On Lottie Moon’s 181st birthday

Each year around Thanksgiving, Southern Baptists around the nation are reminded once again of her name. Charlotte Digges (or “Lottie”) Moon’s name has been associated with the annual missions offering taken in December since 1918. She may be the most famous woman in Southern Baptist history. And yet, most of the people who write a check each year to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions have no idea who she was.

I think that’s how she would have preferred it. She didn’t seek fame or notoriety, though she certainly could have. She was born to a wealthy family in Virginia on December 12, 1840. (That’s right. Today would be Lottie’s 181st birthday.) How wealthy was her family, you might ask? She grew up on the “Road of the Presidents”— the old route that passed the homes of James Madison, James Monroe, and Thomas Jefferson. When Thomas Jefferson died — the author of The Declaration of Independence, the second vice-president, the third president of the United States, and the real star of the Broadway musical, Hamilton — when he died, Lottie’s uncle bought Monticello — the famous mansion depicted on the back of the nickel. She grew up playing in the fields and on the estate of a former president.

Despite the fact that young women weren’t encouraged to pursue education beyond a certain point—they were to be prepared for marriage instead— her family’s wealth enabled her to study with tutors on the family plantation before being sent to a girls institute, and then after that to a woman’s college, eventually becoming one of the first women to receive a masters degree in the South. She had studied Greek, Hebrew, and Latin and had become fluent in Spanish and French. John Broadus, who was the pastor of Charlottesville Baptist Church and who would later go on to co-found and serve as the second president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, claimed that she was best-educated and most-cultured woman in the South.

She could have sought to make a name for herself had that been her aim.

Three years before earning her masters degree, however, something in her life had changed. She had been a precocious and rebellious child. Her parents were devout Baptists, but she rejected their faith. When her cousin, Sarah prepared to go to Jerusalem with Lottie’s aunt and uncle as missionaries for the newly-formed Disciples of Christ — a new denomination that was forming as a break from the Baptists in America — Lottie scoffed.

All Christians do is argue, and the Bible is just a storybook. It’s a long way from Virginia to Jerusalem just to waste your time telling people fairy stories!

When classmates at her school noted that she was absent from church one Sunday during the school term, she replied that she was reading Shakespeare while lying on a haystack that Sunday morning. The bard, she believed, was much more to her liking than some dry, dusty ol’ sermon.

But in 1858, she was invited to attend a student revival, and in God’s providence she went for the purpose of making fun of it. But that night, the Holy Spirit would not relent. She was kept awake by a barking dog and discovered that she could not sleep. But the dog wasn’t her biggest problem. She began to worry about her spiritual condition and prayed. That prayer lasted all night. And eventually, she relented and trusted in Christ for salvation.

Lottie wasn’t able to sleep until she had found salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ.

She was baptized and was immediately drawn to the international missions effort. At that point, Southern Baptists had only ever sent one unmarried woman as a missionary and that had not gone well. In fact, Southern Baptists had determined never to do it again. If she wanted to go to the missions field, it seemed she would first need to marry.

Instead, she rode out the Civil War teaching her younger sister and helping her older sister — one of the first two Southern women to earn a medical degree — tend to wounded soldiers. After the war, she joined the faculty of a school in Kentucky and gave large portions of her income to missions through the Southern Baptist Convention. She taught in Georgia briefly, but in 1872, once the doors were re-opened for unwed women to serve on the mission field, it was only a matter of time before she took her opportunity.

For forty years, she made her home in Tengchow, China, teaching women and girls. But teaching was only her excuse. She wrote:

“Could a Christian woman possibly desire higher honor than to be permitted to go from house to house and tell of a savior to those who have never heard his name? We could not conceive of a life which would more thoroughly satisfy the mind and heart of a true follower of the Lord Jesus.”

Her gift was teaching. Her passion was evangelism — one-on-one, direct personal evangelism. She wrote letters — so many letters — to the president of what was then called the Foreign Mission Board (now the IMB) describing the life of a missionary in a foreign field, detailing the need for more workers, more teachers, more missionaries for the Gospel effort. But the board struggled with funding.

So Lottie took to her pen and wrote to encourage Southern Baptist women to organize mission societies in local churches to help support missionaries. It was her recommendation in 1887 that Christmas be designated as a special time for giving to the foreign missions effort.

