Month: August 2017

Protestant Profiles #23: J.C. Ryle

J.C. Ryle (1815-1900) Born: Macclesfield, Cheshire, England Role: Bishop of Liverpool; church revitaliser; pastor; preacher; tract-writer; author Emphases: sola Scriptura; total depravity; justification by faith; Jesus as sole mediator; regeneration; holiness Protested against: high church ritualism and sacramentalism; Catholic idolatry; “higher life” spirituality; modernism; episcopal … Continue reading Protestant Profiles #23: J.C. Ryle

Protestant Profiles #22: David Livingstone

David Livingstone (1813 – 1873)


Born: Blantyre, Scotland
Role: Missionary to Africa; Explorer; Scientist
Emphases: Reform of Africa through the spread of the gospel and benevolent British trade and colonisation
Protested against: Oppression of Africans through slavery

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” – the question posed by American reporter Henry Morton Stanley upon discovering a long-lost British missionary deep within the African continent – has become a well-known phrase throughout the western world. It encapsulates some of the public fascination, in Britain and America, with the fate of the famous explorer David Livingstone in the mid 19th century.

David Livingstone was a unique figure in the history of Christian missions and of the British Empire. He traveled to Africa with his family as a missionary while still a young man in 1840-41. He made an enormous impact upon the continent and its religious future – but is only connected to one convert directly.

Over time he would turn his efforts to other endeavours, such as inland exploration and scientific expeditions, which he saw as complementary to the advancement of God’s Kingdom in Africa. From 1858 until his death in 1873, he was not a missionary as such, yet he regarded his pursuits as pivotal for opening Africa up to further Christian influence and combating the pernicious exploitation and human trafficking of Africans by Arabic and European merchants.

The early years of his time in Africa were dedicated to mission work on the frontiers – moving progressively inland and away from European settlements. During these years, Livingstone baptised an African chief named Sechele, who despite his questionable personal conversion, went on to have an enormous impact on the religious outlook of his fellow tribesmen. When missionaries came to the area many years after Livingstone had been there, they found the locals practicing a form of Christian worship initiated by the Christianised chief.

Livingstone’s ‘discovery’ of Lake Ngami (a fascinating body of water which is prone to disappearing completely and then reappearing for decades at a time) in 1849 appears to have been a significant event that paved the way for Livingstone to turn to more and more expeditionary activities. His quests to chart and locate water courses and sources served as the central element in his strategy to see Africa gospelised and the inhumane enslavement of Africans gradually eradicated.

His aim of Christian control over the Zambezi River would enable non-slave free enterprise in the inland regions of Africa to severely diminish the profitability of the trade routes used by slave owners and traders. Furthermore Livingstone sought the personal acclamation that would come if he could locate the source of the Nile, which he intended to use as social capital to mobilise the British Empire against the slavers. Thus he became a sort of heroic explorer, not as an end in itself, but with the constant goal of seeing the soul and societies of Africa reformed through the gospel of Jesus and the benevolent actions of the empire.

Livingstone’s lifestyle was very hard on the health and well-being of his family and some have suggested that his minimalising of the harsh realities of life in Africa contributed to an unpreparedness that resulted in the deaths of other missionaries. Like so many frontier missionaries from this period, his determination is admirable (He famously said “I am prepared to go anywhere, so long as it is forward”), but his methodology and practice are questionable. Without a certain amount of stubbornness, tenacity and perseverance there is certainly no way he could have functioned in 19th century Africa to the extent that he managed.

Livingstone remains one of the greatest British explorers of the Victorian era and was voted one of the 100 Greatest Britons (in history) in a 2002 BBC survey. He has a wide range of places and institutions named or founded in his honour around the world.

But Livingstone is better remembered by his fellow Protestant Christians as someone who attempted to look at the big picture and strive for the African continent to be transformed by Christianity and its derivative blessings. He was by no means a typical missionary, nor an ordinary explorer, but a man who endured great hardship and suffering while seeking the spiritual, physical and social welfare of the African peoples – whose humanity and dignity he recognised and defended.



T.J. Thompson, “LIVINGSTONE, David” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals

“David Livingstone,”

Protestant Profiles #21: Adoniram Judson

Adoniram Judson (1788 – 1850)


Born: Malden, Massachusetts, USA
Role: Missionary to Burma; Bible Translator; Author
Emphases: non-coercive, indigenised propagation of the gospel; optimistic postmillennial outlook on mission; credobaptism; self-denial

Adoniram Judson’s early twenties saw several incredible changes take place in his life. He experienced a conversion to evangelical Christianity at age 20, leaving behind the deism of his late-teenage years for the truth of the gospel. Over the next few years he became active in his family’s church, applied to serve as a missionary in Asia, married his first wife Ann, had a theological shift from Congregationalism to a Baptist position and began his ministry in Burma just before his 25th birthday.

