Monday, July 23, 2007

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #10

The Universal Scope of the Great Commission, by David Rogers

Dear Malcolm,

As I read Matthew’s version of the Great Commission, the term “all”, used both explicitly and implicitly throughout the passage, stands out to me as significant. First, I think it is significant that, occurring after the death of Judas, and before the incorporation of Matthias to the company of the twelve, all of the apostles are present and are evidently recipients on an equal basis of the commission given by Jesus in this moment. As you correctly observe in your last letter, there appears to be some divergence between the degree of pure worship, and the corresponding degree of doubt, offered by each disciple. However, I think it is significant that the legitimacy of each disciple as a recipient of the Great Commission is not called into question, regardless of the respective level of doubt or purity of worship. The Great Commission is given, without reservation, to all.

I also see as significant the declaration that all authority has been given to Jesus, as Lord and Guarantor of the Great Commission, and graciously imparted to his disciples. As recipients of the Great Commission, we do not depend on any human institution for the authority necessary to do the job with which He entrusts us. The authority with which we act, as disciples of Jesus, is the authority of Jesus himself. Just as the Father sent Jesus, anointing Him with the Holy Spirit to “preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, release the oppressed, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” so also He has sent us, with the same anointing, to fulfill the same calling (John 20:21; Luke 4:16-21).

Next, I see a great amount of significance in the fact that we are to make disciples of all nations. As I understand the Great Commission, once an individual, as a result of the obedience of previously existing disciples of Jesus in proclaiming the gospel, comes himself to be a disciple of Jesus, this new disciple, in turn, becomes a recipient of the same Great Commission, with a newly conferred responsibility to make disciples of others. As a result of this, I believe we can legitimately state that the scope of the Great Commission includes both the making of new disciples among all the nations, as well as the raising up of a Body of native disciple-makers called out from among all the nations of the earth. I, from a missiological perspective, find particularly interesting and exciting the increasing incorporation into the missionary work force of cross-cultural ministers from places that have traditionally been viewed more as mission fields than as mission sending bases.

Next, I see in Matthew’s narration of the Great Commission an emphasis on the universal scope of the message we are to proclaim and instill into the disciples we are called to make. The disciple-making process does not end at the moment of the disciples’ public identification, through baptism, with their new relationship of trust in the saving grace, and submission to the lordship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It also embraces the comprehensive teaching of obedience to all the commands of Jesus regarding the revolutionary life principles embodied in the gospel of the Kingdom of God. As I indicated in a previous letter, I believe the ultimate scope, or “end-vision”, of the disciple-making process, is magisterially captured by Paul in the following words from Ephesians 4:13: “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

In the New Testament, we have specific commands, as Jesus’ disciples, regarding separating from false teachers and “every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching [we] have received from the [biblical writers]” (Galatians 1:6-9; 1 Thessalonians 3:6). At the same time, however, there are certain areas in which the duty to separate is not quite so clear. Never, for instance, do we find a command to separate from authentic disciples of Jesus due to variant understandings of disputable matters of Christian teaching and practice that have a secondary or tertiary connection to the central truths of the gospel. What we do find, rather, is the admonition to accept all those whom Christ has also accepted (Romans 14-15:7). In addition, the disciples, upon seeing someone casting out demons who was not one of their group, were warned by Jesus to not stop him, because “whoever is not against [us] is for [us]” (Luke 9:49-50).

Finally, we have the promise of Jesus that, as we seek to be faithful in the task of carrying out his Great Commission, He is with us “always, to the very end of the age.” Until the advent of the modern missionary movement, for many centuries, Christendom had, for the most part, misinterpreted the Great Commission, regarding it to have been given exclusively to the original apostles. However, the wording of Matthew makes clear that Christ’s presence would accompany his followers throughout all of history, as all of us, as legitimate heirs of the commission communicated verbally to the eleven, seek to be faithful stewards of the task entrusted to us by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The error of the Roman church, as well as of many other Christian denominations, has been to institutionalize the realization of the Great Commission, leaving it in the hands of ecclesiastical hierarchies, who use their misappropriated authority to “bind” where Christ has not previously “bound”, and, at times, to “loose” where Christ has not previously “loosed” (Matthew 18:18).

As Baptists, I believe we have much for which to be grateful as beneficiaries of a rich heritage of a by-in-large trustworthy transmission of the commands of Christ and faithful obedience to the Great Commission. However, I believe we must, at the same time, be ever vigilant to not allow pride for our heritage to prevent us from opening our hearts to cooperation with other true brothers and sisters in Christ who may not have had access to the same teaching and tradition as us. In keeping with the principle of semper reformanda, we must also endeavor to remain humble enough to receive instruction from other groups of Christians, who may have also received light from God in their own understanding of Scripture, without ever, at the same time, compromising on our submission to the authority of the inerrant Word of God as our supreme guide in faith and practice.

Blessings,

David

Introduction

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

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Stateside Assignment

Today, my family and I fly out from Spain for our year-long Stateside Assignment (STAS). During this year, if we can be of help to you or your church in any way, letting you know about our ministry, the work of the IMB, and what God is doing in Spain, Western Europe, and around the world, please let us know. We appreciate your prayers for us in this time of transition for our family in the days ahead.

*I hope to have my next letter to Malcolm Yarnell up in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #9

Complete Obedience versus Hesitant Discipleship, by Malcolm Yarnell

Dear David,

In Matthew 28:17, we read that sincere disciples of Jesus Christ may concurrently serve yet hesitate: “When they saw Him, they worshiped, but some doubted.” The eleven, gathered where Jesus called, somehow indicated the confused contents of their hearts. Upon seeing their resurrected Lord, they worshiped Him, and they doubted.

