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The Theological Foundation of
the Modern Missionary Movement

By Gery Schmidt

It is an assumed thing among the majority of professing Christians today that the theological foundation of the modern missionary movement is of God, and is, therefore, beyond reproach. Indeed, it is considered by the supporters of missionary enterprise well-nigh sacrilegious for any to question the Scripturalness of its theology. Yet, since God's people are commanded to "test the spirits, whether they are of God" (I John 4:1), the theological foundation of missionism can, claim no immunity from this process.

The very history of the origins and theology of the modern missionary movement is little known among Christians today. The name and labors of William Carey might well be familiar enough to many, but all too many are ignorant of another individual, contemporary with Carey, whose views and writings serve as the very foundation of the modern missionary movement. And this individual was Andrew Fuller. It was Andrew Fuller who served as the predominant force, in his person and writings, in the formation of the first modern missionary society, which was officially begun October 2, 1792, and of which Fuller was the first secretary until his death in 1815. An important question which arises at this point concerning these facts is, were the theological views of Andrew Fuller, which served as the foundation of the modern missionary movement, Scripturally sound? My answer to this question is an unequivocal no. Indeed, I am convinced that the entire modern missionary machine is founded upon both an erroneous soteriology and a false ecclesiology. I proceed now to demonstrate the facts corroborating these statements.

Shortly before his death Andrew Fuller wrote to Dr. Ryland stating, "I have preached and written much against the abuse of the doctrine of grace; but that doctrine is all my salvation and all my desire" (Works, vol.1, p. 101). In perusing the works of Andrew Fuller, it is to be feared that he never possessed the true gospel to begin with. Indeed, in his desire to deal with the supposed abuse of grace, Fuller did not deal with the so-called abusers, but proceeded to pervert the gospel of Jesus Christ itself. In his works Fuller manifests error in many critical doctrines of the Bible, among, which are total depravity, imputation, substitution, and justification. And it is especially the atoning work of Christ which Fuller tampers with in an artful and subtle manner. And it is particularly Fuller's mutilated doctrine of the atonement which served as both a major impetus to his missionary vision, and as something of a major turning point in Baptist history. And such things have not gone unnoticed among Baptist historians. Let us consider the following examples.

R.G. Torbet notes of Fuller, "To him belongs the credit for doing much to break down the anti-missionary spirit of hyper-Calvinists" (A History of The Baptists, p. 80). John Christian adds that "There was another great force working for the betterment of the Baptist denomination. It was represented by Andrew Fuller" (A History of the Baptists, vol.1, p.350). And Armitage states that Fuller put a new phase upon Calvinism..." (A History of the Baptists, vol. 2, p 584). H.C. Vedder writes the following:

The change that gradually came over the particular Baptists is not, to so great an extent, identified with the character and labors of a single man. It is still true, however, that to the influence of Andrew Fuller such change is largely due, especially the modification of the Baptist theology, that was an indispensable prerequisite to effective preaching of the gospel... Fuller boldly accepted and advocated a doctrine of the atonement that, until his day, had always been stigmatized as rank Arminianism, viz., that the atonement of Christ, as to its worth and dignity, was sufficient for the sins of the whole world, and was not an offering for the elect alone... this modified Calvinism gradually made its way among Baptists until it has become well-nigh the only doctrine known among them (A Short History of the Baptists, pp. 248, 249)

To these quotes I add but two more, the first by Francis Wayland whose following words concerning the extent of the atonement were published in 1857:

Within the last fifty years a change has gradually taken place in the view of a large portion of our brethren ... A change commenced upon the publication of the writings of Andrew Fuller, especially his 'Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation' which, in the northern and eastern States, has become almost universal (Notes On the Principles and Practices of Baptist Churches, p 18).

The second quote comes from David Benedict, whose following words concerning Fuller appeared in print in 1860:

This famous man maintained that the atonement of Christ was general in its nature, but particular in its application, in opposition to our old divines, who hold that Christ died for the elect only (Fifty Years Among the Baptists p 135).

