Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #12

*Malcolm Yarnell and I have agreed together to post this second consecutive letter of his now, before my next letter, which will respond to both letters #11 and #12. --David

Enduring Submission to the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell

Dearest David,

The first evidence we have that Matthew 28:18-19 was identified as Christ’s "Great Commission" in the English language was apparently by Francis Johnson. He was a leading Separatist who exerted influence upon the earliest English Baptists, being the professor of John Smyth at Cambridge. In discussing Christ’s "last and great commission," Johnson stressed that all of Christ’s commands must be obeyed, no matter what others might say or do.1 The second reference to it was made my Robert Parsons, a Roman Catholic apologist for the papacy. But he believed the granting of the keys in Matthew 16 was the delegation of a plenitude of power to Peter, the presumed first bishop of Rome and his supposed papal successors. The final, evangelistic commission of Christ was not in Parsons’s mind.2

Intriguingly, it was a leading Particular Baptist, Benjamin Keach, who was the first to repeatedly and forcefully develop the idea that Matthew 28:16-20 is the Great Commission from which the Christian churches should live their lives.3 While Keach would agree with Johnson on the importance of obeying every one of Christ’s commands, the very order of the Great Commission was also inviolable to Keach. His response to a paedo-Baptist proponent should inform all who call themselves Baptists today,
Sir, All that are to be baptized, are, by virtue of the great Commission of our Saviour, to be first taught and made Disciples by teaching; and take heed you add not to his Word, nor attempt to invert the Order of the Charter and gracious Grant of the King of Heaven and Earth; nor go about, as you do, to make void his Commands by your own Traditions.4
I have exposited the Great Commission from Scripture elsewhere, and refer your readers, David, to that work,5 and to your own comments upon it. Rather than rehearsing that exposition, please allow me to focus in on at least one important implication of verses 18 and 19. This implication is what drives a lasting wedge between evangelical Baptists and other evangelicals. It is an implication that cannot be dismissed in the name of obeying Christ’s prayer for unity in John 17. Unity based on disobedience to Christ is not really unity in Christ but a spurious unity. "Bridge building" efforts, even if sentimental in emotion and loving in intent, that ignore the Great Commission of Jesus Christ are to be summarily rejected by true Christ followers.

The leading implication of the Great Commission proper that we must stress here is that it is Christ’s enduring commandment to the church. Indeed, Johnson is utterly correct in pointing out the Apostles planted the first churches upon the authority granted by Christ and according to the commands given by Christ. Johnson taught that Christ prescribed to the Apostles both "faith and order," and that Christians must be careful to stress both aspects in their teaching.6 We need to keep in mind here two ordered but coordinate essentials: First, obeying Christ’s "order" will not save you if you are not first born again by "faith" in Christ. In other words, we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone as a gracious work of the Spirit alone. Justification by God is necessary and prior to Christian obedience.

Second, however, true "faith" is immediately accompanied by obedience to the "order" of Christ. Speaking and expositing about the essential of one’s "faith" in Christ while dismissing the essential of obeying the "order" established by Christ is utterly sinful. The tendency known as Antinomianism, characteristic of especially the Lutheran and Reformed traditions, is to be identified by true Christian disciples as a perversion worthy of immediate rebuke and disciplinary exclusion by the truly ordered churches of Jesus Christ. Keach and the overwhelming majority of early Baptists (and their Anabaptist forefathers) understood this and acted upon it. This is why they would not hold communion with apostates or Independents or Presbyterians or Anglicans or Roman Catholics. Though these others might claim to be true Christians, they certainly did not (and do not) act as such.

I would agree wholeheartedly with our Baptist and Anabaptist forefathers. We must obey the Lord’s commission ourselves totally, even when others arrogantly or ignorantly refuse to submit entirely to Christ’s commands. Our forefathers suffered extreme persecution, including imprisonment, torture and horrendous execution from the hands of these other "Christians." It would be a betrayal of their witness to the truth that Christ’s Great Commission is to be obeyed in its entirety and according to its own order for Baptists to adopt open communion with those who subvert, pervert, or invert our Lord’s commands.

Yes, we need to unite around the essentials of the Christian faith, but we also need to unite around the essentials of the Christian order. Those Baptists who relegate the Christian order to a non-essential status significantly undermine the Great Commission of our Lord and Savior. Christ’s commands are essential for Christian obedience. Moreover, those Baptists who seek communion with disobedient Christians or naively refer to them as "Great Commission Christians" should repent.

We show love to others by pointing them to the grace available even to disobedient Christians (including ourselves) in Christ and by pointing them to the enduring nature of Christ’s orderly command. Let us love other Christians and ourselves by maintaining a distinct witness to the truth of the Great Commission and challenging all Christians to truly follow Christ. And if they will not follow Christ with us, let us weep over their hard hearts and pray that we do not likewise in this or any other area. Let us follow Christ, not men, even good men with whom we naturally desire Christian communion.