“Need it be said, why the week before Christmas is chosen? Is not the festive season when families and friends exchange gifts in memory of The Gift laid on the altar of the world for the redemption of the human race, the most appropriate time to consecrate a portion from abounding riches and scant poverty to send forth the good tidings of great joy into all the earth?”

The founding of the WMU — the Women’s Missionary Union — in 1888 was, in large part, due to Lottie Moon’s influence through her letters. That year, the first Christmas offering for missions was collected and over $3315 was raised — enough to send 3 new missionaries to China.

Her ministry gives us a helpful insight into the missions effort as a whole. She was studied in Greek, Hebrew, and Latin which were all beneficial in her study of the Bible. She was a gifted linguist in both Spanish and French, which were not necessarily helpful in her learning Chinese, but were beneficial in that she knew how to learn a language. And so, it’s unsurprising that she developed a keen command of the Chinese language that other missionaries and workers on the mission field envied. She become almost obsessed with honoring Chinese customs insofar as they were compatible with Christianity. She understood that the Gospel itself is an offense to the unbelieving. She did not need to be offensive in the manner in which she lived or behaved in their presence. And so she took on a posture of humility.

Along similar lines, she learned to live among the Chinese as the Chinese did. No doubt she had grown up accustomed to a particular way of life in the Virginia plantations, but she disciplined herself in such a way as to survive in primitive conditions among the lower-classes in China. She learned how to keep her composure under threats and confrontations and false accusations.

She exercised regularly in order keep her body strong. She ate a clean and balanced diet. She advocated that missionaries take regular furloughs to prevent burnout or premature death due to ill health and poor conditions and so extend their time on the mission field. The place she served in that particular part of China was known as a killing place. Numbers of missionaries suffered ill health and were taken home or died on the field.

Toward the end of her life, as she gained more influence among other missionaries in China, Lottie Moon cared for many of the missionaries and villagers who struggled out of her own personal expenses. It was a time of war and famine. She never carried much weight on her 4’3” frame, but in 1912, it was discovered that she was silently starving to death and weighed as little as 50 lbs., going without food in order to make sure others had enough. Fellow missionaries arranged for her to be sent home for medical care, but on December 24, 1912 she died in a Japanese harbor.

Had Lottie Moon sought to make a name for herself, she was well-equipped for the task. But her name is remembered specifically because she didn’t seek fame, but instead she was single-minded in one pursuit: “to tell of a savior to those who have never heard his name.”

This echoes the words of Isaiah 26, don’t they?

Yes, Lord, we wait for you in the path of your judgments. Our desire is for your name and renown (Isaiah 26:8, CSB).

More than fortune or fame, our aim and desire is for his name to be on our lips and etched on the hearts of those who have not heard. Whether your neighbors know the name of your church matters little. One hundred years from now, the only thing that matters is where they stand with Jesus. Do they know his name?

I could not offer you a better reason to give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. Every penny of every dollar goes directly to the missionaries on the field. One hundred percent of your gift supports men and women who are living in foreign lands declaring the name of Jesus — the only name by which we can be saved — to those who have not heard. What did the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering accomplish last year?

Last year (in the midst of COVID!, mind you), Southern Baptist churches cooperated together and, through their generous giving:

  • sent 422 new missionaries to the field,
  • planted 18,380 new churches,
  • led 144,322 people to salvation in Christ,
  • baptized 86,587 new believers,
  • and shared the Gospel with 769,494 people.

So I want to encourage you to participate this year in the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. Pray about it. Ask the Lord what he would lead you to give for the sake of the Gospel in places where the name of Jesus Christ is not known.

In light of Lottie Moon’s life, I want to encourage you to participate in the missions effort in your local church. There are men and women and children in the neighborhoods around your church and around your home who do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior. As one of our church members shared with me just a few weeks ago, she told a boy she was going to church and his response was, “What is church?” Yes there is work to be done abroad, but there is work to be done here. That’s why I want to encourage you to continue returning the tithe and investing in the ministries of your local church, but also to be talking to your neighbors, your co-workers, your classmates, and anyone else you come into contact with. Explaining the difference that Jesus has made in your life should come as naturally as your next breath.

