Johann Baegert Addresses “the Gentlemen of the Protestant Faith” (1st of 3)

“If the Apostles had remained in their fatherland, sitting at home behind the stove, where would the world and especially our Germany be today?”

Guaycura Indians of Baja California

Johann Jacob Baegert lived as missionary among the Guaycura Indians of Baja California beginning in 1751. In 1767 king Charles III of Spain ordered the expulsion of the Jesuit missionaries from the Americas. Baegert returned to Germany, settling in Bavaria wrote Observations in Lower California. It was published in January 1771.

In one chapter of his Observations Baegert recounts the story of two Jesuit missionaries who were martyred for the love of God. After honoring their memory, Baegert asks the Lutherans and Reformed church leaders who are “sitting at home behind the stove in Wittenberg and Geneva,” why they do not send missionaries to the non-Christians countries of the world. Baegert asks six questions, all from the Bible, all very reasonable. What could our Reformed fathers say in their reply? It was a time when Catholic missionaries were sailing the seven seas, establishing Christianity in India, China, Japan, Vietnam, Africa, the South Seas, and in the Americas. It was a time for gaining a martyr’s reward. In this context Baegert asks his six questions. Here are the first two.

Some Questions Directed to Protestants and Particularly to Protestant Ministers. By Johann Baegert

Although I am writing a report and not a controversy, I may be permitted to interrupt my narrative and address myself to the gentlemen of the Protestant faith (it may happen that this small volume will get into their hands). In connection with the two California martyrs whose fate was described in the pre­ceding chapter, I should like to ask some questions of the Protestants, and par­ticularly of their ministers, concerning the lack of zeal these gentlemen show in converting heathen. Such conversions are, however, characteristic of the True Church of the New Testament, which does not say: “In viam gentium ne abieritis” (Do not set your feet into idolatrous provinces and lands), but on the contrary: “Go into the world and preach the word of God to all men.” The Holy Scripture frequently and emphatically demands of Christian preachers to seek converts.

The Protestants have the best opportunity of carrying out the work of converting nonbelievers in both the West and the East Indies, for there, as everyone knows, their trade and power is very great. It would be much easier for them and they would be more successful than the Catholics, for they have nothing else to preach to the pagans but their doctrine of faith . . . . Never­theless, I have not heard or read anything up to now about Protestant missions or missionaries in the East or West Indies.

For a long time Catholic circles have been waiting for the first volume of edifying letters from Protestant missionaries, or for a martyrology of Lutheran and Calvinistic preachers who became martyrs in India. However, so far no one knows or can guess when one or the other volume will go to the press or see the light of day, yet, on the Catholic side, more than thirty volumes of edifying letters have already been published by the Jesuits alone, although this collec­tion was not started until toward the beginning of this century and contains less than a third of the total letters. In their book of martyrs, almost a thousand blood-witnesses can be counted. Yet this order is not so old as Protestantism, and there are perhaps a hundred Protestant preachers to one Jesuit priest . . .

Therefore, with their permission, I ask these Protestant gentlemen:

First: If the Apostles had remained in their fatherland, sitting at home behind the stove, where would the world and especially our Germany be today? And since the Apostles could neither live forever nor go to every part of the world, they alone could not convert all the heathen, and the growth of the Christian church was thereby limited. But under the guidance and foresight of God, who watches over His Church, the Apostles left successors who would always follow in their footsteps and carry on their work of conversion in accordance with Psalm 44: “Pro patribus tuis nati sunt tibi filli.”[1] Now where in the Protestant church are such apostolic twigs, such successors of the first Fathers of the Church, who, like the Apostles, would zealously dedicate themselves to the conversion of idolaters and to the growth of the kingdom of Christ? When will one be able to say of the theologians of Wittenberg and Geneva: “Their call went out into the world and they have been heard in all the corners of the earth preaching the Gospel to the pagans.”[2] Daily preachers are born to take the place of Luther and Calvin, but none to convert the heathen; Luther and Calvin were not missionaries either.

Second: I ask, does the definite command of Christ, “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), include the Protes­tant preachers, or does it not? If it does, why do they not obey, and why do they wish to remain idle spectators of the Catholics, resembling those who buried their talent of silver or those found by the Father to be idling in the marketplace? On the other hand, if Christ’s command has no meaning for them, then they cannot be counted among successors of the Apostles, but only as followers and partisans of Luther and Calvin. That the aforementioned command of Christ does not really concern them seems to be proved, partly by their behavior and their own secret admission, partly by the fact that Christ would endow them with spirit and courage to fulfill this command as he did His Apostles and others. In more than two hundred years, as experience has shown, this has not come to pass; for whatever task God chooses a man, He will give him the means, talents, and strength needed to accomplish it.

Blincoe: Dear Reader, what do you think of Jacob Baegert’s two questions? Are they Biblically sound? Are they reasonable? We will post Baegert’s next two questions in an upcoming blogs.

Next: Johann Baegert Addresses “the Gentlemen of the Protestant Faith” (2nd of 3)

Previous: Hundreds of Catholic Missionaries Led the Way. This is my tribute.

[1] “Your sons will take the place of your fathers.” Psalm 45:16 in the Protestant Bible.

[2] Psalm 19:4