Protestant Jeopardy

You’ve had an unprecedented run on “Jeopardy!” Opponents tremble at the mere mention of your name. You’ve made Ken Jennings look like a high school dropout. Look how you’ve breezed through this latest category:

“Chinese Archbishops for 400, Alex.”

Since 2007, he has been the Catholic Archbishop of Beijing.

Child’s play! “Who is his Eminence Joseph Li Shan.”

Gosh, that was easy! As a former Protestant missionary to predominantly Catholic countries, you pride yourself on your knowledge of the ways of the opposition. “Chinese Archbishops for 500!”

It’s the Daily Double! And the answer is:

He was the Catholic Archbishop of Beijing in the 14th century.

Wait – is that a typo?? The 14th century? I’m sorry, Alex – I can’t even venture a guess!

Oh, too bad! The question is:

Who is Giovanni da Montecorvino, Franciscan missionary.

In the 14th century??

Alex’ eyebrows shoot up as you admit your ignorance.

“Actually, Blessed Giovanni reached China at the end of the 13th century – 1294, to be exact, 20 years after the death of St. Thomas Aquinas, in the days of famed explorer Marco Polo. Sent by Pope Nicholas IV, Montecorvino was responsible for the conversion of some 6,000 people in the Beijing area. He built churches, orphanages and a convent. He translated the New Testament into Uyghur, the language of the Mongol emperor, and all this over 150 years before the birth of Martin Luther! Blessed Giovanni was consecrated Archbishop of Beijing in 1308. After his death in 1328, an uprising of the Chinese population succeeded in driving the Mongols from power, and by 1369 all Christians had been expelled from China.”

Uh, thanks, Alex – I’ll file that away for future reference….

“But that wasn’t the end of Catholic missions in China – not by a long shot! To understand this, you have to remember Christ’s Great Commission to His apostles in Matthew 28:

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

“The apostles took the Great Commission very seriously. Sts. Peter and Paul died in Rome. But the remaining apostles are said to have literally gone into all the known world. St. Andrew is believed to have preached in Byzantium; St. Philip was also martyred in Turkey. St. James went to Spain, as St. Paul had hoped to be able to do. St. Thomas reportedly made it all the way to India.”

Nobody needs to quote Matthew 28:16-20 to you! Sheesh, you never knew Alex Trebek was such an expert on Catholic trivia! And he’s not done yet!

“You see, the history of the Catholic Church is the history of missions. History demonstrates the postapostolic Church spreading like a ring along the shores of the Mediterranean, and then steadily making inroads into pagan European territory. It is estimated that by the 4th century a tenth of the world’s population was Christian! Catholic missionaries were rank-and-file clergy and religious, although the names of saints and blesseds crop up in this tale of evangelization, as areas as far-flung as France, Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Moravia, Pomerania, Prussia, Hungary, Egypt, Moslem-occupied Jerusalem, Morocco, India, China, Japan, Vietnam, Africa, the Americas, and Oceania heard the Good News preached by the likes of Sts. Denis, Ninnian, Patrick, Columba, Paul Aurelian, Augustine of Canterbury, Amandus, Willibrord, Boniface, Cyril, Methodius, Ansgar, Sigfrid, Adalbert, Bruno of Querfort, Otto of Bamberg, Nikola Tavelić, José de Anchieta, Roque González de Santa Cruz, Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and Peter Chanel. In the 13th century St. Francis of Assisi himself went to Egypt to preach Christ to the Sultan, and Franciscans were martyred preaching in Morocco. The 14th century saw Dominican Jordanus Catalini installed as the first Roman Catholic bishop of India. Blessed Odoric of Pordenone, a Franciscan, visited him there, on his way to preach in Sumatra and China. Not to be outdone, Dominican St. Louis Bertrand became the 16th-century apostle to South America, and 17th-century Jesuits, following in the footsteps of St. Francis Xavier, spread the Gospel in Asia.”

This is getting ridiculous! Is there anything else you’d like to tell us, Alex??

“So, the existence of a Catholic archbishop of Beijing in the 14th century really isn’t all that surprising. The Middle Ages were anything but quiet and dull, and the Catholic Church took the Great Commission very seriously, to the point of martyrdom in many instances. And with that said, it’s time for Final Jeopardy! How much are you going to wager?”

What’s the category, Alex?

“Go Ye!”

I’m betting it all!

And the answer is:

There is not one single recorded instance of this particular kind of missionary outreach before the second half of the 16th century.

Oh my gosh, that’s a tough one! Evangelization… but not one single recorded instance before the 16th century…. Hmm…. It obviously can’t be Catholic missions – as much as you hate to admit it, it sounds like Catholics have devoted 2,000 years to missions. You certainly don’t want to get Alex started again!