I used to think that talking about Jesus would come across as weird. As it turns out, it only came across as weird when I was being weird about it. It should be natural. And it will come more naturally if you’ll just speak freely about him. We find no difficulty speaking about our children or our pets or our favorite sports teams. Our words reveal our affections and our hearts. So speak of Jesus. It’s Christmas. His name is literally in the word. It’s all about Jesus!

Don’t shy away from telling others about the child in the manger. He is the Second Person of the Eternal Triune Godhead. He is the active agent of all creation — the one by whom and for whom all things were created — the one in whom all things are held together. And apart from him not one thing has been made that was made. He added humanity to himself and wrapped himself in flesh and was born, not as the king, but as the child of a young couple for whom there was no room in the inn. He would live a sinless life and die at the hands of sinful men. But in his death, he took the penalty of our sin and nailed it to the cross. He died, but on the third day rose again and ascended to the right hand of the Father. And there he intercedes on behalf of his children and invites every single person to experience forgiveness, redemption, and salvation through faith in him.

Genesis: A Common Baptist Battleground, Part 1. The Elliott Controversy

This post is intended to serve as the first in a series that looks at prevailing points of contention among Southern Baptists. If there is a particular point of controversy that you would like to see addressed, scroll down to the bottom and leave a comment.

In 1961, a popular, young professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary named Ralph Elliott released a book published by Broadman Press. In it, he took a progressive view on the book of Genesis and demonstrated an acceptance of higher criticism.

He viewed the biblical narratives in a skeptical light, writing, “We must learn to think of the stories of Genesis—the creation, the fall, Noah’s ark, the tower of Babel—in the same way as we think of the parables of Jesus; they are profoundly symbolical stories, which aren’t to be taken as literally true” (emphasis mine).

Think through that carefully. Stories from the Old Testament—stories to which the New Testament refers to as historical—Elliott declared to be taken only symbolically.

He determined that the Hebrew word “Adam,” was not a personal name in the first chapters of Genesis, but rather “must have meant ‘mankind.’ . . . In all probability, the Priestly writer simply exaggerate the ages in order to show the glory of an ancient civilization.”

Elliott had embraced the documentary hypothesis—the view that it was unreasonable to think that Moses wrote the Pentateuch, but rather four redactors (the Jahwist, the Elohist, the Deuteronomist, and the Priestly sources—categorized as JEDP) had pieced together the text, all the while integrating their own unique writing methods, agendas, and personalities into the text. While this interpretation was pervasive among theological moderates and liberals, it has been almost universally relegated to the dustbin of dismissed and abandoned biblical interpretation.

Perhaps most disconcerting, Elliott argued that in Genesis 22, Abraham didn’t really hear God, for God would never have commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice (contra Gen 22:2). Instead, “What had been a thought of meditation gripped the inner being of Abraham until he thought he heard it as a clear call from God.”

Unsurprisingly, the book was not received well by a large number of Southern Baptists. K. Owen White wrote a scathing review, titled “Death in the Pot,” which was published and reprinted in Baptist newspapers across the country. White’s critique served to notify Southern Baptists not only that which was deemed acceptable by Broadman Press and the Sunday School Board at that time, but what was being taught in Southern Baptist seminaries.

Rebutting the common argument that seminary professors should be granted academic freedom—the freedom to pursue the truth wherever it may lead without fear of reprisal—White wrote, “let it be said that we gladly grant any man the right to believe what he wants to—but, we do not grant him the right to believe and express views in conflict with our historic position concerning the Bible as the Word of God while he is teaching in one of our schools, built and supported by Baptist funds.”

In 1962, White took to the convention floor in San Francisco and made a motion that “the messengers of the Convention, by standing vote, reaffirm their faith in the entire Bible as the authoritative, authentic, infallible Word of God.” His motion was unanimously adopted.

Further, at White’s behest, the messengers approved a motion (despite significant opposition), stating,

That we express our undivided and unchanging objection to the dissemination of theological views in any of our seminaries which would undermine such faith in the historical accuracy and doctrinal integrity of the Bible, and that we courteously request the trustees and administrative officers of our institutions and other agencies to take such steps as shall be necessary to remedy at once those situations here such views now threaten our historic position.

