Your last three letters clarify the basis of your desire for unity among those who claim to be Great Commission Christians. If I am not misreading, the thesis in letters 13 ("Obeying the Commands of Jesus") and 14 ("John Gill on Romans 14 and 15:1-7") is that Christians should not divide over "secondary matters" or "disputable matters." You then provide the example of the use or not of the "common loaf" in your addendum letter ("The Illustration of the Hypothetical ‘Common Loaf Denomination’").
Clarification Regarding "Faith" and "Order"
Before proceeding to answer your thesis, please allow me to clarify one important issue: the distinction between faith and order that apparently caused some concern. Although I recognize the common theological distinction between faith and order, the thrust of my last letter (#12, "Enduring Submission to the Great Commission") was that the distinction never excuses disobedience to Jesus Christ. The only reason that I introduced the terminology of "faith" and "order" is because it is an established one that many theologians find useful and may help you in our conversation. (It actually does not help my argument.)
Moreover, another reason I raised the distinction is that it appears to be part of your own argument. The distinction that you use, following Gill, is between "what really matters" or "the grace of faith" on the one hand, and "secondary matters" or "disputable matters" on the other hand. You then proceed to define these "secondary matters" in terms of "order" with your subsequent references to "baptism by immersion" and "common loaf." David, as far as I can see, you have followed the very distinction that I introduced, but circuitously rather than directly.
The distinction of "faith" and "order" seems to be, though I might be misinterpreting you here, at the bottom of your search for a "hierarchy of values." I sought to limit the usefulness of this common distinction with this sentence: "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." Unfortunately, I do not seem to have won you over to my position in this regard, for you still seem to treat at least some dominical issues of "order" as "secondary" and perhaps even "disputable."
Where Do You Stand?
With that clarified, perhaps you could help me interpret your letters better. Tell me if I am wrong, but you seem to waver on the issue of whether matters of "order" are important or not. On the one hand, you say such things as, "[W]e will not be judged according to our observance of all the different rules and regulations given to us by God in his Word." Again, you say, "However, when it comes to obedience of some commands of Jesus, at least from a certain perspective, it would appear the intent of the heart, despite the degree of correctness of our understanding, is indeed what really matters." This suggests that disciplined obedience to Christ’s commands is not something with which disciples should be overly concerned.
On the other hand, you then defend believers-only baptism in a comment thread on the blog of Micah Fries, who copied your "Common Loaf Baptists" post. I will remind you of your assertion there: "As far as timing and mode of baptism are concerned, I would be inclined to agree that a ‘baptism’ that is not after a true conversion, or that is not by immersion, is not an authentic baptism." This suggests you believe that disciplined obedience to Christ’s commands, at least with regard to the order of baptism, is something with which disciples should be very concerned.
David, if I were to make a guess, it would be this: you, my friend, are still searching out exactly what you believe in many of these matters! Such doctrinal growth is admittedly part of the Christian life, but my fear is that you have been brought to a precarious position by some of the worrisome trends in modern missionary thought and practice. These worrisome trends include, among many others, a confusion as to what exactly constitutes a Great Commission Christian, the invention of a distinction between "Baptist" and "baptistic," the affirmation or denial of the perspicuity of Scripture, confusion as to what it really means to cooperate with other Christians, and lack of clarity regarding a Baptist hierarchy of values.
The Definition of a Great Commission Christian
First and most germane to our ongoing conversation, please consider the definition of Great Commission Christians. It seems that the hasty move to recognize other evangelicals as Great Commission Christians has introduced thoughts and practices that undermine the biblical mandate. Rather than rehearsing the historical basis of this destructive error in Southern Baptist life, David, let me propose that we seek to answer the following question: Does a Great Commission Christian have to obey the Great Commission of Jesus Christ in its entirety and in its God-given order, or may we summarily dispense with some aspects of it, or practice it contrary to the God-given order, or emphasize something else?
The problem in postmodern missionary practice in the Southern Baptist Convention is largely due to the unwillingness to maintain the beliefs that our biblicist forefathers held in this matter. In other words, David, let us be clear that on the basis of the long-standing Baptist interpretation of the Great Commission, the following groups specifically do not qualify to be called Great Commission Christians: Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians (and other Reformed Churches), Non-Baptist Congregationalists, Quakers, Methodists, Pentecostals, and Assemblies of God. I will not provide an exhaustive list, for that would require a dictionary, but suffice it to say that any other Christian group that believes or practices what these Christian denominations distinctively believe and practice may not be legitimately classified as Great Commission Christians, even if some of them may be classified as "evangelicals."
