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T. P. Crawford and the Gospel Missions Movement
By Robert Ashcraft
      The leader of the Gospel Missions Movement was Tarleton Perry Crawford, a pioneer missionary in China. Gospel Missions was the position advocated by Crawford and other foreign missionaries with first-hand experience. James E. Tull summarized the position:
Certain missionaries, most of whom had years of service in foreign countries, advocated that missionaries ought to live as natives in the lands in which they served; that work among native peoples should be self-supporting and self-directed from its beginning phases; that missionaries should serve without definite salary; and that the Foreign Board should avoid all debt in the support of mission projects....

Strict Gospel Missioners insisted that missionaries who received financial support from the homeland should be supported by individual churches or groups of churches independently of the Foreign Board... While the Board was expected to endorse and assist the missionary, the missionary would be independent of the Board’s direction. There is small wonder that this plan was felt by many to threaten the eventual disintegration of the Southern Baptist Convention.1

      Tull concluded,
The Landmark exaltation of the local church was the basis of both the attack on mission methods and the attempt to change the basis of representation in the Convention. The connection is obvious in the Landmark disposition to make the money basis of representation synonymous with “board-ism.” It was the financial emphasis that created the boards and thereby subverted the authority of the local church. By transferring the missionary enterprise back to the local church, or to the associations and conventions that were composed of local churches, the Landmarkers thought both “board-ism” and financial representation could be destroyed.2
      Russell P. Baker gave this account of Dr. T. P. Crawford’s influence on missions in a 1982 report to the messengers of the American Baptist Association:
Dr. Crawford and his family arrived at Shanghai on March 30, 1852, after a voyage of nearly four months from New York. From this time until his first furlough in 1858, he spent his time becoming fully acquainted with the peculiarities of American mission work in China.

Immediately upon his arrival, he found the entire mission establishment, Baptist as well as Protestant, rocked by scandal involving the employment of Chinese nationals as paid mission helpers or agents by white missionaries who were unwilling or unable to learn the native language and who consequently needed men to preach for them and to distribute Bibles in the rural areas where it was deemed unsafe for non-orientals to live. He found that most western missionaries remained in the relative safety of the cities comprehending little or nothing of what was going on around them. Many of them were being naively duped by their unscrupulous Chinese agents. Such a situation chafed upon the conscience of Dr. Crawford. He decided to devote himself to the study of the Chinese language and culture in order to more scripturally fulfill his divine calling.3

      Russell Baker reported that a Presbyterian missionary employed a hundred native assistants whom he sent to various cities not accessible to foreigners and provided them with Scriptures and tracts, purchased from a Chinese printer, to be distributed free. Instead, however, most of the assistants were selling the Bibles to the Chinese printer at a reduced price, and he in return sold them again and again to the missionary. This had gone on for years during which the native assistants recorded excellent statistics on Bible distribution.

      From that time until 1886, Crawford reported the problems of employing native workers with foreign funds, stating that this arrangement contributed to making them insincere, dishonest, cheats and parasitic. Baker stated,

Upon his return to the United States, he visited the Southern Baptist Convention [1859] where he heard a call by Landmark Baptists led by Dr. Graves for the elimination of the board system as a means of doing mission work. When the Convention had been established in 1845, it had empowered a group of men, the board, to select, appoint, direct and support all of its foreign missionaries. Since the churches in New Testament times sent out and sustained missionaries, the Landmarkers declared, the board system was neither scriptural nor expedient. However, the majority of the Convention favored that method, and calls for reform fell on deaf ears.4
      Robert A. Baker reported,
Crawford attended the 1859 Convention at Richmond when J. R. Graves spoke at length against the authority of the Foreign Mission Board to examine, choose, support, and direct the missionaries on the foreign fields. Graves contended these prerogatives belonged only to churches or groups of churches, and not to mission boards.
      Baker continued,
Crawford’s exposure in 1859 to Graves provided him with considerable grist for his mill . . .

His Quaker inheritance from his mother’s side doubtless demanded that his inner light on the mission methodology be revealed; his judicious investments in China provided him with financial stability apart from the board’s salary; and his independent nature chafed at every hindrance to carrying out his long-standing ideas.5

      Russell P. Baker stated,
Dr. Crawford returned to China before the outbreak of the American Civil War. That conflict forced him to seek support for his family and the mission work elsewhere. In 1863 he moved to the northern Chinese city of Tung Chow (P’eng-Lai) located on the Shantung peninsula. He continued to labor in this area with remarkable success until shortly before his death. Here he attempted to do mission work in a true New Testament manner. He refused to employ paid native workers to do his preaching for him and opposed their use by his colleagues. He rejected American payments to Chinese ministerial students, until, as he said, “they are ready to be ordained and settled as pastors over the churches which they themselves are to establish . . . and look to their own people for support.” “We desire,” he often wrote, “to see the church grow from the healthy root of faith in Christ and love for his cause.” Such a work would never be wholly dependent upon American cash subsidies for its survival. He also taught by precept as well as example for an American missionary to be fully effective in a foreign country like China, he must learn the native tongue, wear the native dress, eat the native food and live in native housing. He and his family put these teachings into effect. . . .

