The Global Expansion Of Protestantism

As it happened, the answers to such questions lay to hand. Two historical developments transformed the situation, allowing the evangelistic wish (stimulated, as we have seen, by evangelicalism) to become a real ity: the expansion of Protestant sea power, leading to the establishment of European colonies in Asia, Africa, and Latin America; and the development of the "voluntary society," an evangelistic agency that bypassed the inertia of the churches. Each of these developments offered new opportunities.

With the expansion of Protestant sea power, Protestant European nations were able to establish colonies, which allowed the model of evangelism determined by confessionalized churches to come into operation. A colony was a region under the authority of the state; therefore, the state church was able to exercise a pastoral and evangelistic mission within this region. We have already noted this principle in operation in the establishment of the Jamestown colony in Virginia. It is thus no accident that the first major Lutheran mission, located in India, was a direct result of a Danish crown colony being created at Seramp-ore. After the establishment of Dutch colonies in Indonesia (then known as the "East Indies"), Reformed churches were founded in that region. However, because Britain was by far the most active colonial power, English-speaking forms of Protestantism became widely established through imperial expansion, especially in the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean, and Australasia.

The second development, the rise of the voluntary society, led to a new model for evangelism that eventually displaced older models in American and Great Britain—but not, it must be emphasized, in Germany and other European nations.5 Traditional models of evangelism were based on a Protestant state or denomination and thus depended on an official bureaucracy. In the second half of the eighteenth century, missionary leadership passed into the hands of entrepreneurial individuals who created dedicated missionary societies. Their members were highly motivated individuals who arranged their own fund-raising, created support groups, and identified and recruited missionaries.

For the great American missionary Rufus T. Anderson (1796-1880), such associations were critical to the success of the missionary venture.6 Only Protestantism, he argued, could have created such missionary societies, by bringing together clergy and laity, actors and donors, for this specific purpose. "This Protestant form of association—free, open, responsible, embracing all classes, both sexes, all ages, the masses of the people—is peculiar to modern times, and almost to our age." This theme persists throughout the recent history of Protestantism, as we shall see when considering its development in North America in the twentieth century.

The origins of the London Mission Society illustrate this trend well.7 News of William Carey's missionary work in India generated much interest in England in 1794, particularly among those working for the abolition of slavery. John Ryland, a Baptist minister, began to gather together a group of interested persons, both lay and ordained, who met in Baker's Coffee House in London to plan interdenominational missionary work. The number of supporters grew, and funds were raised. A boat was purchased, missionaries recruited, and a potentially significant mission undertaken (not, it must be said, entirely successfully) to the South Pacific.

In what follows, we shall provide a brief sketch of some features and themes of the expansion of Protestantism in the late eighteenth century and the nineteenth century, before moving on to consider some of the issues that helped shape global Protestantism at the time and their implications for the future of the movement.

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