Society for the Propagation of the Gospel

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More commonly known as the SPG. This society (full title, Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts) was founded under royal English charter in June 1701 as the official overseas missionary body of the Church of England. Its leading promoter was Rev. Thomas Bray (16561730), also one of the founders of the society for promoting christian knowledge (SPCK), who had been Ecclesiastical Commissary for Maryland in 16991700. The impulse for the SPG's organization came from a belated but nonetheless fervent Anglican recognition of the need to carry the Christian Gospel beyond England. In this sense it was a part of the great worldwide Christian revolution, which eventuated in the emergence of Christianity as a genuine universal faith during the following 200 years. According to the terms of its charter the SPG was incorporated for the purposes of (1) "providing a maintenance for an orthodox Clergy in the plantations, colonies, and factories of Great Britain beyond the seas, for the instruction of the King's loving subjects in the Christian religion"; (2) "making such other provisions as may be necessary for the propagation of the Gospel in those parts;" and (3) "receiving, managing, and disposing of the charity of His Majesty's subjects for those purposes." During most of the 18th century the Society's activities were confined to the British colonies of North America where it was active not only among European colonists but undertook the conversion of Black slaves and Native Americans. Prevented by the terms of its charter from continuing in the United States after the American Revolution, the SPG shifted its activity, first, to Canada and, after 1823, to non-Christian regions of Asia and Africa. On the whole, the SPG tended to develop the community type of mission and usually carried on its activities under the direct superintendence of the diocesan bishop in the mission field. Its close identification with Anglo-Catholicism during much of its history and the founding by the Anglican evangelicals of the Church Missionary Society in 1799 somewhat limited the Society's activities. Nevertheless, during the course of the 19th century it spread extensively into South Africa (1821), Bengal and South India (1823), Borneo (1848), Pacific Islands (1862), North China (1863), Japan (1873), Korea (1899), Manchuria (1892), and Siam (1903). Its greatest mission successes were won in India where it still has great influence. The 20th century has witnessed some diminution of the Society's activities as the former holdings of the British Empire have contracted. Even so, it continues to play an active and effective role as a mission agency in the British Commonwealth.

Bibliography: h. p. thompson, Into All Lands (London 1951). c. f. pascoe, Two Hundred Years of the S.P.G., 17011900 (London 1901). r. p. s. waddy, "250 Years of Patrologia Graeca," International Review of Mission 40 (1951) 331336. b. c. roberts, "SPG: How It Works," Church Quarterly Review 157 (1956) 136143. w. a. bultmann and p. w. bultmann, "The Roots of Anglican Humanitarianism: A Study of the Membership of the SPCK and the SPG, 1699-1720," Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 33 (Mar 1964) 348. g. j. goodwin, "Christianity, Civilization and the Savage: The Anglican Mission to the American Indian," Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 42 (June 1973) 93110. m. a. c. warren, "The Missionary Expansion of Ecclesia Anglicana," in New Testament Christianity for Africa and the World (London 1974) 124140. b. hough, "Archives of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel," Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 46 (1977) 309-322. r. h. s. boyd, "The Patrologia Graeca in Ahmedabad: 18301851," Indian Church History Review 12 (June 1978) 5466. a. k. davidson, "Colonial Christianity: The Contribution of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to the Anglican Church in New Zealand 18401880," Journal of Religious History 16 (Dec. 1990) 173184.

[s. burrell/eds.]

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Society for the Propagation of the Gospel

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Society for the Propagation of the Gospel