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Reformed Pietism and Protestant Missions

  • James Tanis (a1)


As Matthew concludes his Gospel, he records that the resurrected Christ met with the eleven disciples on the mountain which He had appointed. There the Lord spoke to them, saying, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” In our time, these words are synonymous with the missionary movement of the Protestant Church. Yet among the first generations of Protestants there were few voices raised on behalf of missions, and more than seventy years passed before the first Reformed exegete declared that Christ's injunction “remains in full force, and perfectly binding on the Church, so long as there shall be nations ignorant of the Lord.” And nearly two more decades were to pass before a small group of Reformed pietists gave form to the earliest, continuing Protestant missionary endeavor.



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1 Matthew 28: 16–20.

2 Saravia, Adrian, A treatise on the different degrees of the Christian priesthood (Oxford, 1840), 164.

3 I am indebted to Prof. J.M. van der Linde of the University of Utrecht for substantive corrections regarding the positions of the Reformers. For further sources on Luther see Holl's, Karl Luther und die Mission in his Gesammelte Aufsätze (Tübingen, 1928), III, 234–43, and Elert's, WernerMorphologic des Luthertums (Munich, 1931), I, 336–51.

4 Holl, Luther und die Mission, 234–35.

5 Théodore de Bèze, Ad tractationem De ministrorum evangelii gradibus, ab Hadriano Saravia Belga editam. Theodori Bezae responsio (Geneva, 1592), 113.

6 Beaver, R. Pierce, The Genevan mission to Brazil, in The Reformed Journal XVII, no. 6 (July-August, 1967), 1420. In addition to providing an excellent summary account of the Genevan mission, Beaver's article is an important contribution to an analysis of the theological roots of missions in the Calvinistic tradition.

7 An account of Saravia is found in Kawerau's, G. Adrian Saravia und seine Gedanken über Mission, Allgemeine Missions-Zeitschrift XXVI (1899), 333–43. The English title given in the text is that of Saravia's own English translation, printed in London in 1591. The original Latin text, published in London in 1590, was entitled De diversis ministrorum evangelii gradibus, sic ut a domino fuerunt instituti. The edition used for this article was that cited in footnote 2, published by the fathers of the Oxford movement because of its positive position on episcopacy.

8 Saravia, A treatise, 180.

9 For the title of de Bèze's tract see footnote 5. Gerhard's attack on Saravia appeared in his Loci theologici, published between 1610 and 1621. Questions 220–225 of Locus 23 are the focus of the polemic. Actually the Lutherans remained largely uninvolved in missions until the rise of the pietist movement within that church. For further analysis of Gerhard's position, see Kawerau's article on Saravia, 342, and Elert's Mission, 349. For an early discussion of Lutheran missions see Mirbt's, Carl Die Bedeutung des Pietismus für die Heidenmission in Allegemeine Missions-Zeitschrift XXVI (1899), 145–64.

10 Saravia, Defensio tractationis De diversis ministrorum evangelii gradibus … contra responsionem D. Th. Bezae. The tract was translated into German and published in Frankfurt in 1601. Saravia's discussion of mission is more extensive here than in his first treatise. (See Kawerau, 340–42.)

11 An interesting analysis of sixteenth-century English moods is Hair's, P.E.H.Protestants, slaves, and proto-missionaries: Sierra Leone 1568–1582, Journal of eccelesiastical history LXXI, 203–24, particularly 222–23.

12 Callenbach, J.R., Justus Heurnius, eene bijdrage tot de geschiedenis der Christendoms in Nederlandsch Oost-Indië (Nijkerk, 1897), 89.

13 In 1592 Plancius had engineered the “acquisition” of crucial Portuguese sailing charts, then successively developed his own skills as a cartographer and gave instruction in navigation from his Amsterdam pulpit. He has been referred to as “the father of Dutch missions” (Evenhuis, R.B., Ook dat was Amsterdam, [Amsterdam, 1967], II, 316), though unfortunately he indirectly did more to subvert Dutch missions than he did directly to aid them. By his vitriolic theological attacks, especially those on his fellow pastor Jacobus Arminius, he eventually diverted whole portions of the church from pastoral concerns to theological quarrels. This resulted not only in misspent energies but also in heresy hunts which turned many young men from the field. By 1616 it had fostered such quarrels even on shipboard that the East India Company declared that pastors would be docked a month's salary for dogmatic arguments. One admiral declared that arguing chaplains would be put together in confinement with only bread and water until they came to an agreement. (Evenhuis, II, 326.) The depth of Plancius' concern is further called into question when one considers that the Company paid him five hundred guilders in 1602 to provide nautical instruction for ten ships' pilots, yet those pilots' ships departed with neither clergy nor lay-readers. (Callenbach, 12.)

