Let’s Talk about Guarding the Purity of Church Membership

A 1993 study (holy cow! can that really be 25 years ago!) by the Home Mission Board (now termed, North American Mission Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention found that in that year, the majority (60%) of adult baptisms in Southern Baptist churches could be termed rebaptisms. While some were legitimately the baptism of those previously baptized as infants in other denominations, 36% of these adult baptisms were of people who had been previously baptized in Southern Baptist Churches! In fact, when asked why they sought rebaptism, many said that it was due to having not been regenerate believers when they were baptized the first time. (See Phillip B. Jones et al., A Study of Adults Baptized in Southern Baptist Churches, 1993 [Atlanta: Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1995], 5).

These numbers led theologian John Hammett to conclude, “Either these individuals were unusually deceptive or . . . some churches and pastors baptized these individuals without clear assurance that they were baptizing believers” (John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005], 112).

While no pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention would celebrate the discovery that he is unintentionally baptizing unregenerate people into the membership of the church, discerning the best manner in which to prevent such practices is difficult. Some pastors will opt to provide classes for those who respond to the gospel in their churches. This practice has historical precedent as far as the second century. Others see the narrative in Acts as determinative and regard it their responsibility to baptize as soon as possible after each profession of faith.

However a given pastor chooses to move forward, I offer these points to consider as they strive to protect the purity of church membership.

1. Offer a clear gospel presentation

We get excited to see someone respond to the gospel—we should! Scripture is clear that the angels in heaven rejoice with us. But sometimes even in my own ministry, I’ve seen people respond more to what they heard than to what I thought I said. So whenever someone responds to the gospel after a service, I ask them to explain the gospel to me. Do they understand Jesus’s Divinity? Do they understand his real death? Do they understand the reality of his bodily resurrection? Do they understand that they bring nothing to their salvation apart from the sin that makes it necessary? I want clear confidence in these things before moving forward.

*A note about children
Children of believers often demonstrate faith at early ages—this should not surprise us. Those raised in a home that opens the Word of God together, pray together, and go to church together should demonstrate faith early. But when they do, I look for a legitimate definition of sin. Do they understand sin? Even more importantly, are they convicted of their sin?

2. Provide a clear description of baptism

Baptism is the first step in obedience to the commands of Christ. Baptism is the means by which a person joins the local church. Baptism is dying to oneself and identifying completely with the Lord Jesus Christ. Baptism is not “sealing the deal” of salvation, nor is it the literal washing of sins. Counsel new believers to be baptized, but be especially sure that they understand exactly what it does and does not mean.

3. Explain church membership

Many pastors require premarital counseling before committing to officiate a wedding. (If you don’t, you should. We’ll have to talk about that another time.) It’s critical that expectations are laid out and that someone lead the prospective bride and groom to consider questions that may have been overlooked in the dating process. Whenever counseling someone before they join the local church, a similar process needs to take place.

Provide a safe place for them to ask questions about the church. Explain to them how joining a local church is different from joining a civic club or society. Explain how church membership is pledging one’s self to the health of the body. Explain what expectations exist for members of the local church. Explain the church covenant that lays out for them exactly what is expected of them.

4. Explain the church’s confession of faith

It is virtually impossible for a church to be healthy without a confession of faith. It does not need to be overly strict; in fact, many Southern Baptist churches simply opt for the Baptist Faith and Message. Without a confession of faith, however, there is no doctrinal line to discern who does and does not belong. There is no standard to which pastors and teachers are called to adhere. Anyone considering joining your fellowship needs to understand what the church believes.

5. Practice church discipline

For some, points 1–4 were sufficient. No one likes church discipline. And yet, unlike a new member’s class or catechumenism (the state of a person undergoing doctrinal instruction and testing before baptism), church discipline is clearly taught in Scripture. In Matthew 18, Jesus provides a means by which the church is to guard the purity of its membership.

