Monday, April 19, 2010

Baptists and Missions: 1800-1845

William Carey
Part of an ongoing series on Southern Baptist history . . . 

William Carey (1761-1834) (pictured) was a friend of Andrew Fuller in Britain. He was a shoe cobbler, and he had a heart for missions. A short man with an unimpressive appearance, Carey was a poor preacher, so poor that after preaching all summer in the Baptist church in Olney, the congregation refused to recommend him for ordination, but considering his persistence and the fact that no one else was interested in pastoring their church, they reluctantly called him as pastor. He kept his cobbler business and while doing it learned Hebrew, Greek, Dutch, French, Latin, and several other languages. He also liked maps and as he drew them God burdened his heart with the world populations without Christ. It came to consume him.
In 1787 Carey attended the Ministers Fraternal of the Northampton Association, proposed for discussion “Whether the command given the apostles to teach all nations was not binding on all succeeding ministers to the end of the world.” The revered Dr. John Ryland, Sr., retorted, “Sit down young man. You are an enthusiast! When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without consulting you or me.” Carey sat down, but missions burned in his heart. He would later in 1792 write the remarkable book, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use means for the Conversion of the Heathen. This book helped charter the modern missionary movement. Carey would later go to India for the rest of his life as a missionary.
Early post-Revolutionary America was seeing profound changes. Morality had hit a major low after the Revolution. Settlers were rushing to the frontier, and in response to prayer, the God sent the Second Great Awakening to America (~1798 – ~1803). Awakening fell on the Presbyterians first, and one of their leaders was James McGready who had been driven from North Carolina to Kentucky, and who returned in 1801 leading revivals. The problem was that the Presbyterians saw so many converts and their leadership structure and polity could not handle the influx of souls. The Baptists and Methodists had a polity to handle the revival, and they ended up with most of the harvest. Out of that revival came a hunger for international missions as well.
Adoniram Judson
Three New England Congregationalists (who believed in infant baptism) named Adoniram and Ann Judson (pictured) and Luther Rice[1] (1783-1836) committed to missions in Burma. Because they knew they would have to deal with the Baptist William Carey in India over the issue of baptism, so on their separate voyages they studied their Bibles on baptism to be ready for him, but they found themselves convinced that Carey was right. They needed Scriptural baptism. When they left New England they had been Congregationalists, but when they arrived, they were Biblically convinced Baptists and joined with William Carey.
Now the Judsons and Rice had an integrity issue. They could not be supported by Congregational churches having rejected covenant theology and infant baptism. Therefore, Luther Rice volunteered to return to the United States and raise support for all of them. The Judsons would remain in India and eventually Burma, and Rice promised to return as soon as he could. Rice sailed to America in 1813 to meet with the Philadelphia Association and told them, “If you would have us, we will be your missionaries.” He would never make it back to the mission field.
There was a need for some kind of structure to support American Baptist missionaries, so in May 1814, the General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions was formed. It came to be known as the Triennial Convention because it met every three years. From the beginning, regional prejudices would underlie the Convention. First, the distance. The Convention was nearly always held in the North. Transportation was expensive, difficult, and dangerous. Southerners wondered why they met only twice in the South between 1814 and 1844, and even then the convention cities were Baltimore and Richmond. By the 1840s this would become a huge issue.
The second area of contention was the representation on the Mission Board. To be a board member, one had to give $100 per year. When travel costs for the convention were added, it was too expensive for Southerners to be very involved. Therefore, the Triennial Convention was centered in the North, dominated by Northerners, and Northerners dictated the agenda.  

The third problem was how to conduct business in the convention. New England had the town hall tradition which led to a Society Model for funding missions. Societies were directed at one specific need, such as orphan ministry, building a hospital, or funding a missionary family. Membership was based on who donated and how much they gave. 

