A Protestant Mission Era Began with the Sudden Appearance of more than 30 Mission Societies (6th of 9).

We counted the number of Mission Societies that were established in the years immediately following the publication of William Carey’s Enquiry.

I counted the number of mission societies that Christians established in an 80 year period, 1752-1832. The number of mission societies formed in the 40 years preceding 1792 was zero. But 31 mission societies formed in the 40 years following 1792.

In the very center of the timeline, the first mission society in the modern Protestant era appeared. This was William Carey’s Baptist Mission Society.

Before William Carey, nothing. After Carey published his Enquiry, Christians began establishing a great number of mission societies. There had been monarch-chartered mission societies established a hundred years earlier, such as the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge and the Dutch-Halle Mission; we featured them here. Carey referred to these “former undertakings” in his Enquiry. But Carey’s “major novelty” (as Ralph D. Winter aptly called it) was writing a DIY instruction manual for others to copy. This was not rocket surgery! His simple design could be “assembled” by ordinary English citizens, thanks to a law that Parliament had just passed, the Enabling Act of 1779. Don’t forget that a government has to act before private citizens can organize non-profit organizations. More about the Enabling Act of 1779 in the next blog.

You can read Carey’s 92 page Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathen here. Carey’s phrase, “the use of means” refers to the establishing of mission societies:

We must not be contented however with praying, without exerting ourselves in the use of means for the obtaining of those things we pray for. Were the children of light but as wise in their generation as the children of this world they would stretch every nerve to gain so glorious a prize, nor ever imagine that it was to be obtained in any other way. [1]

Carey’s easy-to-assemble instruction booklet set in motion the establishment of a great number of mission societies. He lit the first firecracker on a string of a hundred and it went off like Chinese New Year. Christians began organizing new mission societies and sending missionaries in numbers never before seen, as we saw here:

Ralph D. Winter hailed Carey’s Enquiry as “probably the most influential single document in the history of Protestant missions”[2] and “the Magna Carta of the Protestant missions movement.”[3] The subsequent founding of overseas churches, orphanages, schools, dispensaries, and printing presses follows the publication of Carey’s Enquiry, not the wishful thinking of mission-minded Christians of his time. We can validate R. Pierce Beaver’s claim that Carey’s Baptist Missionary Society “immediately stimulated new organizations.”[4] With the publication of William Carey’s Enquiry in 1792 a more effective and biblical operating system gained considerable acceptance, despite ecclesiastical hesitation or resistance. Thus, Andrew Walls referred to Carey’s new operating system as “the fortunate subversion of the church.”[5] A catastrophic mission ice age began to end.

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

Previous: A Mission Ice Age Begins to End. (5th of 9).

[1] https://www.wmcarey.edu/carey/enquiry/anenquiry.pdf

[2] Ralph D. Winter, “Paul and the Regions Beyond,” Asia Missions Advance  (1979 July 11-15). 6. Also “Protestant Mission Societies and the ‘Other Protestant Schism’.” 199

[3] Four Men, Three Eras, Two Transitions: Modern Missions, Perspectives on the World Christian Movement (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1999); ibid.

[4] R. Pierce Beaver, All Loves Excelling: American Protestant Women in World Mission (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968), 16-17.

[5] Andrew F. Walls, “The Fortunate Subversion of the Church,” in The Missionary Movement in
Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996)