2011 is the 250th anniversary of William Carey’s birth. Who is he? Carey was a Baptist pastor from Northampton who has become known as “The Father of Modern Missions”. He helped to launch Christian missions across the world, so that 200 years later Christianity is the largest faith on the planet, and first truly global religion. Here’s a bit of the story:

The Moravian church from Herrnhut in Germany, starting in 1732, was the first concerted Protestant effort in taking the gospel overseas. Their influence in the UK was felt especially through the growing Methodist movement. It was in this environment that Andrew Fuller, a high-profile Baptist minister from Cambridge wrote in 1785 “The Gospel Worthy of all acceptance, or the duty of sinners to believe in Jesus Christ” in which, in contrast to some of the Hyper-Calvinism that was prevalent with Particular Baptist churches, said that sinners could respond to Christ and should be encouraged to do so – “I believe it is the duty of every minister of Christ plainly and faithfully to preach the gospel to all who will hear it.”

William Carey, a younger Baptist minister in Leicester was moved by reading the life of James Cook and his travels to the Pacific, the teaching of Jonathan Edwards in the Great Awakening, the short life of David Brainerd in his missionary endeavours to the Native Americans and his contact with men like Fuller – and famously in 1792 wrote “An enquiry into the obligations of Christians to use means for the conversion of the heathens.”. He advocated that the Great Commission still applied to the church, advocated fervent prayer for the conversion of the heathen and proposed the formation of a ‘society’ to make this more effective.

So, on 2 October 1792 a group of Baptist ministers including Fuller and Carey gathered to form “a Society among the Baptists for propagating the gospel among the heathen”. The following year Carey put his money where his mouth was and left for Serampore India with his family to begin his mission.

It is important not to see the founding of the BMS as an event in isolation, but as part of a tide of ideas that were being stirred by the rise of what was becoming known as Evangelicalism. The evangelism and church planting of early Baptists and Quakers, the Moravian missions, the founding of the Anglican Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts (i.e. American colonies) in 1701 (Kane 1982), the Methodist revival in UK & Ireland, the great awakening in America, individual missionary endeavours of men like Brainerd and John Elliot among the Iroquois in Massachusetts – these were all part of a stirring of the impetus for evangelism and mission at home and abroad (Bebbington 1989). What was new with the founding of the BMS was the organised, co-operative, intentional and denominational nature of what they were doing. No longer just the enthusiastic individuals, this was the beginning of ‘home’ churches working together to raise money, train workers and pray for the world – and the world beyond English speaking colonies (Neill 1986). This was also the entrance of the English speaking world into missionary activity – and it has been the English speaking world that has provided 80% of the non-Catholic missionaries ever since. From 1792 we see the emergence of numerous Protestant (& mainly English-speaking), Evangelical missionary societies across the churches. For example, in the 12 following years:

1795    London Missionary Society                 Non-denominational

1796    Scottish Missionary Society                  Church of Scotland

1798    Missionary Society of Connecticut     Congregational

1799    Church Missionary Society                    Anglican

1800    New York Missionary Society              Presbyterian

1804    British and Foreign Bible Society        Non-denominational

This was the beginning of what became an explosion of men and women crossing the earth to take the good news of Jesus to every person. It is because of this movement, inspired by the Holy Spirit, that there are now more Christians in China than in Europe, more Christians in Africa than America. It really has turned the world upside down.

On Sunday 14th August at 8.10am, BBC Radio 4 broadcast their morning service from Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Northampton featuring BMS general director David Kerrigan and Vivienne Hatton, a BMS mission worker in Belgium who was baptised at Mount Pleasant.

The service will then be available on i-player for the following week.

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