As a Calvinist, one thing I often hear from those on the other side of the theological fence is that Calvinism stifles missions. I am sure that if you are a Calvinist, you have also heard or read this same thing before. Especially if you are like me, and are part of the Southern Baptist Convention. It seems like everywhere I turn, someone is trying to explain to me how Calvinism is contradictory to the way Southern Baptists believe. Many well meaning brothers will say, you can not be a Calvinist and a Southern Baptist at the same time, because Southern Baptists have always been missions minded, and Calvinists are not!
My friend, this is simply not true! Not only were Southern Baptists historically mission minded, but they were also historically Calvinistic, and their theology did not stifle their missionary efforts, it encouraged them.
So where does this misunderstanding come from? Well first, let me say that, I believe the reason for the majority of these accusations is simply ignorance. The vast majority of our accusers have either forgotten or they have never known where we as Southern Baptists came from. They have no idea that historically, the vast majority of those involved in the modern day missionary movement were Calvinists. For example, Adoniram Judson, Luther Rice, and Andrew Fuller – all Calvinists! They all believed in and taught the Sovereign Grace of God! Even the “father of modern missions,” William Carey, was also a Calvinist. Yet he had a great missionary zeal and wanted to use every means at his disposal to win the lost to Christ. He was part of the “Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Heathen,” and Southern Baptists, are descended from those Particular Baptists, Baptists who believed in and taught the Doctrines of Grace, AKA Calvinism.
OK, I can already here you say: “So these early missionaries, who were also Calvinists’, were the forefathers of Southern Baptists, but how can that be?” Why would you go on a mission trip to proclaim the gospel to the lost, if God has already pre-determined who was going to be saved?
This I believe stems from the second and maybe even more common error; and that is an extremely skewed view of what true Calvinism really teaches. For example, if you were to ask most of those that bring these accusations to define Calvinism, you would likely get something like this; “a Calvinist is someone who denies the responsibility of man and appeals to the sovereignty of God.” In other words, a Calvinist is one who believes that God has made an arbitrary choice to save some, and those that He chose, He will drag, kicking and screaming into the Kingdom of Heaven, whether they want to go or not. The problem with this definition of course, is that it is totally untrue. This is however a pretty good definition of Hyper-Calvinism.
So while a true Calvinist would definitely not deny the sovereignty of God, he would also not deny the responsibility of man. Both are taught in scripture, and both are true! God chose his elect before the foundation of the world, not arbitrarily, and not because of some foreseen merit, but based on His own good will and pleasure. He regenerates them and calls them through the gospel, and they are saved! That is what God does. Man, on the other hand, who in his fallen state, can not and will not repent and believe in God. But once regenerated, he then realizes his state and his need for a savior, and in repentance and faith, turns to God for salvation. That is his responsibility! And if he does this, he will be saved!
So why do we go? The Scripture says in Romans 10, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?” Because we know that this, going and preaching, is the primary means or instrument by which God uses to save the lost. William Carey knew this full well. He knew that he was one of God’s chosen instruments! He was given the privilege to preach the gospel to the lost. Like Paul, he wanted to be all things to all men so that he might save some. He knew that all wouldn’t accept his message, but he also knew that some would. That’s why he went, because he knew that God had already gone ahead of him and ensured his success, and He will ensure ours as well.
So while many in the SBC may think it's heresy, it's really just history or His Story. Calvinism does not stifle missions, it encourages it, and it guarantees our success!
If you are interested in learning more about Southern Baptist and their history, let me recommend a book by Dr. Tom Nettles, Professor of Historical Theology at Southern Seminary, entitled “By His Grace and For His Glory, a historical, theological, and practical study of the Doctrines of Grace in Baptist Life.”
Grace & Peace