The messengers’ concern did not rest merely in the historic Baptist position. They also approved a recommendation for the president of the convention, Herschel Hobbs, to gather presidents of their respective state conventions for the purpose of presenting a statement similar to that of the Baptist Faith and Message adopted in 1925. The intention of such a statement was made explicit—to serve as guidelines to the various agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Initially, a motion had been made by Ralph Powell naming Elliott and his book, which sought to “instruct the Sunday School Board to cease from publication and printing the book, The Message of Genesis, by Dr. Elliott, and that they furthermore recall from all sales this book which contradicts Baptist conviction.” (He withdrew his motion at the request of Earl Harding before messengers could vote on it.)*

The die had been cast and the lines drawn.

*Author’s note: This is fascinating history to me. The annuals of SBC yearly meetings are not intended to provide commentary on the events of the meetings, but instead, are written as a sort of play-by-play. This motion and subsequent withdrawal have piqued my attention. What this a power move from the platform? Was it something utterly innocuous? I’m planning to look into this a bit further, but would be happy to be relieved of the research if you already know. Drop it in the comments.

Toleration? Or Free Exercise? George Mason Redivivus

American history buffs are already aware that Thomas Jefferson, when writing the Declaration of Independence, was influenced heavily and a drew from the pre-existing Virginia Declaration of Rights, drafted by George Mason and approved by the Virginia Convention of Delegates in June 1776. Interestingly, it was also a source document and inspiration for James Madison’s Bill of Rights and Lafayette’s French Declaration of the Rights of Man.

In the 16th article, Mason wrote initially, “that all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion.” This, Madison could not, for lack of a better word, tolerate. He led the charge in altering the document to read, “all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience.”

Which raises the obvious questions. Does it matter? If so, what difference does it make?

For Madison, the edit made every difference. The very idea of toleration belonged to a system of government that had embraced a state church—liberty of conscience was a thing granted; it was allowed. But it could just as easily be disallowed. The notion of toleration is predicated upon a governing standard of religion that granted permission to dissidents.

Ensuring the free exercise of religion, then, meant that liberty of conscience was not a thing granted, but rather a thing recognized; it was a right that must not be infringed.

Students of Baptist history may recognize Madison’s concern. His friend and Baptist minister, John Leland, shared this point of emphasis and seems to have influenced Madison’s thinking on the subject.

Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for, is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration, is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest, to grant indulgence; whereas, all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.

Our current society really doesn’t know what to do with freedom of conscience. We’ve had previous administrations and present judiciaries trample all over it, emphasizing their defense of freedom of worship. That is to say, they were prepared to defend the right of the people to worship in their churches and houses of worship in whatever manner they saw fit. But those who dare to take those same convictions into the public sphere—cake bakeries, for instance—have stepped over the line from the realm of the defensible to that worthy of prosecution.

And why?

Because we, as a nation, have traded free exercise for toleration.

The spirit of George Mason has returned and we have reversed Madison’s edit without even the intellectual integrity to strike out the words on the document.

And the rights of all people—Christians and Jews, Muslims and Mormons, pantheists and atheists—suffer as the result. The state has determined that our liberty of conscience is no longer a right to be protected. Instead, it is a grace that has been extended to us. And they get to tell us just how far it extends.

Perhaps the time has come for another Leland or another Madison to step forward.

Source: John Leland, “The Excess of Civil Power Exploded,” in The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, Including Some Events in his Life, Written by Himself, with Additional Sketches, &c. by Miss L. F. Greene, Lanesboro, Mass. (n.p., New York, 1845), 118.

Observations on Samuel Pearce’s Tract for the Lascars

The post is a follow-up to my post of Samuel Pearce’s Tract for the Lascars. In that post, I offered a brief history of Pearce’s life and quoted a tract written for the Lascars—a predominantly-Muslim class of sailors from India. In this post, I would like to make a few observations—two positive and two more critical.

Pearce was Passionate about Extending the Gospel Offer to the Lost.

Pearce’s heart was touched by the plight of the Lascars. Not only were these men far from home and in a foreign land, but more importantly, they were ignorant of the love of Jesus Christ. Pearce expressed that the Lascars were not invisible to him, but that they were in his thoughts; their situation brought him to tears and put him on his knees in prayer. There is no hesitation in Pearce’s offering of the gospel to the Lacars, many (if not most) of whom were Muslim. The Lascars were of a different skin tone and worldview than Pearce . . . and they were in England. Pearce did not need to go to them, they had come to him! Pearce believed that these were men whom Christ loved; Pearce believed that these were men for whom Christ died. As such, they were men whom Pearce loved and men with whom Pearce was obligated to share the gospel.

