Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Adonirum Judson Paper

I had this tradition going about last year right after my heart attack, where I'd put my papers up for people to read, that I'd written throughout the semester, these 2 were my spring semester term papers, the first of which you will read was from my baptist heritage class, concerning the life of a major figure we had to read about. This is about Adonirum Judson...



Being a missionary requires a life of ultimate sacrifice. Often times, people will give their lives for the cause of bringing the gospel to the “ends of the earth” as Christ commands in Scripture (cf. Acts 1:8) . People have gone to countries winning countless numbers of people to Christ and changing the world forever. It is not just the fact that the world would be changed, but also the missionaries themselves would be changed because they had done something for the Kingdom and the joy amid suffering that they experienced changed how they viewed the world. Adonirum Judson was the man that God called from the United States to be a light to the people of Burma. This paper will examine the life of this proponent for Burmese missions as well as look into the ideas he thought concerning baptism.

Judson’s place among the people of Burma made him into a pioneer; he was the very first person from the United States who was serving on the field in a “missions” setting. The entire concept of a person going as a missionary will obviously draw its inspiration from the Apostle Paul who carried the gospel over a cultural barrier reaching Greeks with a predominantly Jewish message. The modern process had taken its roots from William Carey who had been the man that God called from being a simple cobbler to literally changing the face of the known world with his journey that took him to Calcutta. In the sense of America, the movement that changed everything was for going onto the field in a foreign setting and changing the world for God’s glory. The world owes a great debt to his efforts for what he did and for the way that the people had learned to obtain the hope that comes from a personal relationship with Christ. It is remarkable, when the careful attention to detail is shown through the life of Judson that a comparison could be made between him and the Apostle Paul. Both went through imprisonment, sicknesses, and all varieties of trials in order to carry out what God had called them to do as proclaimers of the Gospel. For that is the essential position that a missionary takes upon himself when they go to the “ends of the earth”.
The world of evangelical Christianity owes a great debt to Adonirum Judson, because as the very first missionary from the United States, there was a great amount of education that came with his position. The American Revolution had just ended and Judson was born in Massachusetts in 1788, the son of Adonirum Judson Sr., Judson’s academic intellect allowed him to attend what would later become Brown University and graduated from there as the valedictorian at the age of 19. The concerns of the day would have been over such dogmas as baptism or the Lord’s Supper, and even church membership (considering the previous decades of the 18th century had included bouts of burning people at the stake for the heresy of “witchcraft”)

Missions was NOT a topic of great interest in the American protestant church, and now, there were people like Judson who were becoming the very first people of their day to take the step of faith and go out to a world of “heathens”. Through his bout with a falling out from the faith, Judson found himself attending Andover Theological Seminary and back into the faith. He had become good friends with a deist/skeptic who was leading him away from the faith. But praise be to God in heaven that his life was turned back to the Gospel and the truth that encompasses that realm. Judson would be ordained as a minister by the Tabernacle Church in Salem on February 6th, 1812. He married his first wife Ann the day before that.

On February 19, 1812, The ABCFM (American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions) appointed Judson and his wife to be missionaries to Burma. This event is marked in the United States by the fact that there are now several thousand Southern Baptist American missionaries in foreign fields across the planet reaching the lost with the gospel. A totaling amount of more than five thousand American missionaries appointed by the Southern Baptist Convention now serve on the field.

Anderson’s point was to show people of the day and age, that when missionaries were called to the field, there was not a single force on heaven or on earth that could stop them from doing what the Lord had called them to do. God was at work in Judson’s life and after he had left Massachusetts with his wife, his life would get harder as time went on. Judson’s life only got harder as he went through a total of 3 spouses.
Cecil Hartley spent a great deal of time in his Memoir about Judson discussing the life situation of Adonirum and his 3 wives that he had in succession. Ann Hasseltine Judson who died during childbirth in 1827 , Sarah B. Judson who died of an illness while onboard a ship in 1845 , and Emily C. Judson who died a peaceful death in 1854 . It seems almost cruel to some that such a great man of God would be experiencing such hardships, but when one were to compare the life of Judson to that of Paul, Judson’s hardships are truly nothing. One should consider it a blessing when he or she gets an opportunity to share in the hardships that Christ faced.

