October 12, 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 conclude a piece on William Carey and the role of education in mission.
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.
In May of 1792, Carey preached his great “Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God” sermon, based on Isaiah 54.2, at the Associational spring meeting.
Everyone was inspired. But then it looked like the moderator was about to simply stand and adjourn the association. Carey jumped back up from his seat and began to tug on the moderator’s coattail. (This must have been a sight.) The moderator stood six feet, three inches and weighed over two hundred pounds. “Oh, sir,” Carey implored, “Is nothing to be done? Is nothing again to be done?” In response, the Association adopted a resolution to prepare a plan to form a mission society. At the fall meeting in October, the Particular Baptist Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Heathen (also known as the Baptist Mission Society) was chartered.
In June of 1793, William Carey and his family set out for Calcutta, India. Baptist missions had begun. He founded a school to teach native children and began studying the local language so he could translate Scripture. His first attempt was a failure because he did not get the idiom right, so he made a second attempt after further study, and issued his Bengali New Testament in 1801, a year after he baptized his first Indian convert. He not only translated one or both Testaments into other Indian languages, he put many of the great works of native literature into print for the first time, preserving many cultural treasures.
Education was of vital importance for William Carey as part of the work of missions. Today, no less than nine schools, academies, and colleges are named for William Carey, many of which have as part of their mission the education of local populations or the training of persons to respond to Jesus command to “Go, baptize, make disciples, and teach!” And Serampore College, founded by Carey along with fellow Baptist missionaries William Ward and Joshua Marshman in 1818, now boasts over two thousand students and includes among its many graduates one of the professors under whom the author of this article studied. The work of God’s faithful servants yields abundant fruit!