Recently, I received an e-mail from Dr. Malcolm Yarnell, Assistant Dean for Theological Studies, Director of the Center for Theological Research, and Director of the Oxford Study Program, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, responding to several of the posts I have made on this blog. Dr. Yarnell is apparently one of the "idealogues" behind the new policies passed by the IMB Board of Trustees.
I need to make clear that I do not agree with many of the points Dr. Yarnell is making. However, I believe the correspondence I have received from him, and the response I have sent him, are highly illustrative of the issues I am attempting to bring to light here. I also believe that many of you who have been following the recent developments at the IMB would be interested to "listen in" on this dialogue. On my "Coming Clean" post, I called for Southern Baptists "to 'come clean' related to what is expected of those who serve the Lord while receiving spiritual and financial covering from the Southern Baptist Convention." I believe Dr. Yarnell has done just this. I believe that if you take the time to read carefully through all of this post, and Dr. Yarnell's message "The Heart of a Baptist" , you will see more clearly than ever the issues that are at stake right now in the SBC.
Because of this, I asked Dr. Yarnell for permission to copy the dialogue we have been having here on the blog. I invite you to objectively and prayerfully read through what follows, and come to your own conclusions about how we as Southern Baptists need to deal with the issues at hand.
E-mail letter from Malcolm Yarnell to David Rogers, March 10, 2006
After it was pointed out to me, I glanced through the first few posts on your blog, http://www.loveeachstone.blogspot.com/, and was struck by a few things. First to strike me was your willingness to "come clean," which is laudable and a move of integrity. Second was the fact that you believe non-Baptists are correctly fulfilling the Great Commission. Please read the attached . It may be helpful to you. Indeed, I pray that you will see that the only way to obey the Great Commission is according to the scriptural program of Jesus Christ. It should be evident that the order given by Jesus Christ for the Great Commission is:
1. Hear the Word.
2. Become a Disciple of Jesus Christ.
3. Be baptized.
4. Obey all the Commands of Jesus Christ, which includes regenerate church membership.
In other words, to follow the ordinance of Jesus Christ is to be baptized only after believing. Other Christians and Christian churches who do not practice believers' baptism do not fulfill the Great Commission as given by Jesus Christ. This does not throw their Christianity or ecclesiality into doubt: it does cast into doubt their willingness to obey Christ fully. This is why Southern Baptists want to plant Baptist churches and not other churches: we want to be disciples of Christ, whose will is revealed in His Word, and not disciples of an unbiblical tradition.
I pray you will change your mind and your public statements.
E-mail reply from David Rogers to Malcolm Yarnell, March 10, 2006
Thank you for your e-mail, and for the message you attached. I have carefully read through both of them. I appreciate the thought you have put into these matters, and your personal interest in dialoguing with me about them.
Let me say first of all, in regards to your comment affirming that I believe that "non-Baptists are correctly fulfilling the Great Commission", that, in the spirit of "that depends what the meaning of the word 'is' is": that depends what the meaning of the word "correctly" is. I would doubt that any of us, myself included, are fulfilling the Great Commission 100% correctly. I would agree that the command to "baptize" is indeed a key element. And, in my personal efforts to work towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, I hope and strive to give due importance to biblical baptism.
At the same time, though, I sense there are probably some key points of divergence between our two views. I normally would not consider it proper etiquette to critique someone's message like I am going to do now, but since I understand that you sent this to me in an attempt to convince me to change my views, I hope you will receive what I have to say with the same spirit of indulgement...
First of all, let me affirm my agreement with the vast majority of what you have to say. I am definitely "with you" in your zeal for reminding us that we are a "Great Commission" people, and urging us to be more and more consistent with our missionary calling. Where I would beg to differ is the inference and emphasis throughout the entire message that the "Great Commission" is specifically a "Baptist" thing. As I already stated on my blog-post, I am convinced the Great Commission was "given to the Church, the Body of Christ, made up of born-again believers down through the centuries from every nation, culture, ecclesiological background, and denomination." While I am all in favor of challenging Baptists to be better stewards with the "part of the wall" (using the analogy of Nehemiah 3) that God has delegated to us in the reconstruction of spiritual Zion, I must say that I am a bit "taken back" by language that seems to imply (following the analogy of Nehemiah again) that the entire "building project" has been "contracted out" exclusively to Baptists. In my point of view, if you could talk about the five Greek words you mention, directing your discourse to the Body of Christ at large instead of specifically to Baptists, it would come more in line with the general tenor of the New Testament, especially in the light of 1 Corinthians 1.10-17. You repeat several times the phrase: "Baptism is the beginning Baptist distinctive." I personally do not see a great need to look for "Baptist distinctives". I am content to believe, apply and teach the Bible, as I in "soul competency" before the Lord (with the help of godly teachers and interpreters down through the years) read it.
As you might guess, the part of your message which causes me the greatest concern is the part at the end where you say, "Christians who do not practice baptism are simply not Great Commission Christians. Southern Baptist missionaries should firmly rebuke other missionaries who do not completely fulfill the Great Commission." I personally have not heard this definition of "GCCs" yet at the IMB. Perhaps trying to get the IMB to adopt this definition is a good part of what is behind your message and many of the recent developments related to the IMB Board of Trustees. If that is the case, I am glad to receive a copy of your message. Frankly, I did not realize that the terms were being spelled out this clearly.
Once again, let me reiterate my strong belief in and commitment to biblical baptism, that I share with you. At the same, it seems to me that we probably take a different approach to the doctrine of the Body of Christ, and that of Christian unity. For me, my beliefs regarding these matters are every bit as important, if not more so, than my beliefs regarding baptism. And, I believe I have biblical warrant for making them so. In the coming days, I hope to "blog" a bit more about this specific issue. I will spell out there a little more specifically what I believe about the Body of Christ and Christian unity, and why I believe it.
I don't know if you would be open to making this dialogue we are having now public on my blog. If you prefer not to, I will respect that. But I have an idea many others who are wrestling with the same issues might benefit by the opportunity to share in this conversation as well. I look forward to hearing from you.
E-mail reply from Malcolm Yarnell to David Rogers, March 10, 2006
One of the hallmarks of Baptist identity is the embrace of a vigorous examination of Scripture as well as church life by all believers. You are certainly welcome to publish our discourse. However, before you do so, I encourage you to consult your president as to the potential ramifications of your blogs, especially since you have declared yourself to have a personal theological "discrepancy" with the Baptist Faith &Message, the confession adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention and the International Mission Board. (* see below)
Thank you for your response to my sermon. I hope I am wrong in my interpretation of your position, but it appears you have adopted an ecumenical ecclesiology. Ecumenical ecclesiology, at least that type with which I am familiar, is unsustainable because it severely undermines the biblical (and thus Baptist) emphasis on the regenerate church (e.g. 2 Cor. 6:11-18).
Another issue you may want to consider is an apparent lack of appreciation for the local church as the focus of the New Testament. The universal church is affirmed in Scripture, but the overwhelming emphasis of the inspired Word, as our Baptist forefathers recognized repeatedly, is upon the local church. This is why Baptists stress the local church, too.
As for the definition of a Great Commission Christian, perhaps Dr Rankin could enlighten us concerning his definition of the term and the biblical basis for that definition.
*Note from David: I have consulted with Dr. Rankin regarding this, and received his blessing to communicate openly.