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.

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.

The Serampore Form of Agreement

I am often encouraged and inspired by the actions of the men who participated in the Baptist Missionary Society during the late-18th and early-19th centuries. Their commitment to the gospel serves as an example worthy of emulation.

In 1805 (twelve years after William Carey had initially sailed to India), nine missionaries gathered and added their signatures to William Ward’s initial draft listing their shared commitment. William Carey’s name was affixed first, followed by Joshua Marshman and William Ward. Below their names, those of John Chamberland, Richard Mardon, John Biss, William Moore, Joshua Rowe, and Felix Carey (William’s son) were added.

Respecting the great principles upon which the brethren of the Mission at Serampore, think it their duty to act in the work of instructing the heathen.

  1. To set an infinite value upon men’s souls.
  2. To acquaint ourselves with the snares which hold the minds of the people.
  3. To abstain from whatever deepens India’s prejudice against the gospel.
  4. To watch for every chance of doing the people good.
  5. To preach “Christ crucified” as the grand means of conversion.
  6. To esteem and treat Indians always as our equals.
  7. To guard and build up “the hosts that may be gathered.”
  8. To cultivate their spiritual gifts, ever pressing upon them their missionary obligation, since Indians only can win India for Christ.
  9. To labor unceasingly in biblical translation.
  10. To give ourselves without reserve to the Cause, “not counting even the clothes we wear our own.”

Such was their devotion to these principles that the signers committed to reading the agreement publicly at each mission station at least three times per year.

In my reading, perhaps what stands out most is not that their endeavors were unique, but instead how applicable these policies are to our present-day missions and evangelistic efforts. Simply by substituting our present contexts for India, every church—every believer—should be eager to advocate for such policies.

In upcoming posts, I hope to explore some of the theological commitments that seem to have undergirded this statement, but before doing so, it seems worth asking,

What about these principles stand out most to you?

Posts in this series

*Historical note: The list appears to be drawn from the headings provided by Samuel Pearce Carey (1862–1953)—grandson of both William Carey and Samuel Pearce.

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

Andrew Fuller’s Answer to the Decline of SBC Baptisms

It has been widely reported that Southern Baptist churches are on a downward trend. Many have voiced their opinions as to the solution to our decline, and yet, few are as poignant and direct as the 18th-century pastor-theologian, Andrew Fuller. In a diary entry, dated September 30, 1785, Fuller wrote of a meeting among ministers:

A question was discussed, to the following purport:—To what causes in ministers may much of their want of success be imputed? The answer turned chiefly upon the want of personal religion; particularly the neglect of close dealing with God in closet prayer. Jer. x 21, was here referred to, ‘Their pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the Lord; therefore they shall not prosper, and their flocks shall be scattered.’ Another reason assigned was the want of reading and studying the Scriptures more as Christians, for the edification of our own souls. We are too apt to study them namely to find out something to say to others, without living upon the truth ourselves. If we eat not the book, before we deliver its contents to others, we may expect the Holy Spirit will not much accompany us. If we study the Scriptures as Christians, the more familiar we are with them, the more we shall feel their importance; but, if otherwise, our familiarity with the word will be like that of soldiers and doctors with death—it will wear away all sense of its importance from our minds. To enforce this sentiment, Prov. xxii. 17, 18, was referred to—‘Apply thine heart to knowledge—the words of the wise will be pleasant if thou keep them within thee; they shall withal be fitted in thy lips.’ To this might be added Psal. i. 2, 3. Another reason was, Our want of being emptied of self-sufficiency. In proportion as we lean upon our own gifts, or parts, or preparations, we slight the Holy Spirit; and no wonder that, being grieved, he should leave us to do our work alone. Besides, when this is the case, it is, humanly speaking, unsafe for God to prosper us, especially those ministers who possess considerable abilities.

Andrew Fuller, The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, 1:47-48

He attributes the “want of success” in his day to:

  1. The lack of personal prayer
  2. The lack of personal devotion to the Word (reading and studying the Scriptures)
  3. The lack of humility (or, stated otherwise, the sin of pride)

As Southern Baptists consider our own “want of success,” perhaps it would be helpful to consider such a heart-check. It is likely that there are dozens of reasons that conversions have dropped in Southern Baptist churches and that many of them are beyond our control. But these three answers would appear to have some credence for us today.

Are we, pastors and laymen alike, devoted to God in prayer? Are we diving deeply into Scripture, seeking what the Lord would have of us before seeking what the Lord would have of them? Are we relying on our own man-made methods and systems and programs to reach the lost or are we relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and lives?

Perhaps, Andrew Fuller has the answer to the decline of SBC baptisms after all.

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

Why Caffeinated Theology?

In researching the 18th-century British Particular Baptists, I learned of a group known as the Baptist Board. The Baptist Board was a small group of London Baptist ministers who gathered each month at the Jamaican Coffee House—the first coffee house in London, established in 1652 in St Michael’s churchyard. (In a humorous historical twist, the spot continues to exist as the Jamaican Wine House). Historian Ernest Payne described the gatherings as “a denominational clearing-house, as well as a ministers’ fraternal.”

In their gatherings, they opened Scripture with one another, discussed theology together, and considered various public and denominational issues . . . all over a cup of coffee.

Fast-forward to January 2017. While teaching at an international seminary, I found myself among a small group of PhD students gathered at a little cafe in Penang, Malaysia. Together, we opened the Scriptures, discussed matters of theology and a number of cultural and denominational issues all while enjoying a freshly-brewed cup of coffee.

Simply stated, that is the vision of Caffeinated Theology—to become a place where friends can gather, open the Word of God together and consider various denominational and cultural happenings all the while encouraging one another.

So grab a cup of coffee and check out one of our articles. Then add a comment sharing your thoughts.

To see a handbill distributed by the Jamaican Coffee House during the 1650s, click here.

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