They worshiped. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to review the riches of European art at the National Gallery in London. One Renaissance artist captured the wondrous intensity of emotion probably experienced by the apostles upon seeing the resurrected Jesus. The apostles’ eyes seem to reflect a flood as the truth of Christ’s previous claims swept over them. And Christ thrusts the hand of Thomas into His side.

The gospels tell us that Jesus foretold his betrayal, trial, and execution. Though horrible, such a prophecy was believable. But the other aspect of Jesus’ prophecy—that he would arise from the dead—was inconceivable to the disciples. Peter even rebuked Christ for speaking of these things (Matt. 16:21-23). And now, here He was, before their very eyes and beheld by their very hands.

And the truths of Christ’s claims were now vindicated in His resurrection. He is indeed a prophet who speaks God’s Word. He is indeed a priest who reconciles sinners with God through His atoning death. He is indeed a king who has power to rule. And Thomas, we are told, went from verbal disbelief to proclaiming that Jesus is “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). And so, the disciples were compelled by faith to worship.

But they also doubted. The Greek distazo here has been the subject of some debate. Was it a mild hesitation or a deeper level of doubt? Did all of them worship while some among them doubted, or did all worship while expressing some doubt? Were the eleven the only disciples present or were there others, too? Perhaps the best conclusion is that the eleven disciples both worshiped and doubted at some level and with some differential.

Like the man begging Jesus for the spiritual freedom of his son, we too sometimes mix doubt with faith: “Lord, I believe, help me with my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). The disciples—the very apostles from whose writings we learn the faith today—were described by Christ as having “little faith” (Matt. 17:20). In the New Testament, faith is not only immediate and justifying, but progressive and sanctifying.

If we who are Christians are honest, we will admit that our faith, though real and salvific, is yet being perfected. Moreover, some Christians and churches will simply be further along than others in certain ways. Christians typically worship but hesitate, some with greater or lesser fidelity. Sometimes, hesitation is expressed in half-hearted obedience. Other times, it is indicated by an unwillingness to believe all that God in His Word proclaims.

This is the cause of much dissension between churches. There is often hesitation on the part of one group of sincere Christians in direct opposition to the faithfulness of another group. This does not always cast doubt upon their salvation (though it might) but may reflect incomplete fidelity to Christ in discipleship.

For instance, Presbyterians refuse to obey Jesus Christ in an orderly manner and “baptize” (actually, just bathe) their babies. Paedobaptists may be sincere Christians but they doubt Christ’s command and hesitate to institute it correctly, thereby deceiving their own children. Again, Pentecostals and some Charismatics may refuse to judge their profound experiences according to the clear teaching of God’s Word by hesitating to reject unbiblical doctrines. Yet again, many ecumenists typically refuse to discern the body of Christ and out of well-meant but misplaced sentimentality doubt they should discipline Christians who institute practices not in accord with Scripture. And as for us Southern Baptists, we should honestly admit that we have fallen off of late in our efforts to display complete obedience to the Great Commission.

Christians who sincerely worship may do so hesitantly or doubtfully. Those who are more advanced in the faith are therefore compelled by love patiently yet with conviction and fortitude to call their brothers and sisters in Christ out of half-hearted obedience and into entire discipleship by both word and deed, through their instruction and their example. Correcting an errant Christian should be done only from Scripture and with a gentle and humble heart, recognizing that all of us are subject to error (Gal. 6:1-3).

The sincere worship of the disciples was tainted by the presence of some doubt. Disciples need one another for the purpose of accountability and discipline, and Jesus Christ has established the local church precisely for this purpose. The visible local church is entered through baptism, manifested in the continuing practice of the Lord’s Supper, maintained through the redemptive application of church discipline, and grown through the common proclamation of the Word. Jesus Christ specifically established the local church and builds it through the instruments that he gave to her. She would do well not to ignore nor to alter nor to declare “non-essential” or “tertiary” His commands.

When Christians focus upon unbiblical institutions and means, they introduce novelties that may detract from Christ’s design. When they go so far as to overturn the divine order through anti-biblical hierarchies and synods, they pervert our Lord’s design and undermine His purpose. In response to your last question, David, let me be clear that I have no difficulty with para-church organizations, as long as they constantly remember that they are merely dispensable servants to those divinely-ordained bodies known as the local churches. Executive agencies, mission boards, and seminaries must serve the local churches, and when they destabilize or detract from those Christ-ordained institutions, they need to be reformed or suspended.

In Christ,

Malcolm

PS Please pardon my delayed response to your last letter, but I have been distracted with other responsibilities.

Introduction

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

Saturday, July 14, 2007

George Verwer: Denominations or Denominationalism?

"As I have ministered around the globe over the past 50 years people again and again have asked me and written me about what I am trying to share in this letter. There has been more hurt, disunity and discouragement in connection with this than we can ever know. Please try and take the time to read what I am sharing and pass it on to others."

George Verwer



Denominations or denominationalism?

In the ministry of mobilisation we are faced with many obstacles and complexities. One of the toughest is the denominationism which is usually combined with deception and pride.

I am pro denominations (not all of them), but anti-denominationalism. By that I mean the attitude that makes you believe that yours is the only true church group or at least better than all the others. There is a huge lack of reality and humility among such people, especially now with over 27,000 denominations. One group publicly teaches that all others are wrong and the only way is the way they believe and teach. This, of course, becomes cultic and manipulative. There are believers in such groups and we must exercise love and patience because that is all they know.

