Luther Rice: Dreamer and Doer -- By: John Mark Terry

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 06:4 (Winter 2002)
Article: Luther Rice: Dreamer and Doer
Author: John Mark Terry

Luther Rice: Dreamer and Doer

John Mark Terry

John Mark Terry is the A. P. and Faye Stone Professor of Christian Missions and Evangelism at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He joined Southern Seminar y in 1993 after extensive experience on the mission field and in theological education. Dr. Terry is the author of four books, including Evangelism: A Concise History and Church Evangelism.


Luther Rice and Adoniram Judson. Writers always link their names. They write of their call to mission and their appointment as the first American foreign missionaries. Baptist authors wax eloquent about their conversion to Baptist beliefs. They tell how Luther Rice came home to America to raise support, and then give the rest of their attention to Judson’s sacrificial service in Burma. They ignore Luther Rice for the more sensational career of Judson.

Perhaps their emphasis is natural, but it seems hardly correct. It could well be that Rice made the greater contribution to Baptist missions. His indefatigable journeying and heartfelt appeals awakened Baptists to their responsibilities to a world in need. Rice’s career may have been more mundane, but it was no less meaningful.

This article focuses on the key period of Rice’s life, 1813–1820: During these years he sounded the trumpet call of missions, and Baptists responded. It gives a brief sketch of his life, emphasizing his promotion of mission support. Concern for missions united Baptists in the nineteenth century. The career of Luther Rice spans the formation of the Baptist denomination in the United States and the development of many of its institutions and ministries. Looking to our roots is salutary, and our Baptist roots are quite instructive.

Luther Rice’s Early Years

On March 25, 1783, Luther Rice was born the ninth child to Amos and Sarah Rice. Amos Rice was known as “Captain” Rice because of his long service in the Continental Army. He was a man of excess. He had a violent temper and a fondness for alcohol. Though a member of the Congregational Church in the town of Northborough, Massachusetts, he was not active.

Sarah Rice was a lively, intelligent woman who took great interest in her church as well as her family. She was careful to teach her children the Scriptures, and required young Luther to memorize portions of the Westminster Catechism.

As a child Luther was a quick learner and diligent student. He was an obedient child with an amiable temperament. It seems that he was a confident youth. When he was sixteen, without consulting his parents, he contracted to travel to Georgia to secure lumber for ship building. This trip lasted about six months, and the task was complet...

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