And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. -- Mark 16:15
Outreach & Worldwide Faith
After twenty centuries of only sporadic attempts at going out into all the world to convert people to Christ, the modern missionary movement has mushroomed, bringing the Gospel all over the world, moved by an army of people, through educational and medical work, by way of literature, radio, television, and other forms of communication.
An English Baptist, William Carey was one of the pioneers of the modern missionary movement. Carey began his preaching career at a time of exploration and national expansion.
In England, Carey busied himself writing, preaching, and organizing missionary societies; and finally, with Joshua Marshman and William Ward, he traveled to India as a missionary himself, landing in Calcutta in 1793. He went to work, learning the language, translating the Bible, and making converts. He never returned to Britain.
The Anglicans soon followed Carey's example. Despite strong discouragement from the British East India Company, which feared that trade might be hampered by interference from evangelists, Henry Martyn began his missionary journey to India, dying at the age of 31 after preaching in India and Persia.
William Carey was instrumental in devising the missionary society, a voluntary body for sending missionaries abroad. His own Baptist Missionary Society was the first in the field, rapidly followed by the London Missionary Society in 1795, the Scottish Missionary Society in 1796, and the Church Missionary Society, along with many others, both Protestant and Catholic.
As the first industrial nation, Great Britain saw burgeoning cities, mushrooming towns, and large new urban populations. People moved from rural areas to the cities, where many of them were housed under miserable conditions.
This presented a new challenge for the church. There were attempts to create new parish churches, but this did little to meet the needs of those who felt rootless in their new surroundings.
With their simpler church buildings, lay preachers, and straightforward doctrines, the Methodists were well equipped to reach the urban working classes, but the mass of the working classes were still alienated and unaffiliated with any church.
One response was to send missionaries into the urban jungles. The London City Mission was established early in the 19th century with the goal of winning souls who could be integrated into their neighborhood parish church. Similar missions were put in place throughout most of the larger metropolitan and industrial areas.
More colorful, effective, and famous was William Booth's Salvation Army. Motivated by a horror of sin and a hatred of squalor, Booth brought imagination, superb organizational skills, and charismatic leadership to the task. He had a basic message of repentance and salvation, organized in a military fashion. He used whatever was effective, from working class leaders and evangelists, brass bands, and music hall tunes.
The Salvation Army is still known worldwide for its readiness to respond to human problems such as homelessness, disasters, accidents, and addictions.
In order to maximize effectiveness, Christian denominations learned to work together, and to support one another on the mission field. As early as 1927, five denominations in China gathered in one Church of Christ. Later, the Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Reformed joined to form one Church of South India, a model for many others. The United Church of Canada was organized as a merger of several denominations in 1925, and many smaller denominations combined with one another in the United States.
At the local level, Christians of differing faiths have come to take for granted that they will work, pray, and evangelize together. Home Bible study groups, young people's meetings, student groups in colleges, relief work and missions, serve to demonstrate that for many Christians, their shared life in Christ is more important than their denominational tradition.