It is even sadder that many denominations don't believe that God works much outside their group or local church. By the way, some of the stronger church groups don't want to be called a denomination which is part of their judgementalism against other denominations. One group recently produced in their denominational magazine two articles against what they call para-church agencies making all kinds of false statements. This is especially sad as they have some good churches and lots of wonderful Christians. I find these articles (and they are not new) very divisive and hurtful. It is something that I have noticed around the world for the past 50 years.

Without realising they write off as second-class or worse,

1. all mission agencies
2. most Christian radio and TV
3. most Christian camps and youth ministries
4. the Christian Film industry and most internet teaching and evangelism
5. most all Christian literature and Bible Agencies
6. almost all Christian book shops
7. most Christian Conference conventions like Keswick
8. most Christian Relief & Development Agencies
9. all international networks like WEA or
Lausanne
10. all missionary aviation agencies
11. all ship ministry agencies
12. most evangelistic agencies like Billy Graham and Luis
Palau
13. Student Movements and Organisations like UCCF, Campus Crusade, the Navigators
14. Christian Arts & Music ministries
15. most Bible colleges or seminaries and other Christian institutions
16. most drug and alcohol rehabilitation agencies
17. many evangelistic efforts like the Alpha course

The list can go on.

It is almost impossible to honestly maintain such a position as it denies so much of what God has done over these 2000 years and what He is doing right now. I know of cases where young people felt the call of God to join a mission event for a summer and were told by their local church leaders that it could not possibly be of God. Can you imagine the confusion and discouragement that comes from such behaviour? As Bible believers we are a minority and on a narrow way. Why do some get joy out of making it more narrow?

The good news is that increasing numbers of churches and whole denominations believe that most, not all, Christian biblical 'so-called' para-church agencies are a vital part of what God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are doing in the world today. There is only one church and all true believers are part of that church.

Walls have come down when those of us in such groups repent of not esteeming more highly local churches and denominations. I did that publicly once in front of 500 mission and denominational leaders from around the world. One of the most crucial things to remember is that many of the mission agencies are responsible for planting thousands of local churches and even whole denominations, like SIM in Nigeria birthing a whole huge dynamic denomination. We could give many other examples.

I have received beautiful letters from people who have apologized for their attitude toward 'para-church' groups and who have changed their viewpoint.

As mobilizers, let's get involved in breaking down the barriers and praying for more workers to be released into the harvest. Let all of us who know Jesus and are heavenbound realise that we need each other.

I submit this hoping that it will increase humility, reality and a great unity of purpose in reaching all peoples with the Gospel.


George Verwer


PS Please feel free to pass this on in any format.


George Verwer

PO Box 17
Bromley, Kent
BR1 3JP
UK

Email: george@verwer.om.org or georgev@swissmail.org

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Spanish Evangelicals Respond to Catholic Document on "the Church"

From a missiological point of view, I believe it is interesting to be aware of how our national brethren on the “mission field” respond to current events. I myself heartily endorse the following statement from the Spanish Evangelical Alliance, which I have translated from the original Spanish

With respect to the recent document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on “aspects of church doctrine” which reaffirms that the Church of Christ is one and that it subsists in the Roman Catholic Church, we believe that it treats Protestant Christians as third-class believers. This bothers or worries us very little inasmuch as, for us, the figure of the Pope and the Vatican has a value that does not go beyond that of mere human opinion.

However, with the intent to clarify, we believe it is convenient, as the Spanish Evangelical Alliance, to make the following comments:

1.- This is a repetition of the
Vatican declaration "Dominus Iesus" from the year 2000, with perhaps the only shade of difference being a greater doctrinal clarity.

2.- With this document, as we have already mentioned in previous occasions, the monopolizing character of the religious institution that comprises the Church of Rome—for whom the only way that leads to the unity of Christians is not authentic dialogue and the search for truth in the Bible, but rather forming part of the Roman Catholic Church—becomes more evident than ever before.

3.- It is very significant that the document only considers the orthodox churches as “churches,” while it calls those that have sprung forth from the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century simply “Christian communities.” This difference in treatment, which does not surprise us at all, constitutes an evident disdain towards Protestantism that now becomes “official”, being included in a public Vatican document.

4.- We reiterate that, from our perspective, there is only one Christian Church, the one made up of those who accept Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life, and the Gospel as a maximum reference point of faith and conduct.

This integral experience (faith and reason) is not the monopoly of any Christian church as a human institution (neither of the evangelical or protestant church), since the Church—just as the Bible says—is a living spiritual body whose head is Christ, not the Pope, nor the religious hierarchy, nor any determined dogmas or traditions.

5.- On the other hand, we offer our maximum respect to an institution such as the Roman Catholic Church, of which we are not a part, and for whom we recognize the right to establish the definitions, norms and doctrines that it considers, according to its understanding, to be correct.

This is not an obstacle for adding, by way of conclusion, that we have always seen so-called ecumenical dialogue as staging based more on gestures directed towards the gallery than a dialogue of true reconciliation. Could it not be that, with this document, even the stage lights themselves are turned off?

Signed: Pablo Martínez Vila (President of the Spanish Evangelical
Alliance); José de Segovia (President of the Theology Commission of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance); and Pedro Tarquis (Spokesperson of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #8

A Matter of Emphasis?, by David Rogers


Dear Malcolm,

Inasmuch as my last letter was a bit on the lengthy side, this one will be a bit briefer than usual. The reason for this is, primarily, I don’t have a whole lot with which to contend in what you say in your last letter.

