October 5, 2015
Some of Sioux Falls Seminary’s faculty and administration have both written and taught lessons related to the topic of theological education, its history, and its biblical foundations. As we look at the history of theological education, especially in light of the Great Commission, we continue a series through which we will share some of these works. This week we begin a piece on William Carey and the role of education in mission.
Missions seems to be a central strand of most Baptists’ DNA. In the German Baptist heritage that lies at the heart of Sioux Falls Seminary’s history, we hear J.G. Oncken declare “Jeder Baptist ein Missionar!” (“Every Baptist a Missionary!”). Though Baptist theological education has been primarily for the training of pastors, education has always been part of Baptist mission work. It has been since the rise of Baptist missions with William Carey (1761-1834), the father of the modern Protestant missions movement.
Though he lacked formal education, Carey possessed a strong mind and an even more determined spirit. Apprenticed to a shoemaker as a youth, he read while he made shoes and attained an impressive level of learning. Quite gifted in languages, Carey learned New Testament Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, Dutch, and perhaps one or two other languages. He also had a keen interest in foreign lands. As were so many of his time, he was an avid reader of Captain Cook’s Voyages.
Carey felt the call to preach. Unfortunately, that was not one of his gifts. He was a poor speaker. He was very small physically, just under five feet, and prematurely bald – made worse by the fact that he wore a very ill-fitting red wig to cover, which seemed only to heighten attention to his baldness. In the summer of 1785, he was allowed to preach at the church at Olney – and afterwards, the church decided that he shouldn’t be ordained. The next year, the church did vote to ordain him – reluctantly.
He became pastor at Moulton, but to support his growing family, he had to continue to cobble, and he opened a school. His love of languages, interest in foreign lands, and vocation to preach converged to arouse in him the desire to share the gospel with what we would call “unreached peoples.” In 1787, he asked the Northampton Association whether or not the command of Christ to teach and baptize all nations was binding on succeeding generations. The venerable John Ryland, Sr. rebuffed him publicly. “Sit down, young man. You are an enthusiast. When God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without consulting you or me.”
Carey did sit down – but soon sat down at his desk to write An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use means for the Conversion of the Heathen. In this small book, he gave statistical information on the numbers of unreached persons in the world and theological arguments for Christians engaging in missions to take the gospel to them.