In Christ,



1"I proceed yet further to show that Christ that Prophet requireth not onely acknowledgment in word, but obedience indeed to all his ordinances given to his Church. This we learne both of Christ himself and of his Apostles. Of Christ himself, in his last and great commission given to his Apostles, when he sent them into the world, to publish his faith, and plant his Churches therein. In which he straitly charged them to teach all his people baptized in his name, not to acknowledg onely but, to keep and observ whatsoever he had commaunded them: and that even to the end of the world: not making any exception of Christian or heathen Magistrates, of theyr allowance or disallowance, or of any other worldly respects whatsoever. The Apostles also as they were commaunded, so they performed: both planting the Churches in that faith and order which Christ prescribed them, and requiring of the Churches so planted and of all other after them to the end of the world to keep that faith and order wherein they were sett, and to admitt of no other whatsoever, but to keep that without spot and vnrebukeable, untill the appearing of owr Lord Iesus Christ. And thus much concerning this matter." Francis Johnson, A treatise of the ministery of the Church of England (1595), 32.

2Robert Parsons, The warn-word to Sir Francis Hastinges wast-word (1602), 29.

3Benjamin Keach, The glorious lover (London, 1670), 256; idem, Pedo-baptism disproved (London, 1691), 1; idem, An appendix to the answer (1692), 1; idem, The ax laid to the root (1693), 21; idem, A counter-antidote (London, 1694), 1, 29; idem, Light broke forth in Wales, expelling darkness (1696), 54, 97, 229, 240, 305; idem, The Jewish Sabbath abrogated (London, 1700), 175-76. Cf. John Bunyan, Differences in judgment about water-baptism, no bar to communion (1673), 73.

4Keach, The rector rectified and corrected (1692), 78 (cf. pp. 27, 51).


6Unfortunately, Johnson refused to follow the implications of his teaching and opposed the reintroduction of Christian baptism in the English churches.


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...

Dr. Yarnell,

"This implication is what drives a lasting wedge between evangelical Baptists and other evangelicals."

In your estimation, does this "wedge" last into eternity?

A Simple Student @ SWBTS

Malcolm Yarnell said...

Dear Simple,

Interesting question. It would be enlightening to know what assumptions prompted it. I hope it is not indicative of a sadly too common and implicit belief that obedience is unnecessary for Christian discipleship.

To answer your question, however, please note: All of those who have accepted Jesus Christ will have their sins remembered no more, even their ecclesial sins after conversion. This conclusion should be evidently drawn from the discussion regarding the necessity of the "faith" in the letter.

May the Lord aid you in not only believing but living the simple gospel.

In Christ,

Strider said...

Malcolm, I also use the Great Commission as a reference point to stress the importance of Baptism. I love Baptism, the reality of a life transformed by the Spirit of God and the symbol of a that reality which is proclaimed in the life of the one baptized. I understand why those who baptize as infants do so, but their reasoning is unbiblical and not entirely as logical as they would like to think.
But here is the thing, now what? How are we to behave toward our brothers and sisters who love God, serve Him, and are clearly used by Him? Jesus always invited others into fellowship with Himself. In the parable of the prodigal son he invites both the younger and the older son into the banquet. Shall we then exclude? Martin Luther was greatly used by God to transform the Church back to truth. He never got this concept on Baptism. He never understood what we understand about missions or the Lord Supper or any of a dozen other issues. But if he were here today I would invite him to supper at my home, and if invited I would join him at his and value supremely every minute of discussion around his supper table. Martin Luther's misunderstanding of God's Word was not powerful enough to thwart God and His purposes. The same is true for all of our friends around the world today. They are our sincerely wrong brothers and sisters whom Christ is using to turn the world upside down. I will not shrink from telling them the truth. But I do not fear to work with them, to pray with them, and to fulfill the Great Commission with them. His Grace is sufficient.

Malcolm Yarnell said...


I, too, value the contributions of believers who are not Baptists. I, too, would treasure a meal with Martin Luther and let him know I am in his debt for his clear teaching of the bibilical doctrine of justification. Indeed, part of my hope for glory is to have fellowship with such great leaders of the faith.

However, be sure that at a dinner table on this side of the Parousia, I would also look that dear brother right in the eyes and let him know that his ungodly attacks upon the Jews and his call for the slaughtering of peasants and his perverted defense of infant baptism are unworthy of a Christian and contradict our Lord's commands. I would then let him know that his actions and words are so despicable that I refuse to have the ultimate Christian fellowship of sharing in the ordinance of the Lord's Supper with him until he properly repents.

My obedience to Christ and my love for other Christians would demand that I do nothing less than refuse to countenance gross sin.