I certainly agree with you, for instance, that the “end-visioning” process must be subject to the dictates of Scripture, just as I indicated when I first alluded to it: “‘end-visioning’ involves envisioning, before God, out of a framework instructed by Scripture…”

Also, while I maintain my opinion regarding Carroll’s understanding of the universal church, I find nothing with which to object in the quotes you give in your last letter from Andrew Fuller.

I do think it is perhaps a bit unfair to equate Fuller’s use of the term “accommodation” with the modern-day missiological concepts of “contextualization” and “relevancy.” The term “accommodation,” as I understand it, implies a compromise of the truth for the sake of pragmatic expediency. While it is most certainly possible to compromise truth for pragmatic expediency in the name of “contextualization” and “relevancy,” I do not believe it is necessary. As missionaries, one of the primary practices we must seek to maintain is to divide correctly between eternal, unchanging principles and guidelines of the Word of God, and cultural applications of these same principles, which will almost always vary from context to context.

I would agree with you, however, in placing the general principles from 1 Cor. 14—“Let all things be done to edifying,” and “Let all things be done decently, and in order”—in the first category. I would also agree that, while the actual methods used for communicating this relationship and commitment may vary between cultural contexts, there is a very real sense in which a local church does indeed “covenant” together to carry out the various “one another” admonitions of the New Testament. Where I am not sure if you agree with me on this, and where I would go even further, is in saying that, as members of the universal church, we also have an implicit “covenant” relationship one with another, and a corresponding responsibility to carry out the same reciprocal attitudes and practices with each other.

I would also agree with you and Fuller regarding the need to submit to the positive rules of Scripture, such as those related to Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. By no means would I want to give the idea that our practice regarding such things is entirely a matter of personal preference.

If there is a real difference in what we are saying on the specific points referenced in your last letter, it seems to me it is, more than anything, a matter of emphasis. You seem to want to emphasize the local aspect of the church, while, at the same time, if I am interpreting you fairly, downplay the universal aspect. My aim, however, is not to downplay the importance of the local church, and church planting, in the task of obeying the Great Commission, but rather to give proper emphasis to the place of the universal church and Christian unity, which, due perhaps, in part, to the influence of Landmarkism in our Southern Baptist heritage, and the ecclesiology of some of our forefathers, such as Carroll, has, at times, languished. I am especially concerned, in light of what I consider to be biblical teaching on Christian unity, by traces I have observed of two related but different tendencies that might best be described by the terms “denominational isolationism” and “denominational imperialism.”

I am very much encouraged, however, by your reply to Tim Cook in the comment string of Letter #5. Although it still seems that we have a different understanding of the present-day reality of the universal church, we can at least agree that our union in Christ as fellow believers “means that we must seek ways to cooperate with one another.” I think I am not making too big of an assumption to conclude this includes not only fellow Baptists, but also all others who have truly entered into union with Christ by grace through faith, by virtue of the sacrificial atonement of Jesus at Calvary.

Such being the case, I am optimistic that perhaps our real differences on these issues are not at a foundational level, but rather in different understandings of the best way, in practical day-to-day situations, of how to apply these principles.

Perhaps the most problematic part of your last letter for me, however, is found in the wording of the last paragraph, especially your statement: “I would state emphatically that the local church is the only body that Christ has established to proclaim the Word that saves the world.” Perhaps, I am not understanding you correctly. But it seems to me that you are here, in essence, disqualifying the missological legitimacy of all so-called “para-church” organizations. If such is not the case, I would be very open to consider your alternative explanation. For the meantime, though, I must withhold my definitive response to your question, until I feel I have a better grasp of the implications involved.

Having said that, I understand you would like to move the direction of our conversation towards a more direct consideration of Matthew 28:16-20. That sounds like a great idea to me. I will allow you to propose the specific matters to be discussed from this passage in your next letter.

Blessings,

David

Introduction

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

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #7

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

Dear David,

The length and subject matter of your last letter will delay the examination of the biblical evidence for the Lord’s command traditionally known as the Great Commission (Matt. 28:16-20). Your letter raises more issues than I can answer in our agreed format, so I will not respond point-by-point, but to the general idea you raise. It is striking that the conversation transitioned from the concrete reality of the local churches to the eschatological reality of the universal church. I would like to address the concepts you have offered and then ask a question. (We will not address your interesting interpretation of Dagg.)

You introduced a strategic process utilized by the International Mission Board [IMB] called “end-visioning.” Envisioning the means to a goal is certainly one way to organize human efforts, and somewhat acceptable for church matters, but only if the humanly-derived means chosen do not contradict or detract from divinely-ordained means. Since you do not accept the ecclesiology, at least with regard to the universal church, exposited from Scripture by the founder of your alma mater, perhaps you will allow me to draw upon the pastor-theologian who shepherded the modern missions movement. Surely, we can both agree with him in describing what is normative and what is dispensable in the missionary effort.

Andrew Fuller held the rope of support that allowed William Carey to take that half-year journey to India that began the modern world missionary movement. According to one biographer, “the work of his life was the organization, management, and support of the Baptist Missionary Society,” the first body of its type. In April 1804, Fuller addressed some issues regarding church planting for the Brethren at Serampore (“Thoughts on the Principles,” in The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller, 3:451-59). Fuller recognized that some issues Christians face today are not directly addressed in Scripture. However, this does not mean we are entirely free to improvise according to the “very defective and erroneous” ideas of fallible men. “Some, under the pretence of accommodating Christianity to times and circumstances, may render it a mere temporizing system, to be just what its professors may find it their interest or their inclination to have it be.” What Fuller calls “accommodation,” we often call “contextualization” or “relevancy,” useful concepts subject to misuse. The head of the first Baptist missionary agency warned that, “if men will abuse it, they must take the consequence.”