The reasons that these Christian churches do not deserve to be classified as Great Commission Christians are that they violate Christ’s will in one or more of these three ways: 1) They do not obey the entirety of the Great Commission. 2) They do not follow the order of the Great Commission. Specifically, many of them place baptism prior to the making of disciples. 3) They do not emphasize the faith delivered by our Lord, but add other requirements. For instance, some of them elevate or transform the gifts of speaking in tongues or of healing, and then seek to sway other Christians to their unbiblical positions.
"Unrepentant Sinners" and "The Baptist Renaissance"
The errors of these other Christian churches are why some Baptists are more than willing to refer to them as "unrepentant sinners." When you disobey Christ, you are a "sinner." When you refuse to change your ways, you are "unrepentant." Thus, those who refuse to repent from their disobedience of Christ are "unrepentant sinners." This terminology seems to rub evangelical ecumenists in an especially noticeable way, which is probably why some of us readily use it. It helps bring forward important issues that are being buried in the rush of some naïve and errant children of the free churches to convert to Azusa Street, Canterbury, Geneva, Rome, and Constantinople.
The use of this language is not a claim, however, that such people are not Christians. Rather, it is a claim that they need to repent and follow Christ alone and in full. Moreover, the use of this language is not a claim that Baptists are superior to other Christians. Rather, it recognizes that God has given Baptists further illumination with regard to His Word. This compels us to help others understand His Word better. The gift of further illumination of God’s Word carries with it a greater responsibility to teach that Word with conviction and humility. Baptists are not perfect Christians, but Baptists are responsible for obeying and proclaiming with conviction what they do know, and for seeking to know even more from God’s inerrant Word.
Moreover, Baptists would do well to listen humbly to other Christians in order to learn what we may. This does not stifle communication with other Christians, but calls for it. However, this is a call for informed communication and convictional witness rather than sentimental gullibility in the name of "Christian unity." This is probably the one area where most of my detractors have totally misread me. Indeed, they might be surprised to learn that when living in a foreign country, I learned to disagree agreeably while maintaining an ecclesial distance alongside a spiritual harmony with other believers who were not Baptists. I may appreciate evangelical Anglicans and Presbyterians for their understanding of the Gospel, but I have learned not to surrender the biblical order in the name of Christian unity even when living in a difficult context where Christians are a small minority.
When I speak of a "Baptist Renaissance," I am not compelled by Baptist hubris, but by a dynamic biblical conviction. I am a Baptist because I believe that our churches are the closest examples to the churches that Christ established in the New Testament. This does not mean we are perfect, for we are decidedly not! One need only consider the continuing erosion of our fidelity to Christ in the matters of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, church discipline, and the priority of proclamation to know better. What it does mean is that the Baptist tradition is a purer and deeper tradition than any existing alternative, for it is intentionally grounded in the oldest Christian tradition, that of the apostles and of Christ Himself. If I may continue the city metaphor, we should bypass these other cities and be content with Jerusalem as our home.
A Positive Conclusion
David, I mentioned four other issues wherein there appears to be some indefiniteness in your theology: the distinction between "baptistic" and "Baptist," the affirmation or denial of the perspicuity of Scripture, the true meaning of cooperation, and this idea of a hierarchy of values. Rather than discuss what seems to be an equivocal treatment of these ideas, let me conclude with a positive review of some of your other ideas.
First, please allow me to laud you on your love for other people, especially other Christians. I wish that all of us had that deep love for "each stone" that you have. You, my friend, are a treasure. Second, please note that I generally agree with your review of Romans 14, although I disagree with your characterization of John Gill, and I wonder at what exactly you would classify as "disputable matters." Believers-only baptism by immersion is beyond dispute (and here Gill would agree with me), and that includes not only the subject of baptism, but the mode of baptism, too. According to Paul, the mode of baptism as immersion is what makes baptism symbolically powerful. Baptism by immersion is the only mode that properly represents the death and resurrection of our Savior (Romans 6:1-6).
Third, although I actually agree with your preference for the "common loaf" as better fulfilling the meaning of 1 Corinthians 10, I do not think it is as debilitating a problem as baptism by sprinkling or by pouring. The fact is that the common loaf symbolizes church unity while baptism by immersion symbolizes the Gospel itself. Finally, please allow me again to thank you for the privilege of interacting with you and your readers. I love you more every day, my brother in Christ, even when I question your theology, especially your ecclesiology. In the midst of our discussions, I find that my own theology grows under the influence of your love. Then again, I also think your daddy, were he here, would often agree with me more.
Letter #1, Two Requirements for a Universal Fulfillment of the Great Commission, by Malcolm Yarnell 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