Missionaries Need to Know What a Church Is: A Lesson From Adoniram Judson

ChurchLeaders | 1/23/2020 | Staff
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Lessons from the esteemed missionary Adoniram Judson.

What does someone need before being sent by a church to serve in cross-cultural missions? Certainly, one should have a clear profession of faith; certainly, they should give some evidence of fruitfulness in evangelism and discipleship. They should also have a sense of calling for the work, both subjectively and objectively. And there will need to be a team of financial and spiritual supporters. Anything else?

Something - Ecclesiology - Missionaries - Understanding - Church

Here’s something that often gets overlooked: Ecclesiology! Before being sent out, missionaries should come to a biblical, convictional understanding of what a church is. This was a lesson Adoniram Judson learned the hard way.

But on the four-month trip over to India, knowing he would soon be working on Bible translation, Judson began to translate the Greek New Testament. He began to wrestle with the word baptizo. English translations had transliterated the Greek word, but Judson knew the word meant immersion.

Bible - Language - Word - Paedobaptist - Mode

So, when translating the Bible into a foreign language, how should he translate this word? As a paedobaptist, this was especially thorny, given that the mode of baptism used by Congregationalist churches was sprinkling. But the more Judson explored this issue, the more he became convinced of the practice of immersion.

This change forced Judson to reconsider his understanding of the proper subjects of baptism: believers only, or believers and their households? Not only that, it forced him to reconsider his understanding of the church. Reflecting on this study a few years later, Judson writes:

Question - Baptism - Judson - Baptism - Nature

In exploring the question of infant baptism, Judson realized that this was about far more than baptism, but the nature and practice of the church. A consistent application of a paedobaptist hermeneutic required Judson to baptize not only his converts but their households, including adult children and perhaps even their servants. Coming from a Christianized land where...
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