Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #1

Two Requirements for a Universal Fulfillment of the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Dearest David,

It is a distinct privilege to dialogue with you about the critical issue that is central to both Christian identity and Baptist identity, the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I have long admired you for your commitment to serve our Lord wherever he calls you. It is neither easy nor comfortable nor particularly safe to cross national, cultural, and linguistic boundaries as a witness to the saving gospel. (And yet, speaking with a view to eternity, there is no better place to be than in the center of God’s will.) I have served in mission roles in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but have always returned to my family and my homeland within a few weeks. However, you have a long-term commitment there in Spain on the front lines for Jesus. So, in that way, you have me at something of a disadvantage in a dialogue on the Great Commission, for missionaries are deservedly among our Southern Baptist heroes.

Yet, as you would no doubt be the first to agree, the Great Commission is not restricted to foreign missionaries, even if most spectacularly fulfilled by that elite cadre. The Great Commission is for every Christian to fulfill, including every man, woman or child, in whatever vocation or venue. May we agree that our Lord’s last great word to us prior to his ascension to heaven is for all Christians, and that all of us must be totally committed to fulfilling it in its entirety? Perhaps we could begin by agreeing that the Great Commission is incumbent upon all Christians to obey, and that it must be obeyed in whatever vocation or venue God has placed a particular Christian.

Some theologians argue against distinguishing between missions and evangelism: our Christian mission is evangelism. Putting the merits of this argument aside for now, evangelism certainly occurs whenever a Christian verbally communicates the gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost person. Roy J. Fish and J.E. Conant state the universal nature of this Christian responsibility quite clearly: “The Great Commission, therefore, is a personal command to every Christian to go into every nook and cranny of his personal world” (Every Member Evangelism, p. 9). Missionaries practice evangelism in nooks and crannies across boundaries; the rest of us should be evangelizing where we are, seeking every opportunity to present the only way of life to an increasing number of lost people.

I believe we should begin our dialogue by stressing the demand upon all Christians to fulfill the Great Commission. Why? One reason is because the Executive Committee reports that there has been a falling off in baptisms among Southern Baptists in the last few years. This decline probably reflects a more significant decline in our zeal for evangelism. Some blame the conservative resurgence for this unfortunate decline, yet stressing the truthfulness of God’s Word surely bolsters proclamation. Some blame the recent renewal of scholastic Calvinism for that worrying trend, yet history records that some of our greatest preachers and missionaries have been Calvinistic. Some blame a rising trend in theological universalism for that trend, yet Southern Baptists generally recoil at the very idea that salvation is not through Christ alone.

Perhaps one answer is that we have simply forgotten the importance of obeying the Great Commission, having become distracted elsewhere. For instance, I shared the following observation with a small group of friends at the recent meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in San Antonio: Criswell College’s radio station was hosting debates over the issues of Calvinism and private prayer languages. Situated next to the Criswell College display was a display for the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists. Strikingly, the Criswell College display was stacked with Christians breathlessly straining to hear every syllable of the debates, while the Evangelists’ display was absolutely empty of human presence.

We Southern Baptists, to our shame, seem more interested in debating extraneous matters than in obeying our Lord’s commission. David, we need to refocus our attentions upon understanding and fulfilling the Great Commission!

To rectify this situation, we first need to recover a personal passion for the Great Commission. Christianity began its amazing early growth because the apostles were entirely sold out to obeying the one who had arisen from the dead. Through the centuries, Christianity has grown whenever believers came under the conviction that God was personally calling them to proclaim His saving Word to a lost world.

The second thing we need to recover is a proper understanding of the Great Commission. Paul said that the problem with Jewish unbelievers was that they had “zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge” (Romans 10:2). Paul was not downplaying zeal, but reminding us that zeal must be channeled in the right direction, and that is the role of knowledge. We not only need a renewed passion for the Great Commission, but a renewed understanding of what the Great Commission actually is.

Oh, Lord God, please send your Spirit upon us to bring life into the decaying bones of Southern Baptist zeal for the Great Commission! Restore to us both passion and knowledge for your commands.

In Christ,



Letter #1, Two Requirements for a Universal Fulfillment of the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #2, A Steward must be Found Faithful, by David Rogers

Letter #3, Centripetal and Centrifugal, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #4, To Whom is the Great Commission Given?, by David Rogers

Letter #5, The Great Commission is Given to the Gathered Church, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #6, The End-Vision of the Great Commission, by David Rogers

Letter #7, Both the End and the Means are Established by the Lord, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #8, A Matter of Emphasis?, by David Rogers

Letter #9, Complete Obedience versus Hesitant Discipleship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #10, The Universal Scope of the Great Commission, by David Rogers

Letter #11, Freedom, Power and Authority in the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #12, Enduring Submission to the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #13, Obeying the Commands of Jesus, by David Rogers

Letter #14, John Gill on Romans 14 and 15:1-7, by David Rogers

Letter #15, The Illustration of the Hypothetical "Common Loaf Denomination", by David Rogers

Letter #16, A Condensed Response to Your Last Three Letters, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #17, Further Discussion on Cooperation and Obedience, by David Rogers

Letter #18 (Part I), Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love, and the Limits of Fellowship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #18 (Part II), Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love, and the Limits of Fellowship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #18 (Part III), Faith and Faithfulness: Truth, Love, and the Limits of Fellowship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Letter #19, A Deep Division?, by David Rogers


OKpreacher said...