Fuller advised the Indian churches on the basis of Scripture. He began by affirming that there are “general outlines or principles” revealed in the New Testament for planting churches. These general principles are derived from 1 Corinthians 14: “Let all things be done to edifying.—Let all things be done decently, and in order.” In other words, our methodological decisions should be driven by edification, building up individuals in the holy faith; decency, in relating to one another and the world; and, orderliness, properly organizing ourselves for worship and witness. He notes that the first churches were begun with edification, decency, and order: “When a number of Christians agreed to walk together in the faith and order of the gospel, they became a Christian church.” (Although he does not use the word, “covenant,” there is little doubt this was in mind.)

Fuller was also very clear that the New Testament actually offers positive rules that must be followed. In other words, a church must follow specific rules established by God in addition to the general principles He established. Only when the Lord’s rules and principles are obeyed does freedom come to innovate. With regard to specific rules, Fuller says, “On the other hand, there are some things pertaining to the Christian church which are entirely positive; and, being clearly revealed, require to be obeyed with the same punctilious regard to the ‘pattern’ given as was observed by Moses in constructing the tabernacle. Such are baptism and the Lord’s supper. They were ‘ordinances’ of God, and required to be kept ‘as they were delivered,’ Matt. iii.5; Luke i.6; 1 Cor. xi.2.” Fuller brooked no deviation from the New Testament methodology.

Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are two examples of means or methods that are not up for innovation or dismissal. Baptists have long believed that we must follow Christ’s commands, not according to our preferences, but according to Christ’s instructions and the apostolic example, as revealed only in the Bible. This is why we plant churches, baptize only believers, do not serve the Lord’s Supper to unbelievers or those under discipline, and are adamant about the verbal proclamation of God’s Word to a lost world. These practices are not subject to negotiation: they are commanded! Fuller again: “In whatsoever therefore the Lord hath condescended to instruct us, we are not at liberty to prefer what may appear fit and right to us….”

Envision (if you so desire, while being careful of the source of the vision), but (if ever so tempted) please do not neglect the necessary means established by Scripture. Fuller apparently never addressed the priority of local churches versus the universal church, because he and the missionaries he led were focused upon planting local churches, not the amorphous construction of an invisible church. The envisioning approach you have raised was simply not in their vocabulary, because of their desire to obey His Word. “Again, The first missionaries to a heathen country would be employed in the planting of churches, wherever proper materials were found for the purpose….” They believed that missionaries are sent to plant churches composed of “proper materials” (i.e. converts). Emphasizing the universal church as the primary goal of the missionary’s efforts, while downplaying a focus upon planting local churches, is a recent innovation. One wonders how we can know that the proper materials of the universal church are really there, if local churches do not result from a missionary’s work.

We cannot dispense with the necessary means ordained by Jesus Christ in order to meet the end we envision, even if we believe it is His end. An emphasis on the universal church may just be a preliminary matter, while your primary emphasis is upon the local church, but the drift of our conversation is misleading, if that is the case. David, let us affirm the existence of the universal church, just as the Baptist Faith and Message unambiguously does. However, let us not lose our focus upon the local church while we affirm the universal church. You believe the local church is “a tool…(albeit a very important one).” I would state emphatically that the local church is the only body that Christ has established to proclaim the Word that saves the world. It is not one among many tools but the necessary and unique body that should receive the minister’s care. Should it not?

In Christ,

Malcolm

Introduction

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

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #6

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


Dear Malcolm,

In strategy leader training for the International Mission Board, we discuss at length a process that has been dubbed “end-visioning.” At the risk of over-simplifying for the sake of brevity, “end-visioning” involves envisioning, before God, out of a framework instructed by Scripture, the ultimate goal towards which we are seeking to work as IMB missionaries, and, in the specific context of the training, as Strategy Coordinators for a particular people group or people-group segment. With this “end-vision” in mind, we are encouraged to think back, step by step, tracing the pathway, from the end to the beginning, that will bring us most successfully to the goal towards which we are working. The counterpart and contrast to this would be diving randomly into ministry, much of which may be fine and well in and of itself, but without real intentionality, and without coordination of resources and strategic planning to reach a desired final objective.

Although personally, I very much appreciate and see the strategic value of this practice and perspective, it is not my specific purpose in this letter to present an argument in favor of any particular practice or strategy of the IMB. I do, however, see the value of the “end-visioning” perspective in regard to a correct understanding of our task as members of the Body of Christ entrusted with the Great Commission, regardless of the organization with which we serve, or the particular ministry role we play in the overall fulfillment of that task.

As I mentioned in letter # 4, I see Ephesians 4:7-16 as the Apostle Paul’s “magisterial description of the ‘end-vision’ of the Great Commission.” Certainly, there are other passages that deal with the same theme, but I believe it is here that we find the richest description of the ultimate aim towards which we, as God’s co-laborers, are working. Indeed, I believe it is throughout the entire epistle to the Ephesians that we find the most complete development of the biblical doctrine of the Church Universal.