If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two others with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he doesn’t pay attention to them, tell the church. If he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.
Matthew 18:15–20 (CSB)

Notice that goal of church discipline is not the removal of a believer from fellowship. Rather, the goal is that he would receive correction, repent, and be restored to the fellowship. Church discipline is the recognition that when someone refuses to acknowledge his sin and repent, he has hardened his heart against God. By removing him from fellowship, he will either demonstrate repentance and return, or he will continue to harden his heart and distance himself from the gathering of believers.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, I don’t have all of the answers. If we’re being honest, none of us do. We’re all trying to live in light of our understanding of God’s Word. None of us, however, would be thrilled to learn that we have unwittingly been baptizing unbelievers and offering them an assurance of salvation.

So, if not these, what steps have you taken?

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Ministering through the Muck

A pastor’s job is not one that would generally make anyone’s list of most difficult professions (unless the person making the list were a pastor or a pastor’s wife). We’ve all heard the dismissive comments about how nice it must be to only have to work one hour each week. And, if we’re being frank, more pastors fit this sad perception than we’d like to admit.

It’s not that we only work one hour per week—me genoito! (there’s a super-nerdy Greek joke for you)—but if the ministry survival rate means anything, at the very least it means that there are many who understand the pastorate in such a way as to believe that anyone could do it, only to then discover the foolishness of such thinking. For too many, the pastorate is seen as a introvert’s dream career—a quiet, secluded, air-conditioned desk job that requires very little heavy lifting apart from old, dusty books in order to prepare a thirty-minute lecture each week about how everyone else is wrong.

But that make-believe world gets shattered into pieces once ministry begins. Ministry is messy. Even the best weeks require hard work and grit and discipline. Even the best weeks demand that we say “No” to certain opportunities in order to maximize our time and fulfill our vocation. But during those weeks, we get to see lives changed by the very gospel we preach, we get to hear stories of our church members leading others to Christ, we get to experience the Body of Christ caring for one another.

Other weeks—tough weeks—we experience the muck. That family that you thought was rock solid and you were planning to invite them to lead a small group? It turns out that they’re on the brink of divorce. That person that you’ve been counseling each week, patiently removing barrier after barrier between them and Christ, learns of the hatred of some other believers and decides that the way of Christ isn’t the path he desires. That new Christian stumbles . . . in a massive way. Your family needs more of your attention than usual. And to top it all off, you have no idea what to preach on Sunday and your prayers seem to bounce off of the ceiling.

What then?

How do you minister through the muck?

Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:23–24


Slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as you would Christ. Don’t work only while being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart. Serve with a good attitude, as to the Lord and not to people, knowing that whatever good each one does, slave or free, he will receive this back from the Lord.
Ephesians 6:5–8

Whatever is happening down in the muddy trenches of ministry, it is imperative that we remember that we are not serving ourselves, nor are we merely serving our church members; we serve the Lord Jesus Christ. And every activity we undertake, every ounce of effort we apply, has a singular telos—the glory of God. And in my experience, when the muck seems the deepest and the work seems the hardest, it comes as the result of my believing that the results of my efforts—and not the efforts themselves—are that which bring him glory. I mistakenly believe that I have to get it done to honor Christ.

And that simply isn’t true.

The results of our efforts rest in his hands. Why else would we ask him to bless our efforts? Why else do we come to him in prayer, asking that he give us success? Is it not because we know that, ultimately, the results are his arena?

So how do we minister through the muck?

We work to the glory of God and trust him with the results.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Submission and Courage in the Pulpit

Billy Sunday Preaching by George Bellows, Metropolitan Magazine, 1915

Religious freedom is under assault in our culture.

Churches and preachers which have stood as the chapels and chaplains for a majority Christian America are finding themselves increasingly pushed to the fringes of political and public discussions in light of increasing secularization. Government and public opinion have determined that any speech which labels homosexuality as sin is hate speech and that decrying the legal murder of the unborn is refusing the woman’s right to choose. Merely holding the opinion that gender and sexual identity are fixed biological realities rather than the free-for-all, choose-your-own-story Wild West ensures treatment as a social pariah. And make no mistake, despite the best efforts and intentions of the First Amendment, churches and seminaries and religious schools will not be exempt from LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination policies. It’s just a matter of time.

And in response, some pastors will stand behind the sacred pulpit on Sunday morning and attempt to provide a softer, more genteel, more tolerant message of Christianity to their churches and communities. Some will simply tone down the rhetoric while still holding the same convictions, albeit quietly. Others still will re-evaluate the entirety of biblical teaching and judge it to be outdated and culturally-irrelevant.

