When we are trying to help people see the truth about Jesus, a question they often ask is, “Why are there so many churches?” There are many answers to that question but one important answer is that many times people are sinful and stubborn. Today’s devotional shows how we should be working for real Christian unity. God bless you.
Because of Calvary,
Romans 6:3-4 (ESV)
3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
“Meanwhile [while sailing to India with another Congregational couple with whom they hoped to work as missionaries] Adoniram had involved himself in a theological inquiry which was showing unexpected results.
“In Andover he had begun a translation of the New Testament from the Greek, which he continued on board ship. Along toward April he became interested in the Greek word which is usually translated as ‘baptism.’ Adoniram had been baptized as an infant in the Congregational way, by the sprinkling of a few drops of water on his head. But as he conned the New Testament he could find no indication that anyone mentioned there had ever been baptized by sprinkling. In every case in which it was described, baptism had been performed in a river, and the people baptized actually went down into the water. Studying the word itself, he could not find that it was ever used to mean anything but immersion.
“More than once he spoke to Nancy [his wife] of his discovery. Of course, he was a staunch orthodox Congregationalist, but he admitted to her with some chagrin that in this case, at least, it looked as if the Baptists were right and the Congregationalists wrong. No matter how he stretched the sense, he could not see how any impartial person could ever make that Greek word mean ‘sprinkling.’
“As a missionary he was disturbed, because his instructions from the American Board told him to baptize ‘credible believers and their households.’ Naturally, only the ‘credible believers’ were to be admitted into church membership, but their ‘households’ could and must be baptized. In New England that would have meant their infant children. In the Orient, it would also mean adult sons and daughters and probably servants as well, since the believers would probably never have heard of Christ until Adoniram told them. This was much different from baptizing newborn children of church members, one by one as they came along, New England fashion. What would the thirty-year-old still-pagan son of a newly admitted church member think of being baptized? Would he consent? If he did, what good would baptism do if he remained an unbeliever?
“Adoniram had another reason for concern. He carried with him a letter from Dr. Worcester to Dr. Carey and the missionaries at Serampore, outside Calcutta, asking them to give the American their advice and aid. The Serampore missionaries were Baptists, and baptized only believers, not their children and servants. With them, the ceremony was inseparable from personal conversion; in Adoniram’s words, ‘the initiating ordinance of the church.’
“The Baptists and orthodox Congregationalists of New England had always been on friendly terms…. But Adoniram was not so sure about his relation to the Serampore Baptists. If they attacked the Congregational position of baptism, how could he defend it? He feared much more, however, the dilemma in which he would find himself if natives asked him to explain the difference! They might even conclude there were two competing religions, each calling itself Christian — and thus find it easier to resist conversion.
“With his usual vigor Adoniram plunged into a study of the matter. Finally he came to the conclusion that baptism of infants and unconverted members of a household, as Congregationalists performed it, grew out of the way church membership was acquired in the Old Testament, as illustrated by the case of Abraham. Abraham’s male descendants and servants were automatically members of the church from birth. They did not have to join it by an act of individual choice, because the church consisted of the whole people. They left it only by being ‘cut off from the people.’ But in the New Testament, the basis of Christianity, so far as he could see, the membership of a church was restricted to the individuals ‘who gave credible evidence of being disciples of Christ.’ Baptism was mentioned ‘always in connection with believing.’
“But this was the Baptist position! It worried him. He began saying to Nancy, ‘I am afraid the Baptists may be in the right.’
“It worried Nancy even more. She did not feel the point was vital, but she was afraid that if he kept on this way her uncompromising Adoniram might come to believe that the Baptists were right in other things. Then where would they be? But….he continued to worry the subject and it continued to worry him….
After landing in India and learning that there was little hope of starting missionary work in Burma, they stayed in William Carey’s home in Serampore only to learn that the East India Company was doing everything in its power to discourage missionary work in India and so they could not serve a missionaries there.