The Judsons were the first Baptist missionaries to set out from America – indeed they were some of the very first American overseas missionaries. Adoniram was also the most significant figure in the early history of Christianity in Burma. Over a number of years he strove to learn Burmese well enough to communicate the gospel effectively and from 1819 he began a preaching and teaching ministry, with a Burmese zayat or meeting place in Rangoon (now Yangon) as his base.

Judson saw his first converts relatively early and during his years in Burma the Christian population went from non-existent to around 8000 believers. He worked hard to ensure that the Scriptures were available in the local languages and that Burmese Christians were trained as gospel workers to effectively reach their own people in subsequent generations.

He suffered greatly as an innocent man caught up in the First Anglo-Burmese war  (1824-26), being subjected to imprisonment and torture under the misapprehension of the Burmese that he was a foreign spy.

Piper describes his mistreatment in his biography of Judson:

His feet were fettered and at night a long horizontal bamboo pole was lowered and passed between the fettered legs and hoisted up till only the shoulder and heads of the prisoners rested on the ground.

He lost his first wife to illness a few months after his release and his young daughter also succumbed to illness six months later. This led to a period of great personal isolation, grief and spiritual depression. Though this looked like it could have easily been the end for the overwhelmed missionary, God had other plans. Judson experienced a resurgence in the early 1830s and gradually saw more fruit from the gospel work.

Judson would not marry again for another seven years, but he wed a fellow missionary, Sarah Boardman in 1834. They would be married for just over a decade before she too succumbed to illness. The loss of his two wives and seven of his thirteen children are a testimony to the extreme hardship of missionary life in 19th century Burma.

He met and married his third wife, Emily, while in the United States following the voyage upon which Sarah had died. They returned to Burma in 1846, where Judson would have just four more years of ministry before his own death at 61.

Adoniram Judson’s impact on Christianity among the Burmese and Karen people has endured for the many years since his death. Piper again:

[T]oday there are close to about 3,700 congregations of Baptists in Myanmar who trace their origin to this man’s labors of love.

His ongoing significance is also felt in the development of American Christianity – with the Baptist churches who joined together to support the Judsons effectively constituting the first national Baptist denomination in North America. “The General Missionary Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States of America for Foreign Missions” was pivotal in mobilising American Baptists for global missions and the largest denomination in the US today, the Southern Baptist Convention, is an offshoot of this original convention.

Judson is another wonderful example of a man whose life was radically transformed by the gospel and who took great pains to ensure that the Word of God was made available to those who lacked access to it – that they might receive life in Christ through its testimony. His life will no doubt continue to inspire many to follow his footsteps in taking the good news of Jesus to the unreached parts of the world.

You can read John Piper’s account of Judson’s life here.

Other sources consulted

K.P. Mobley, “JUDSON, Adoniram” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.

“Adoniram Judson” wikipedia.

For Goodness’ Sake, Vote NO

Recently I posted my thoughts on why a postal plebiscite may be the best way to resolve the same-sex “marriage” issue politically. Now it seems we’re having one (barring the government’s proposal being struck down by the High Court of Australia). But I’m worried that there will be a number of Australians who understand marriage to be an exclusive, lifelong, legal, social, sexual and domestic union between one man and one woman – but fail to express their convictions by voting NO in the upcoming plebiscite.


One of my points in favour of holding a postal plebiscite in the current political climate was: “A postal plebiscite will see the side that can best mobilise people to vote for their convictions win.” And so I feel a burden and responsibility to encourage people who believe in marriage (as presently defined) to participate in this process, in order to achieve what is now the best chance we have at preserving the proper definition of marriage in this country.

A while back, I would have taken it as a given that almost all of my Christian friends would vote NO in a public vote like the one we’re anticipating will be held over the next few months. But I’ve realised recently that the mood amongst Christians in Australia has shifted a bit, not only in terms of how we think through relating to those who identify themselves according to their sexuality (LGBTI&c), but how we respond to their totemic issues (including “marriage equality”).

I’m concerned that some of my Christian friends will decline to participate in the plebiscite out of fear they will have to give an answer to their gay, lesbian and pro-SSM friends, colleagues and family members – and that confessing that they voted NO will be an alienating element in those relationships.

I’m concerned that some of my Christian friends will take their cues on this issue from online pieces by Christian leaders advocating non-participation in the plebiscite – as the balanced approach after taking all things into consideration – such as this recent post by one of Queensland’s most prominent Christian bloggers.

I’m concerned that some of my Christian friends will decline to vote because they can’t be bothered participating in the potential resolution of such a vexed and drawn-out social issue. And I’m even concerned that some will vote YES because they don’t want to be guilty of any kind of discrimination or oppression against sexual minorities and see the plebiscite as a matter relating to fundamental human rights.