14 Evenhuis, Ook dat was Amsterdam, II, 317–18.

15 Neurdenburg, J.C., De christelijke zending der Nederlanders in de 17de en 18de eeuw (Rotterdam, 1891), 8.

16 Hollweg, Walter, Heinrich Bullingers Hausbuch (Neukirchen, 1956), 99102.

17 Callenbach, Justus Heurnius, 21.

18 Neurdenburg, De christelijke zending, 11.

19 The querulous Gomarus, who lived until 1641, was a spokesman for Plancius. His arguments culminated in the debilitating Synod of Dort. Arminius himself died in 1609, but his followers carried on and expanded the presentation of his ideas. Though the ideas of Arminius have had an effect of immense proportions on missions-theology, as a church group the Dutch Arminians were to play no direct role. Of singular influence, however, was the famous Arminian layman, Hugo Grotius. For a further brief discussion see Nuttall's, Geoffrey F. The influence of Arminianism in England, 76–79 in his The Puritan Spirit (London, 1967).

20 For further light on the elder Taffin see Boer's, C.Hofpredikers van Prins Willem van Oranje (The Hague, 1952).

21 Taffin entitled his study, Claire exposition de l'apocalypse, ou Revelation de St. Jean, avec déduction de l'histoire et chronologie. For this study, the Dutch translation was used. Printed in Middelburg in 1611, it was entitled, Een clare wtlegginghe vanden Apocalypsis. Unfortunately, there was no Latin edition which would have given it a wider international readership.

22 Ibid., 615.

23 Ibid., 229–32. Bellarmino presented his case in his De notis ecclesiae (Marks of the Church), particularly Note 4, found in volume two of his Opera Omnia (Paris, 1870), 372–74. The very extensive sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century Roman Catholic missions literature is placed in the context of this study in Das Erwachen des Missionsgedankens im Protestantismus der Niederlande (St. Ottilien, 1915) by the Benedictine Maurus Galms. Though Bellarmino's Notes were refuted by many other Protestant writers, no other early grappling with the question of missions is to be found even among such notable answers as that of William Ames. A negative refutation is to be found in Conradus Vorstius'Anti-Bellarminus contractus (Hanau, 1610), 74f. (See also Galm, 34.)

24 Taffin, Een clare wtlegginghe, 230.

25 Ibid., 231.

26 Ibid., 231–32.

27 In all matters Udemans (born about 1582, died in 1649) versed himself in the positions of his opponents as well as his colleagues, building a large library for a man of his times. The auction catalog of his library includes de Bèze's attack on Saravia, as well as the works of Bellarmino. (Catalogus variorum & insignium librorum bibliothecae … Godejridi Udemanni [Middelburg, 1653], [3], [11], and [16].)

28 Heurnius, Justus, De legatione evangelica ad Indos capessenda admonitio (Leiden, 1618). The work was reissued in 1628 with a cancelled title-page: De vocatione ethnicorum et Iudaeorum ultima ad fidem Christianam. For an extensive account of Heurnius and the role he played in the mission work of the church see Callenbach'sJustus Heurnius.

29 Walaeus sought to found the first seminary for the training of missionaries, the Collegium Seminarium Indianum. Situated in Leiden, the seminary was finally established in 1622, coincidentally the same year that Pope Gregory XV established the Sacra Congregatio de Propaganda Fide, by his bull “Inscrutabili divinae providentiae.” The most extensive study of Walaeus is still that of J.D. de Lind van Wijngaarden, published in Leiden in 1891.

30 Teellinck, Willem, Ecce Homo, ojte Ooghen-salve voor die noch sitten in blintheydt des ghemoedts. Ende voor alle treurighe te Zion (Middelburg, 1622), [xxi].

31 Taffin, Een clare wtlegginghe, 225–29.

32 Ibid., 768 and 776.

33 Teellinck, Ecce Homo, [xxi–xxiv].

34 Voetius was the first great Reformed theologian of missions. His contributions are studied in van Andel's, H.A.De zendingsleer van Gisbertus Voetius (Kampen, 1912).

35 Hoornbeek, Johannes, De conversione Indorum & Gentilium (Amsterdam, 1669). The missions work of Hoornbeek is discussed in Callenbach, 85, and van Andel, 57–59; but no substantive work has yet been published on this important figure.

36 Teellinck, Ecce Homo, 203–04.

Reformed Pietism and Protestant Missions

  • James Tanis (a1)


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