Dr. Crawford brought his opposition to unscriptural mission methods before the Baptists of America during a tour of the states in 1877. In 1881, he discarded western style mission boarding schools, “because he felt that the young men educated in them were unfit to make their way among their countrymen and could not subsist without foreign employment.” On another visit home in 1885, he brought his ideas before the Board itself. Urged on by several fellow missionaries, he made an impassioned plea for a commitment on its part to a more self-supporting work.

      Robert A. Baker reported, in November, 1885, the “committee agreed that self-support was the end to which the missionary should work, but recognized that it might not be possible to adopt it quickly on every mission field.”6

      Russell P. Baker stated, “However, the Board and later the Convention rejected his appeals and ordered him back to China. He refused and took his campaign to the people. He addressed the Convention itself in 1886, but met with limited success. Immediately after his return to the Orient he began to sever ties with the Board.”7

      Robert A. Baker continued, “At the 1887 meeting of the Convention, resolutions were adopted for a review of mission methods of the board, but the committee that reported in 1888 recommended that existing methods not be changed.”8

      Russell P. Baker wrote,

In 1890 he and several of his associates formed the Gospel Mission Association of North China. In 1892 Dr. Crawford elegantly set forth these views on the board system in a little work entitled, Churches to the Front!. “I am not opposed to the existence of Conventions, Societies, Boards, or Committees of the proper kind,” he wrote, “but I am deeply opposed to all those which intrude themselves and their enterprises upon the Churches.”9
      Robert A. Baker wrote,
He attacked the centralization involved in the board system which would overthrow the independence and self-respect of the churches and reduce them to mere “tributary appendages.” All ecclesiastical bodies except churches are encroaching upon the prerogatives of the “only religious organizations recognized in the New Testament.” Baptists are different from other denominations.
      Crawford argued,
Centralization and ring-government may suit the policy of other organizations. They do not suit ours, but are deadly hostile to it. Yet, strange to say, this dangerous element was first introduced among us with the first session of the Old Triennial Convention in 1814; and, stranger, still, the Northern Baptist Union and the Southern Baptist Convention have continued it down to the present day. Their boards are . . . self-perpetuating, irresponsible central bodies with unlimited permission to grow in power by absorbing the prerogatives and resources of our Churches, as the old Roman hierarchy grew by absorbing those in the early days of Christianity.10
      Russell P. Baker concluded,
With this, the Board made it formal and officially removed his name from the list of approved missionaries. Soon thereafter, a number of other missionaries resigned from the Board and together with Dr. Crawford began what has been called the “Gospel Mission Movement.” Many of the main supporters of his ideas came together in 1905 and formed the General Association of Missionary Baptist Churches in the U. S., now the American Baptist Association. Other of Dr. Crawford’s followers formed different groups or remained independent. “The ultimate result of this movement,” wrote one Baptist historian, “would have been the disintegration of the Southern Baptist Convention and the destruction of all organized work of the denomination.”11


[Footnote numbers have been changed.]

1 James E. Tull, A Study of Southern Baptist Landmarkism in the Light of Historical Baptist Ecclesiology, pp. 136-37.
2 James E. Tull, pp. 137-38.
3 Russell P. Baker, "History and Archives Report," American Baptist Association, 1982, Yearbook, p. 147.
4 Russell P. Baker, "History and Archives Report," American Baptist Association, 1982, Yearbook, p. 147.
5 Robert A. Baker, The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, p. 279.
6 Ibid.
7 Russell P. Baker, "History and Archives Report," American Baptist Association, 1982, Yearbook, p. 148.
8 Robert A. Baker, The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, p. 280.
9 Russell P. Baker, "History and Archives Report," American Baptist Association, 1982, Yearbook, pp. 148-49.
10 Robert A. Baker, The Southern Baptist Convention and Its People, p. 280.
11 Russell P. Baker, "History and Archives Report," American Baptist Association, 1982, Yearbook, pp. 146-48.


[From Robert Ashcraft, Contending for the Faith, 2006, pp. 631-635, CD edition, used with permission. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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