William Carey is widely regarded the father of Modern Missions. There are several critical moments on the timeline that mark progress from his modest career as a cobbler, to the revolutionary impact he would have on the way we do missions. Before Carey, it was unheard of for multiple small churches to band together and pool support for the purpose of permanently transplanting a volunteer to the foreign field. Missionaries were Christians who used to go on short-term journeys, or otherwise were passengers of the Catholic armada that accompanied British Colonial conquests. Carey pioneered this profound shift. One of the lesser known turning points was after the second attempt he’d made to have his minister’s fraternal establish a missions committee.
William Carey turned the tide of history with a simple, pleading question he posed to Andrew Fuller, his like-minded friend and fellow member of the Baptist fraternal of ministers who met at Nottingham in 1792. It was the meeting at which Carey had preached his renowned “Deathless sermon” which challenged the ministers to “Expect great things of God, attempt great things for God.”
The seventeen delegates were about to close the business of the day without any resolution in favor of initiating a mission to the lost. This would be the second time Carey was disappointed by their sluggish lassitude. Ecclesiastical wheels grind slowly at the best of times, but it was Carey’s passion that lubricated the mechanism that historic day.
Carey turned in agonizing desperation to the taciturn Andrew Fuller, grasped his arm and cried out earnestly…
“Is there nothing again going to be done, sir?”
That simple, pointed question broke through Fuller’s complacency, and proved a vitally significant spark in the ignition of the modern missionary enterprise. The undeniable sincerity of the probing cry catalyzed the desire of an influential man into action and conscripted Fuller’s conscience into the battle against the evangelistic tepidity of the inert Baptists ministers.
If you think of Baptists today as champions of foreign missions, you can appreciate the magnitude of this moment; it could be the very moment the tide turned in Baptist history to favor international outreach as a primary objective of all local churches.
In the inimitable words of Carey’s eminent biographer (and descendant), Pearce Carey:
This proved a creative moment in the history of evangelistic endeavor. Deep called unto deep. Fuller trembled an instant under that desperate, heart-broken gesture, and then his own soul was stabbed awake, and the Holy Ghost flooded his spirit. He also heart God’s sigh at the need of the lost. Often he had sympathized with Carey’s propaganda, though too timorous for committal. Now, in a moment, he became convert and colleague, the first of Carey’s captives, the first of Christ’s ‘expectant attempters.’” -S. Pearce Carey, William Carey (Wakeman Trust, London: 1993), 78.
Fuller went on to successfully help Carey pass his proposed motion to resolve a plan to create the pleonastically named “Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathens.” The rest, is as we say, history.
As the world turns people scurry like ants to build their respective fiefdoms of influence. Companies merge and grow, populations explode and expand, empires conquer and reclaim, and societies upgrade and increase in the interminable pursuit of betterment. And all the while the real kingdom growth is happening silently but surely in the spiritual realm. We call it missions.
- Matthew 6:10 Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
- Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
- Luke 17:20-21 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”
- Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
The missionary endeavor is nothing less than an organized revolutionary assault on the unseen forces of the present darkness by a spiritual legion of soldiers who fight for the extension of God’s kingdom to dominate the Universe. And local churches are the bastions that defend that cause, forge the weapons, train the soldiers, and populate the ranks with men and women bent on spreading God’s fame, or die trying.