In the mid-1500’s in Geneva, Switzerland, John Calvin ran an academy for the training of pastors and missionary church planters. These men planted thousands of churches in France, Holland, Switzerland and throughout the rest of Europe. They also sent a missionary expedition to minister in the Portuguese colony of Brazil.

Most of the men Calvin trained came to Geneva as religious refugees fleeing persecution in other countries and areas nearby. The Academy trained the men how to study the Bible, how to grow in godly character, how to preach the gospel and teach the Scriptures. Amazingly, most of these men went back to the very areas from which they had originally fled. Over 300 of these men would become martyrs for Christ and His gospel! John Calvin’s heart would be broken many, many times.

In 1555, there were five Reformed churches in France (in Paris, Meaux, Angers, Poitiers and Loudon); in 1559, that number had grown to almost a hundred! In 1562, the number of church plants reached 2,150. The total membership of these new churches in 1562 was 3 million, out of a total population in France of 20 million! One out of every seven Frenchmen had become a Protestant believer! By any historical comparison, these churches show a tremendous evangelism and church planting effort on the part of the Reformed pastors and laymen.

Why are Calvin and the Reformed sometimes accused of not being evangelistic? Some folk are just ignorant of history, especially church history. Others who do not embrace the ‘doctrines of grace’ cannot see how people who believe them could evangelize! “If God is sovereign, why bother? God is going to save those He is going to save”, they wrongly reason. It is true that God is going to save those He is going to save, and it will be by the means that He Himself has sovereignly appointed–the preaching of the gospel to sinners (Romans 10:13-17), either by pastors and evangelists or the witnessing of laymen.

Sometimes believers have skewed views of evangelism–it has to be in a stadium or the preacher has to give an invitation to come to the front and be counted or other unbiblical criteria. Since Calvinistic preachers don’t do those things, people suppose them not to be evangelistic. Sometimes, sadly, those who do profess to be Reformed in their theology give a bad name to the Reformed faith because they don’t practice evangelism. As 19th century evangelist Dwight Moody told one of his Reformed critics: “I like the way I do evangelism better than the way you don’t!” Charles Spurgeon humorously put it this way: “A live dog is better than a dead lion!”

Some Reformed folk are always criticizing the evangelism of others without themselves ever engaging in evangelism or showing the better and more biblical way to those who practice sub-biblical evangelism.

And sadly, some who profess to be “Calvinists” are not biblical followers of the theology named after John Calvin. They are called “hyper-Calvinists” who, going beyond (“hyper”) John Calvin, so emphasize the Bible’s teaching on the sovereignty of God that they do not take seriously or deny the Bible’s teaching on human responsibility. Believers are God’s means to take the gospel to the world; God the Holy Spirit saves whomever the Father gave to the Son. Paul says in Romans 10 that gospel preaching is God’s means to save the lost. How shall they believe in whom they have not heard? And how shall they go unless they are sent? Christ left His Apostles and His Church a “Great Commission” which has not been revoked (Matt. 28:18-20).

Whatever happened to those Reformation churches planted by the pastors and missionaries trained by John Calvin ? Sadly, King Louis XIV of France broke the law allowing Protestants to live in Catholic France. He outlawed the Protestant and Reformed faith in a decree one night and gave the Protestants 24 hours to leave France. In the days before rapid transportation, leaving a nation on foot was just about impossible. The next day, those people not wearing the white arm band of a Roman Catholic were arrested and or attacked in Paris and other French cities. It is estimated that between 25-50,000 people were killed in the slaughter of the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France!

The vast majority of the French Reformed Protestants,
the Huguenots, left France and in God’s providence enriched the churches of Holland, England, Scotland, South Africa and the American colonies, settling in the South especially. (E.g. 19th century Southern Presbyterian preacher and theologian, John Lafayette Girardeau, had a church of 1500 slaves and freedmen in Charleston. He was of pious Huguenot descent whose great grand-parents knew discrimination.)

What about the foreign mission outreach to Brazil? The mission to Brazil was exterminated by the Portuguese Roman
Catholic authorities; the missionaries and their families were killed or imprisoned; the church simply disappeared!

May we give ourselves to spreading of the gospel in our lifetime that those living in darkness might see a great light