I’m not out to coerce or intimidate anyone into voting or voting a certain way – but I do think it’s really important that as many people as possible vote NO, so I am out to persuade you to a particular course of action. To that end, I want to do my best to tackle some of objections and alternatives to voting NO, while encouraging anyone who’ll listen to vote NO for the best possible reasons, without unnecessary fear or guilt about doing so.


For this initial post, I hope to briefly outline reasons I believe Christians in Australia should actively reject any proposed changes to the Marriage Act, by using the postal plebiscite to express their objections to the redefinition of marriage. My aim will be to write further on some of these points, as time permits, in the coming days and weeks. I’d also like to address genuine concerns people might have about the plebiscite and the consequences of voting NO, in the hope of removing barriers to them taking what I strongly believe is the best course of action in this situation.

1. The Christian voice can be legitimately expressed on social and moral issues in a pluralistic democracy

There is nothing inherently wrong with Christians (or indeed others) participating in a pluralistic democracy by expressing their deep convictions about the goodness of marriage. In fact such involvement can be very good! This includes voting to reject proposals for legal changes to the Marriage Act when we are unconvinced of their capacity to promote the common good in our society.

2. The language of the Marriage Act represents a true understanding of marriage.

The definition of marriage that currently exists in the Marriage Act appropriately describes what marriage is in reality and should not be altered to make marriage mean something other than what it is. Redefining marriage is endorsing a lie about the fundamental distinctions between heterosexual marriages and committed, long-term same-sex relationships.

3. Only the present definition of marriage has close to unanimous, voluntary recognition in the Australian population. 

The establishment of an exclusive, legally-contracted, social, sexual and domestic union between a (consenting and biologically unrelated) single adult male and a single adult female is socially and philosophically recognised by almost all Australians as a marriage.

The same cannot be said of relationships that do not meet the above criteria, which creates problems as to why recognition of a widely unaccepted definition should ever be legally enforceable. Voting NO is about rejecting forced recognition of same-sex relationships as marriages, by people who sincerely believe they’re not marriages.

4. To vote NO is to reject bad legislation that could forseeably lead to encroachments upon fundamental civil liberties and human rights.

It is entirely feasible that forced recognition of same-sex relationships as marriages will lead to the Marriage Act and anti-Discrimination laws being weaponised against people who sincerely hold a different belief about marriage. It has been noted that there are completely insufficient protections for religious freedom and freedom of conscience to protect Australian citizens under current legal arrangements, should the definition of marriage change and politicians appear negligent in addressing these issues.

5. Invented rights should not be allowed to trump fundamental ones.

The right to freedom of religion and the right to freedom of speech are genuine, fundamental human rights and it is dangerous for any government to impinge upon them. The right to legally compel your fellow citizen to recognise your relationship as a marriage against their conscience or will is an invented right which is dangerous to the free exercise of the aforementioned genuine, fundamental rights.

To Vote NO is to assert that contrived rights relating to sexuality are not equally or more important than internationally recognised rights to freely practice religion and express personal convictions. It’s important that everyone’s most basic rights are protected before invented ones are enshrined.

6. Christians fundamentally disagree with SSM-proponents about the capacity for homosexual activity and relationships to bring good and happiness to those who pursue these things.

From a Christian perspective, homosexual activity itself contributes nothing positive to anyone in Australian society – including for those who embrace it as a core part of their identity and lifestyle.

This is not the same as saying that people who identify as homosexual contribute nothing positive to society or to the lives of their friends and relatives, or even the children they may have in their care – that would be grotesquely untrue. But proponents of SSM and Christians fundamentally disagree over whether homosexual activity is itself positive and fulfilling or negative and destructive – and this leads to diametrically opposed ideas of its relationship to human flourishing (see Romans 1:24-27).

Christians should take an absolute stance against the promotion of homosexuality. From a biblical perspective acting out on same-sex attraction is not a matter of pride or something to be celebrated.
But I’d suggest it is also important to resist pushes to further normalise it as a positive lifestyle or conflate gay relationships with the concept of heterosexual marriage.

Voting NO in a plebiscite is saying no to the further normalisation of something we sincerely believe brings no good, in and of itself, to any affected parties.

7. There are genuine concerns about the impact that enshrining SSM in law will have upon future generations of Australians 

The more entrenched in law the supposed goodness of same-sex relationships and their equivalence to heterosexual ones (especially marriage) becomes, the more pressure there will be on institutions (especially government ones) to promote a certain understanding of sexuality.

We don’t believe its beneficial to children for them to be indoctrinated from a young age by systematic untruths about human sexuality (as they are being through government education systems already in some parts of the country).

And irrespective of whether the laws of some states already allow for homosexual couples to adopt children or undergo surrogacy processes – we have grave concerns about the impact upon children if our society continues to move in a direction that says we no longer recognise the importance of a child being brought up by a mother and father wherever possible (and most preferably their own biological parents).

