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Churches, to the Front!
By T. P. Crawford


     Churches, to the Front! was written in 1892 by Dr. T. P. Crawford. It ranks with J. M. Pendleton's An Old Land Landmark Reset as one of the great statements of Missionary Baptist doctrine. It takes real courage to oppose the system and stand up for the gospel way. May we have many more men like Dr. Crawford.

     TARLETON PERRY CRAWFORD, pioneer Baptist Missionary to China, was born in Warren County, Kentucky on May 8, 1821, the fourth of the ten children born to John and Cretia Crawford. In later life he credited his early educational opportunities to the devoted care of his mother. After several years of study at private academies, where he supported himself by teaching school, he entered the Union University at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 1848. There he earned a reputation for perseverance in his studies and displayed the tenacity which would characterize his lifelong devotion to the faith. He graduated summa cum laude in 1851 and was remembered by his contempories as a man of piety, earnestness and zeal. During his college years he came into contact with such Baptist giants as Dr. J. R. Graves and Eld. J. M. Pendleton thereafter devoted his life to the defense of the Old Landmarks. He received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Richmond College in 1879.

     "In the spring of 1837," Dr. Crawford later recalled, "I professed religion at home under the instruction of my mother . . . and in July was baptized into the fellowship of Sinking Springs Church . . .! felt called to the ministry from the day of my conversion, but made a seven years' struggle against the impression." During his college days he again felt a call, this time to serve as a missionary to far-off China, and after fixing upon this goal, he never wavered in his purpose.

     Before his graduation, he was chosen as missionary by the Big Hatchie Baptist Association of Tennessee, a strongly Landmark body, who agreed to contribute to his support while he was in China. Early in 1851 he appeared before the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and received an appointment as a

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missionary to Shanghai. His ordination took place at the Denmark Church near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on April 28, 1851.

     Dr. Crawford and his family arrived at Shanghai on March 30, 1852 after a voyage of nearly four months from New York. From this time until his first furlough in 1858, he spent his time becoming fully acquainted with the peculiarities of American mission work in China. Immediately upon his arrival, he found the entire mission establishment, Baptist as well as Protestant, rocked by a scandal involving the employment of Chinese nationals as paid mission helpers or agents by white missionaries who were unwilling or unable to learn the native language and who consequently needed men to preach for them and to distribute Bibles in the rural areas where it was deemed unsafe for non-orientals to live. He found that most western missionaries remained in the relative safety of the cities comprehending little or nothing of what was going on around them. Many of them were being naively duped by their unscrupulous Chinese agents. Such a situation chafed upon the conscious of Dr. Crawford. He decided to devote himself to the study of Chinese language and culture in order to more scripturally fulfill his divine calling.

     Upon his return to the United States, he visited the Southern Baptist Convention where he heard a call by Landmark Baptist lead by Dr. Graves for the elimination of the board system as a means of doing mission work. When the Convention had been established in 1845, it had empowered a group of men, the board, to select, appoint, direct and support all of its foreign missionaries. Since the churches in New Testament times sent out and sustained missionaries, the Landmarkers declared, the board system was neither scriptural nor expedient. However, the majority of the Convention favored that method, and calls for reform fell on deaf ears.

     Dr. Crawford had returned to China before the outbreak of the American Civil War. That conflict forced him to seek support for his family and the mission work elsewhere. In 1863 he removed to the northern Chinese city of Tung Chow (P'eng-Lai) located on the Shantung peninsula. He continued to labor in this area with remarkable success until shortly before his death. Here he attempted

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to do mission work in a true New Testament manner. He refused to employ paid native workers to do his preaching for him and opposed their use by his colleagues. He rejected American payments to Chinese ministerial students, until, as he said, "they are ready to be ordained and settled as pastors over the churches which they themselves are to establish . . . and look to their own people for support." "We desire," he often wrote, "to see the church grow from the healthy root of faith in Christ and love for his cause." Such a work would never be wholly dependent upon American cash subsidies for its survival. He also taught by precept as well as example that for an American missionary to be fully effective in a foreign country like China, he must learn the native tongue, wear the native dress, eat the native food and live in native housing. He and his family put these teachings into effect in Tung Chow. It was here with Dr. Crawford that Lottie Moon did most of her mission work beginning in 1873. Today her name is synonymous, through an annual Christmas offering, with Southern Baptist foreign mission work.

     Dr. Crawford brought his opposition to unscriptural mission methods before the Baptists of America during a tour of the states in 1877. In 1881, he discarded western style mission boarding schools, "because he felt that the young men educated in them were unfit to make their way among their countrymen and could not subsist without foreign employment." On an other visit home in 1885, he brought his ideas before the Board itself. Urged on by several fellow missionaries, he made an impassioned plea for a commitment on its part to a more self supporting work. However, the Board and later the Convention rejected his appeals and ordered him back to China. He refused and took the campaign to the people. He addressed the Convention itself in 1886, but met with limited success. Immediately after his return to the Orient he began to sever his ties with the Board.

     In 1890 he and several of his associates formed the Gospel Mission Association of North China. In 1892 Dr. Crawford elegantly set forth his views on the Board system in a little work entitled Churches, to the Front! "I am not opposed to the existence of Conventions, Societies, Boards or Committees of the proper kind," he

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wrote, "but I am deeply opposed to all those which intrude themselves and their enterprises upon the Churches." With this, the Board made it formal and officially removed his name from the list of approved missionaries. Soon thereafter, a number of other missionaries resigned from the Board and together with Dr. Crawford began what has been called the "Gospel Mission Movement." The main supporters of these ideas came together in 1905 and formed the General Association of Missionary Baptist Churches of the U. S., now the American Baptist Association. Other of Dr. Crawford's followers formed different groups or remained independent. "The ultimate result of this movement," wrote one Baptist historian, "would have been the disintegration of the Southern Baptist Convention and the destruction of all organized work of the denomination."

     T. P. Crawford married Martha Foster on March 12, 1861. She worked with him on the mission field until his death on April 7, 1902 in Greenville, South Carolina.



     Robert A. Baker, A Baptist Source Book.
     _____________, The Southern Baptist Convention and its People.
     Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists.
     H. A. Tupper, The Foreign Missions of the      Southern Baptist Convention.
     Mary E. Wright, The Mission Work of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Russell P. Baker
Chairman, History and Archives Committee
American Baptist Association

      Go to the Essay by T. P. Crawford

[The document was provided by Jackie Battles, Winchester, VA. Reformatted and reprinted in 2005. Scanned and edited by Jim Duvall]

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