What specifically is this “end-vision”? In a nutshell, it is the Body of Christ, the Church Universal, brought to complete unity and maturity under the headship of Christ. This unity is a unity based on a mutual “faith” or belief in the same gospel message, as well as a common experiential knowledge and love relationship with Jesus, the Son of God (v. 13). This maturity is a maturity based on doctrinal stability, and a self-sacrificing concern for mutual edification one of another within the Body, under submission to the Head, Christ Himself (vv. 14-16).

Additional images in Scripture that describe this reality in its eschatological consummation are the Church as a “radiant [bride], without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish” (Eph. 5:27), “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9), and the “wedding of the Lamb” in which “his bride has made herself ready,” and “fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear” (Rev. 19:7-8).

As I understand the Bible, the planting and development of the local church is not, in and of itself, the “end-vision” of the Great Commission. It is rather a step, or, if you will, a tool employed in the hands of God (albeit a very important one), towards the fulfillment of the “end-vision.”

All this leads me to posit the following question: In our attempts to be obedient to the Great Commission, are we working in a way that best contributes toward the achievement of the “end-vision,” or is it possible that some of the ways in which we conceive of our ministry and focus our efforts are perhaps encumbering, or even undermining, in the long run, the accomplishment of the ultimate goal we have in mind?

I see some practical outworking of these principles poignantly illustrated in the Old Testament narrative of Nehemiah and the re-building of the city wall of Jerusalem. Evidently, every analogy has its weaknesses; and, admittedly, the stated purpose of Nehemiah is not to serve as a parable of the building of the Church Universal. However, I do see some very interesting parallels that, according to my understanding of biblical hermeneutics, may indeed be intentionally illustrative for us in our task as New Testament Christians of building up the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11; Ephesians 2:19-22; Heb. 12:22-24; 1 Peter 2:4-10).

While it is certain that each family or clan in the city of Jerusalem at the time of Nehemiah was strategically stationed at various stages along the wall, each one with their particular section on which they were to labor, it is also noteworthy, in my opinion, that they were all at the same time working together on one united, comprehensive effort to see the construction of one integral wall brought to a successful completion. Imagine what would have happened if each individual family or clan were to have been working on separate, disconnected building projects. Although each individual project may, in the end, have been exquisitely brought to completion, the ultimate purpose for which the wall was to have served would not have been accomplished.

In the same way, I believe that, as New Testament believers, we are not each working on our separate section of the heavenly Zion that will one day mysteriously be brought together with everyone else’s separate sections to form one united Holy City. While we may not have the privilege to see the pure and spotless Bride of Christ in her ultimate splendor and glory until that day when we are all seated together at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, we are nonetheless, being built up, at this very moment, into the very same Temple that will one day be perfected.

It is this very same metaphor that serves as the basis for the title of my blog, “Love Each Stone,” and underlies the theme of most everything I write here. In the spiritual City, Wall or Temple (depending on the particular metaphor at hand) God is building up, each individual “stone” has its vital importance. The City is being built up as new souls are won to Christ and are transformed into “living stones” that are the actual “building blocks” of which the entire building is composed. The City is also built up as each “stone” finds its unique place in the “wall,” and joins together with all the rest of the “stones” in fulfilling its role in the edification of the whole. As God’s servants, we are called to “love each stone,” and “we are sad to see them lying in the dirt” (Psalm 102:14, Contemporary English Version). Because of this, we work together, in obedience to Christ’s Great Commission, with others God has called to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, in order to “prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

*Having said all that, although I do not want to make the following the main thrust of my letter, neither do I want to leave unanswered several items you bring up in your last letter. It is for this reason that I include the last part of this letter as a sort of “detached addendum”:

Malcolm, I detect in your letter # 5 wording that might lead one to conclude there are only minor differences in the ecclesiological positions of John Dagg and B.H. Carroll. I myself, upon reading Dagg and Carroll, see advocated two distinct views on the present-day reality of the Church Universal. In addition, as you candidly acknowledge in your letter, I, in my views of ecclesiology, am closer to Dagg, and you to Carroll.

I do agree with you that Dagg is not infallible. I am sure you would agree with me that neither is Carroll. As a matter of fact, in spite of the great inner conflict it causes me, as a relative novice in theological studies, to voice my disagreement with one as learned and pious as Carroll, there is much in his treatise, Ecclesia – The Church, that fails to convince me. It, however, provides me with a bit of consolation to know that someone as learned and pious as Dagg (along with many others) apparently shares my evaluation (though before the fact, in Dagg’s case) of Carroll’s views of the Church Universal.

Although in agreement on their common dislike of the term “invisible church,” it seems to me their essential reasons for this dislike are somewhat disparate. For Carroll, as I understand him, the term “invisible church” is a synonym for the universal or general church, of which he denies its very existence in the present time. For Dagg, on the other hand, as I understand him, the term “invisible church” implies a church that is ashamed to let its light shine amidst the darkness of the world around it. He clarifies his position, however, by arguing that the “visibility” of the Church Universal is not tied in to any particular organization on Earth. As a matter of fact, he clearly states, in his Treatise on Church Order: “We have maintained the existence of what theological writers have called the Invisible Church, consisting of all who are spiritually united to Christ;” and “The church universal has no external organization.”

