John Eliot - Early Missionary Principles -- By: Richard E. Reynolds

Journal: Central Bible Quarterly
Volume: CENQ 017:1 (Spring 1974)
Article: John Eliot - Early Missionary Principles
Author: Richard E. Reynolds


John Eliot - Early Missionary Principles

First Part Of Two.

Richard E. Reynolds

To the Puritan John Eliot deservedly belongs the title, “apostle to the American Indians.” While serving a lifelong pastorate at Roxbury, Massachusetts from 1631 till his death in 1690, Eliot labored tirelessly to bring the neighboring Algonquin tribes to Jesus Christ. In the remarkable efforts of this man, the Congregational movement in Colonial New England reached its spiritual high-water mark.

A new study of John Eliot would be justified from the standpoint of world missionary history alone. Eliot’s ministry had great significance as to priority in time. The ministry of William Carey is usually accredited by missionary historians as being the dawn of the modern missionary era. Let Eliot correctly be assessed as being the morning star of that movement. Eliot’s first preaching in the Indian tongue dates from 1646. Fifty to sixty of his Algonquin converts were gathered into an indigenous church in 1660. This was begun a century and one-half before Carey sailed for India.

John Eliot was a file-leader among American servants of Jesus Christ. The American frontier for two and one-half centuries provided a remarkable challenge to the churches. The spiritual forces that arose to meet that challenge were missions, evangelism, church planting, and revivalism. From colonial days these are unique facets of American church history. Missionary Eliot was one of America’s first such men sent from God; and his name, significantly, was John.

A trend exists to portray colonists as always hostile toward the American Indian and racist in character. To study Eliot’s life is to realize the falsehood of such generalizations.

His unique position among the Puritans is noted by Winslow. “Most usual fields for seventeenth-century ministers; those of sermons, theological treatises, church polity, chapters of church history, controversial tracts, he seldom entered.” While he wrote something almost every day

of his ministry to be put in print, his lasting efforts were directed to the Indian. Our appraisal of New England Puritanism would be incomplete apart from a comprehension of Eliot’s missionary contributions.

This study has as its object the investigation of those Biblically-grounded convictions and principles that formed the foundation of Eliot’s Indian work. From the early days of his language study and his first preaching to the Algonquin, John Eliot’s goal was an indigenous church. He operated upon a set of principles that was concise and well defined. He believed the Word of God and applied its command...

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