Several important facts emerge from the statements of these historians. First, it is clear that Andrew Fuller did indeed represent a major influence upon Baptists in his person and writings. Secondly, he represented a major influence upon Baptists with his views concerning the atoning work of Christ. Thirdly, Fuller's concept of the atonement was recognized as a significant deviation from what Particular Baptists had previously believed concerning this doctrine. What Fuller advocated is described as "a new phase upon Calvinism," "a change," a "modification of the Baptist theology," and an "opposition to our old divines." Indeed, Fuller's view of the atonement was, according to Vedder, considered "rank Arminianism" by the old Particular Baptists. Fourthly, Fuller's views of the atonement acted as a leaven among Baptists so that by the late nineteenth century, it become "well-nigh the only doctrine known among them." And fifthly, according to Vedder, Fuller's 'modification of the Baptist theology was 'an indispensable prerequisite to effective preaching of the gospel." Here we can see a direct connection made between Fuller's concept of the atonement and his missionary vision. So much then for the testimonies of these historians; It is time to consider the works of Andrew Fuller himself.

In coming to examine the works of Andrew Fuller, the extracts which follow will demonstrate beyond doubt that Fuller did not possess the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Fuller's works are characterized by confusion and subtlety. Indeed, pervading much of his theology is an unfounded and unwarranted paranoia of antinomianism. And it is this fear of antinomianism, I am convinced, what led Fuller to pervert the good news of Jesus Christ. We shall consider first some extracts from Fuller's three sermons on justification. In his first sermon he notes the following:

Yet, to speak of sins as being pardoned before they are repented of, or even committed, is not only to maintain that on which the Scriptures are silent, but to contradict the current language of their testimony. If all our sins, past, present, and to come, were actually forgiven, either when Christ laid down his -life, or even on our first believing, why did David speak of 'confessing his transgression," and of God "forgiving his iniquity?" (Works, vol.1, p. 282).

In these words Fuller manifests several grave errors concerning salvation. First, Fuller's words represent a denial of the finished work of Christ on the cross. In fact, Fuller renders Christ's work on the cross as having accomplished nothing with respect to the forgiveness of the sins of God's people. It is clear that Fuller believes forgiveness of sin does not actually transpire until confession and repentance take place. Such a view denies that any real taking away of sin, or remission, took place when Christ died (cf. Jn. 1:29; Heb. 9:22). Secondly, since Fuller essentially declared forgiveness depends upon the confession and repentance of a sinner, the grace of God is thereby destroyed, and the dogma of salvation by works to set up in its place. Fuller turns confession and repentance into meritorious works which earn forgiveness. His appeal to the words of David are utterly inappropriate and evince he did not understand justification at all. The confessions the children of God make respecting their sins relate to their walk with God, and not to their judicial standing in his sight. The former has reference solely to the sanctifying work of the Spirit, and cannot, therefore, have any reference to the matter of justification.

Further, godly confession and repentance are the fruits of saving grace and not the procuring cause of it. Fuller errs greatly in that he confounds sanctification with justification.

In his third sermon on justification, Fuller states the following:

The acts and deeds of one may affect others, but can in no case, become actually theirs, or be so transferred as to render that justice which would otherwise have been of grace. The imputation of our sins to Christ, and of his righteousness to us, does not consist in a transfer of either the one or the other, except in their effects (Works, vol. 1, p. 290).

To this quote two more concerning the same subject, from two letters written to Dr. Ryland, must be added:

Finally, imputation ought not to be confounded with transfer ...In its figurative sense as applied to justification, it is righteousness itself that is imputed, but its effects only are transferred. So also in respect of sin, sin itself is the object of imputation; but neither this nor guilt is strictly speaking transferred, for neither of them is a transferable object. As all that is transferred in the imputation of righteousness is its beneficial effects, so all that is transferred in the imputation of is its penal effects... But perhaps, Mr. B. considers "a real and proper imputation of our sins to Christ," by which he seems to mean their being literally transferred to him, as essential to this doctrine; and if so, I acknowledge I do not at present believe it (Works, vol. 2, pp.705, 706).