Perhaps it may serve as some relief to hear that I also agree with Dagg regarding the “Visible Church Catholic.” I do not see an organized unification of ecclesiological bodies, whether along the lines of the Roman Catholic/Eastern Orthodox model, or the more recent models proposed by way of the Conciliar Ecumenical Movement, as a positive step forward in the pursuit of the “end-vision” of unity and maturity of Christ’s Body. I believe both of these options tend rather towards a false unity, and ultimate division of the true Body of Christ, predicated upon false premises and human organization, rather than essential agreement on the true message of the gospel, a common relationship with the Lord Jesus, and the fellowship of the same Holy Spirit that indwells all those who have entered, by grace through faith, into the company of the redeemed.

Also, in relation to the Baptist Faith & Message, it seems to me that the language is intentionally ambiguous in relation to the Church Universal, recognizing the eschatological reality upon which people like both Dagg and Carroll could agree, without at the same time, defining itself one way or another as to its present reality.

In the end, I am sure you will agree with me, however, that it is neither Dagg, nor Carroll, nor the Baptist Faith & Message, that should be our ultimate guide in our understanding of the Great Commission, but rather the only totally reliable source of instruction we have, the inerrant Word of God.

Blessings,

David



Introduction

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

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #5

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

Dearest David,

We have so much in common here, and for that I am thankful to our Lord. Your description of discipleship as “the whole compendium of principles related to following Jesus with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind” wonderfully portrays its breadth. And to affirm the depth of Christian discipleship, we may also describe discipleship in terms of a self-denying carrying of the cross (Mark 8:34). To be a disciple of Christ is an all-consuming and all-demanding commitment, as you have displayed in your own life.

I also agree with you that, alongside the Matthean version (Matt. 28:16-20), there are important texts from the Johannine and Synoptic Gospels upon which we should depend for our understanding of Christ’s commission for us (Mark 16:15-18 [preferably, 14-18]; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21-23). However, Luke 9:1-5 (preferably, 1-6) and 10:1-16 seem indirectly illustrative rather than directly concerned with setting forth His commission. As for the Pauline version, Ephesians 4:7-16 certainly is important, but we should add 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 and Colossians 1:28. Finally, from the standpoint of methodology, we might also consider John 13:34-35 and Romans 10:13-17. I hope that, following or alongside our examination of the Matthean pericope, we will give attention to these important texts, in the context of “the sum of God’s revelation to us in Holy Scripture,” as you so ably state.

Now, before turning to Matthew 28:17, it may be an opportune time to address in summary the biblical doctrine of the locally gathered church and the biblical doctrine of the universally gathered church. First, with regard to the locally gathered church, please note that all the additional Gospel texts that you cite present the Great Commission as being given to the disciples as a gathering. In Mark 16, the commission was given to “the eleven” (v. 14); in Luke 24, the commission was given to “the eleven and those who were with them” (v. 33); in John 20, the commission was given to “the disciples”. And Paul always stated the commission in corporate terms, typically while addressing a locally gathered church (“we are ambassadors of Christ,” 2 Cor 5:20; “to the building up of the body of Christ,” Eph. 4:12; “we proclaim Him,” Col. 1:28). As John Dagg put it, “When we turn to the New Testament, and examine the use of this word [ekklesia] in its application to the followers of Christ, we find it for the most part so employed that an assembly is manifestly denoted” (A Treatise on Church Order, 76). You and I seem to agree that the etymological and contextual meaning of ekklesia usually indicates a gathering, and that gathering regularly is, to use your words, “normative for us as Christ’s disciples.”

Second, with regard to the universally gathered church, your citation of John Dagg has encouraged me to consider again the work of that able (yet fallible) commentator. (Unfortunately, Dagg believed Africans were “rude tribes” not adapted to political freedom [A Practical View of Christian Ethics, 339].) I somewhat agree with Professor Dagg’s exegesis regarding the universal church. It is noteworthy that he distinguishes between the universal church and the “invisible” church: “The epithet ‘invisible,’ applied to the true church of Christ, is not only incorrect, but it has led into mistake” (A Treatise on Church Order, 124). Dagg also warns that the idea of a “Visible Church Catholic” inevitably leads to Roman tyranny (Ibid., 132).

However, B.H. Carroll, who was familiar with the exegetical work of Dagg and other Baptists on the church, seems to have a clearer picture of the universal church. “But in every such case [of the universal church in the New Testament], the ecclesia is prospective, not actual. That is to say, there is not now but there will be a general assembly of Christ’s people. That general assembly will be composed of all the redeemed of all time” (Baptists and Their Doctrines, 42). Carroll trawled through every scriptural reference to the universal church and learned how they did not present a current but a future assembly. He was willing to use the terminology of a general assembly now, but only “in God’s purposes and plans,” or “in our conceptions or anticipations, but certainly not as a fact” (Ibid., 43). The Baptist Faith and Message (1963 and 2000) apparently affirms Carroll’s position by using eschatological language in reference to the universal church (Article VI).

Like Dagg, Carroll disliked the concept of the invisible church, for it “will likely tend to discredit the particular assembly, which does now really exist and which is the pillar and ground of the truth” (Baptists and Their Doctrines, 48). (Those interested in pursuing the doctrine of the church may want to read Mark Dever’s essay in A Theology for the Church, edited by Danny Akin, alongside my essay in The Baptist Faith and Message 2000: Critical Issues in America's Largest Protestant Denomination, edited by Douglas Blount and Joseph Wooddell.)

In other words, David, we may be overstating the case to assert that “church” is used in the New Testament “at times not to refer to an actual meeting” (my emphasis). Although you are closer to Dagg and I to Carroll, Dagg apparently never denied the idea of the church as an actual assembly or gathering. Rather, he believed that the universal church gathered for the first time in Jerusalem and will gather again at the Lamb’s Supper. He also considered there might be saints on the earth “who belong to the family of saints, and have not yet been received into any local church” (A Treatise on Church Order, 121). However, Dagg also argued for believers-only baptism, for baptism as a prerequisite to local church membership, and that “it is the will of God that believers in Christ should form themselves into churches” (Ibid., 94).

