London Missionary Society

London Missionary Society
   The London Missionary society (LMs), founded in 1795, was one of the earliest and most active of the 19th-century Protestant missionary-sending agencies. It emerged out of the new awareness of the world produced by the voyages of Captain Cook. The immediate inspiration was the widely published letters written by William Carey (1761-1834), who had just taken up his missionary post in India in 1793.
   In December 1794, a group of ministers and laypeople, primarily from the Independent or Congregational Church but including Anglicans and Presbyterians, met to consider the idea of forming an interdenominational missionary society. In a short time, both the Church of England and the Presbyterian Church established competing missionary structures, leaving the LMS with little interdenominational support.
   The LMS chose the South Pacific as its initial target, and in September 1796 sent 13 men, five women, and two children to posts in Tahiti, Tonga, and the Marquesas. The initial cadre would be supplemented with missionaries to the Cook Islands, and eventually to most of the South Pacific island groups. These first missionaries established a pattern that would be followed through most of the 19th century. They mastered the local languages, trained early converts as teachers and congregational leaders, and focused their skills on translating and publishing the Bible.
   After work in the South Pacific was well under way, the LMS expanded its work to China. Robert Morrison (1782-1834) was sent there in 1807; by 1817, the LMS had a missionary in far-off Mongolia as well.
   For Africa, the LMS recruited from Scotland some of the most famous missionaries of all time, John Moffatt (1795-1883), John MacKenzie (1835-99), and David Livingstone (1813-73). Moffat pioneered work in South Africa beginning in 1817. MacKenzie later became the major advocate for British expansion throughout southern Africa (then controlled by Dutch and French settlers), and Livingstone explored the vast interior of the continent. During its peak years in the 19th century, the society supported some 250 missionaries at any given moment.
   The LMS proved one of the most foresighted of the Protestant missionary agencies. Starting with its self-image as an interdenominational agency, it began to advocate for a cooperative approach to the mission field by the otherwise competing denominations. It pioneered amity agreements that cut down on duplication of efforts and competition by assigning defined territories to each group. These amity agreements would become the seeds from which the Ecumenical movement would emerge in Europe and North America at the end of the century Such agreements worked for several decades, until the growth of missions and the migration of their converts overran the old territorial boundaries.
   World War II led to significant changes in the LMS. Many of the former colonial territories where the LMS operated became independent countries. China, the single largest LMS missionary field, experienced a revolution that brought an antireli-gious and antiforeign regime to power. In several places, notably India, attempts to create united Protestant churches were underway The LMS responded to these changes in several ways. First, it went through a series of mergers, with the Commonwealth Missionary Society in 1966, and with the Presbyterian Board of Missions in 1977; the combined group was called the Council for World Mission (CMW). At the same time, the entire Protestant missionary enterprise was reorganizing itself to operate as a partner with the sister churches that had superseded the former missions.
   A generation after its founding, the present CMW sees itself as a global cooperative endeavor involving 31 denominations headquartered in countries around the world. Missionaries, drawn from each of the cooperating churches, make themselves available to be sent anywhere as needed. The Council for World Mission maintains its headquarters in London, England.
   See also Congregationalism.
   Further reading:
   ■ Thomas Hiney, On the Missionary Trail: A Journey through Polynesia, Asia, and Africa with the London Missionary Society (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2000)
   ■ J. Herbert Kane, A Global View of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1971).

Encyclopedia of Protestantism. . 2005.

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