Southerners had the rural County Court Days tradition where everyone would come to town once a week to meet and transact business. This tradition led to a Convention Model where all activity was done at one time for all ministry needs. Membership was based on geographic representation, so everyone was represented and had a say in where funds were directed.
Luther Rice
Luther Rice (silhouetted) kept his word to raise support for the Judsons among Baptist churches along the seaboard and rode thousands of miles raising monies for their mission in Burma. During one 11-month stretch, Rice traveled a total of 9,359 miles -- this coming mostly on horseback. He survived on a salary of $8, paid by the convention. Contributions by Baptists to foreign missions totaled $1,239.29 in 1814, but by 1816 the amount given was $12,236.84 -- almost a tenfold increase. 

His selfless work in preaching and casting the vision for missions transformed Baptists and unified them around the Great Commission and brought scattered churches together as a real, unified convention.
Unfortunately, Rice had a problem with administration, i.e., keeping up with the money he had raised. He was accused of thievery, but no malfeasance was ever found in him. He traveled on a strict budget, showed his expenses, but he would be gone so long that he gave an accounting only every six months. 

Ann Judson
The other thing that happened was that in 1821, Luther Rice founded and became president of the Baptist-affiliated Columbian College in D.C., what would become George Washington University. That job entailed raising funds, too, so it got tricky. Who exactly was he raising monies for? When Rice took up an offering in a church, there were questions. Who received that money? The school or the missionaries? Rice found himself in a bind. He was over obligated with no good way to extricate himself.

Last, there was an issue with the perception of his integrity. Rice was so busy raising funds to support missions and the college that he never fulfilled his promise to return to the mission field, even though Ann Judson (pictured) wrote him about it. When Rice made a request to the Triennial Convention's board to return to India, it was turned down because the board wanted him to stay in America to raise funds and cast vision.
Francis Wayland
Enter Francis Wayland (pictured). He was not happy with Rice and was determined to do something about him. Wayland was a former pastor and now the President of Brown University, a Baptist school in Rhode Island. He worked to remove Rice as a fund raiser for the Triennial Convention. He eventually was successful in separating the Convention from Columbian College, but some questioned whether this was really a battle between two schools for funding. How did Wayland do it? In 1826, he led the Triennial Convention to focus exclusively on foreign mission work, thereby turning the Convention into a Northern-style Society, and then he moved the Board to Boston. Wayland’s action caused a big reaction – the Anti-missionary movement.

The Anti-Missionary Movement

Alexander Campbell
Alexander Campbell (pictured) began as a Presbyterian, then became a Baptist where he became a thorn in the side of Baptists. He wanted to restore the ancient ways, the New Testament pattern. Jesus followers were not Baptists, he said. They were Christians, so he formed the Christian churches, leading many Baptists his way, and that way as Anti-Missionary. The Bible doesn’t say anything about a Convention or a Mission Board, he said. That is not New Testament. Was Paul under a board? No, he was sent out by churches.

Another anti-missionary leader was Daniel Parker was barely literate, having been taught to read by his mother. He was opposed to mission boards and societies, too. They are not in the New Testament. In 1820 in a General Address to the Baptist Society, Parker asked, “How can preachers be anything but preachers?” (i.e., no one should become a missionary). And “What mission board president is in the Bible?” But Parker kept heading into left field. About 1826 developed the heresy of Two-Seedism, a dualist idea that every person is born of the seed of the Woman (and therefore saved) or the seed of the Devil (and born to damnation). He would denounce his Baptist church membership. He becomes a case of “Consider the source.”
One anti-missionary leader stayed in the Baptist Convention named John Taylor. In his early years he had been persecuted as a Baptist in Virginia and moved to Kentucky. In his Thoughts on Missions written at age 69, Taylor said he smelled a New England rat. Who exactly is in control of what we’re doing in missions? You ask for money, he wrote, but there are no mission boards in the New Testament! What are you going to do with that money? Who is going to control it? You people are upsetting the customs of Baptists and committing a serious assault on Baptist traditions, he charged. “I’m not opposed to new institutions, but I am opposed to changing customs and tradition,” he said. Then he went after Luther Rice. “Does Luther Rice really have anyone at all on the mission field? We’re giving them everything we fought for in the Revolution,” he bemoaned. Taylor would set the tone for dissent among Baptists.


[1] http://www.hmdb.org/Marker.asp?Marker=12973