Judson and American Baptist Missions

When Adoniram Judson left America as its first foreign missionary, only the Congregationalists were supporting missionaries. Adoniram and Ann Judson were not the only missionaries sent out by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Accompanying the Judsons were Samuel and Harriett Newell and Luther Rice.

The Judsons were not the only ones in this initial group of missionaries to conclude that believer’s baptism was the Biblical model. Rice also came to the same conclusion. Upon notification to the clergy of the Congregational church of their change of convictions, the Judsons’ and Rice’s support was immediately dropped. Therefore, they turned to the Baptists for help. Luther Rice returned to America to gain support for the Judsons and for himself, with the intent that he might rejoin them shortly. Upon his arrival in America in 1813, Rice traveled throughout the States, raising support and arousing Baptist interest in missions. As a result, it was decided to hold a meeting on May 18, 1814.

On the appointed day, thirty-three Baptist delegates, representing eleven states, met in Philadelphia, with the idea of forming an organization to promote foreign missionary work. They wished to direct “the energies of the whole denomination in one sacred effort for sending the glad tidings of salvation to the heathen, and to nations destitute of pure gospel light.” (Henry C. Vedder, A Short History of the Baptists [Valley Forge: The Judson Press, 1907], 332.)  The society took for its name the General Convention of the Baptist Denomination in the United States for Foreign Missions. Dr. Richard Furman of South Carolina was appointed its first president, and Dr. Thomas Baldwin of Boston was appointed the first secretary. It was arranged that they would meet triennially (once every three years) and thus the name “Triennial Convention.” The constitution designated that the delegates would come from those societies that contributed not less than $100 a year to the Convention. A Board of Commissioners of 21 was set up to execute the executive part of the mission. Philadelphia was designated as the headquarters of the board.

At this first meeting held in 1814, it was agreed upon to appoint Luther Rice as an agent of the convention and to take on the support of the Judsons. In a letter by Rice written to Judson, Rice stated, “The Baptist Board of Commissioners (21 men) for Foreign Missions, instituted by the convention, readily undertook your support and mine, but thought it necessary for me to continue my labours in this country, for a time.” (James B. Taylor, Memoir of Rev. Luther Rice [Nashville: Broadman, 1841], 139.) Rice spent the rest of his life in America, raising awareness and funds for Baptist missions and serving at the new Columbian College. He never returned to the mission field. Although there was controversy surrounding his life, during Rice’s lifetime, the Triennial Convention grew from 8,000 to 600,000 members, and the convention supported 25 missions and 112 missionaries. Fifteen Baptist universities and colleges were formed. In addition, a home mission society and a printing ministry were also started; these three organizations became the nucleus of Baptist life in America and the model for future similar Baptist organizations.