A Word of Advice from the Father of Missions

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A little over 200 years ago, William Carey wrote an essay that changed Christianity. It was called, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens. It had a convoluted title, but it made some really good points. Eventually that 87-page document would be instrumental in starting what we call the modern missions movement. In as much, Carey is often called the father of modern missions.

In his treatise, Carey does a couple of important things. First, he points out that the Great Commission still applies to contemporary Christians. That may sound odd to us, but back then it was real common to think the command to make disciples of all nations was only for the apostles. He readily debunked that idea. Second, he provided a ridiculously thorough account of the populations and religions of as many countries as he could include in his day to point to the massive lostness around the world. Finally, he addressed certain impediments, as he called them, to the church sending people to proclaim the gospel among peoples that have never heard.

I want to camp on that last point, because I find Carey’s impediments are, in many ways, the same ones we run into today. It is fascinating how a guy writing 200 years ago could pinpoint issues that still describe our condition. He addresses things like the distance to the field, the unfavorable living conditions in many places overseas, even the reality that you cannot eat the same kind of food! There is a lot of good stuff in his response, but I want to drill down on one, specific point today.

Concerning the effort it takes to get to the peoples of the world, Carey responds with these words:

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]As to their distance from us, whatever objections might have been made on that account before the invention of the mariner’s compass, nothing can be alleged for it, with any color of plausibility in the present age. Men can now sail with as much certainty through the Great South Sea as they can through the Mediterranean, or any lesser seas. Yea, and providence seems in a manner to invite us to the trial, as there are to our knowledge trading companies, whose commerce lies in many of the places where barbarians dwell… (Carey, An Enquiry)[/pullquote]

Travel in Carey’s day looked rather different than ours, but his response to the objection of distance is one that is truer with every passing day. Over 200 years ago, churches saw the distance to the nations as an impassable barrier for the gospel. Carey answers by saying that they lived in a time where distance could no longer be an excuse, saying there was not even a “color of plausibility” to that argument. Instead, he claims travel was easier than ever and that the time was ripe for churches to send people to the nations. After all, now that they had ships, they could get anywhere in the world. In fact, Carey claims if business can get to the ends of the earth then certainly the gospel can.

But let us talk about those ship journeys for just a moment. They usually took months, and they were rather dangerous. Many of the missionaries that would eventually heed Carey’s call packed their luggage in a coffin, because they knew they were not coming home. Carey was not ignorant. He knew the length and danger involved in travel during his day. In fact, he heeded this call himself, moving to India to serve as a missionary. Despite the length of travel and the danger of the journey, Carey could confidently say that travel had become easy enough that it was no longer an excuse.

He was right… and his words are only truer today.

The Great Commission was not given to the church to fulfill only if the conditions were to our liking. The call is not, “go if it is convenient,” but, “find a way to go, no matter the cost.” When that meant two months in the hull of a smelly boat, the price was not too much to pay. When we let that sink in, it should shape our perspective on the task today.[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The Great Commission was not given to the church to fulfill only if the conditions were to our liking.[/pullquote]

Now is a time like no other in history. We can be anywhere in the world in two days, and our flying seat in the air actually has air conditioning and an in-flight meal. Remembering those who have gone before us, who spent their lives in pursuit of a place where the gospel is not named, we cannot take lightly the opportunity that sits in front of us. Local churches need to gain Carey’s perspective.

What is more, increasingly, the nations are coming to us. Unreached peoples may not be two days away, they may be down the street. Imagine if men like Carey had such a buffet before them, how they would respond. Then consider your response.

 

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