8. Loving our neighbours means seeking what we honestly believe to be good – for everyone involved.

Following points 6 & 7 directly above, I believe that voting NO in the plebiscite is a means of loving our neighbour through political engagement. Some may be motivated to vote against same-sex marriage by hatred for gay and lesbian people. I’m advocating the opposite.

Voting NO says, “I sincerely don’t believe that affirming your relationship as the equivalent of a heterosexual marriage is something I can do if I’m truly seeking your good as a person. I don’t want to come across as arrogant or paternalistic, but I believe God has shown us what is best for human sexuality and relationships and that anything other than sexual fidelity between a man and woman in an exclusive, lifelong relationship is not conducive to happiness. And I believe the law should reflect the special role of committed, heterosexual marriages as the overall, best environment to produce and raise the next generation of Australian children.”

You’re free to disagree and keep pushing for recognition if you wish, but I express my NO out of sincerity and love.”

8. In conclusion, voting NO in the plebiscite is an important means for Christians to express their sincere beliefs about the goodness of divinely-ordained marriage and sexuality for the benefit of Australian society. 

Australia isn’t a Christian nation. And so, if we were promoting a certain ideal of marriage under the reasoning that it was the way Christians should behave in a Christian society – our approach would be flawed. But Australia is a society in which the culture, traditional values, social institutions and legal system have all been significantly impacted by Christian ideas and in which Christians continue to have a legitimate role in the democratic process.

Voting NO in this plebiscite is not about attempting to initiate a Christian Raj over an unwilling, non-Christian populace. It isn’t about requiring non-Christians to obey Christian moral teaching. It isn’t about coercing political opponents to bow down before us against their will, nor is it about denying human rights to a small sector of the population and promoting ongoing discrimination against them.

Voting NO is part of promoting goodness in Australian society: seeking what we believe is best for the nation as a whole – even when it proves unpopular. It is entirely consistent with the biblical concept of seeking the welfare of the city (Jer 29:7) and with the political ideal of a commonwealth – where law and governance reflects the common, public good to the greatest extent possible.

And many Christians have come to the conclusion that it’s in the greatest interest of society as a whole for marriage to remain defined as it currently stands in Australia.

So I urge, and will continue to urge my friends to vote NO – for goodness’ sake.

I have written a postscript dealing with the 10 points listed by Nathan Campbell as his justification for abstaining from the postal plebiscite, but decided to post it separately to this piece. You can find it at this link.  

[1] duncan c No (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr. 

Responding to a Christian leader’s 10 Reasons for abstaining from the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage

Short responses to Nathan Campbell’s 10 reasons for abstaining from participation in the postal plebiscite on same-sex marriage.  

[N.B. This is a postscript to my recent article on the issues surrounding the plebiscite. NC’s comments ennumerated and italicised, my responses in bold. I have added [a] & [b] to his original text for some points to enable ease of response].

1. I believe the Golden Rule (treat others as you would have them treat you) isn’t just a nice idea, but an important command for Christians to pursue as we live together with neighbours who disagree with us

Response: I believe the second greatest commandment (as cited by Jesus): “Love your neighbour as yourself” precludes the encouraging, endorsing or enabling of any behaviour, activity or attitude that is inherently harmful to one’s neighbour(s).


2. [a] I believe the Christianity we see in the New Testament assumes a society and moral order that is fundamentally different in outlook to the way of being in the world produced by the Gospel, and [b] it’s not our job to police sexual morality outside the church (1 Corinthians 5).

a. Agreed, but the conundrum of how the apostles might have responded to imperial proposals to change any law from approximately agreeing with biblical morality to rejecting it – is an open question.

b. Agreed, but neither are we called to indifference towards sexual morality outside the church. Almost no churches or Christian leaders are calling for renewed legal penalties for private sodomy – that would be policing morality. Public recognition of what constitutes a marriage is different. 

3. [a] I believe the best version of a liberal, secular, democracy is pluralistic; that our life together as citizens of Australia works best when we allow for and accommodate a diversity of views on what a good or flourishing human life looks like. [b] If I want my definition of marriage recognised by law, and it comes from my convictions, as a Christian, about what God says a good and flourishing life looks like, then I should be prepared (because of the Golden Rule) to make space for others to have their definition of marriage recognised by law.

a. I broadly agree, in the sense that I too am a political pluralist. What ‘liberal,’ ‘secular’ and ‘democracy’ mean to NC and whether I agree with his appropriation of these concepts as a fellow Christian with differing views on our participation in society, I’m not sure.

b. This logic is concerning, as it presumably surrenders any meaningful say for Christians in the limitations of what can be regarded as marriage. This Golden Rule ethic can’t realistically stop at male-male “marriage” and “female-female” marriage…

4. I believe that religious freedom is a big part of pluralism, and that all people are worshippers, whether they worship God, or something like sex and marriage; that worship is about our primary love and our vision of the good or flourishing life. That’s part of our humanity. This means everybody defines marriage through the prism of their worship, or love, or vision of the good life (Romans 1 seems to make a connection between what we choose to worship (creator or created things) and how we live in the world. I believe that if I, as a Christian, want the legal freedom to define marriage as God defines it within our church community, and as a Christian in the community, then I should allow my neighbours to have their definition of marriage receive the same legal freedom within the context of a liberal, secular, democracy.

