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.

Mind Your Business, Short-Termers

I recently saw a young man post on The Baptist Review Facebook group requesting tips on how he might make the most of an upcoming short-term mission trip. His post got me thinking about what matters for short-termers, especially as it concerns the long-term effects of short-term trips. After reading through the comment thread (see it here: Mission Trip), I mentioned the need to follow the pattern of the missionaries already on the ground. In this post I want to follow up on that statement to explain why I believe  that to be important for short-term mission trips.

In season five of The Office, Dunder Mifflin has fallen on hard times, yet the Michael Scott-run Scranton branch continues (inexplicably) to turn a profit. To discover the secret of his success, Michael’s boss, David Wallace, invites him to a meeting at the corporate offices in New York City and rather sheepishly inquires of Michael, “What are you doing right?” The response is, of course, vintage Michael Scott:

David, here it is. My philosophy is basically this. And this is something that I live by. And I always have. And I always will. Don’t ever, for any reason, do anything to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what. No matter . . . where. Or who, or who you are with, or, or where you are going, or . . . or where you’ve been . . . ever. For any reason, whatsoever.

Now let’s make some sense out of Michael Scott’s harebrained ramblings and hopefully apply some wisdom to our short-term mission trips. In boiling down his incoherence into a logical statement, Michael is saying: “Mind your business.” Short-termers, when we prepare for trips, it is essential to know what our business is—what we are doing when we go. I don’t mean the practical day-to-day functions in which you will participate, but the foundational reasons that undergird the daily activities. That being the case, one of the most important items of business each short-term missionary has is supplementing the work of the long-term missionaries with whom he/she will partner. To do this well and to maximize long-term impact, the short-term missionary needs to follow the established patterns of those already on the ground.

Here’s why.

They were there before you

Maybe you’ve taken courses or read books on missions, or about the people or place you are going, but I promise you (and I mean no offense here), the missionaries who have been on the ground know better than you the cultural nuances of the people and place. If they tell you not to do something, that restriction is not arbitrary; it has significance to the missionary and, just as importantly, significance to the people that missionary is seeking to reach. Perhaps that doesn’t correspond to something you read beforehand, but beware that books simply can’t provide an exhaustive—or readily updated—list of cultural dos and don’ts. Read the books, prepare as much as possible, but trust the missionaries who have worked tirelessly to learn the language and culture of the people with whom they live.

They will be there after you

You will return home not long after you arrive—maybe a week later or maybe a few months later. You will be different, changed by what you’ve seen and done. You will want to talk about it and some people will want to hear about it. But while you’re doing that (and you should do that), remember that there are those who stayed behind and continue the work of serving and seeking to reach the lost. In preparation for a short-term trip, resolve in your heart not to do anything that could negatively impact the long-term efforts of those who remain after you return home. In other words, don’t be a rogue short-term missionary; follow the leadership of the long-termers who are investing their lives, families, and careers in the people and place you will visit.

Short-termers, our work is important and impactful. So let’s go, serve, and return in as positive a way as possible. We are servants and not celebrities, so let’s mind our business and submit to the leadership and patterns of those who have gone before us and who will remain after us, for the sake of the glorious gospel among the nations.

Husband, father, missionary, preacher, coffee drinker.

@SWBTS grad.

Shooting for a PhD in Apologetics at @MBTSDoctoral.

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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.