As for “secondary points of doctrine and practice,” and the problem of sincere but mistaken followers, space limitations require me to reserve these issues for the future. Therefore, in response to your query, “To whom is the Great Commission given?” my reply is that it is given to the church: true Christian disciples must belong to a locally gathered church and will one day belong to the universally gathered church. A Christian cannot be separated from the body of Christ.

In Christ,

Malcolm



Introduction

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

Monday, July 02, 2007

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #4

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

Dear Malcolm,

Thank you again for your candor and graciousness in our continuing dialogue, as evidenced by your most recent letter. At this point, there are still many things being brought out in our interchange on which we are in essential agreement. As brothers in Christ, I believe it is both natural and positive that such be the case. For instance, at least in a general sense, I have no problem in voicing my concurrence with your emphasis on the “centripetal” and “centrifugal” nature of the Great Commission. At the same time, however, I am glad that you have begun to mark out a few possible areas in which our understanding of the Great Commission may not perfectly converge. If it were not so, we would never get to the real point of this discussion, and the matters on which we are hoping to come to a greater mutual understanding would be left untreated.

As I begin this letter, I want to make sure, right from the start, to answer the direct questions you pose to me in your last letter. You ask: “Might we agree that such faithful service is best summarized in one word, 'discipleship,' a central concept in the Great Commission?”

I answer: Yes, “discipleship,” or rather, the whole compendium of principles related to following Jesus with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, is indeed, as I understand it, the center of the Great Commission. If the supposed “Great Commission” we are obeying does not involve, first and foremost, leading others to become devoted, obedient followers of Jesus, we have good reason to doubt whether it can legitimately be called the “Great Commission.”

You also ask: “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’?”

I answer: On the surface, I have no objection to your asseveration here. I do indeed see a direct correspondence between the “team” with which we collaborate towards the fulfillment of the Great Commission, and the Church, the Bride of Christ. However, I wonder if, when we are referring to the “church,” we are, in actuality, referring to the same thing. I cannot help but notice that six consecutive paragraphs of your letter end with the same phrase: “disciples gathered.” While I recognize the etymology of the term ekklesia and its correspondence to the public assembly in Greek civic affairs, I do not see the need to indiscriminately limit our understanding of the “church” in the New Testament to a public gathering of individuals in one location (as biblical scholars of the stature of John Dagg have ably demonstrated).

By no means, though, do I wish to infer that it is not meant to be normative for us as Christ’s disciples to gather together on a regular basis with other disciples for the five-fold purpose of worshipping God, proclaiming the gospel, serving each other in love, fellowshipping with one another, and helping each other to grow in our commitment to Christ and maturity as His followers. Certainly, the regular meetings in which these things take place in a given locality, and the corresponding infrastructure that facilitates their fruition, may legitimately be referred to as a “church.” I would even agree that the majority of the occurrences of the term “church” in the New Testament carry this specific connotation.

However, there is a very real sense in which the term “church” in the New Testament is used at times not to refer to an actual meeting, as much as to the composite of the individual disciples of Jesus, whether they meet together regularly in the same house, live together in the same city or region, or are spread throughout the entire earth. There is also a sense in which the “Church” encompasses all of the saints of all of the ages, who will one day assemble together before the throne of the Lamb in heaven. This does not mean, however, that those various sub-groupings of disciples who will one day form part of this glorious eschatological conglomeration are somehow defective in their present-day “church-hood.” As I understand the Bible, it is not “either-or,” but rather “all of the above.”

Neither do I wish to infer that the differences of belief and practice between the various individual congregations of disciples of Jesus are inconsequential in their importance. Indubitably, as disciples, we are bound to abide by every “jot” and “tittle” of the law of Christ, as we understand it. This includes, at least as far as I can make out from my study of Holy Scripture, such matters as believers baptism by immersion and certain principles of local church polity.

However, I cannot find in the same Bible that leads me to adopt the views I do regarding these beliefs and practices any dictum that would repudiate the legitimacy of sincere followers of Jesus, saved by grace through faith, who may be mistaken in their interpretation of secondary points of doctrine and practice, as members of the Church Universal, and recipients of the Great Commission. Although I do not know what these specific points may be, I am totally convinced that, in one aspect or another, I myself am mistaken in my personal understanding and application of some of Christ’s commands in Scripture. However, I am doing my best to understand them better, and to be obedient in that which I do understand. I do not believe, however, that my shortcomings disqualify me from being a bona fide recipient of the Great Commission.

At this point in our conversation, while agreeing with you on the vital importance of the “Matthean pericope” in our understanding of Christ’s commission to us as his disciples, I would also like to point out my additional reliance on other key passages such as Mark 16:15-18 (in spite of the doubts regarding its canonicity); Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21-23; and Acts 1:7-8; as well as Luke 9:1-5; 10:1-16 (along with the parallel passages in Matthew 10:5-15; and Mark 6:7-11); and especially what I consider to be Paul’s magisterial description of the “end-vision” of the Great Commission, in Ephesians 4:7-16. I imagine you would readily agree with me on the importance of these other texts, as well as the sum of God’s revelation to us in Holy Scripture that makes up the immediate, mediate, and remote contexts of each of these particular passages.

Blessings,

David

Introduction

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