Today in Christian History: June 14


On this date in 1910, the World Missions Conference opened in Edinburgh, Scotland. There were 1200 delegates, primarily from North America and Northern Europe. 

People were optimistic and hopeful. The 1800’s was a century of great missionary expansion, with the world’s population of Christians expanding from less than 25% to greater than 35% (note: these figures come from Stephen Lawton’s The Christian History Devotional which has no footnotes or verification). They adopted the theme, “The Evangelization of the World in This Generation.” However, as Lawton notes,

They were unaware that brewing in Europe and elsewhere were totalitarian ideologies whose followers would also show great confidence—and would be willing to change the world by force not persuasion.

So where are we now, more than a century after Edinburgh? Here are a few observations:

  1. Evangelism itself is more global. As mentioned above, the first World Missions Conference in Edinburgh primarily drew representatives from Northern Europe and North America. But at the 2010 World Missions Conference, also in Edinburgh, there were delegates from more than sixty nations. Lawton writes, “the missions scene was dramatically changed with thousands of missionaries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America—some taking the gospel to their own people but some taking the word to an increasingly secularized Europe and United States.” In conjunction with the June Edinburgh meeting there were also meetings held in Tokyo in May, Cape Town in October, and Boston in November. 
  2. Evangelism is more ecumenical.  The first Edinburgh conference was exclusively Protestant. The centennial Edinburgh conference included representatives of the Evangelical, Protestant, Orthodox and Pentecostal churches, as well as the Roman Catholic Church.
  3. The world is less Christian. Like I said earlier, I’m not sure where Lawton got the figures, or by what criteria he says the world was 35% Christian in 1910. That number seems high to me. But for sure, that number seems ridiculous today. The Pew Forum marks the world Christian population at 31%, but that number is inflated with individuals (and even entire countries) that self-identify as Christians but have no concept of a personal relationship with Christ. 
  4. There is still so much work to be done. Edinburgh’s rallying cry of “evangelization in this generation” has to be our cry as well. Jesus said, “The gospel must first be preached to all nations, and then the end shall come.” (Matthew 24:14) Ironically, 106 years after Edinburgh, Southern Baptists are meeting this week in St Louis, and are talking about the very same things. Their theme? “Awaken America. Reach the World.” 

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. 

Today in Christian History: June 9


Two deaths happened on June 9, separated by about 1800 years. One was an emperor; the other a missionary. Both contributed to the spread of Christianity.


In AD 68, the Roman emperor Nero cut his own throat at the age of 30. Nero was a notorious persecutor of Christians. According to Tertullian, he was responsible for the deaths of both Peter and Paul.  The early pagan historians Tacitus and Seutonius describe Nero’s persecutions in gory detail, including setting Christians on fire to light his garden parties at night. But although these historians were not Christians themselves, they both acknowledged the role Nero’s bloodlust had in generating sympathy for the martyrs. Two hundred years later, Tertullian would write, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”


Nearly two millennia later, on June 9, 1834, missionary William Carey died. Carey spent nearly 40 years in India without a furlough– leaving England in 1893 and remaining in India for the rest of his life. He translated the Bible into Bengali, Oriya, Assamese, Arabic, Hindi and Sanskrit. Considered the father of modern missions, Carey laid the foundation for how missionary work is done today. His best known quote: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”