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.




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


Michael said...

I dislike this use of the word "institution"
Def:# an organization founded and united for a specific purpose
# an establishment consisting of a building or complex of buildings where an organization for the promotion of some cause is situated
according to def one, most churches are institutions but not all(note the word organization)
according to def two, most churches in the world are NOT institutions (note the words about buildings) unless you deny the underground church in China.

personal misgivings: institutions are, to me, rigid organizations where the whole is much more important than the parts. Is this the way either of you view the church?

just wait till persecution comes to the american churches. Allow me to predict some things, first the churches in the US will diminsh rapidly for a little while and then grow rapidly in a chaotic manner.

nothing like a little danger of death to focus you on the more important things


David Rogers said...


Wikipedia gives the following definition of "institution":

"Institutions are structures and mechanisms of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of two or more individuals."

I think it is hard to say, using this definition, that churches are not institutions.

Wikipedia defines "organization" as:

"An organization is a social arrangement which pursues collective goals, which controls its own performance, and which has a boundary separating it from its environment."

Wikipedia also says the following on institutions:

"As mechanisms of social cooperation, institutions are manifest in both objectively real, formal organizations, such as the U.S. Congress, or the Roman Catholic Church, and, also, in informal social order and organization, reflecting human psychology, culture, habits and customs...Marriage and family, as a set of institutions, also encompass formal and informal, objective and subjective aspects."

Looking at it from this perspective, I think it is hard to say that the church is neither an institution nor an organization. What is true is certain churches are definitely more formal, and others definitely more informal, in the ways they organize themselves.

I would agree with you that many churches are far too "institutionalized" and "formal" in their "organizational structure." Also, the presence of a building, or lack thereof, is far from essential in defining the church (local or universal).

Although I would never pray for persecution, as if it were something good in and of itself, I would also agree with you that persecution does often have the positive effect of purifying the church, and helping to purge it of many extraneous elements that hinder its health and growth.

Michael said...

I googled, "Define:institution"
I did not look in wikipedia.

David Rogers said...


Maybe that's one reason so many of us seem to be talking right past each other, and not really connecting--we are using different definitions of words, and understandings of concepts. It takes more time and patience to really understand each other, and really speak to the same issues as someone else. But, in the long run, I think it is worth it.

Do you think there is some way in which I'm not really addressing the issues you were wanting to address?

Michael said...

I went to Jerry Falwell's university (liberty University) when I defined my problems with institutions so I am slightly biased. My problem is the tendency for the balance between the importance of the part verses the whole to become unbalanced usually in the wholes favor.

besides I disagree with wikipedia's definition of institution. by wiki's def. social conventions are institutions. That definition is way too broad.
such as the institution of club dancing, etc.

My problem is that when someone uses the word institution to describe the body of Christ they lend it an air of rigidity
rather like "function follows form" rather than "form follows function" whether or not this is justified.

I think other than marriage most institutions are organisations right?

I can agree that churches could be institutions, but in my view that is not a view we as "advertising specialists"(sorry, I mean missionaries) would want to promote.

On another note, I think every church should do some sort of survey to find out what people around then think of when they say "church". I know a friend of mine thinks about corrupt pastors when she thinks of churches. So it might be useful.


David Rogers said...


If I am understanding you correctly (and I think I am), I think we can find some common ground in that we both believe that the "over-institutionalization" of the church has had some pretty negative consequences. I don't have any "dog in the hunt" regarding the definition of these terms. I do think we need to be careful in the way we use language, though, so we don't give the impression of opposing or supporting views, which, in the end, we do not really mean to oppose or support.