Centripetal and Centrifugal, by Malcolm Yarnell
Thank you for the two emphases in your first letter. Your first emphasis, upon faithful stewardship, is laudable and biblical. The same promise that has granted you a sense of purpose has also provided me personal guidance in living. I can only imagine that moment when I hope to hear my Lord pronounce us good and faithful servants. I envision kneeling before my Master, reveling in his presence, humbled by the loving touch of the one who has granted this human being creation and this sinner redemption. You imply that the obedient service the Lord desires of his people is defined in the Great Commission, and in this we certainly agree. Might we agree that such faithful service is best summarized in one word, "discipleship," a central concept in the Great Commission?
Your second emphasis, upon teamwork, a primary part of discipleship, is similarly laudable and biblical. To be in Christ is to be in Christ with other believers. Complete obedience to Christ’s commands necessarily entails working with all others who are entirely submitted to him. Productive teamwork is that which is formed by Christ, empowered by the Spirit, and motivated for God’s glory. Might we agree, then, that "teamwork" is a colloquialism for the church’s activity, and that the "team" upon which we should work together is in actuality identical with the "church"?
If so, let us turn our attention to the Matthean pericope that provides the most complete definition of Christ’s commission to the churches. The pericope for the Great Commission in Matthew 28 begins with verse 16, "Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee,into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them." The disciples gathered at the command of Jesus, and his chosen place was at a mountain to the north of Jerusalem. The Master called and the disciples gathered.
The Matthean account of the resurrection appearances of Christ begins with the revelation of himself to the two women, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. They were encouraged by Christ to not be afraid. (Wouldn’t you be frightened to see a crucified man walking around in perfect health, a man whose heart had shortly before emptied its contents on the ground as a result of the brutal thrust of a Roman spear?) The women were also given a command: "Go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me" (28:10). The Master called and the disciples gathered.
As they traveled to meet their Lord, perhaps the echoes of Jesus’ earlier discourse on the church in Matthew came to the enquiring and excited minds of these disciples. It was a command with a promise. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (18:20). The New Testament term for “church” is ekklesia, perhaps a compound of kalein ("to call") and ek ("out"). The church is composed of those who have been called out by Christ and in his name have gathered, and he is there. Thus, after his resurrection, Christ called out to his disciples and commanded them to gather at a certain place. The Master called and the disciples gathered.
Only those who were called gathered, but all of those who were truly called gathered. This gathering was of the disciples of Jesus Christ, and he was in their midst. By definition then, at least according to Matthew’s, this gathering was a church. Indeed, we would be justified in saying the disciples were the first members of the first church. Subsequent gatherings are also called churches in the New Testament, but this was a first gathering of the church. The Master called and his disciples gathered.
It is only to the gathered that the commission comes to disperse. The call of Christ is both centripetal and centrifugal. The call of Christ both brings his disciples into one place and then disperses them into the world. More often than not, today, most Christians think of the Great Commission as a call to disperse to all the nations. However, dispersion occurs only after gathering, and the dispersion always refers new disciples back to the gathering. This is why Baptists should plant churches. The Master called and the disciples gathered.
It is common to hear otherwise responsible theologians speak of the "church" in rather vacuous terms. You can hear the indefiniteness of their ideas in such terms as "evangelical church," "ecumenical church," "emergent church," and most tellingly, "invisible church." Where exactly do these churches gather? Our understanding of the meaning of church should come from the New Testament. By etymology and by the context of Jesus’ own words, a church is a gathering. A church is a gathering of those who have been called to discipleship by Jesus Christ. The Master called and the disciples gathered.
Only after the Master called and the disciples gathered was the Great Commission given. Just as the Great Commission is given to all of those who are disciples of Jesus Christ (as outlined in Letter #1), so the Great Commission comes only to those who obediently gather for Jesus Christ. Discipleship begins in the gathered church. The Great Commission is given to the "team" known as the church, and it is to be completely fulfilled by the team working together. When the Master calls, disciples will gather, and we rightly call such a gathering, and only that gathering, "church". The Great Commission is both centripetal, calling disciples together, and centrifugal, sending disciples out. The Master calls. Will disciples today gather to hear the Lord’s commission? And will they then go out and obey it?
Letter #1, Two Requirements for a Universal Fulfillment of the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell 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