But what could it be? Evangelicals are all about missions. All your life you’ve heard stories about the revered 19th– and 20th-century Protestant missionaries going into all the world to preach Christ. The Great Commission wasn’t just for the Apostles and those of their generation – it is for all Christians in all eras. After all, Jesus wasn’t just making a suggestion – He was commanding believers to spread the Good News to all people, and so your spiritual ancestors, the New-Testament-faith-alone-eternal-security-Bible-believing Christians, went out and set the world on fire as they evangelized the nations, nations like….


You rack your brains as the Jeopardy! music counts down the seconds. If the Great Commission is an imperative, why was NO ONE evangelized by your spiritual ancestors? You yourself gave the best years of your life to the mission field because you knew that Jesus commanded the proclamation of the Gospel to those who had never heard it – it MUST have been an imperative in the minds of true believers down through the ages. And yet, where were the sola-fide/sola-scriptura missionaries? Who was ever converted to Christianity before the 16th century by someone who believed and preached the Gospel that your church believes and preaches?

The music ends.

“And let’s see your answer! Oh, it… doesn’t look like you wrote anything there. Aww, too bad! You bet it all…”

You bet it all!

You bet it all!

You sit bolt upright in your bed, sweating and shaking, still in the grip of your bad dream. Even awake, you can hear the Jeopardy! music ringing in your brain. What a nightmare! You couldn’t force yourself to admit it to Alex, but there simply was no such thing as a Protestant missionary effort to bring the Gospel to the world until the 16th century – no such thing. Yet how can that be?? Bible-believing Christians simply ignored the command of Jesus Christ for 1,500 years?? Where were they? What were they doing?? Jesus told us that we are the light of the world – A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Those verses basically mandate that the Christian church must be a VISIBLE PRESENCE in the world. All it took was one 14th-century guy – Giovanni da Montecorvino – to convert 6,000 people to Catholicism! Yet for 1,500 years your ancestors in Christ said nothing, did nothing, and went nowhere. It almost sounds as if those spiritual ancestors of yours were the stuff of myth….

Christianity is the world’s largest belief system, thanks to the faithful response to the Great Commission – the faithful response of Catholic missionaries literally going into all the world. Not one pagan nation was won for Christ by Evangelical Christian missionaries until several hundred years AFTER the Protestant Reformation (and precious few then!) You know the Catholic version of events – that the first Christians were CATHOLICS who preserved the teachings of the Apostles and Christianized the nations. You yourself devoted your adult life to persuading fallen-away Catholics that the REAL body of Christ down through the ages consisted of believers who privately kept the true faith while the Roman Catholic parody held sway. With Martin Luther, real Christians burst forth to proclaim the truth to the world. But if those putative Bible Christians who believed what you believe actually existed, to whom exactly did they preach the Good News for 1,500 years?

There’ll be no more sleep for you tonight. In the darkness echoes the Jeopardy! theme song, as the game show host chants his sad refrain:

Aww, too bad! You bet it all!

On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Deo omnis gloria!

  1. russ said:

    Oh so soooory. No there were no sola scriptura missionaries before 1600! Sheer genius this post is!

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  3. However, there were no Catholics doubting the inerrancy of all Scripture before Galileo Galilei. And he was condemned for doing that.

    Check out St Robert Bellarmine and Pope Urban VIII, will you!

    • Not quite sure where you’re coming from, Hans-Georg – could you elaborate on this?

      • “Not quite sure where I am coming from” … well, let us say the Council of Trent. It condemned Protestantism and its no to Tradition. It said Scripture must be exposed according to tradition. But it never said anything like “parts of it must be exposed figuratively only if the literal meaning contradicts science”. So it never condemned what can be called the Fundamentalist Trend among certain Protestants. It condemned in it only what it had inherited or worked up of anticatholic teaching since Trent condemned such. But Trent was as Young Earth Creationist as ever Kent Hovind. On top of it, it was Geocentric. So am I.

  4. “I also admit the Holy Scripture according to that sense which our holy mother the Church hath held, and doth hold, to whom it belongeth to judge of the true sense and interpretations of the Scriptures. Neither will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.”

    Now, the Fathers are unanimously as Young Earth Creationist as Kent Hovind (or rather, they follow the Septuaginta Chronology which gives earth about 1000 years more). None of them were Heliocentric either.

    Of course, too bad he does not believe the Immaculate Conception or the Seven Sacraments or the Sacrifice of the Mass, but what he mainly talked and wrote about (before he went to prison) are things the Church Fathers would, mainly, have agreed with.

    • So I understand that you are saying that you are a young Earth creationist and geocentric – which as a Catholic you have every right to be. What I still don’t get is the connection with this post, which discusses the utter lack of “Protestant” missions at any time before the Reformers….

      • That if the Protestant is also a Fundamentalist, he can answer that Catholics back then were at least Fundamentalist. Which many are not now.

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