Many, in fact, have already done this.

In Numbers 22, the king of Moab attempts to coerce the prophet of God to provide a message contrary to the will of God. He wants Balaam to curse those God has commanded him to bless. He wants to force the prophet to up-end God’s judgment—to reverse God’s order. And in so doing, the king of Moab places Balaam in much the same predicament many pastors find themselves every Sunday morning in churches around this nation and around the world. The king solicited a man of God to give validation and approval to something contrary to the will of God. (This was his purpose for calling Balaam, and the prophet’s acceptance of his invitation to do so is what prompted the popular story of Balaam’s conversation with his donkey.)

If Balaam would just bow the knee and kiss the ring of that which is acceptable and culturally preferable, all would go well. He would receive payment and acceptance. He would receive comfort and an extended audience with the king. And yet, Balaam’s response to the king demonstrates both the submission and the courage that should characterize the preacher.

Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak. (Num 22:38b)

This verse gives the reader insight into Balaam and his submission to the authority of Yahweh. Rather than allowing a desire for riches and honor to deter him from the will of God and curse that which God has blessed as Balak demanded (or, as our present circumstances demand, bless that which God has labeled sin), Balaam submitted to the command of Yahweh.

He was not angry or indignant. He was not hateful. He was, however, submitted to God. And that submission made him firm in his resolve and steeled his spine to stand before the king.

Will our submission to God give us courage before men?

As the angel of the Lord had commanded him, “speak only the word that I tell you,” Balaam obeyed (Num 22:35). In response to the pressures of Balak, Balaam answered, “Am I able to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth—that must I speak” (Num 22:38). When the stakes are high and our public opinion is low, will we kiss the ring and speak with the authority of kings and presidents and courts?

Or will we recognize a higher authority, strengthen our backs, and speak only that which has already been given to us in God’s Word with submission and courage?

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Household Baptisms and the Danger of Inference

Any discussion with someone from a paedobaptist faith tradition (infant baptism) concerning the meaning and proper recipients of baptism soon turns to the issue of household baptisms. In the book of Acts, Luke wrote in verse 15 that Lydia “and her household were baptized.” Mere verses later, he recorded, the Philippian jailer “and all his family were baptized.”

The inference made by those who advocate for infant baptism is that included in these families were children—perhaps even infants—who could not believe in the gospel, but were baptized anyway.

In the mid-late 19th century, Elder James Smith Coleman debated William L. Caskey (a Methodist) in Calhoun, KY. As Coleman anticipated, Caskey did not hesitate to state that it was only reasonable to infer that infants were included in the households mentioned in Acts 16 and therefore, he argued, infant baptism had scriptural precedence.

Coleman’s reply merits quotation.

I am surprised at Brother Caskey’s limited information concerning Lydia’s household. He has inferred that Lydia had children, under the age of accountability, and that, therefore these children were baptized. I am surprised, Sir, that you do not know that Lydia was a widow, and a traveling cloth merchant, and that she never had but one child, and that was a daughter, who married a red-headed, one-eyed shoe-maker, and had moved off to Damascus, and had not been at home for years, and that her household at that time consisted of herself and servants, who assisted in her business. I am surprised, Sir, that you did not know this.

As one might expect, this startled the old Methodist, who then asked Smith how he could have possibly gained this information.

Coleman replied, “I inferred it, Sir, just like you inferred that there were children in the household.”

As it turns out, for those who approach Scripture without a pre-conceived paedobaptist ideal, the issue of household baptisms turns out not to be an issue at all.

Perhaps, then, it would be wise to consider what inferences we may be bringing to the Bible without even knowing it. Alas, that’s another post . . .

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Let’s Talk about Anxiety and Depression in the Pastorate

The news of a California pastor’s suicide sent shockwaves through the internet this week and rightly so. That news should stop each of us engaged in pastoral responsibilities in our tracks and drive us to our knees on behalf of his family and his church. Every day this week my Facebook feed has been filled with articles about his story and other posts about depression and learning to pastor through it. All this means that the rampant struggles of depression and anxiety are not restricted to any one person, but have become more and more of a common experience.

