Transforming Mission. 3rd of 4. Voluntary Societies Create the Modern Mission Era

David Bosch writes,

One of the most remarkable phenomena of the Enlightenment era is the emergence of missionary societies.”[1] . . . “The spirit of enterprise and initiative spawned by the Enlightenment played an important role first in the genesis of the idea of missionary societies and then in their amazing proliferation. The fact is that, for more than a century after the Reformation, the mere idea of forming such “voluntary societies” next to the church was anathema in Protestantism. The institutional church told itself that it was the only divine instrument on earth. If there was any talk about mission (which there usually was not), only the institutional church—local church, council, presbytery, or synod—could act as sending agency).[2] The Reformation principle of the right of private judgment in interpreting Scripture was rekindled. An extension of this was that like-minded individuals could band together in order to promote a common cause. A plethora of new societies was the result.[3]

Bosch on William Carey most important Precedent: the for-profit trading company. The reader will remember that in William Carey’s Enquiry, Carey refers three times to the Dutch East India Company. and once to private trading companies in general. That means Carey has referred three times to for-profit companies before he writes his one-sentence proposal:

Suppose a company of serious Christians, ministers and private persons, were to form themselves into a society, and make a number of rules respecting the regulation of the plan, and the persons who are to be employed as missionaries.

David Bosch agrees: “There was something businesslike, something distinctly modern, about the launching of the new societies,”[4] Bosch continued:

Carey took his analogy neither from Scripture nor from theological tradition, but from the contemporary commercial world—the organization of an overseas trading com­pany, which carefully studied all the relevant information, selected its stock, ships and crews, and was willing to brave dangerous seas and unfriendly climates in order to achieve its objective. Carey proposed that, in similar fashion, a company of serious Christians might be formed with the objective of evangel­izing distant peoples. It should be an “instrumental” society, that is, a society established with a clearly defined purpose along explicitly-formulated lines. So, the organizing of such a society was something like floating a mercantile com­pany.[5]

The time had come for common Englishmen to change the world. The time had come for ordinary citizens to dream things that never were and say, “Why not?” Bosch writes:

The ideology behind the societies was that of the social and political egalitarianism of the emerging democracies.[6] People of the most modest position and income became donors and prayer supporters of projects many thousands of miles away. Women also came along, to play a leading role in various agencies.[7]

Next: Transforming Mission (4th of 4). It Cannot End Like This.

Previous: Transforming Mission (2nd of 4). Transforming Mission (2nd of 4). The Hobbled Mission of the Protestant Reformation.

References Cited

[1] David Jacobus Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991). 327

[2] Ibid. p. 328 cf. Jongeneel 1989:126

[3] Ibid. p. 328

[4] Ibid. p. 330

[5] Ibid. p. 330

[6] Gensichen 1975b:50; cf. Moorhead 1984:73

[7] Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. p. 328