David Rogers and Malcolm Yarnell,

I appreciate your willingness to discuss these issues. Be prepared to be called a liberal. I know David has already experienced that, and by the letter Dr. Yarnell just wrote he is about to experience it also.

Jim Richards in answering a questionaire on said, "The Great Commission was not given to every believer but to the church. Otherwise any pre-teen girl who is saved could baptize her newly converted friend in the swimming pool."

With Jim being the 1vp, I didn't want Dr. Yarnell's statements in this letter to get him into trouble since he disagrees with Jim on the issue of the Great Commission.


Malcolm Yarnell said...

Dear OKpreacher,

Thank you for your affirmation of our willingness to discuss the importance of the Great Commission. We surely must refocus our attentions there! We are simply being disobedient when we do not remember its importance. And we are losing out on the greatest blessing in not dedicating our entire lives to its fulfillment.

(As an aside, please note that nothing has been said about how baptism is to be carried out. I believe you will be surprised at the nuances that David or I may put upon the matter, nuances that should come from Scripture.)

In Christ,

OKpreacher said...

Dr. Yarnell,

I agree with you that the lack of a desire and plan to fulfill the Great Commission is the biggest problem facing Southern Baptists.

I look forward to your and David's letters.


Alan Knox said...

Dr. Yarnell,

Thank you for taking the time to dialog with David. I'm looking forward to this, and hope that it will be a model for further discussion.

When you were talking about obeying the Great Commission, you immediately shifted to evangelism. The Great Commission is to make disciples. I have been a part of many churches that stressed evangelism and counted baptisms. However, I have never been part of a church that stressed discipleship. Even in seminary we are told that our primary responsibility is to make disciples, but never taught what that actually means, or what it looks like. When I asked a question about this, I was told that that was the purpose of the church programs.

Do you associated the Great Commission with evangelism only, or was this simply a first step in this dialog in discussing obedience to the Great Commission? If you also see discipleship as the outcome of the Great Commission, then how do we stress and carry out making disciples both locally and internationally?


GuyMuse said...

Great post and good start to what should be foremost in getting our attention as professing Christians.

The above illustration of what you observed at Criswell College over the attention Calvinism/ppl debates was getting vs. the evangelism debate is very telling of where we are today as S. Baptists. This is something that I have been noticing for quite a while now. We are much more interested in debate, in being "right", in correcting others views, etc. Is having the correct doctrinal interpretation more important than the fact that every second that passes ten people pass into a Christless eternity?

As an IMB M, I heartily affirm getting back to not only dialogging about the GC, but getting our hearts, minds, and spirits together to explore ways to fulfill Christ's command in our life time.

Malcolm Yarnell said...

Dear Alan,

Great question. You will note that I placed the argument aside as to whether our mission is encompassed by evangelism alone. Christ's commission focuses upon the making of disciiples. Evangelism is a significant, central, and indispensable aspect of making disciples, but it is not the entirety of our mission. In this, you are absolutely correct.

I did indeed plan on addressing the fullness of the Great Commission in future letters to our friend and missionary, Brother David. However, David and I agreed that we would keep our submissions short. Please hang in there with us in our conversation.

Guymuse, thanks for your comment. We absolutely need to carry out the Great Commission together, and with all of our being.

I look forward with anticipation to David's first letter.

In Christ,

Strider said...

Thank you Malcolm and David. I think the lack of interest in this subject as demonstrated in Malcolm's letter is proof of our complete misunderstanding of the Great Commission. We like controversy and a good debate because we are interested in conflict and fighting battles. That is not a completely bad thing! We will need it if we are to fight the spiritual fight of taking the Gospel to the Nations. Debates about how to reach every corner of this planet with the love of God are passionate and fruitful discussions that are worth having.
To be obedient in carrying out the GC is not one aspect of following Jesus. When we care about what He cares about we love as He loves. When we love others with Him in this way we truly worship Him. We more truly know Him. To miss the Great Commission as too many do is to miss who God is. We spend too much time working out ivory tower doctines that protect our personal power and miss Jesus in the process. I will follow your discussions on the GC and pray that they will lead us back to the heart of God.

casualchristian said...

What happens to the Great Commission when a missionary organization engages in a cover-up of sex abuse of small boys by one of its members? My son was molested by a TEAM missionary when we served with him in northern Japan. TEAM leaders did everything in their power to keep the story under wraps. When it finally did come out, they refused to aid any of the five victims. Other Christian leaders just circled the wagons when I sought their support.

How can Christ use a church like this to glorify His name?