Missionary Baptists have had little argument among themselves as to the extent of the activity - into the whole world to every creature. But there have been some serious difference as to the methods of doing it and what things are involved in that activity. Many of these differences have been temperamental rather than fundamental too.
The greatest fundamental problem among Baptists concerns the authority of missions. Who has the right to do it - where does the authority lie? Along with this problem is the practical side: how is it best done / how do we get the best results,
etc. There are manifold ways Baptists do their mission work. Their methods fall into one of two categories:Under church authority.The power / authority usually comes down to: whoever handles the money controls the mission work.
Some method that bypasses / counterfeits / usurps church authority.
It is needless to say that among Baptists the great bulk of mission work is done through the cooperative efforts of churches. I believe the Scriptures approve of this cooperative work and show that the early churches did cooperate together in the Lord's work. I doubt if the majority of Baptist churches could financially support mission projects alone.
It is in this cooperative endeavor wherein many have erred by circumventing the local church's authority.
Modern missions, as Christianity accepts the term, owes its growth and popularity to the efforts of men who have cooperated together to do mission work - at home or abroad. In the late 18th century mission societies were formed among leading denominations. Sometimes they were joint ventures of several denominations and these ignored local church authority. Almost in every instance these societies, though they relied heavily upon the local church for their support/money were independent of local church authority. They were either the results of men binding themselves together for a common cause or association of churches determining to do mission work in a particular area.
Among Baptists at this time foreign mission work can be traced to the Baptist association in Nottingham, England, October 2, 1792 when the "Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel Among the Heathen" was organized and sent William Carey and Dr. John Thomas to India as missionaries.
At about the same time. "The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions" in Massachusetts sent Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice to India. This was an Interdenominational Board. Both of these men through their own independent study while going to India realized that baptism was only for believers and were baptized by the Baptist already in India.
Luther Rice returned to the United States to get money for their work in India. He began to organize missionary societies among Baptists in the United States. He had great success in his endeavors. Messengers from these societies formed "The General Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions" in Philadelphia, April 1814.
In Kentucky, six associations appointed managers who became known as "The Baptist Board of Foreign Missions" in 1816 as a result of Rice's efforts. Many Baptists in Kentucky (not just the anti-missionary ones) objected that Rice and his societies were encroaching on church authority and independence. There were only nine Baptist associations out of forty-three that formed the "General Association of Baptists in Kentucky."
In 1838, "The China Mission Society" was organized to collect and appropriate money for that mission. Its board was located in Louisville, Kentucky. It employed one missionary. It was an auxiliary to the American Baptist Foreign Missions in Boston at the time. Later it became the Kentucky Foreign
Mission Society and a part of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board located at Richmond, Virginia.
Much of the mission work of different Christian societies is done in the manner I have just described - circumventing the authority of the local church. This is also true among Baptists who are exponents of the autonomy of the local church. Among many of them there exists a sort of church authority (the missionary is ordained and given authority to go to the mission field) and a board/association/convention/ etc. (they collect the money and have the final authority as to who is sent, how much they are paid, and what and when they go) authority.
This same method exists in many instances where the missionary collects his own money, gets authority from a church to go, and then does as he pleases without church approval. There is no difference in the principle.
God's methods must be followed. His way of doing things is an integral part of the commission. He gave His kind of churches the authority as well as the privilege to do His work on earth. When we bypass local church authority we do wrong no matter how good the results may be.
Let us guard this truth as well as all other truths of our faith!
[From Carl E. Sadler, Baptist Distinctives, 1981. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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