A Protestant Mission Era Began After Parliament Passed the Enabling Act of 1779 (7th of 9).

The importance of British Parliament’s Enabling Act of 1779 cannot be overstated. With its passage, an era of Protestant Mission began.

A government must pass a law “enabling” its citizens organize voluntary societies. In most countries, voluntary societies are illegal and will be shut down. England and the United States were the first countries in the world to pass laws enabling their citizens to organize voluntary societies. The Enabling Act of 1779 permitted English citizens to start addressing social problems by organizing and joining voluntary societies. Today there are about 40 Free World countries that permit their citizens to organize voluntary societies. These countries are mainly in Europe and North America but include countries such as Costa Rica, South Korea. (South Koreans are free to organize mission societies; not so in North Korea.) Sadly, none of the 40 Muslim countries in the world allow their citizens to organize voluntary societies. See Freedom House’s freedom index of the countries of the world here.

William Carey was fortunate to organize his mission society after English Parliament passed the Enabling Act in 1779. So was Robert Raikes. Here is Robert Raikes’ story.  

Robert Raikes and Mrs. Meredith open the first Sunday School

Robert Raikes Organizes the First Sunday Schools. Robert Raikes took advantage of the new law to organize a Sunday School in 1780 in his hometown of Gloucester. The Church of England disapproved, but to no avail. Raikes held his first classes in the kitchen of one Mrs. Meredith; no church was willing to open its doors to him. At first only boys were allowed to attend, but in time girls were invited to join as well. Today Robert Raikes is hailed as founder of the Sunday School movement. In Raikes we see “the clear connection between a free society and the growth of independent religious organizations. It is unlikely that anything like the Sunday school could have arisen without the legal sanction of the [1779] Enabling Act.”[1] Prior to 1779, “the philanthropy of Robert Raikes (or anyone else) would have been stifled by the laws of the country and the prejudice of those in ecclesiastical power.”[2] After 1779 English citizens began forming themselves into “little platoons,” Edmund Burke’s  clever term for voluntary societies. Members of these societies devoted themselves to causes that the population and government at large showed little interest, causes such as the abolition of slavery, prison reform, temperance, and Christian overseas missions. These “voluntary forms of operation,” M. J. D. Roberts wrote, “once accepted as ‘safe’ by civil and ecclesiastical authority, were accessible by any who had the will to adopt them.” Working class people were transformed into activists through the instrument of voluntary associations. English women organized moral reform societies, which “became the means by which women made a successful claim for recognition as legitimate participants in rational-critical debate.”[3] We can be thankful that William Carey proposed his ideas after Parliament had passed the Enabling Act of 1779. An Age of Protestant mission to Asia, Africa and the Middle East had begun.

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[1] Wesley Kenneth Willmer, J. David Schmidt, and Martyn Smith, The Prospering Parachurch: Enlarging the Boundaries of God’s Work, 1st ed. (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1998). 37

[2] Ibid. 35

[3] Source?