Response: This doesn’t differ in substance from 3b above, except for the introduction of the freedom of religion element. Some people could be said to absolutise their relationship with their pet dog or cat in the same way that self-identifying LGBTI&c people absolutise their sexuality and relationships. Surely we are not proposing pagan marriage to animals if it represents what our neighbours treasure most in life? 

5. [a] I believe the plebiscite is a bad idea (and poorly executed); that democracy is not about populism and ‘majority rules’ but about balancing competing and different visions of the good life, and making space at the table for all views to be protected and represented in our life together. [b] I think Christians should be particularly concerned about how minority groups in our society are treated both while we have power (because of the Golden Rule), but because I’m not sure we’ll have that power for much longer.

a. This is confusing democracy with pluralism. NC may be a principled political and religious pluralist, but many of his fellow citizens aren’t. The only thing that stops democracy from becoming populism or ‘majority-rules’ is a commitment to something deeper or higher than democracy itself. I fear those deeper commitments are disappearing across Australia.

b. There isn’t much to disagree with here on the surface, except to flag that adherence to the “Golden Rule” shouldn’t necessarily anticipate reciprocation. That is, the goal of treating minorities well is not to be treated well when one becomes part of a minority.

6. I’d much rather encourage people in my congregation to love their neighbours, regardless of their religion or sexuality, because it’s in our Christ shaped love for those who are different (our following of the Golden Rule), that the message of the Gospel as the ultimate account of human flourishing actually has sense. I don’t want to fight for Christian morals apart from the Gospel, because seeing the world God’s way and living in it as those being transformed into the image of Jesus actually requires his Spirit (Romans 8).

Response: Loving people who are different and earnestly seeking to share Christ with them is not mutually exclusive in relation to opposing change that is bad for society. Voting NO to changing the Marriage Act is not necessarily forcing non-Christians to accept Christian morals apart from Christ. It’s simply expressing what you believe is the best for the society in which you dwell. SSM does not promote the good of homosexual people, nor children, nor Australians who uphold the traditional understanding of marriage, nor the wider nation because of the adverse side-effects it will bring about. 

7. I believe that our current public posture (as the ‘institution’ of the church in Australia, or the political arm of Christendom) is damaging the Gospel by, amongst other things, failing to take points 1-6 into account. I want to be a different voice to those voices (also by failing to speak the Gospel at all, a Crikey essay on the ACL I read this week claims they deliberately avoid religious language in their lobbying).

I too have concerns about the way in which some Christian organisations approach social issues – especially if their engagement is carried out in the name of Christianity, but devoid of meaningful representation of Christ Himself. I do however feel that disdain for the ACL drives NC to over-correction with respect to Christian political involvement. 


8. I have big problems with any ‘Christian’ activity that feels coercive or manipulative, or like an attempt to apply our power or clout to the lives of others outside the church. I don’t think coercion is consistent with the Gospel of the crucified king who ultimately renounced human power and influence; and I believe the Cross is the power and wisdom of God, not the sword (or the democratic equivalent). I think lobbying and special interest groups distort the operation of democracy.

I also believe that coercive use of power by Christians – and especially the institution of the Church – is dangerous. I don’t believe that acting in a way that upholds the legal definition of marriage in Australia is inherently coercive. Furthermore, voting to prevent “forced recognition” of same-sex relationships as marriage is simply using legitimate democratic participation to say NO to coercion being used against our brothers, sisters and neighbours. You don’t vote for things that restrict religious freedom, nor should we remain silent when they are proposed.


9. [a] I don’t want to talk to my gay friends and neighbours about why the church doesn’t want them to enjoy what they understand as a basic human right in the context of telling people how to vote in the plebiscite, I want to talk to them about the goodness of Jesus, and the (I believe objectively) better life that is produced if we worship the God who is love, and created us to love, rather than what’s wrong with their ‘worship’… [b] I believe, like the old preacher Thomas Chalmers, that what is required for people’s loves to be changed is ‘the expulsive power’ of new loves, not the creating of a vacuum.

a. I can appreciate this and I think it shows the heart behind the approach. A sincere desire to engage non-believers with the gospel and not get sidetracked by red herrings, hobby-horses and rabbit-trails is positive and commendable. It is too easy for non-Christians to mistake the church’s core business as involving being against those we think are the problem with society. We don’t want anyone, gay, straight or whatever to make that mistake.

