LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Lottie Moon was one of the first missionaries to understand that respecting the people she served meant spending time observing them and learning from them, R. Albert Mohler Jr., told students and faculty Oct. 21 at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Mohler, the seminary’s president, gave his presentation on the life and work of Moon during a “Forum on the Life & Legacy of Lottie Moon” as part of Missions Emphasis Week.
Chuck Lawless, dean of Southern’s Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism, followed Mohler with a presentation on the purpose and impact of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Mohler also moderated a panel discussion on the state of cooperation for international missions in the SBC with Lawless; Greg Wills, professor of church history and director of Southern’s Center for the Study of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Jaye Martin, director of women’s leadership at Southern.
Mohler said that while Moon is an iconic figure in Southern Baptist life, it is important to be regularly reminded of the beliefs she built her life upon.
“Lottie Moon is so close to us and so familiar to us and so much a part of our Southern Baptist history, heritage and nomenclature, that it seems like she is just as known to us as Christmas and Easter,” he said. “Lottie Moon, in terms of who she was and what she represents to us, is just as central to us as what it means to know believers baptism or regenerate membership, because to be a Southern Baptist is to understand Lottie Moon … and yet that is not to be taken for granted.
“Even as we think about the challenge of recovering the model and motivating inspiration of Lottie Moon, we need to think very carefully about why this woman’s name is attached to a Christmas offering for missions and what that would mean to us.”
Moon was born into an aristocratic Virginia family in December 1840. Always a bright girl, Moon’s thoughts on Christianity were greatly influenced by her family, which held several different religious views, Mohler said. In 1858, at age 17, Moon attended a prayer meeting with intentions of scoffing at its participants. Deeply affected by the prayer meeting, Moon prayed throughout that evening and in 1859, the same year Southern Seminary was founded, she professed faith in Christ and was baptized.
Moon attended the Virginia Female Seminary, a prominent finishing school, and then the Albemarle Female Institute, an institution founded in part by Southern Seminary founder John A. Broadus and one of the few institutions devoted to the higher education of women. While under the pastoral care of Broadus, who thought highly of her intellect, Moon’s desire to serve on the mission field was born, Mohler recounted.
“She excelled in learning; at one point her pastor John Broadus described her as the most educated woman in the South,” Mohler said. “That is one of those statements that is absolutely impossible to verify, but what we do know is that she was placed in an elite of well-educated young women.”
Crawford H. Toy was an instructor at Albemarle who caught the attention of Moon. Drawn together by a desire to pursue international missions, Moon and Toy began a courtship and intended to marry until the Civil War caused their separation. While Toy was serving the war efforts, Moon began a teaching career since she was unable to enter the mission field as a single female.
Moon’s sister Edmonia, who also had a heart for missions, was presented an opportunity to join a married couple on a commission to China. Soon after, in 1873, Moon joined her sister in China after learning that she was deeply struggling emotionally and lacking in missionary impact. Moon accompanied her sister back to the U.S. and prepared to marry Toy and begin mission service as a married couple. Moon learned of changes in Toy’s theology, however, such as rejecting the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and holding to a non-historical interpretation of Genesis, that developed during their separation. She was so deeply troubled by his liberalism that she called off the courtship. In 1869, Toy became Southern Seminary’s fifth professor, a post he held for 10 years. Toy’s biblical criticisms came under scrutiny from the seminary trustees and faculty, ultimately leading to his resignation in 1879.
With her desire to serve the people of China growing stronger, Mohler said Moon journeyed back to China and remained there for the rest of her life, returning stateside only two other times.
From the time she arrived, Moon was in China to love the people she served and share the Gospel with them, Mohler said. Throughout her 40 years in China, Moon wrote letters to Southern Baptists’ overseas mission board requesting assistance and funding to reach more lost people of China.
Mohler said Southern Baptists, and the SBC as a whole, can learn from the deep sense of shame and embarrassment that Lottie Moon felt toward her own denomination and its lack of support to missionaries. Moon dealt with disease, distance, a lack of communication and support but she never lost her desire to share the Gospel.
“Lottie Moon’s theology was not only rooted in a deep affirmation of biblical authority, inerrancy and infallibility, but also in an urgent focus on conversion,” Mohler said. “Lottie Moon very clearly understood that the Gospel was the difference between life and death, heaven and hell. She understood that all persons were desperately in need of the knowledge of Christ.”
LOTTIE MOON OFFERING
Lawless, in his presentation, noted that what most Southern Baptists don’t realize is how the Lord uses each December’s Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in the Southern Baptist Convention to benefit missionaries and their desire to reach the people of the world.