In that case, it seems right to stop for a moment and offer a few suggestions for any among us who may be attempting to pastor through anxiety and depression.

Get Honest

You’ve felt it. I know you have. You’ve experienced shame even asking the questions. “Am I depressed?” “Could I have anxiety?” The answer may very-well be in the affirmative and that’s okay. Too often, those of us who break open the Bread of Life on Sunday believe ourselves to be in less need of its nourishment somehow. We believe ourselves to be above the struggle and pain that every person in this fallen world experiences. Or, at the very least, we believe that we should be.

The first step to dealing with anxiety and depression is simply an acknowledgment of its presence in your life. We have to be honest with ourselves and we have to be honest with God. And every single one of us, if asked by a member of our church, would offer her hope in the knowledge that God is not surprised or offended by her struggles. God is not ashamed of his children mired in depression or anxiety. He is good and loving and gracious and offers us hope and healing. But we must first be honest with our need and we must be honest with our struggles. We must be willing to acknowledge our pain and take it to him in prayer.

Get Outside and Offline

Now this point is more anecdotal, but indulge me if you will. The present generation is wrestling with a lack of contentment and a lack of happiness despite innumerable advances in medicine and technology. No generation has ever been as connected or medicated as our own. And yet, the statistics reveal an increasing unhappiness. We are depressed. We lack contentment with our lives.

And I wonder how much of this can be attributed to our use of Instagram and Facebook. Now, before you write me off as a simple Luddite, I have profiles on both of these platforms. But, in doing so, I can absolutely see and recognize the temptation to compare my day with their day. Their day is picture-perfect, framed in just the right light, and presented in all its glory on my feed. My day is messy, hectic, and scrambled. And I have to force everything into just the right package to snap a quick selfie to look like I have it all pulled together.

I think the official word for most of what we see online is hooey.

Perhaps, then, one of the most important things we can do when things begin to turn sour is to reject the temptation to seek escape by scrolling through the perfect pictures in our feeds and to go outside and look at the horizon. Take a walk through the woods or in the park. Just let the sun do its thing and rain down that Vitamin D. If you feel extra-motivated, step the walk up to a run. Release some endorphins. Getting outside and offline prevents you from withdrawing from your life by escaping into the feeds of various social media, but instead places you in a specific moment in time and position in space. Be present and not distant.

Get in Community

Remember the last time your small group got real and the entire group began to open up about the very deep struggles everyone is facing? All it took was one person breaking through the niceties that keep everyone at a safe distance. One family’s children seemed to abandoning everything that they’ve been taught now that they’re grown. Another family was wrestling with the failing health of a child or a parent. One marriage that looked downright ideal on the outside was close to calling it quits. And that one family—maybe even the host family—with the nice house in the nice neighborhood is drowning in debt and doesn’t see any way out. And in that moment, when all pretense was stripped away, your small group began caring for one another, praying for one another, and helping one another.

That’s what real community can do.

But it takes gut-wrenching and terrifying honesty.

Get Help

When you begin wrestling with anxiety and depression, the first impulse is to withdraw—withdraw from your relationships, from your schedule, from your life. And everything in you resists getting help. You become ashamed that you, O Man of God, need help from someone else. You feel the guilt of not being able to pray yourself through it. You feel the weight of knowing that you’ve been tasked with the care of souls and yet you cannot even care for your own.

Get help anyway.

Reach out to someone. I know how difficult it is to even consider. Get help anyway. Find a fellow-pastor and share your struggles. Find a solid, biblical counselor and schedule a time to sit down and get help. Recently, it struck me that even my family-members who are medical doctors go to a doctor when they become ill. They recognize their limited ability to self-diagnose—and as anyone who has ever visited WebMD should know, self-diagnoses are never good.

Break the Cycle

The story repeats itself over and over. Someone begins to wrestle with anxiety and depression and, in his struggle, denies the scope of his pain and tries to white-knuckle through a solution, keeping his pain to himself. As it festers and grows, he becomes ashamed that he can’t shake it and rather than telling someone, he hides it behind a pastoral mask and refuses to let anyone see how much he hurts until it overwhelms him and he only sees one means of escape.

Get help.

Call someone.