In these statements Fuller manifests grave errors concerning imputation. The most glaring heresy Fuller manifests is his denial of a literal imputation of both the elects' sin to Christ, and of Christ's righteousness to the elect. The imputation respecting sin and righteousness are in Fuller's thinking merely figurative. He makes it quite clear that neither sin nor righteousness actually becomes the possession of such to whom they are imputed. And yet Fuller, having denied a literal imputation of both sin and righteousness, proceeds to argue that there is a literal imputation (or transfer) of the effects of sin and righteousness! How a literal imputation of an effect can proceed upon a figurative imputation of a cause is beyond explanation. Fuller's sentiments lead inevitably to the conclusion that Christians enter heaven without any righteousness, and with their sins still intact. Hence, Christians cannot be said to possess any real justification in the sight of God. A figurative imputation of sin and righteousness cannot lead to a literal claim to heaven. Fuller's view of imputation can only lead to a surreal, shadowy, and phantasmic atonement wherein Christ's work on the cross is portrayed as no more than a stage-play, and where no real and true transaction respecting sin and righteousness can be said to have been accomplished.

The next statements made by Fuller also come from a letter written to Dr.Ryland:

Were I asked concerning the gospel, when it is introduced into a country, For whom was it sent? I should answer, if I had respect only to the revealed word of God.. It is sent for men, not as elect, or as non-elect, but as sinners. In like manner, concerning the death of Christ. If I speak of it irrespective of the purpose of the Father and the Son as to its objects as who is to be saved by it, merely referring to what it is in itself sufficient for, and declared in the gospel to be adapted to, it was for sinners as sinners... (Works, vol. 2, PP- 706, 707)

Here Fuller manifests his heretical notions concerning the atonement and its relationship to missionary endeavor. The foundation for Fuller's concept of missionary enterprise is an abstract view of the atonement, one which has no reference to purpose or design. In other words, what we have here is an indefinite atonement. Directly connected to this abstract atonement is Fuller's idea that the gospel is to be preached indiscriminately to all, regardless of election or reprobation. But in both these points Fuller errs greatly. First, Fuller has no Scriptural warrant to speak of the atonement irrespective of a design. Indeed, the atonement of Christ is a design, one which is intended solely for the salvation of the elect. Texts like Matthew 1:21 leave no doubt concerning the purpose of the incarnation, and the design was that Jesus "should save his people from their sins." The sufficiency of the atonement extends no further than its efficiency. The statement "sufficient for all, but efficient for the elect" has no Scriptural foundation.

Secondly, Fuller has no Scriptural warrant stating that God's word declares the gospel is sent unto sinners as sinners, and not as elect or reprobate. It in true that the good news is to be proclaimed unto sinners, but it is not true that this is done regardless of election or reprobation. The fact is, God's word states in no uncertain terms that the preaching of the good news is aimed at elect sinners. In Acts 2.39 Peter declares that the promise of salvation (cf. 2:21) is restricted to "as many as the Lord our God will call to himself." The apostle Paul did not suffer from the illusions of Fuller, for he states in 2 Timothy 2:10 that he endured all he did in his ministry, not for the sake of anyone and everyone, but "for the sake of the elect." And why was the Lord Jesus Christ himself only concerned for such who were "weary and heavy-laden" (cf. Mt 11:28)? Clearly, the reprobate will never be weary and heavy-laden over their sins. These few examples show forth that true gospel preaching is discriminately aimed at the elect, and not simply at sinners as sinners, as Fuller imagines.

We move on next to consider some statements Fuller makes in his magnum opus, The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation. In this work Fuller labors to establish that faith is a duty incumbent upon all, whether elect or reprobate. In attempting to prove his point, Fuller establishes the doctrine of salvation by works and virtually denies total depravity. The following examples suffice to prove this.

