Is the Grace of God Returning?
Until 500 years ago, Spain was the leading nation in sending missionaries to the far corners of the world. Through Catholic monastic orders, such as the Jesuits, Dominicans, Augustinians and the Franciscans, a form of Christianity advanced in the world. Unfortunately, it was also through these orders that the great religious persecutions of the 15th century were fostered through the Spanish Inquisition under the reign of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella.
It is a little known footnote of history that 1492 is also the year that the last Jews were expelled from Spain. Shortly before Columbus’ ships left the harbor of Palos, he recorded this event. The gold that was looted by the Spanish monarchs from the Moors, Protestants and Jews was used to finance Columbus’ first voyage. Yet the voyage of Columbus was to open up a world where people could come and worship God in freedom.
In retrospect, this period of Roman Catholic missionary expansion represents a mixed picture. The conquistadors imposed Spanish civilization and Roman Catholicism by force, at times treating the Native Americans with cruelty. However, many of the Spanish missionaries and explorers had pure intentions. There were advances of the gospel in salvation and in educational and charitable work. But their work suffered the shame of being entangled with colonialism and the unredeemed aspects of western culture.1
In the 1500s, the focus of world evangelism began to shift toward England, perhaps as a result of the trampling of the grace of God by the Spanish. With the coming of the Protestant Reformation and the defeat of the Spanish Armada, England gained supremacy over the seas and took up the cause of world evangelism through her own Protestant colonists.
The first Protestant missionary society was established in England in 1649. The Mayhews and John Eliot began the work of evangelizing the Indian tribes of New England in the 1640s. The Moravians sent hundreds of missionaries from Anglican churches to America in the 1700s. The Baptist Missionary Society was founded by William Carey in 1792; the London Missionary Society in 1795; the Church Missionary Society in 1799. A student movement at Williams College and Andover Seminary led to the founding of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1810.2
Now that 500 years have passed since 1492, it appears that Hispanics may once again become a dominant missionary force in the earth. Missiologists are looking to South America to be one of the focal points of revival and spiritual awakening in the 1990s. The Olympic games and the World’s Fair to be held in Spain this Summer promise to bring more evangelistic activity to this nation than ever before in history.
The number “five” in Scripture is often associated with divine grace working to bring men to salvation.3 Five centuries have passed since Columbus’ voyage and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. We see a simultaneous reappearance of the Spanish world in the role of world missions. Is the grace of God that once departed from Spain now returning?
The history of Spain is a reminder to Christians in the United States today that although God may choose to use a particular nation at some juncture of history in a strategic way, his saving purposes are not bound to any political state or institution. God’s grace alone is the determining factor in the advance of the Gospel of salvation.
1 John Jefferson Davis, Christ’s Victorious Kingdom (Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1986) pp.74-76.
2 Ibid, pp. 76,77.
3 Cf. Numbers 7:17-83; 1 Kings 6:6-24; Matthew 14:17-21.