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?

*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 for @MBTSonline.
@SWBTS alumnus.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.

The Underlying Premise of Congregationalism

Recent years have seen an increase in discussions concerning polity. Historically, the leadership of any given church has taken on one of several forms: an episcopal church structure wherein the leadership of a given local church is overseen by a bishop or bishops outside the local church, a presbyterian form of church governance wherein the local church is governed by a number of elders who may also join other elders from other churches in the formation of a presbytery that oversees a number of churches, or autonomous congregationalism. Local church autonomy emphasizes that no board or leadership outside the bounds of the local congregation have any authority over the local church and congregationalism emphasizes that no leader or group of leaders from within the congregation have any authority over the members of the church body that is not derived from the local body itself.

Baptists have generally, almost univocally, advocated for autonomous congregationalism.

Discussions may be had (and in my view, need to be had) as to what this means, but unlike other denominations wherein the authority of the church exists outside the local congregation, Baptists have often emphasized that no earthly authority outside of the local church exists over the local church.

Instead, it is argued, the New Testament teaches that churches must be ruled by Jesus Christ, led by faithful elders, and served by godly deacons. (Note that my use of the term “elder” is synonymous with the pastoral office. I am merely attempting to use the language typified in the New Testament.)

In a congregational model of church governance, this means that the membership of the church seeks the will of Jesus Christ corporately and then, in light of his will, calls a pastor/pastors to lead them (in the ministry of the Word and prayer) and ordain deacons for service.

Recently, it struck me that the Baptist emphasis of autonomous congregationalism is inextricably linked to another point of distinction from other denominations.

Congregational church polity is built upon the foundation of regenerate church membership.

Think of it. If one were to believe that the membership of the church (in distinction to the attendance of a church service, which should be a mixed gathering) was comprised of both believers and unbelievers, it would be foolish to entrust the direction of the church to the congregation. How can those who do not know Christ know his will?

However, if one believes that the congregational membership is made up entirely of believers who know Christ and who seek his will, congregationalism is the logical conclusion.

Every born-again Christian has direct access to Christ. This is one of the emphases recovered by the Reformer, Martin Luther that has continued to be advocated by those in the Free Church movement. There are to be no intermediaries between believers and the “one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5 CSB). All believers are part of the same holy and royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9).

Therefore, there is only one authority external to the local assembly of believers—Jesus Christ. He alone is there head. He alone rules the church. It is the responsibility of the congregation to discern his will and walk therein.

Adjunct Professor for @MBTSonline.
@SWBTS alumnus.
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, several PhD students gathered at a little cafe in Penang, Malaysia. We opened the Scriptures, discussed theology, and a number of cultural and denominational issues all while enjoying a 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.

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 for @MBTSonline.
@SWBTS alumnus.
PhD in Theology.
Head Barista at Caffeinated Theology.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.