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