I Once Was Blind, But Now I See
In my sermon, Diffusing the Light, I mentioned the life and work of Thomas Bray and SPG. I would be remiss not to mention the work of the more extensive Church Missionary Society (CMS) which came into the scene a hundred years later.
CMS was founded on 12 April 1799 at a meeting of members of a group of activist evangelical Christians whose number included Henry Thornton and William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was asked to be the first president of the Society, but he declined to take on this extra, significant role, and became a vice president. The founding Secretary was the Rev. Thomas Scott, the famous biblical commentator. Eventually, the CMS became a central vehicle of Anglican mission in West and East Africa, in India, the Far East, and parts of Canada.
The CMS grew out of a revitalised – or literally “revival” – evangelical faith. And “revival” religion spread, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, in different Protestant directions. But within Anglicanism where, with John Wesley, we can say the revival began in a new way, it was nonetheless always a social phenomenon, at least originally, one that was geared towards the same kinds of goals as Bray’s vision: building up a Christian “society” as it were, of common faith, life, and work. The CMS kind of mission had vigour, of spiritual demand, possibility and power, and a willingness, finally, to try new things. It also leaned more towards the personal conversion of individuals and CMS worked freely with other Protestants in the field.
CMS’s contribution to the Anglican Church in Singapore is significant, helping to shape a largely evangelical approach to the Word, Ministry and Society. In the well-researched paper released in 2012, The Missionary Roots of Liberal Democracy, Robert Woodberry focused on the positive and major influence of “Conversionary Protestantism” on many societies. His work has been lauded in many august academic institutions. The pdf copy of his work is downloadable through a google search.
This major factor is ignored by many and it is of course, in keeping with the spirit of the times, all too easy to say that Western missionaries have messed up other cultures. But a careful observation of our life’s experiences or societies simply does not bear this out. My own experiences may be anecdotal, but indeed, “I once was blind, but now I see.” The tune which John Newton heard as a slave trader, which inspired his writing of Amazing Grace, very much expressed the work of Christian activists like William Wilberforce, who believed as Christians have always done, that God has called us out of darkness into His marvellous light. That light reached my world when I was 13, which was then all wrapped up in a crowded terrace house in Petaling Jaya. I can only give thanks for what the Gospel has done for me and my family.
Missions month in SAC may be over. But actually, every Sunday is Missions Sunday. As we gather to worship, we leave with the refrain that we may go out to “love and serve the Lord.”
Those who have come before us have lighted the way. May all those who come behind us find us faithful.