But it is not a one-sided matter of Christians driving people who identify as homosexual away by our stance on marriage – it is also their sin driving them away from the truth. Not voting in the plebiscite might seem like a way to build a bridge, or at least avoid burning one down, but I don’t know that it will appease anyone or make them more receptive to the truth.

b. Chalmers was right on the money. I doubt very much that he’d say that the power of an expulsive affection leaves no place for the civil law to uphold a certain understanding of marriage though.

10. I don’t want to bind people’s consciences to follow my lead, or my vote, because I recognise that within my church community, and denomination, there are many different views on the last 7 points, and coercing or manipulating people to act according to my understanding of the world fails the Golden Rule too.

I also hope that none of my Christian brothers and sisters feel coerced to go against what they think and feel about this issue and how to approach the plebiscite. But because I believe voting NO is critically important, I’m hoping that many will agree and act accordingly.


Protestant Profiles #20: William Carey

William Carey (1761–1834)


Born: Paulerspery, Northamptonshire, England
Role: “Father of Modern Missions,” Bible translator, educator, social reformer, founder of Baptist Missionary Society, author
Emphases: The urgency of mission to unreached people of the world; translation of the Bible into local languages; role of God’s Spirit in missions
Protested against: Anti-missionary Hypercalvinism; barbaric Indian customs;

While other Protestant groups – such as the Moravians – deserve credit for their earlier involvement in pioneering world missions, William Carey’s life and ministry in many ways represent a turning point in the history of missions in English Christianity and Baptist churches in particular (pun intended).

Following his marriage just shy of his 20th birthday, the third decade of Carey’s life was full of eventful developments. In his early twenties he became a Baptist, receiving believer’s baptism in 1783. A couple of years later he was pastoring a Baptist church and at around 30 he was ordained as a minister of this movement of churches.

Somewhere during this time he also became interested in the plight of unevangelised peoples around the world. He steadily became more and more convinced of the urgent need for European Christians and well-established churches to bring the gospel to regions that lacked the saving news of Jesus. He was moved to compose his famous pamphlet An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, published in 1792, to urge his fellow Christians to take the appropriate actions in response to the gospel needs around the world.

The lore around Carey suggests he faced strong opposition from Baptists of a more ‘high’ or ‘hyper’ Calvinist bent when making these initial appeals in favour of world mission. A well-respected Particular Baptist minister is reported to have told Carey a few years earlier at a minister’s meeting:
“”Young man, sit down; when God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your aid and mine.”

Despite this attitude, Carey pressed on with his convictions and eventually won over many prominent Baptists for the cause of world missions, including the man who is accused of making the above remark. The “Particular Baptist Society for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen” was founded by Carey and others a few months after the publication of his Enquiry. It later became the Baptist Missionary Society and continues to work around the world to this day.

Around a year later, Carey himself went to India with a view to sharing the gospel to the unevangelised peoples of that region. He needed to find ways to be financially self-supporting, while mastering the local languages and beginning to evangelise and translate the Bible. He lived and ministered in a colonial settlement named Serampore, which was under the control of the Danish government. More than three decades of ministry in Serampore (without ever returning to England) saw far less converts than Carey had hoped for (around 700 Indians, but about the same number again of mixed race or European converts), but he had managed to translate the Bible into six Indian languages (and made partial translations into nearly thirty more local languages).

Carey’s time in India made a number of positive contributions to Indian society – encouraging a blossoming of Bengali literature; establishing educational institutions and using his influence with the British East India Company to push for the outlawing of child sacrifices and sati (the Hindu practice of burning widows alive with their husband’s corpse on a funeral pyre).

He experienced a great deal of personal suffering during this period too. He lost two wives and several children in India and at one point lost a considerable amount of his literary work due to a fire accident. He also had to struggle with the slowness of the evangelistic work and conflict he experienced with the missionary society back in England.

Carey died in Serampore in 1834, aged 72. His contribution to world missions and to Christianity in India was enormous and his motto “Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God” has been an inspiration to many to follow his example of faith. His heart to reach the unreached with the gospel of Jesus was a natural outworking of the principles of the Reformation.

The Methodists and revivalists we have looked at over the last month emphasised the need for widespread evangelism – Carey and the other 19th century missionaries we’ll look at in coming weeks understood the need to go beyond evangelising their immediate neighbours and countrymen.

Some have questioned the impact of Carey’s ministry choices on his family life (see for instance), a subject that often arises when considering the lives of missionaries from this period. There is no profitability in attempting to remove the warts from the portraits of our Christian heroes and the men and women heading into such uncharted territory were bound to make mistakes (including some serious ones). But as we grapple with the enormous challenge of world evangelisation and international church planting that lies before the 21st century church, a life such as Carey provides us with a great opportunity to both learn from his example and evaluate his approach in light of Scripture and the lessons learned from subsequent missions history.