Faith in Jesus Christ, even that which is accompanied with salvation, is there (N.T.- ed.) constantly held up as the duty of all to whom the gospel is preached ... Though the Gospel, strictly speaking, is not a law, but a message of pure grace; yet virtually requires obedience and such an obedience as includes saving faith... If faith in Christ be the duty of the ungodly, It must of course follow that every sinner, whatever be his character, is completely warranted to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation on of his soul (Works, vol. 2, pp. 345, 352).

Here again, Fuller is utterly confused concerning the doctrine of salvation. In advocating his main tenet, namely, that faith is a duty to be performed, Fuller is guilty of neonomianism. He rightly notes the gospel is a message of pure grace only to condemn himself in the same breath arguing it requires obedience. How little Fuller seemed to understand that obedience is the fruit of grace and not its cause. He clearly turns faith into a salvation-earning work. Now salvation consists of many parts such as election, justification, regeneration, faith, repentance, and so on. And salvation, from beginning to end, is of God and not man; and it is all of pure grace. Thus, since faith is a part of salvation, and is therefore of pure grace, how then can it be a duty?

Yet Fuller, in making faith the duty of all, detaches faith from the doctrine, of salvation, and consequently, removes it from the realm of grace. Further, in maintaining that every sinner is warranted to trust in Christ, Fuller evinces that every sinner has the ability to exercise saving faith, something the Scriptures declare impossible. Only the elect will ever receive the gift of faith, and thus the reprobate can never exercise what they not only do not possess, but also what God will never give to them. Fuller's sentiments represent a denial of total depravity. Elsewhere in his works, he notes the following concerning total -depravity- "If by total Mr. B. means unable in every respect, I grant I do not think man is, in that sense, totally unable to believe in Christ" (Works, vol. 2, P. 458). Here Fuller flatly denies total depravity, which denial harmonizes with his concept of faith being a duty incumbent upon all.

The words of Fuller speak for themselves. His views concerning such critical doctrines as justification, imputation, the atonement, faith, and total depravity reveal that his soteriology is entirely bereft of Scriptural soundness. Indeed, it can only be described as rank Arminianism. And what is critical for professing Christians to realize is that the soteriological views of Fuller represent the foundation of the modern missionary movement. But this is not all. The very ecclesiological foundation upon which modern missionism began is also erroneous. Fuller, Carey, and others had no Scriptural warrant for forming a Missionary Society. The Scriptures declare that the Lord set up but one institution on earth, namely, his assembly, and that this institution alone has the authority of God to engage in missionary work. Thus, the final conclusion resulting from these solemn facts is that the entire modern missionary machine is founded upon a false theological foundation, which foundation consists of a false gospel carried out by an unscriptural parachurch organization.

What then are the solemn implications of these things? Let the reader consider the following two questions. Can a true convert be the result of the proclamation of a false gospel? Can a true gospel assembly result from the same? The answer to both these questions is an obvious no. Thus, the only conclusion one can arrive at with respect to what the entire modern missionary movement has accomplished from 1792 until the present day, is that not one true convert, and consequently, not one true gospel assembly, has ever resulted from the efforts of modern missionaries. What then does this mean concerning the countries where modern missionism has performed its work? It can only mean that there are countries all over the world filled with converts who are not true converts to the true gospel, and consequently, that there are multitudes of churches in the world that are not true gospel churches. Assuredly, a true gospel assembly cannot result from such who are not true converts. A staggering conclusion indeed, but one which cannot be avoided. Andrew Fuller who was so afraid that Baptists would become a "perfect dunghill in society," is to be credited with having produced a missionary vision based upon a false gospel and false ecclesiology, which has since his death filled the world with Baptists who are very respectable in society, but a perfect dunghill in the sight of Almighty God. These words are not written lightly or trivially. A corrupt tree cannot produce good fruit, and thus how can anything good result from Fuller's unscriptural system, to which all modern missionism owes its descent?