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The Serampore Covenant

In this series, thoseinvolved with CLC foreign missions profile one aspect of our overseas endeavors.

William Carey (1761-1834) was a Baptist missionary in India, and is often called the father of modern missions. A working agreement that he and his co-laborers subscribed to is known as the “Serampore Covenant,” which is still a sound document to operate by in a foreign field. It breathes a spirit of zeal and fervor for the Lord, dedication to His work, and love for poor benighted souls lost in sin. For each of the eleven points of the covenant, passages which I have selected and my comments are attached. Carey and his compatriots agreed on the following:
1) To set an infinite value on men’s souls.
Romans 10:1, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” [passages quoted from the RSV throughout] An infinite value? How about Romans 9:3, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race.” The value we put on men’s souls is a reflection of the value Christ demonstrated on Calvary. 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” Would we die for the ungodly? Would we commit our sons to mission fields of danger and disease? Think of our Savior. Romans 5:6-8, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”
2) To acquaint ourselves with the snares which hold the minds of the people.
1 Corinthians 9:20, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. . . .” Galatians 6:2, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” It is not enough to say from above, “Don’t do that.” Walk in the other’s shoes for a time to better understand how to help him out from under the devil’s power. Paul had one approach for Mars’ Hill, another for the synagogue, yet always speaking the Gospel.
3) To abstain from whatever deepens India’s prejudice against the Gospel.
1 Corinthians 8:9, “Only take care lest this liberty of yours somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” We want to put no stumbling blocks unnecessarily in the way. There are enough there already. When all the women wear saris in your field in India, don’t let your wife go around in shorts. When the Hindus abhor the eating of beef, don’t invite them over for hamburgers!
4) To watch for every chance of doing the people good.
Galatians 6:10, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Our church’s work with the widows, orphans, and seminary students in India is a natural product of the love of Christ poured into our hearts.
5) To preach “Christ crucified” as the grand means of conversions.
The Gospel for eternal life is more important than the hospital for temporal care. Conversion has to be the goal. 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, “We preach Christ crucified . . . the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Since Carey’s time, universalism and the social gospel have redirected efforts and treasure from the primary purpose of the church.
6) To esteem and treat Indians always as our equals.
This was a rather enlightened view of the Indians for Carey’s day. His view was enlightened by the Word. The Christian has a spirit of meekness (Galatians 6:1-3), which prompts him not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think (Romans 12:3). Christ died for all, with no partiality toward one race or ethnic group. When it comes to salvation, the redemption which Christ laboriously gained is for Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free alike (Galatians 3:28).
7) To guard and build up “the hosts that may be gathered.”
Colossians 1:28, “Him we proclaim, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man mature in Christ.” The process of discipling is ongoing until death or the Second Coming. Serampore College, founded in 1818 by Carey and two other missionaries, was established to guard and build up.
8) To cultivate their spiritual gifts, ever pressing upon them their missionary obligation.
Romans 12:6, “Having gifts that differ . . . let us use them.” If it is true that we are all, whether Indian or westerner, a universal priesthood of believers (I Peter 2:9), and that the gifts are God’s “varied grace” (I Peter 4:10), then they should be used to the glory of God.
9) To labor increasingly in biblical translation.
Acts 2:6,11, “Each one heard them speaking in his own language . . . . We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” After fourteen years in India, it was recorded of Carey and his companions “These ‘low-born and low-bred mechanics’ have translated the whole Bible into Bengali, and by this time have printed it. They are printing the New Testament in Sanskrit, Oriya, Marathi, Hindi and Gujarati; and are translating it into Persic, Telegu, Kanarese, Chinese and the tongue of the Sikhs and of the Burmans; and in four of these languages they are going on with the whole Bible. . . .”
10) To be instant in the nurture of personal religion.
1 Corinthians 9:26-27, “I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” How many haven’t been turned off because what was taught was not what was done?
11) To give ourselves without reserve to the Cause, “not counting even the clothes we wear our own.”
Our Lord beckons, Matthew 16:24-26, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” And so first century apostles, Acts 5:41, “left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” And so eighteenth century Christians labored “without reserve” in India. And so today . . .
David Koenig has served as a foreign missionary in Africa, India, and elsewhere. Though officially retired, he continues to be active in the synod’s mission endeavors.