There is a subtle missiological point to be identified here. The love of Christ for the Lascars is that which incited such love in the heart of Pearce—that he believed Christ died for them (an unlimited provision of the atonement), inspired Pearce’s obligation to offer the hope of the gospel.

Let that sit and stew for a bit, Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike. His theology drove his practice. And just as importantly, his practice shed light on his theology.

After giving it some thought, I wonder at times if we do not take the opposite approach. There is a tendency in the human heart to limit the love of God to those we find acceptable—to those we deem worthy of love. Those who dismiss the practice of sharing the gospel with those one does not know necessarily, but rather contend that believers should share the gospel only in the context of a relationship reverse Pearce’s pattern, albeit unknowingly. We may preach of God’s love for all people, but if we only offer Christ to those with whom we’ve built relationships, perhaps our practice speaks of a different gospel.

Imagine the difference it would make in our own day and our own culture if every believer cared for the lost in the same manner as Pearce. Imagine the difference it might make if every time we laid eyes on another human being, we saw them as objects of God’s affection and those with whom we are obligated to share the gospel.

Pearce Spoke and Thought Biblically.

Notice how replete the tract is with biblical passages and allusions. Pearce is so immersed in Scripture that it flows from his pen as naturally as his own thought. Yet this is no mere repetition of verses from memory. Pearce may begin with a prayer “to the great Allah,” but he moves forward to explain the truth of Jesus Christ. He speaks of the Incarnation of Christ, the sinlessness of Christ, and the suffering and sacrifice of Christ.

Imagine the difference it would make in our own day and culture if we were so immersed in Scripture that God’s Word pours forth from our mouths and our pens (keyboards?) regularly, and not only when we are sitting in Sunday School. Imagine how our evangelistic efforts would be affected if, rather than sharing four spiritual laws or a series of verses from memory believers were so saturated in God’s Word that they could share the hope of Christ without being dependent upon an Evangelistic campaign or program.

However, the Tract is Void of Any Reference to the Resurrection and Reign of Christ.

This stands out as one of the few negative observations I discovered when reading the tract. As previously mentioned, he speaks of the Incarnation of Christ, the sinlessness of Christ, and the suffering and sacrifice of Christ, but nowhere does Pearce establish Christ as having been risen, and nowhere does Pearce present Christ as reigning as the King of Creation. This is not a harmless oversight on Pearce’s part. I do not believe he had any malicious intent in this omission, but the resurrection and reign of Christ are not minor components of a dry doctrine. They are, rather, the very source and substance of our hope!

Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 5:17). The resurrection of Christ and his present reign give substance and meaning to his death and burial. He has conquered sin! He has defeated death! He was not crushed under the weight of the sins of humanity, but bore the penalty of sin, suffered death on our behalf, and yet lives. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. This matters. This matters in every context wherein we share the gospel. And it is a shame that Pearce’s otherwise exemplary tract neglects these emphases.

We Must Be Very Cautious in Adopting Any Use of the Name of Allah.

He writes that many “pray to the great Allah for you.” While some modern missiologists are comfortable invoking the name of Allah in the same way that we would use the term, “god” when not necessarily referring to “God,” others have made the point that doing so enables the hearer to import his own thoughts and conceptions of Allah into the discussion. Pearce does not linger on any thought of Allah, but rather moves directly to the discussion of the person of Christ Jesus. But does his introduction imply that he worships the same God as the Lascars, but with a different view of Jesus?

Allah is not the same as the God the Father. Their natures are entirely different. The manner in which the two are described are entirely different. Their characters are entirely different. Pearce did not worship Allah any more than the Lascars already worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ.

In his attempt to contextualize his gospel message, he opened the door for misunderstanding.

As believers seek to offer the hope of eternal life, we must strive for clarity concerning the character and nature of God. We must work to dispel any false notion or understanding of who Jesus is. The gospel we offer is inclusive in that Jesus Christ has given himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:6), but it is exclusive in that no one comes to the Father, except by the Son (John 14:6).