Perhaps where I would challenge you most, Strider, is in this. You believe that Martin Luther and others are fulfilling the Great Commission. Yet, you say you also believe baptism is part of the Great Commission. How can one fulfill the Great Commission while disobeying it? My friend, your position is not only illogical, it appears to wink at wickedness in the name of love.

In Christ,

Strider said...

No Malcolm, I do not wink at wickedness. In fact, among those who know me my reputation is to too often say what I think. But here, in Middle Earth, right next door to the ends of the earth, I know men and women who are mistaken on this issue and yet they love God and He Himself is using them for His glory. People are coming to faith- and being baptized- churches are being started- the needy, the hopeless, the desperate are hearing the Good News of God's love and many are hearing it from those whom we know to be wrong. My point is simple: Our wrongness can not defeat the grace of God. I do not work closely with those who misunderstand baptism, the situation has not come up. But I am friends with, fellowship with, pray for, encourage, (and rebuke), those who yet believe in infant baptism.
I am trying to subtly disagree with you on this point by saying there is a third option for what to do when a brother in Christ is wrong. In most cases it is not my job to fix him. That is God's job and I have found Him faithful to do it. I want to say that we can love and befriend those with whom we disagree on the basis of the grace of our Lord who loves us- and relates to us- in spite of everything we are wrong about.
Let me say it this way. Love hopes all things. Almighty God knows my sin, my rebellion, my love of the world, my love of self, all the things I hate about myself and hide He knows. And yet, He calls me His child, his colaborer, his friend. He does this in the certain knowledege that he will make me to become what I am currently not; His perfected child. I can and do have fellowship with others on the same basis, not what they are today but what God is making them to become in Christ Jesus. There are times when a harsh word is needed. There are times when our fellowship is tested. But I believe that we (and they) grow more, become more like Him, and proclaim His Gospel more loudly when we fellowship together than when we condemn each other and stay separate.

Malcolm Yarnell said...


It sounds to me like we agree on so much here. My point is that the church must be regenerate, and beleivers-only baptism by immersion, church discipline, and closed communion are the ways to preserve the integrity of regenerate churches.

In Christ,

Strider said...

I was going to go ahead and let you have the last word but I still have about 20 minutes before bedtime so, here I am again.
Actually, I hope we understand each other clearly and yes we do have much in common- hardly surprising as two SB's discuss together. Equally not surprising is that there is a subtle difference in the way we go about addressing the problems at hand.
You said: (MY RESPONSES)
My point is that the church must be regenerate(YES), and beleivers-only baptism by immersion (YES), church discipline (YES), and closed communion (NO) are the ways to preserve the integrity of regenerate churches.

The last 'no' on closed communion is because I believe that our inclusive fellowship will breath life into dead places. Open fellowship- while acknowledging differences not just ignoring them- will let love flow and love will transform. All Christian groups have too often hid themselves away to stay pure and it has never worked. We do not maintain our integrity by walling ourselves away, we proclaim our integrity by engaging even as Jesus the Holy (separated) One did as He came, joined, and engaged a lost world. I believe that this same Jesus is working in the lives of His followers who are sincerely, and utterly wrong and that I am poorer if I do not engage them, fellowship with them, and relate to them to discover what they have found to be true about our Saviour that I have missed. Yes, there is no doubt about their being wrong about Baptism but equally I believe that they know truths about God that I have missed. I will engage them trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. This is where I believe we differ.

Malcolm Yarnell said...


First, you say that you hold to open communion in order to bring life to dark places. This seems contradictory. How can life come out of disobedience? Moreover, how does your belief in unrestricted fellowship with those who disobey Christ reconcile with Matthew 18:15-20 or 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 or 1 John 3:4-6?

Second, by denying closed communion, are you not actually denying article VI of the Baptist Faith & Message? How do you reconcile this with employment by the International Mission Board, whose trustees adopted this as their confession?

I agree fully with your desire to shine Christ's light into dark places. I disagree with your assumption that we shine His light by compromising His commands. Our witness is brightest when we follow Him to the utmost, and it is dimmed when we compromise the truth.

In Christ,

Malcolm Yarnell said...

My mistake: Closed communion is contained in article VII. The concussion is still slowing me down.

Steve Sensenig said...

Quick question for whomever can answer it briefly for me:

What are the areas that must be in agreement in order not to be shut out of closed communion with a Southern Baptist?

Malcolm Yarnell said...


The answer would be twofold:

1. The terms of communion for church membership are determined by each local church, often defined in a covenant and a confession.

2. The terms of employment by an SBC agency involved in proclamation and teaching are determined by each agency, but they each have adopted at the least the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

In Christ,

Strider said...

