Common Sense and a Contextualised Gospel : the Serampore Covenant, part 2



Articles 2 and 3 of William Carey’s 1805 Serampore Covenant are rooted in good sense and the wisdom born of experience in the field. [If you missed part 1, here’s the link]

The need, they write, is to converse with [Indian people] in an intelligible manner and to avoid coming across to them either as fanatics or as irrelevant. Sounds familiar? Read any piece about relevant witness in a post-modern (or ‘post-Christian’) society and the same issues apply. Here is an example from the UK Evangelical Alliance.

So Carey, Marshman and Ward commit themselves to several things:
* conversing with sensible natives;
* reading some parts of their major writings;
* attentively observing their manners and customs.

They stress the need to know Indian modes of thinking, their moral values and their manners. So much is standard missionary training today, of course. But the Serampore missionaries see it as crucial to understand the way they reason about God, sin, holiness, the way of salvation, and [man’s] future state. This surely parallels the move in today’s ‘Emerging Church’ to understand where post-modern people are coming from, and then to reach out to them in Facebook evangelism or whatever.

Carey and his first Indian convert

Carey and his first Indian convert

Carey also advocates a common sense approach to interacting with people of the Hindu majority religion. We must abstain from those things which would increase their prejudices against the gospel – in particular, English colonial haughtiness, and cruelty to animals. There should be no direct confrontations, no defacing of their statues, no disturbance of their worship gatherings. Carey praises the mild-mannered and gracious approach of the Moravian missions and of the Quakers among the Native American tribes. He was to enlarge on this elsewhere.

He who is too proud to stoop to others, in order to draw them to him…, is ill-qualified to be a missionary , states the Form of Agreement. The Serampore trio pledge to follow the stated aim of the Apostle Paul, to “be all things to all men, that I may by all means win some” (the Bible, 1 Corinthians 9:22). And the section closes with a paraphrase from an unnamed missionary to North America, almost certainly either David Brainerd or John Eliot: “that he would not care if the people trampled him under their feet, if he might become useful to their souls”.


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About Trevor Saxby

I'm a mentor, friend to many, with a PhD in church history. I love learning from the 'movers and shakers' of the past, as I want to be one today!

4 responses to “Common Sense and a Contextualised Gospel : the Serampore Covenant, part 2”

  1. dyfedwyn says :

    Great post. I wonder whether the missionary movement actually followed Carey in its mode of mission? I’m not sure it did.

    • sch0larly says :

      Thanks, dyfedwyn, and I share your concern. The impression we get from mission history is of laudable attempts to educate and provide medical care, but in Christian terms, to turn people into westernised Anglicans, Lutherans, etc.

  2. John MacArthur says :

    The Church hates itself for its liberal, grey theologies – much as I personally hate myself for subscribing to some of them – because ‘sound doctrine’ is edgy and truth filled but it cannot bring itself to the inevitable culture divorce that would result in a principled stand. Places like Westboro Baptist have much to answer for since they use rigidity as a weapon rather than a beacon to which people are drawn. Nobody is comfortable with a blindingly white light of holiness, but who said they had to be?

    • sch0larly says :

      Sometimes a comment is made that makes me want to reply because I liked it so much, yet not to reply for fear of diluting it. Thanks, John, you’ve hit home here.

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