The Judsons in Burma

Having left Massachusetts behind them aboard the Caravan, the Judsons were traveling across the ocean and found themselves in India prior to their arrival in Burma. Arriving in June of 1812, the time would be a difficult one for Judson and his family, as they would need to adjust to a new climate, culture and language. The majority of the voyage from the United States to Burma was spent studying the language and developing a thorough translation. However, the Judsons would spend their time in the city of Calcutta, remembering the life of the British missionary who changed the world, William Carey. They would not leave India until 1816. By this time, Judson’s first wife had died.

The concept of a life surrounded by suffering was ever present in his life, and as this writer has made mention prior to this paragraph, Judson could have a modeled life to that of Paul in that suffering in life was ever present. Every missionary on the field at one point or another experiences trials and tribulations as they serve the Lord; it is how one should view their life as a believer in that they are meant to suffer the same hardships Christ himself would have been facing.
Political Difficulties (Adonirum is in Prison)

Much like Paul had been faced with the worst of hardships in the known world, in 1824, Adonirum Judson was confronted with a terrifying ordeal. A man known in Burma as a “Spotted Face” or keeper of the prison, came to their home and had them arrested. The political state of the country proved to be a challenge for the Judsons. Although they were Americans and were not associated in any way with the British, he was confused for an Englishman and was arrested as a result. He was bound up in front of his wife and sent to a prison where he stayed for 17 months. He would be sent to an infamous Burmese death camp called Ava. Judson and 6 other missionaries were imprisoned there and all but one died upon their release. Burma’s condition as a nation was unstable as Alexander McLeish points out in Burma, Christian Progress to the Invasion; that
“while the evangelistic task in Burma is very great, the need of Christian community is equally serious. The on-going task of evangelization will fare very badly if the spiritual vitality and zeal of the Church is not only kept alive but increased.”

Courtney Anderson’s book To the Golden Shore, recounts the life ministry that Judson had and how he was able to see his first Burmese convert in May 1819; a man named Maung Nau. It has been weeks that the Judsons had been trying to get him to attend their services and finally were able to have him come and he was evangelized with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As a result of this person accepting Christ, Judson promptly made the decision to baptize this believer, showing the missionary movement what to do when a person accepted Christ. Modern day missionaries throughout the world have been able to model discipleship after what Judson had done. Anderson later accounts for several of Judson’s converts, talking about the establishment of churches throughout the country that were growing because of this man of God’s efforts among the people of Burma.

The movements of the missionary agencies that would develop throughout the 19th and 20th centuries would place a great deal of emphasis on the conversion of the nationals in the target areas. For a missionary to have a person come to faith in Christ is a serious matter. Judson’s career as a missionary would leave a lasting impact that would be felt and experienced in Burma well into the 21st century.
Burmese people today have given much credit to Judson because they feel he has made lasting impressions upon the country. Even those who are in the country yet do not know much about the realm of Evangelical Christianity; they will say that they had been impacted by what they had previously heard about Judson.

Modern people from Myanmar will tell foreigners that they know who Judson was and that they believe in the Jesus that he preached to them. One of those doctrines that Jesus would have been teaching was Believer’s Baptism. Judson was a man of vision as well as a man who closely followed after God’s plan for his life as a servant serving him in an overseas capacity. In any situation, in any observation of a believer, there should be careful examination and approach into their doctrine, and as such Baptism would be a topic that would be discussed among circles of Christian theologians and scholars.

