Carey on missions, then and today

It seems that overseas missions are a delicate subject today.  People feel strongly about them--either arguing for them or against them.  I think overseas missions are just as necessary as they've always been, but I admit, while I have been to a number of overseas countries, at the time of writing this post, I have never been on an intentional Christian mission in a foreign land.

What get's really interesting is the arguments against overseas missions.  They are the same tired arguments made for over 200 years.  William Carey faced some objections in 1793 that (at least in the US) we still hear today.  In summary, they were (and still are),

1. The Great Commission was an instruction/command ONLY to the Apostles (and maybe the disciples of the time) to get the Church to start to spread out. 

2. There are many in our own nation that need to hear the gospel so we should focus are efforts here.

3. There is great hardship and hazard in doing mission work in many places throughout the world.

To the first objection, Carey argued that if it was only to apply to the Apostles, than the same should hold true for baptism.  If so, than all the many churches preforming baptism are doing so against the instruction of God.    His second response to this objection is that if the Commission was only for the Apostles than engaging in missions is actually acting without warrant or authority.  And finally, he asserts that there would be no reason for Jesus to say, "Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world. . ."  Carey implies, and I would also add, that if the Great Commission and baptism were only for Apostles, than preforming these duties would actually be saying that one feels he or she is as the original Apostles, therefore, the actions should be avoided.  However, the reality is that it is wrong to conclude that this instruction was only for the Apostles.   

To the second objection--one that is extremely prevalent today, Carey says that those in our own lands at least still have an option to attend church or pick up and read a Bible.  But there are some places where this is not an option and Carey believed we should be working to make churches and Bibles available where there are none.  We should preach the gospel where it is not being preached at all rather than work harder to preach it where it is being rejected. 

And finally, Carey addresses the third objection by simply saying, "It is no objection to commercial men.  It only requires that we should have as much love to the souls of our fellow creatures, and fellow sinners, as they have for the profits arising from a few otter-skins, and all these difficulties would be easily surmounted. . . "(Winter 2009, 316).

If I may take a moment and offer my confession.  The first objection seems very minimal and easy to overcome.  And where the third objection is a challenge for some, I personally have no issue with it having endured substantial challenges of hazard and hardship in the early phase of the Iraq war.  However, I often find myself dealing with the second objection.  It kills me to see how much money is spent to send missionaries overseas when our neighbors are just as lost.  Yet, Carey's argument is extremely valid.  The problem I am facing is an either/or type of thinking. And my either/or thinking here is wrong.  The reality is we must still be sending called missionaries AND we need to be empowering and encouraging all the believers in our area to engage in the the thing they were called to the moment they were saved--to declare the Good News.   

Winter, Ralph D., Steven C. Hawthorne, Darrell R. Dorr, D. Bruce Graham, and Bruce A. Koch. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. Pasadena, Calif: William Carey Library, 2009.

*Photo of William Carey is in the public domain.