Saturday, 7 March 2015

On this day... Richer and Chartier arrived in Brazil

On the 7th of March, 1557, Pierre Richer and Guillaume Chartier arrived in Brazil, the first Protestant missionaries in the New World. They arrived in order to provide spiritual care to the French colony ("French Antarctica") in what is now Rio de Janeiro, begun less than two years earlier. But they were also sent explicitly to contact and share the gospel with the indigenous people of the country. Others soon joined them. These men were French Huguenots, sent by the church in Geneva, where John Calvin was the leading Pastor.

The picture here is of the statue in Rio, commemorating the first Protestant celebration of the Supper in the Americas. This was just a few days after Richer and Chartier's arrival.

Sadly, the mission was not a success. The leader of the French expedition, after initially welcoming the preachers, appears to have turned (or been turned) away from the Protestant faith and ended up killing those missionaries who did not manage to escape back to France. You can read more on the details of the story here.

When I was in Brazil, I always found the account of the Richer and Chartier and their colleagues interesting and immensely moving. And also useful. So often, Brazilian students of more Arminian background would tell me, in authoritative tones, that Calvinism has no interest in missions or evangelism. As I was myself a missionary of Calvinistic hue, this seemed to make not a lot of sense, but even more so in a country whose first protestant preachers were sent by John Calvin himself. 
Far from being opposed to mission, Calvin was deeply and personally involved in the training and sending of missionaries - principally to France which was deeply dangerous territory at the time, as the oncoming Bartholomew's Day massacre would demonstrate.

Here is a range of quotes from his sermons:
On Ezekiel 18:23:
God certainly desires nothing more than for those who are perishing and rushing toward death to return to the way of safety. This is why the gospel is today proclaimed throughout the world, for God wished to testify to all the ages that he is greatly inclined to pity.
On 1 Tim 2:3-5:
Thus we may see what St. Paul’s meaning is when he says, God will have His grace made known to all the world, and His gospel preached to all creatures. Therefore, we must endeavour, as much as possible, to persuade those who are strangers to the faith, and seem to be utterly deprived of the goodness of God, to accept of salvation. Jesus Christ is not only a Saviour of few, but He offers Himself to all. As often as the gospel is preached to us, we ought to consider that God calls us to Him: and if we attend to this call, it shall not be in vain, neither shall it be lost labour. Therefore, we may be so much the more assured that God takes and sees us as His children, if we endeavour to bring those to Him who are far off. Let us comfort ourselves, and take courage in this our calling: although there be at this day a great forlornness, though we seem to be miserable creatures, utterly cast away and condemned, yet we must labour as much as possible to draw those to salvation who seem to be afar off. And above all things, let us pray to God for them, waiting patiently till it please Him to show His good will toward them, as He has shown it to us.
On Acts 1:7:
Now we know that God prizes nothing above his honour, which lies mainly in men’s knowing him and poor souls’ being brought to salvation. So let us not be surprised if our Lord wants his gospel to be proclaimed with such diligence that nothing can hinder its course. For the only way men can come to salvation is through instruction in what the Bible teaches. Now since this is God’s will, let us follow it.

The story of the Geneva mission to Brazil is a story of failure, but it is an important one, and always moves me because I love the country. And obliquely, the simple fact of Calvin sending those pastors still speaks today.

In the Salvation Army I can't but feel that some of the Founders' theological discussions and even the framing of Doctrine 6 betray a nervousness that Calvinism would inevitably stunt evangelism and, specifically, destroy the possibility of a free offer of Christ to the "whosoever". That may be understandable given the number of non-evangelistic Hypercalvinists around in the 19th century, but with Spurgeon seeing such blessing just south of the river, and Whitfield's ministry not long out of memory, the Booths were not without evidence that Tulip people can be passionate evangelists.

Tragically, it is now in the historic Arminian churches of the UK that it is has become harder to hear the message of Christ offering himself to all. It would be good to make this prayer of Calvin's our own:

“Seeing that God has given us such a treasure and so inestimable a thing as His Word, we must employ ourselves as much as we can, that it may be kept safe and sound and not perish. And let every man be sure to lock it up securely in his own heart. But it is not enough to have an eye to his own salvation, but the knowledge of God must shine generally throughout the whole world.”

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My sources on Calvin and missions were principally: and

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