Judson’s Theological Stance on Baptism

Many missionaries in the modern era have a great deal of gratitude to bestow upon the Judsons. The Southern Baptist Convention (formed back in 1845) had to spend a great deal of time developing their theological beliefs and teachings. This is especially true when it comes to baptism. Influenced by centuries of traditions and blatantly false teachings, there had to be a consensus to where the stand would be when it comes to baptism. Because Judson was the first American missionary, his developments on being out on the field would impact what future missionaries would do when it comes to conversion of people, the teaching of God’s Word, and especially the baptizing of national persons who had accepted Christ.

Wayne Grudem, a prominent modern theologian and author of the book Systematic Theology makes the point “that only those who give a believable profession of faith should be baptized.” Any servant of the Lord, especially those that hold the inerrancy of God’s Word, have to take a very careful look into this important sacrament. As the first missionary commissioned by the United States, one can only assume that Judson’s view would be a significant one.

The importance of Baptism is that the Lord has commanded it. Judson himself spoke about this in his sermon Christian Baptism, pointing out that “Christ commands those who believe to be baptized” , but later goes on to explain why it is necessary to make sure that the practice is properly observed. It is for this reason that
when any practice is proposed and enforced as a binding duty, we have a right to examine the grounds of the alleged obligation. It is not sufficient for the prosper to show, that the practice is innocent, and even compatible with every other duty: it is requisite, that he prove it binding.

Most situations in ministry in which people get baptized require a certain amount of pomp and circumstance, and Judson was careful to observe the necessity of this. He later goes on to talk in this sermon that there is a clear distinction between what should be practiced by the church (speaking in terms of the proper format) and what has been practiced in the past. To this writer, it is made abundantly clear that Adonirum Judson adamantly opposed pedobaptism (the baptism of infants) and points out that the Scriptures are taken out of context by a lot of people. Scholars believe that there are passages in Scripture that could very easily defend the doctrine for Infant Baptism, but Judson points to the standard that as believers,
we cannot suppose, that our Lord used words, in such different senses in the same speech, as would unavoidably mislead his hearers. In the latter passage, the kingdom of God denotes heaven and to receive it with the humility and docile disposition which characterize children.

The point that Judson was trying to make was that in order for a believer to approach believer’s baptism, there has to be a clear understanding that yes; one should have faith like a child, but it has to be representative of the example that Christ sets. Buried with Christ in the likeness of his death and then raised again in the newness of life.
Judson clearly displays his view on this mode of baptism later on his sermon by saying that he had experienced a difficulty before. Judson declared that
I had been sprinkled in infancy, and that this had been deemed baptism. But throughout the whole New Testament, I could find nothing, that looked like sprinkling in connection with the ordinance of baptism. It appeared to me that if a plain person should, without any previous information on the subject, read through the New Testament, he would never get the idea, that baptism consisted in sprinkling. He would find that baptism in all cases particularly described was administered in rivers, and that the parties are represented, as going down into the water, and coming up out of the water, which they would not have been so foolish as to do for the purpose of sprinkling.


Judson’s life is a life lived with trials and suffering. He went through imprisonment, and the death of 3 different wives. Many people in the land of Burma came to know Christ because Judson was able to become the man that God chose to reach them with the Gospel. But in the end, his defense of what a true picture of baptism should be had influenced missionaries for doing what the bible had taught and chose to model their method of baptism after the very fashion that Christ himself would have been baptized in; through immersion in a body of water. Judson had lived his days out serving God; translating scripture into Burmese (still used today), and reaching people with the gospel. But making a stand on the view of how baptism should be carried out was something that should be most honored in the life of Judson. His effort to expound on what Christ himself taught on baptism, and how believers who profess their salvation in Christ should be baptized. Believers must hold to a solid belief, and especially as a missionary, those who reach the people; there should be knowledge given to the national converts teaching them how to be disciples, following after the ultimate example that one can have, and that is believing in Christ for salvation and following after his commandment for being baptized. It is to be done as a public profession of faith that Christ has saved the soul of a heathen, and brought them to redemption through the blood of the Lamb. In this manner, Judson brought this message to the people of Burma, teaching them that they could be saved if they place their faith in Christ.

Stay tuned, one more paper will be posted.

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