While we must carefully consider a range of factors when it comes to the impact of our ministry decisions, at the end of the day, we need more daring evangelicals who are willing to “expect great things from God and attempt great things from God” like William Carey, rather than less.

You can read his “Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens” here.


“William Carey” wikipedia

B. Stanley, “CAREY, William” Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals.

Going Postal: Why an optional plebiscite may be the best way forward on the marriage issue

The Liberal Party will hold a special meeting this afternoon to discuss what action to take regarding a proposed private member’s bill on same-sex marriage (henceforth, ‘SSM’). It is likely that a commitment to a plebiscite of some kind will prevail – but the situation is anything but certain. This piece argues that the “postal plebiscite” option might be the best hope the nation has of putting the issue to rest one way or another in a democratic way.


4 Reasons why a postal plebiscite might be the best way forward:

  1. The issue is not going to go away without definitive democratic action

To be very clear I support a plebiscite of any kind with the utmost reluctance. I support marriage being left alone and attempts at legislative change ceasing. But that cannot happen in the current political climate and there currently remains more pathways for pro-SSM activists to keep pushing their agenda than for conservatives to quash the issue.

The only chance we have of putting the matter to rest for the next few terms of parliament is by allowing Australian voters an equal chance to affirm or reject it. Rejection by the public is the most effective means of shutting down the issue in the current and next terms of parliament. Though we can expect activists to keep trying to push their agenda forward no matter what (they believe their cause is righteous and will stop at nothing to achieve it) – those in Parliament with no will to change the definition of marriage will have their hand strengthened by a no vote and be able to move on to addressing other matters of national importance.

  1. Legislation for a regular plebiscite will be blocked in the Senate

Since the government needs to pass legislation to hold an ordinary plebiscite, but cannot get support for such legislation, the option proposed by Peter Dutton – a postal vote which would not require legislation to hold – is a viable means of resolving the issue. The government can commit to taking the outcome of such a vote seriously and act accordingly.

Cabinet Minister and senior conservative Peter Dutton favours a postal plebiscite [2]
  1. A postal plebiscite will see the side that can best mobilise people to vote for their convictions win.

Pro-SSM activists are worried about the nature of an optional vote working against them. But such a huge issue is actually better resolved by people who care about it than the “can’t-be-bothered” mob who exclude themselves from having a say in an optional process. If SSM advocates win such a vote it will be because they campaigned successfully and got people who really believed in changing the definition of marriage to have their say. Likewise for conservatives.

Whichever side loses likely only has themselves to blame for not motivating enough people to vote about the future of marriage – or else we may conclude that they never really had the widespread support they claimed (be it the gay lobby’s supposed 70+% or the conservatives’ supposed “silent majority”). With all the negative effects that will come about as a result of legalising SSM, marriage should never be redefined unless an overwhelming majority are strongly for that change.

  1. The Government has an electoral mandate for a plebiscite – whereas parliamentarians have no mandate to change the definition of marriage without a public vote.

If SSM was the major issue on everyone’s minds when they voted at the last election, Bill Shorten would be the PM. He offered the clearest pathway to SSM – passage of legislation within 100 days of taking office. Most Australians voted for the parties they did while prioritising other issues above this one.

It’s true that a resounding ALP win could justify implementing SSM as part of their election platform – but Australians have not accepted the full package Mr. Shorten & co. are offering and so the public have not voted in a party that will bring change.

Turnbull didn’t really win the election – like Gillard in 2010 he simply stopped short of losing it completely. But the electors who did vote Coalition knew that a plebiscite was their proposed way of dealing with the issue.

So by rights, the two possible courses of action for non-government parties in this parliament should be:
a) Accept that no one has a sufficient mandate for change and stop pursuing SSM        OR
b) Reluctantly admit that the Coalition has a mandate (however slight) for a plebiscite.

The Government is responsible for either:
a) Pursuing some form of public vote as it promised at the election OR
b) Continuing the course which it has been on for the past few months
(i.e. moving onto other more pressing issues due to the plebiscite legislation being blocked by the Senate).

Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce supports holding a plebiscite or getting on with other parliamentary business [3]

Several objections to such a plebiscite refuted

It’s a travesty to our democracy if we hold a public vote to do something that our political representatives were elected to do! This is the job of Parliament.

Many proponents of SSM support a free vote in Federal Parliament, but insincerely pretend that this is because of their high view of parliament’s role in our democracy – rather than mere political opportunism. If Parliament’s authority to resolve the issue is respected, the issue should be dropped – as change has been rejected by previous Parliaments (and there was bipartisan support in 2004 for the clarifications to the Marriage Act made by the Howard Government).

Since many have a two-faced disregard for Parliament’s power to resolve the issue – in any way other than deciding in the affirmative for their cause – the matter must be taken away from the politicians and resolved definitively by the people.

