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Religion Library: Baptist

Missions and Expansion

Written by: David Buschart

From its beginnings in England and the Netherlands in the early 17th century, the Baptist tradition soon spread to the colonies of the United States as Baptists sought freedom from religious persecution.Before turning to the United States, however, attention must be given to mission efforts that extended from the cradle of the Baptist tradition--that is, from England.

The first Baptist missionary society was established in Kettering, England, in 1792.Its purpose was simple and straightforward: to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ to people in other lands who had not heard, in the hope that they would come to believe and trust in Christ for their salvation.The first persons appointed to fulfill this mission were William Carey (1761-1834) and John Thomas (1757-1801).

Carey was a former cobbler who had become a Baptist pastor.Compelled by a vision to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ beyond the confines of his native England, Carey, his wife Dorothy, their four children, and Dorothy's sister departed for India in 1793.Joining them in their work was a surgeon, John Thomas, who had already done medical work in Bengal.During forty years of service in India, Carey established Baptist churches, founded a college, and became a highly skilled linguist, translating the Bible into Bengali and creating evangelistic literature (pamphlets and booklets presenting the message of Christianity) in many languages, as well as dictionaries and grammars in several languages.Carey's many accomplishments and service are widely known and he is often regarded as the father of modern Protestant (not just Baptist) missions.It should be noted, however, that George Leile, a former slave in America who was freed for Christian ministry, returned as a missionary to and pastor in his native Jamaica in 1778, several years before Carey went to India.

The Baptist Missionary Society has continued its work into today, and is now known as BMS World Mission.The scope of their work has long included a wide range of activities, including evangelization (communicating the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ), education, medical services, and community services.Beginning in the early 19th century, the mission extended its work to countries such as the West Indies, the Cameroons and the Congo, China, Pakistan, Zaire, Angola, and Brazil.Today, they continue their witness and work in over forty countries on four continents.

As noted above, some Baptists pursued freedom for their beliefs and practices in the early 17th century by leaving England for the North American colonies.Upon settling in North America, however, they once again faced persecution, from Puritan colonies in the north and Anglican-dominated colonies in the south. Nonetheless, from the late-1630s, when the first Baptist church in America was formally established, through the late 18th century, Baptist churches and associations were established in most of the colonies and regions in the emerging United States.


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