Missions History

mission killers: hyper-Calvinists

There is nothing as dangerous to missions today as hyper-Calvinism. Calvinism is just fine but not hyper-Calvinism. It’s dangerous and it should be avoided like a leftover wet sock left at youth camp.

The clearest distinction between the addition of “hyper” to Calvinism goes to the very beginning of what is called the “Modern Day Missions Movement.” Missions programs, methodology, and cooperation began with the sending of William Carey. Carey was a cobbler turned preacher turned pioneer missionary who is affectionately called, “The Father of the Modern Day Missions Movement.” It’s a great title of which we will see more later but for now, just think British shoe cobbler turned Jesus loving preacher.

Carey is in a meeting with some Baptist pastors. He’s one of the younger ones and the least influential. However, he had finished reading Captain James Cook’s book’s Voyages. Carey was captivated by the people and need to evangelize the lost. Hearing Carey’s passionate plea about the need to evangelize the lost, Dr. John Ryland Sr. said, “Young man, sit down! You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he’ll do it without consulting you or me.”[1] And that my friends is hyper-Calvinism.

Hyper-Calvinism takes the idea of God’s sovereignty and election to an unbiblical extreme. The extreme measure looks like this: God has chosen who will come to faith in Christ and it is not dependent on our actions. We do not need to interfere with God’s sovereign will. If they are to be converted they will be, whether we evangelize or not. The most thoughtful will believe that if we share the gospel with them, then their judgment will be more severe because they will know more about the gospel message. We should not heap extra judgment on those who are not elect and therefore have no chance at coming to faith in Christ.  

You can see how this is a problem. Carey is excited about learning about people from all over the world and he wants to tell them about Jesus. Ryland thinks this is preposterous at best and spiritual harmful at worst. Carey replied with a small booklet called, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens in which the Religious State of the Different Nations of the World, the Success of Former Undertakings, and the Practicability of Further Undertakings are Considered, or An Enquiry for short.

His booklet set the world of missions on fire! In his booklet, he demolished the hyper-Calvinism of the day. He argued that God uses “means” or methods to see the conversion of the lost. He argued that we could not know the elect but that we must evangelize because God uses means to convert the lost. We are the means. Hyper-Calvinists were comfortable with man having no responsibility and action in God’s election. A Calvinist like Carey believes in election but knows God’s method is to use other believers’ prayers and gospel presentations to change the lives of the lost.  

You can see how hyper-Calvinism is dangerous. It is dangerous not because it misunderstands election (it does) or because it wrongly applies missionary methods (they do) but because they are biblical. Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20) and to be witnesses (Acts 1:8).

Before you go, maybe ask yourself this question, “Am I a hyper-Calvinist?” You may say, “NO WAY!” So let me state it another way, do you live like Rylan or Carey? Do you have a passion to see the lost come to faith in Christ? Are you praying for lost friends and sharing the gospel with them? Or, are you acting like John Ryland?

[1] Mark Galli and Ted Olsen, “Introduction,” 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 244.

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