Incidentally (as many have pointed out), it’s a bit rich for the ALP to pressure the Government to hold a “free vote” instead of holding to the party position, when they intend to force all their Senators and MPs to vote for marriage equality (irrespective of their personal beliefs) if the matter isn’t resolved by 2019. They don’t believe in a “free vote” any more than they do the sanctity of Parliament.

A plebiscite is an unnecessary waste of tax-payer’s money, because we’ll spend millions on a referendum-style vote when the Constitution doesn’t need to be changed to bring in ‘marriage equality’”

This is almost completely farcical when used by the Opposition, for two reasons.

1) Shorten & Co. now support not one, but two votes on a Republic (revisiting an issue that has already been dealt with by the Australian people less than twenty years ago) – one of which would presumably be a plebiscite (“Do you want a republic?” doesn’t actually propose a concrete change to the constitution, that’s why they need another vote later). They also support another referendum on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander recognition in the Constitution. It turns out, if we go with Bill it’ll be quite a bill!

To argue against a vote for cost reasons is disingenuous.

2) Marriage is a constitutional matter and changing it’s definition is at least as serious as matters requiring a referendum.

The Constitution gives the Federal Parliament power to make laws related to marriage in the Commonwealth. I recognise the government’s legal right to change the Marriage Act as it sees fit. I don’t recognise its moral right to fundamentally change what Australians understand by the word marriage without properly consulting the populace.

When the constitution was drafted, marriage referred to the legal, social, domestic and almost always sexual union of a man and woman considered by society to be of appropriate age and mental capacity; not already in a marital relationship and not closely related by blood. If the Federal Government wants to use its powers to fundamentally change what the legal definition of marriage is – it should do so with the clear backing of the vast majority of the population. Any proposed changes need to be owned or disowned by the Australian people. Otherwise this is an abuse of power and an unacceptably liberal reading of the constitution.

While the adverse effects of a republic on our political system remain to be seen until the day citizens become silly enough to walk blindfolded into one – the Aboriginal recognition issue is less likely to impact the lives of people across the country to the extent that radically redefining marriage will. An issue that will impact people’s freedom of speech and religion and their educational and workplace environments far more than adding a preamble to a constitution would needs to be weighed by the voting public and then corporate responsibility borne for the road taken.

Any kind of public vote which gives airtime to ‘bigots’ will cause psychological and emotional harm to LGBTI Australians and even risk driving vulnerable people to suicide.”

You know who else faces a higher than normal suicide risk than other members of the general population? Aboriginal youths. And yet the same people that feign concern about LGBTI suicide risk – if a plebiscite is held about their ‘right’ to marry – want to hold a referendum where there will be public debate on whether Aboriginal people hold a special place in our society that should be recognised in our highest law.

This is a sickening ploy by political manipulators that are weaponising young, at-risk people in an attempt to guilt-trip you into rolling over and letting them walk all over you with the changes they want to bring in. Meanwhile, they don’t seem to be worried about other at-risk youth at all. Nor did they seem horrified that Ireland was irresponsibly putting lives at risk when it held its referendum on the issue. Suicide and mental health issues amongst gay and lesbian Australians – or any other members of the community – should not to be taken lightly. But nor should they be used as pretexts to steamroll democracy.

A postal plebiscite may not even be legal” 

If this proves to be the case, of course it should be dropped. But then SSM advocates ought to allow the government to hold a legal plebiscite or be unsurprised when it continues on with business as usual instead of giving into their political tactics on the issue.

A postal plebiscite will favour older, conservative Australians and potentially disenfranchise younger citizens, people living or travelling abroad and those in remote areas.” 

Refer to reason #3 for a postal plebiscite provided above. If young people don’t care about democracy enough to enroll before an electoral deadline they don’t deserve to have a say on such a pivotal issue. If people abroad or in remote areas get plenty of notice that a postal plebiscite will be held and they care enough about the issue one way or the other – are we seriously supposed to believe they will not have a chance to express their views?

This objection translates to: “We’re afraid that people we lazily claim as supporters may be apathetic enough to not make any effort to help us win a vote.” If that’s the case it’s simple – they aren’t actually supporters of the gay lobby’s radical redefinition of marriage.

We know the activists are good at lobbying pollies, running biased surveys and orchestrating media campaigns to make people feel like their view is the dominant one and the only reasonable position on marriage. But could their post-Brexit, post-Trump fear be that they just can’t motivate ordinary people to take action for the radical change their polls claim 70+% of the country believes in?        

They claim it’s time for marriage equality. I say it’s time for Australians who actually care about the future of marriage in this country to have their say in a democratic vote.

[1] Gerard’s World Australia Post Box (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
[2] Department of Immigration and Border Protection “Peter Dutton” 
CC BY 3.0
[3] Bidgee “Joyce in 2010” CC BY-SA 3.0