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
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.
MalcolmLetter #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