Samuel Pearce is an admirable figure from one of the brightest eras in our Baptist heritage. His passion for the lost, his zeal for the gospel, his saturation with the Word of God are all to be commended to modern believers. And yet, as this tract attests, his model was not without flaw.

This is the great lesson of history—even our heroes were flawed and in need of grace. Learning that lesson and implementing it into our lives will help each of us become better at reading and appreciating history, but perhaps more importantly, it will help us grow in patience and kindness toward one another.

Samuel Pearce’s Tract for the Lascars

Samuel Pearce participated alongside men such as Andrew Fuller, William Carey, and John Sutcliff in the inception of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS), which launched the modern missions movement. Pearce’s passion for and commitment to missions established him as a gifted spokesman and fundraiser for the cause. Carey was the first to go, but Pearce’s desire was to join him in India. It was his giftedness at raising funds that prompted the BMS to restrain him from going. Andrew Fuller, the Secretary of the group, was suffering an illness that paralyzed a part of his face, and they feared that Pearce may be required to succeed Fuller in his role.

Pearce’s longing for the mission-field—to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who had never heard—never relented. So he poured himself into the effort to promote the cause at home while also searching out those in need of hearing the Gospel.

He became burdened for the Lascars—Indian sailors who had been employed on European ships since the sixteenth century who were treated little-better than slaves. His biographer writes, “to others they were nothings, but to Pearce they were brother-men for whom Christ died” (190). So Pearce wrote a tract in the hopes of “lead[ing] them out of the poor cold twilight of Mohammed into the sunshine of the face of Jesus Christ” (190). He wrote the tract in English, and his friend William Carey—the missionary to India and gifted linguist—translated it into the Lascar language.

The tract is quoted here as abridged in the book. In an upcoming post, I will offer several of my observations regarding Pearce’s tract. But first, read the tract and comment below.

What stands out to you?

Lascars!

You are far from home, and in a country of strangers! Most of the Europeans whom you have been wont to observe have perhaps exhibited a desire for nothing but gain or honour or personal indulgence; but you know not all; in this strange land there are many who think of you, weep over you, and pray to the great Allah for you. . . . Hear, then, the heavenly message. “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” This great Gift of God to us and for us is Jesus Christ. You, perhaps, have been taught that this Jesus was only a prophet, like Moses, and could do no more for you; but you have been misled. The Jewish prophets plainly foretold that He was to be a Divine Saviour. . . . This blessed Saviour, for the great love He bore to us from before the foundation of the world, at length clothed Himself in our nature, and became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. . . . When He grew up to manhood, because He preached so faithfully against men’s wicked practices, they continually watched him to find some evil, of which they might accuse Him; yet they could find none. Twice did the Holy Father give notice of His dignity by proclaiming from heaven, “This is my Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him.” In His own omnipotent goodness He raised men to life from death and the grave, and daily employed Himself in healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people, without a single failure. . . . But the remission of our sins cost Him most grievous sufferings; for nothing less than His precious Blood was sufficient for our Redemption. Yet so much was His heart set upon our salvation, that he was content to undergo the severest torments, and to die the most shameful and cruel death, rather than we should be lost. This, Lascars, is the blessed News! These are the glad tidings of great joy which must be preached to all people, and which the God of Heaven now sends to you.

Jesus shed His blood for Jews, and there were thousands of the posterity of Abraham, who believed in His Name, and loved Him till they died. Jesus died for Gentiles also. He died for us, and since we knew His love, our hearts have been drawn to love Him in return. Jesus died for Lascars! Jesus suffered tortures for Lascars!

O Lascars, have you no love for Jesus? Long indeed you have been ignorant of our Saviour; but now God has made sailors of you, and sent you to England, that you might no longer be unacquainted with Jesus. Oh, how great the privilege that you hear His blessed Name, and are taught His great salvation! Lascars! receive into your hearts this Word of Life: give thanks to God that you are not suffered to perish for want of a Saviour. Put your trust in the Almighty Jesus, and yield yourselves to Him as living sacrifices: then shall you have the witness in yourselves that He is the Son of God; for you will find such peace, such joy, such delight in God, such desires after purity, such love to our Saviour, and to all who love Him too, of every country and of every colour, as will assure your hearts more strongly than all the force of argument that the religion of Jesus came from heaven, and that it leads thither every soul who sincerely embraces it.

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 . . .

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.”

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.

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.

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.