“We face a crisis in Southern Baptist life. As you are well aware, we have a number of candidates for missionary service that are ready to go, in the pipeline, and are unable to go because the funding isn’t there,” Lawless said.
In 1888, Moon encouraged Southern Baptists to start a Christmas offering for international missions. Years later, in 1918, Annie Armstrong, a missions advocate and organizer of Woman’s Missionary Union, encouraged the SBC to name the offering in Moon’s honor.
Lawless said every mission trip he has been a part of has been impacted by Lottie Moon and the Christmas offering, which supplements Cooperative Program giving to support more than 5,600 Southern Baptist missionaries as they share the Gospel overseas.
Southern Baptists must be willing to sacrifice for the sake of the Great Commission, Lawless said, emphasizing that giving money to send missionaries needs to then be followed with giving to support missionaries. He encouraged the church and its members to say, “I will give for the sake of the Gospel until it hurts. And when it hurts, I will prayerfully give a little bit more.”
Regarding the state of affairs in Southern Baptist cooperation for missions, Mohler said he is often asked by students and others why Southern Baptists have mission boards.
Wills said mission boards are simply the answer to another question.
“The question of ‘Should we have a board or not?’ is really a question of ‘Can two or more churches cooperate in fulfilling the Great Commission?'” Wills said. “If two churches can cooperate in fulfilling the Great Commission, then they can appoint representatives to meet together and figure out how to do it. If two churches can do it, then 40,000 churches can do it.”
Mohler noted that cooperating for the sake of missions becomes necessary when churches want to see large numbers of people serving on the mission field.
“If we were trying to send two or three missionaries, I think that [each local church sending its own missionaries] would work,” he said. “But you can’t send 5,000 missionaries that way.”
Lawless expressed concern that the current generation of Southern Baptists does not understand adequately the reason for, and importance of, cooperation for the sake of international missions.
“I am concerned that when my generation is off the scene there will be no grounding anymore in this offering or in supporting international missions cooperatively,” Lawless said. “I have great concern that we are responsible to ground the next generation in a program that works.”
Like Lottie Moon was in her time, Wills said Southern Baptists should be “embarrassed and ashamed at our level of support of missions” and not at all satisfied with the current impact of Southern Baptist missionary efforts.
“It is ultimately selfishness and worldliness,” Wills said. “Putting our own comforts, desires and amusements ahead of getting the Gospel to the ends of the earth.”
Wills later added that ignorance is a large part of the problem in Southern Baptist congregations.
“I don’t think we have challenged Southern Baptists yet,” Wills said. “I think if we present Southern Baptists with the challenge then I think our churches will step up. This is what we must address as pastors.”
Lawless agreed that educating congregations from the pulpit about the importance of cooperating together to spread the Gospel is vital.
“I do think apathy and selfishness are setting in, but I think Southern Baptists are largely ignorant of the needs of the world. Southern Baptists who are informed … will do more than what we think,” he said.
Such education should center not on “guilting people” into supporting missions, but on the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ and God’s call to His people to represent His Son in all the world. “We do that [increase awareness for missions] in part by pointing out the worldliness and selfishness,” Wills said. “But we do it even more by pointing out the great need, by pointing out the call. The reason that the Son of God came and became man and died upon a cross — that is what will get our hearts beating sacrificially.”
Noting that at least 60 percent of International Mission Board young-adult Journeymen each year are women, Mohler asked Martin why she believes so many women today have followed in Moon’s footsteps by responding to a call to missions work. Martin said a passion for making a difference and a devotion to prayer have been the driving forces.
“I think most [Christian] women I know want to be a part of the Great Commission,” Martin said. “Women can share the love of the Lord. They can begin by praying. They can begin by looking around them and raising money to give. They can train their own children and the children that are around them. They can train other women around them.
“As women are challenged to pray, God works on their hearts and they desire to serve. Of course, women who are really following the Lord are going to be under the authority of their husband and pastor and they are going to want to support him to be the minister God has called him to be.”
Postulating on the near future of Southern Baptist cooperation for the sake of international missions, Lawless said economic realities are going to force the IMB to be even more careful in its candidate selection process. Lawless said he also thinks international missions thrusts will be driven more and more by local church initiatives.
“We really will have to look at: What are the most significant positions (on the mission field) that we must fill?” Lawless said. “I think it [the current economic situation] will raise the caliber of those who we send out. We send out great people now, but I would love to see us raise the bar as far as the requirement of theological education before you go out.
“I also think we will see more and more partnerships with local churches that are large enough and financially stable enough that they are sending out their own missionaries with the IMB helping to train them,” Lawless said.
Emily Griffin and Garrett E. Wishall are writers at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.