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 ). 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 -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 ; “to the building up of the body of Christ,” Eph. ; “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
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
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.
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