The End-Vision of the Great Commission, by David Rogers
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
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
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
*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
, consisting of all who are spiritually united to Christ;” and “The church universal has no external organization.” Invisible Church
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.
DavidLetter #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