Fortunately “a Mr. Rolt of Calcutta invited Adoniram and Nancy to stay in his house until they could find a ship…. Rolt had married the widow of an English Baptist missionary and in the room Adoniram and Nancy occupied there was a fair-sized library which contained a good many books dealing with baptism. This was fortunate: whether the word ‘baptism’ means sprinkling in infancy or immersion by voluntary decision at the age of discretion was a question that had been occupying Adoniram more and more. The Serampore missionaries had no idea of his thoughts on the subject; aware of their role as hosts, they had carefully avoided even mentioning any of the doctrinal differences between the two denominations. If they influences him at all, it was unconsciously, through their personalities, especially that of the modest Carey, who in ability and accomplishments stood head and shoulders above any man Adoniram had ever met.
“At any rate, with a fine library in his room and nothing in particular to do but await the Harmony, Adoniram seized the opportunity to study the question thoroughly and settle it in his mind for one and all. Nancy was alarmed. ‘I tried to have him give it up, and rest satisfied in his old sentiments, and frequently told him if he became a Baptist, I would not. He, however, said he felt it his duty to examine closely a subject on which he felt so many doubts,’ and ‘…determined to read candidly and prayerfully, and to hold fast, or embrace the truth, however mortifying, however great the sacrifice.’
“In self-defense, Nancy began to explore the Bible herself. Surely, it said something in favor of infant baptism. For two or three days she pored over it, comparing the Old Testament with the New, trying to find some foundation for the Congregational practice which she had accepted all her life. With growing dismay she had to admit that she could find nothing; and by now, under Adoniram’s influence, she had become convinced that the issue was much more than a mere matter of form, regardless of which viewpoint was right….
‘Within a few weeks she had to admit that ‘Mr. J. feels convinced from Scripture that he has never been baptized, and that he cannot conscientiously administer baptism to infants. This change of sentiment must necessarily produce a separation, As we are perfectly united with our brethren in every other respect, and are much attached to them it is inexpressibly painful to leaven them, and go alone to a separate station.’
“As to herself, she was still spending hour in their room in Mr. Rolt’s house poring over the Gospel and leafing through the many tomes in the library: ‘But I…must acknowledge that the fact of Scripture does favor the Baptist sentiments. I intend to persevere in examining the subject and hope that I shall be disposed to embrace the truth, whatever it may be. It is painfully mortifying to my natural feelings, to think seriously of renouncing a system which I have been taught from infancy to believe and respect, and embrace on which I have been taught to despise. O that the Spirit of God may enlighten and direct my mind — may prevent my retaining an old error, or embracing a new one!’
“Poor Nancy! The prospect was worse than ‘painfully mortifying.’ It was terrifying…. But there was no help for it. Within a few more days Adoniram’s sentiments crystallized. He must be baptized and become a Baptist. Nancy, after a little longer struggle, decided that she agreed with him. At the end of August he wrote a letter for both of them to Serampore, stating their conviction ‘that the immersion of a professing believer is the only Christian baptism. In these exercises I have not been alone. Mrs. Judson has engaged in a similar examination, and has come to the same conclusion. Feeling, therefore, that we are in an unbaptized state, we wish to profess our faith in Christ by being baptized in obedience to his sacred commands.’ (p. 145)…
“Adoniram and Nancy were baptized by immersion on September 6, 1812. The ceremony was performed by Ward in the Lal Bazaar Chapel in Calcutta. ‘Thus,’ wrote Nancy, ‘…we are confirmed Baptists, not because we wanted to be, but because truth compelled us to be. We have endeavored to count the cost, and be prepared for the many severe trials resulting from this change of sentiment. We anticipate the loss of reputation, and of the affection and esteem of many of our American friends. But the most trying circumstance attending the change, and that which has caused us most pain, is the separation which must take place between us and our dear missionary associates… We feel that we are alone in the world, with no real friend but each other, no one on whom we can depend but God.’” [Courtney Anderson, To the Golden Shore: The Life of Adoniram Judson, (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1956), p. 127-129, 143-146]