. They come to the churches for financial support, but far too often there is little or no theological or ecclesiological accountability. This is a troublesome practice that needs to be reevaluated. The reformers teach us a far better biblical way, if only we would follow their example.
Due to the seriousness attributed to the preaching and the need of well-trained ministers, the reformers made it clear that those in charge of the preaching of the gospel to all the nations should not simply be counted, but they should be weighed. Thus, spiritual equipment is the chief consideration.
We should give thanks for the faithful and fruitful missionary work of the reformers. These lessons are precious because they are biblical, and that is what we must all strive to be, as churches and as individual believers, if we truly want to please God as we proclaim his gospel throughout the world.
Compiled by Rev. Hesham Shehab
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