You are not alone.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Defining Text-Driven Preaching


As a graduate of Southwestern Seminary, I have been asked several times to provide a definition of text-driven preaching, especially what distinguishes it from expositional, or expository preaching. Generally, my answer to this question is simple:

Text-Driven Preaching is the Purest Form of Exposition

Those aren’t my words, though. That is the explanation given by David L. Allen, who wrote the book on text-driven preaching and serves as the first dean of the Southwestern School of Preaching.

But even that needs to be examined. What does that mean?

The Meaning of Words

There was once a time when theological Conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention had no need for the term inerrancy because terms like infallibility and authority sufficed to communicate the belief that the Scripture was genuinely true and without error. But those terms became so misapplied and misused that the intended meaning of their use became altogether distinct from genuine truth without error. This created the need for the term inerrancy—it made clear that which other terms once included.

A similar situation has developed in preaching.

There once was a time when there was no need for the descriptor text-driven. Terms such as expository preaching and exposition sufficed to communicate the belief that the sermon should expose and explain the text. But those terms have become so misapplied and misused that their intended meaning has become murky. And when expository preaching describes all preaching, it in fact does not describe any preaching. And this state of things has created the need for the term text-driven—it makes clear that which other terms once included.

The Meaning of Text-Driven

In text-driven preaching, the text itself provides the substance, the shape, and the spirit of the sermon. (Let this be a reminder that if you allow Southern Baptists to define a term, the definition will be alliterated.) The substance, or the message, of the sermon is that which is conveyed in the text. The sermon is not a collection of verses on a topic nor is it a number of observations stemming from the text. Instead, the sermon explains the message of the text to the congregation.

The text also provides the shape, or form, of the sermon. Rather than determining the main idea of the text and then discerning what form of sermon might best communicate that idea, those committed to text-driven preaching maintain that the manner in which God delivered that main idea matters—that the text’s meaning is inseparable from its packaging. So text-driven preachers shape their sermons in the manner corresponding with the shape of the text itself.

Finally, the text provides the spirit of the sermon. The sermon should not be a dry lecture about God’s Word, but should convey the same emotions evident in the text itself. At times that will mean warning. Other times that means preaching through genuine tears and heartbreak.

So what is text-driven preaching?

It is the purest form of exposition.


To explore text-driven preaching further, check out these titles:

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Church Polity vs. Church Politics

I was listening to a podcast several weeks ago and a pastor was providing a number of solid ideas on leading a church through change. That’s something that many pastors have been faced with and no doubt the episode was well-received by their listeners. I found myself identifying with the pastor, appreciating his wisdom, and taking away some ideas.

But at some point in the podcast, I began to grow uneasy. He was providing helpful ideas for leading a church through change, but all of his wisdom boiled down to church politics. He had thought about his flock and which members were influential in the congregation and determined that he would approach them first. He presented his ideas to them (which he believes were given him by God), asked for their support, and asked them to visibly and vocally lend him their influence—to publicly demonstrate their support of him as their pastor and the vision that the Lord had laid on his heart. That way, the people who were influenced by these influential people would follow their lead and he would be free to lead the church in the manner he felt necessary.

It took a little time, but I soon realized why I was struggling so much to accept what he was saying: whatever this was, it wasn’t biblical congregationalism.

This was good church politics, but bad church polity.

At the core of congregational church polity is the belief that every member of the church is to search the heart of God for the will of God and, in submission to God, seeks the benefit of the house of God.

So, in the case of a pastor seeking to lead the church through change, his initial steps are good. Seek the Lord. Seek his counsel and wisdom. Discern where you would have the Lord lead.

But rather than taking that information, appealing to influencers, and asking them to multi-level-market your congregation toward your vision, he should have led the church through an extended time of prayer and in that context, led the congregation to discern the will of God corporately.

Congregational church polity is not a democracy; there should be no voting blocks or caucuses. Each member of the church is not called to vote his/her preference or desire. Rather, they are called to seek the face of God and follow his leadership.

No politics should be necessary. If the Lord of the church is Lord of the people, it would behoove pastors to trust him with the hearts and minds of the people. (If the pastor is concerned that the congregation is filled with unbelievers, the issue goes well beyond leading the church to change.)

