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.
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.
Pastor at University Baptist Church, San Antonio.
Professor. PhD in Theology.
Runner. Cyclist. 2nd Dan.
Roast Master at caffeinatedtheology.com.