Malcolm, I do not believe I am being disobedient by agreeing to have the Lord's Supper with someone else. Biblically, the only place where restrictions are placed on having the Lord's Supper is in 1 Cor where Paul's point is that we should have true love for each other and fellowship with each other while participating in the LS. My understanding of closed communion makes it impossible. What you are saying- if I am understanding- is that if a brother or sister is in disobedience then I should abstain from taking it with him/her or refuse to serve it to him/her. Your criteria for disobedience seems to rest on Baptism alone but baptism is not mentioned in the Word as a prerequisite for the LS. I believe like you that all followers of Jesus must be scripturally baptized but not everyone believes this. They are wrong. But I know that I am wrong about things as well- you believe that I am wrong about open communion, will you now refuse to take the LS with me? Am I responsible for the correct doctrine and obedience of everyone I have the LS with? I refuse to take on such a responsibility. I can not do it. I will not be everyone's judge. We have a judge. I trust Him to deal with His children. If someone else takes the LS in my home or I in theirs and they have sin in their life then that is between them and God. I will do what I believe God wants me to do with all of His children and invite them into relationship. Jesus did not refuse the LS to His disciples, even Judas was present, and yet how disobedient where they even that very night! He is my model. I will follow him.
As for the BFM issue I am not sure you will beleive my answer because it is a bit embarrassing. I never noticed it! I was appointed in 1995 and when I read the BFM then I never noticed the words 'closed communion'. They just didn't register. I have been a Baptized SB since 1975. I have been a serious student of the Word and an active member of my church since that time. Since my father was in the Air Force we traveled much and I have attended many SB churches. I went to an SB University and I received an M-Div from SWBTS. In all that time I never heard closed communion taught. I think in seminary someone talked about landmarkers and how there might be some still in Arkansas somewhere but that was it. I assumed that everyone thought like I did. With my introduction to the blog world last year I have discovered my error. I hope it is not an error too great to overcome but that is for the Trustees and the Convention to decide.

Malcolm Yarnell said...


First, thank you for your honesty. Baptism is indeed required by the Word of God as necessary prior to the Lord's Supper. Christ taught about the Lord's Supper in Matthew 26 (and congregational church discipline in Matthew 18). In Matthew 28, he instructed us to first go, then make disciples, then baptize, and finally teach all things he has commanded. The making of a disciple precedes baptism, and baptism precedes and necessitates the teaching of all of Christ's other commands. The other commands taught by Christ certainly include church discipline and the Lord's Supper. The Great Commission is not only about going or making disciples or baptism, but also about teaching everything Christ commands. You are not properly fulfilling the Great Commission unless you are fulfilling it in its totality and in its order. As a missionary, I am sure this issue is understandably quite close to your heart since you have been called by God directly for such a task.

Second, you are correct that 1 Corinthians is a premier passage for understanding the parameters of participation in communion. Paul was quite clear that the church should exercise judgment in communion. The body must be judged, even when it is painful, for the good of the sinner and the good of the body. May I specifically ask you to consider the following passages in 1 Corinthians: 5:1-13, 10:14-22, 11:17-34, especially 5:6, 10:16-17, and 11:29-31?

Third, your relation of the lack of education about Baptist ecclesiology in our seminaries, including Southwestern, for some generations can be retold many thousands of times. Indeed, I and others to whom I have spoken have had the same experience. It was only after I begin to serve in the local church that I realized the hole in my education. My many years of reading the Bible, and then reading historical Baptist texts, showed me where I had not been properly taught.

We so badly need to restore the integrity of our ecclesiology, and that must include at least those three factors: believers-only baptism, closed communion, and church discipline. Ignoring one of those factors will only undermine the other two. This, by the way, has been an ongoing discussion in Baptist life. It is not new to you and me. John Bunyan found himself in a very small corner when he advocated open communion against the beliefs of most of the seventeenth-century Baptists who were led by the illustrious and staunchly biblical William Kiffin. Bunyan's open-communion movement stayed very small because the closed-communion Baptists, our forefathers, were closer to Scripture than he was.

Have a good Sunday at worship, my brother, and remember that obedience to Christ is not just a personal but a corporate issue. And remember, too, that sanctification has a progressive component, but nevertheless it must progress.

I imagine David and I will both elevate these comments into the main letters, so I will ask us to close down this thread and wait for David's next letter.

Strider, again, thank you for your honesty and for your willingness to read the Bible with me and struggle toward the truth together. It is as we read Scripture in community under the illumination of the Spirit and for the glory of God in Christ that we grow in grace.

In Christ,

Steve Sensenig said...


If all that you are saying is correct, than one must conclude that the Apostle Paul was operating in gross disobedience to the Great Commission, seeing as how he made a big deal out of reminding the Corinthians that he hadn't baptized very many of them.

In fact, he actually says in verse 17 of chapter 1, "For Christ did not send me to baptize...."

Using your logic, then, would you not, then, refuse to offer communion to Paul himself?