Is this the easiest manner by which to lead change? No. Clearly. But does it conform more to the manner in which the New Testament would have us lead? I believe it does.

When Jesus told his disciples how to handle an erring brother in Matthew 18, in the event that the brother in sin refused the correction of two or three witnesses, he didn’t command them to tell the influencers. He invests his authority in the church. “And if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like a Gentile and a tax collector to you” (Matt 18:17).

When Paul discovered that the church in Corinth was tolerating a man living in an adulterous relationship, he didn’t urge the influencers of the church to have a long, hard conversation with him. He urges the church to take action. “When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, hand that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Cor 5:4–5).

If the congregation has been invested with such authority—that whenever two or three are gathered, Christ is there in their midst (Matt 18:20)—wisdom demands that we avoid the temptation to usurp that authority by following the most shrewd political practices. Instead, we should trust God’s plan and rely on the polity given us in the New Testament.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Serampore Reflections: Christ, the Grand Means of Conversion

This is the third of several posts reflecting upon the Serampore Form of Agreement, signed in 1805. Click here to read the first reflection and here for the second.

William Carey and his first convert, Krishna Pal

In addition to the Serampore missionaries’ emphasis on the value of souls as well as their willingness to forsake all for the sake of the gospel, their singular emphasis on preaching Christ should remind each of us that salvation is found in no other name. There may be other messages profitable to our hearers—there may be other causes worthy of our time and attention—but there are not other messages with the power to save.

The doctrine of Christ’s expiatory death and all-sufficient merits has been, and must ever remain, the grand means of conversion. This doctrine, and others immediately connected with it, have constantly nourished and sanctified the church. Oh! that these glorious truths may ever be the joy and strength of our own souls, and then they will not fail to become the matter of our conversation to others.

Added to this emphasis is their recognition that once they have led a soul to Christ, they have a responsibility to continue investing in that person’s holiness and growth in Christ. They wrote, “We must be willing to spend time with them daily, if possible.” The task of the missionary is not mere cross-cultural evangelism; the Great Commission instructs us to make disciples, not mere converts.

In so doing, the disciple is encouraged to grow in his knowledge of the Scripture and in his obedience to it. As he studies the Word of God and grows in his obedience, he is to be encouraged to cultivate his spiritual gifts.

The Serampore missionaries understood, “it is only by means of native preachers that we can hope for the universal spread of the gospel through this immense continent. . . . Let us therefore use every gift, and continually urge on our native brethren to upon their countrymen the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” As such, the missionaries’ aim was not the perpetuation of their responsibilities in India, but rather the development and maturation of their hearers to the point that they were able to establish autonomous churches in which indigenous pastors were called.

And in support of each of these endeavors—the conversion and discipleship of their hearers, the development of their spiritual gifts and the establishment of autonomous churches with indigenous leadership—the missionaries gave themselves unceasingly to the acquisition of languages and the translation of the Bible into native languages.

Though many of us reading this post will never find ourselves ministering in Serampore and living in India, the Serampore Form of Agreement contains a number of helpful reminders.

May the Lord remind each of us . . .

  • to set an infinite value upon men’s souls.
  • to acquaint ourselves with the snares which hold the minds of the people.
  • to abstain from whatever deepens the lost’s prejudice against the gospel.
  • to watch for every chance of doing the people good.
  • to preach “Christ crucified” as the grand means of conversion.
  • to esteem and treat those of every race always as our equals.
  • to guard and build up “the hosts that may be gathered.”
  • to cultivate their spiritual gifts, ever pressing upon them their missionary obligation.
  • to labor unceasingly in biblical translation.
  • to give ourselves without reserve to the Cause, “not counting even the clothes we wear our own.”

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Serampore Reflections: Cultural Exploration and Sacrifice

This is the second of several posts reflecting upon the Serampore Form of Agreement, signed in 1805. Click here to read the first reflection.

In addition to the infinite value of immortal souls, readers today can also take note of the Serampore missionaries’ emphasis on cultural exploration and personal sacrifice.

The Serampore Trio: William Carey, Joshua Marshman, William Ward

In much the same way that John Stott encouraged preachers to be “bridge-builders”—tying the biblical world to the contemporary world (See Between Two Worlds)—the Serampore missionaries emphasized the need to connect the world of Scripture to their missionary context. In order to do that, however, their context demanded their attention and exploration.

