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.




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


Anonymous said...

"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?"

David, as a fellow IMB SC, I want to say thank you for so eloquently stating the end-vision that permeates our agency. In over a decade I have never heard any other vision or goal presented to us, other than the one that you have described here. The question that you ask above is the key question for all of us involved in any kind of church planting endeavor to continually ask ourselves. "Are we working in a way that best contributes toward the achievement of the end-vision?" It will be heartbreaking to hear that the end-vision that I and all of my SC colleagues are striving for turns out to be in the eyes of some, the wrong goal. But after reading "Seven Guidelines for Church Planting
Which Reflect Baptist Ecclesiology" by the Theological Studies Division at Southwestern, I fear that is where we are heading.


David Rogers said...


Thanks for the encouragement.

I am not familiar with the "Seven Guidelines" document. Do you know if it is available on-line? If not, it would be interesting to know what are the particular points in it that concern you.


Baptist Theologue said...

Hi “IAMANM” and David,

This is such an interesting discussion. I appreciate David and Dr. Yarnell for making it available for public consumption.

I went through IMB SC training during May of 2000. My understanding is that the training has changed quite a bit since I went through it. At the time I went through it, I got the impression that every team’s endvision needed to include a church planting movement (CPM). As David indicated, we worked backwards from the endvision to formulate objectives and action plans that became our team’s master plan. Here’s the problem with that as I have studied the missiological issues. Only about 2% of our IMB missionaries have seen a CPM. If you have read Dr. Garrison’s book on CPMs and looked at the case studies, you have probably noticed that the house church type of CPMs occurred in people groups where official persecution existed but where there was great receptivity to the gospel at the same time. Thus, there were good conditions present for hard-to-detect house churches with lay leaders to proliferate (as opposed to official church buildings with seminary trained, ordained leaders), and “perfect storms” of church planting sometimes resulted under those conditions. Unfortunately, the methodology used in such conditions doesn’t always work well in places where different conditions exist. I think this has become apparent. On the positive side, however, I like the emphasis on church planting. Before New Directions and SD-21, I think that too many of our missionaries were involved in other things that had nothing to do with church planting. I believe that the Great Commission does imply church planting as well as simply sharing the plan of salvation. Elmer Towns emphasized this point:

“The Great Commission in Matthew includes church planting. 1. Because the command ‘to disciple’ μαθητευσατε includes the beginning and the continuing ministry of discipling people. . . . 2. Because the command ‘to baptize’ is a participle, meaning they were to keep on baptizing. . . . 3. Because the command, ‘teaching them to observe’ is carried out in the New Testament church by ‘teaching the apostles doctrine.’ . . . 4. Because by illustration the New Testament churches went everywhere establishing churches. . . . 5. Because by analogy each produces after its own kind.”

Towns, Getting a Church Started (Lynchburg, VA: Church Growth Institute, 1985), 12-13.

In regard to the universal church as described in the Baptist Faith and Message (1963 and 2000), David and I have already discussed this a bit, but I find it interesting what Herschel Hobbs said in his 1971 commentary on the BF&M in regard to the universal church:

“The word ‘church’ in the New Testament never refers to organized Christianity or to a group of churches. It denotes either a local body of baptized believers or includes all the redeemed through all the ages.”

Herschel H. Hobbs, The Baptist Faith and Message (Nashville: Convention Press, 1971), 75.

Thus, it seems to me that Hobbs’ position was close to Carroll’s. This is significant because Hobbs chaired the 1963 BF&M committee.

Best wishes,

Mike Morris (aka BT)

Baptist Theologue said...

Oops! I must eat some crow here. I investigated Hobbs’s view on the universal church a bit more, and I found the following comment by Hobbs on Matthew 16:13-20:

“It will be a purely local and democratic assembly operating under the Lordship of Jesus Christ or the laws of the Kingdom of God. And it will be a general assembly of all the redeemed of all the ages and under His theocratic rule. It might be argued that the church in this latter sense will become a reality only when all of the redeemed of all the ages are assembled before God in heaven. However, this is to put undue stress upon both time and space where neither is justified in terms of their relation to God who is Spirit. The fact is that Jesus spoke within the thought context of His listeners, and we must leave it there. Nor are we justified in pressing the general sense of ‘church’ into present day ecumenical molds. For this also was not in Jesus’ mind. We shall do well to let Jesus say what He said, nothing more, nothing less.”

Hobbs, An Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1965), 220.

Thus, the view of Hobbs is different from that of Carroll.

Baptist Theologue said...

P.S.: Hobbs apparently changed his mind after 1960. Notice what he said in 1960:

“In the general sense the church is not to be confused with organized Christianity or with any particular segment thereof. It is correct to use the term in a general sense only with reference to the church as the inclusion of all those who are in Christ, and as such the church will not exist until after the judgment. Strictly speaking, a church is an assembled group. The assembly of all the redeemed in one place will become a reality only after the return of the Lord and the judgment (cf. Heb. 12:23; Rev. 21-22).”

Hobbs, Fundamentals of Our Faith (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1960), 127.

David Rogers said...


Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I have a great deal of sympathy for what you say about SD 21 and church planting in general. I do think SD 21 has helped us, even in situations other than the "perfect storm" ones to which you allude, to be more strategic in our approach, and to work in ways more conducive to self-propagation and multiplication. The downside is that many m's who have done a great job, and given their very best, have perhaps not felt very validated in their ministry, because it has not produced a bona fide CPM. However, I think IMB administration, for the most part, is doing their best to dispel this idea, and really support and encourage all of us, not just the 2% who are blessed with a CPM.

I also like your quote from Towns. I hope what I have written is not interpreted as underestimating the importance of church planting. I myself am a church planter at heart. Hopefully, in future posts I can help clarify even more my position on this.

Finally, I very much appreciate your candor and honesty regarding Hobbs and his views. As I say in my post, neither Dagg, Carroll, the BFM, and now I will add Hobbs, should be our ultimate guide. From the quotes you give, it would seem like he perhaps did adjust his views a bit.

I, obviously, am much more comfortable with what he says in the 1965 commentary on Matthew.

Anonymous said...


You can find the Seven Guidelines document along with many other white papers at Go to the Baptist History Sources tab and scroll to the bottom of the page.