To know their modes of thinking, their habits, their propensities, their antipathies, the way in which they reason about God, sin, holiness, the way of salvation, and a future state ; to be aware of the bewitching nature of their idolatrous worship, feasts, songs, &c., is one of the highest consequence, if we would gain their attention to our discourse . . .

In addition to exploring and understanding their cultural context for the purpose of relating their thoughts concerning holy things to the Word of God, the Serampore missionaries sought to use their knowledge to diminish the likelihood that they would be unnecessarily offensive to the cultural sensitivities of those in India. As has been observed and stated so often before, the gospel may be an offense to those who are perishing; we need not be offensive in our communication of it.

These English missionaries understood that there would be some major cultural differences, but emphasized that, “Paul’s readiness to become all things to all men, that he might by any means save some, and his disposition to abstain from necessary comforts that he might not offend the weak, are circumstances worthy of our particular notice.”

Without beginning a new debate unnecessarily, at the very least, we should acknowledge that if the best reason one can give for participating in a given behavior that may be considered offensive (drinking alcohol or smoking cigars, for instance) is his freedom in Christ, perhaps he misunderstands entirely the manner Paul understood this freedom.

These missionaries, however, did not. Their willingness to jettison any cultural distinctions that may have been a hindrance to the lost hearing the gospel should inspire many of us to do the very same. They were interested in converting those in India to become biblical, not British, Christians.

Finally on this point, their willingness to forsake all for the sake of the gospel should inspire us today.

Let us give ourselves up unreservedly to this glorious cause. Let us never think that our time, our gifts, our strengths, our families, or even the clothes we wear, are our own. Let us sanctify them all to God and his cause…. Let us continually watch against a worldly spirit, and cultivate a Christian indifference towards every indulgence. Rather let us bear hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and endeavour to learn in every state to be content.

May God grant each of his children such a singular resolve.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

Serampore Reflections: The Infinite Value of Immortal Souls

This is the first of several posts reflecting upon the Serampore Form of Agreement, signed in 1805.

It is absolutely necessary that we set an infinite value upon immortal souls; that we often endeavour to affect our minds with the dreadful loss sustained by an unconverted soul launched into eternity.

Two great concerns are foundational to any missionary endeavor or evangelistic effort: a love for God and a concern for souls. As the famed C.S. Lewis once wrote in The Weight of Glory (1949), “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”

The first statement demonstrated the Serampore missionaries’ utmost commitment—to seek the salvation of the lost in their midst. Far too many pastors have become distracted by the needs around them and have lost focus. As my childhood youth minister would often say, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

The fourth item on the list reads, “To watch for every chance of doing the people good.” Service and care are important aspects of the missionary duty. They are, however, not the ultimate priority.

Increasingly, it has become common to see churches with established programs to feed the hungry, build homes, partner with clean water ministries, and any number of other service-oriented programs while lacking an evangelistic impulse. This must not be. Community needs and societal justice are important, to be sure. But not most important.

Like the Serampore missionaries, our first concern must be that the lost around us are given the opportunity to hear the gospel. As I have been told the late Roy Fish said, in 100 years, the only thing that will matter is where a person stands with Jesus. Building from that statement, we must remember that in 100 years, a person will either be standing with Jesus or suffering the torment of hell.

And the Serampore missionaries’ efforts were spurred, in part, by the the reality of hell. To speak of eternal punishment in our culture is to draw the ire of many—among Christians and non-believers. It is not a pleasant thought, but it is an inescapable thought if we are to take the words of Jesus seriously. The existence of a place of eternal torment should motivate us to share the gospel, and to do so with urgent appeals that the lost respond to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith.

If hell is real (and it is) and hell is hot (and it is) and those enter into eternity apart from Christ go there (and they do), then the value of each soul demands our unceasing efforts. This was evident in the Serampore mission and must be so among us as well.

As John Stott was careful to remind us, however, “The highest of missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is), but rather a burning and passionate zeal for the glory of Jesus Christ.” The value of souls should be a driving motivation, but not the ultimate motivation.

Adjunct Professor.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.