Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Rogers-Yarnell Dialogue on the Great Commission, Letter #19

A Deep Division?, by David Rogers

Dear Malcolm,

I appreciate you taking the time and energy, after a long interlude, to give such an extensive response to my letter #17, and especially to the three questions I ask at the end of it. I realize you have previously indicated your desire to let this be your final contribution to our present dialogue. At the same time, the issues you raise in your last letter are of such a nature that I find myself obligated to raise a few questions here in my response that you may well prefer not to leave unanswered. You may wish to do this in an additional letter, or in the comment string to this letter. Either option is fine with me.

In your letter, you say: “our discussion has revealed an apparently deep division in how we view the Christian faith and faithfulness to Christ.” From my perspective, this division, inasmuch as it may exist, is provoked more by your position towards me than mine towards you. As far as I can discern, the only real substantive difference that we have in our views of doctrine have to do with some relatively minor points of ecclesiology, especially our approach to fellowship and unity with other believers.

In regard to what you have to say about “the true Christian faith,” I have no discrepancy. I am in total agreement with you. In regard to “the New Testament churches,” as far as I can tell, I am in essential agreement as well. If I have a difference, it is that honesty leads me to wrestle with a certain degree of ambiguity I find in the text of the New Testament, and, as a result, not be quite as dogmatic as I sense you to be regarding certain issues.

For instance, I agree with you on the basics regarding regenerate church membership, believers baptism by immersion, congregational church government, and the need for biblical church discipline. Personally, though, I see such questions as whether the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized “into the local church” or “into the universal church” as beyond the scope of what the New Testament writers intended to teach us. As I see it, he was simply baptized, upon his profession of faith, in obedience to Christ’s command, and, as would be natural for any new disciple, most likely sought out the fellowship of other believers whenever and wherever that might have been a viable option. Also, the supposed link you see between baptism and church membership in the various other passages you mention in Acts are not, as I see them, quite so clear as you make them out to be.

All told, though, I, from what I can tell, in my practice, whenever faced with this issue, come down exactly where you do, teaching believers baptism as a prerequisite to church membership.

In the second part of your letter, when you talk about “building bridges” to other religions, the “fictional invisible church,” and “evangelical ecumenism,” I sincerely believe you are confusing the issues by use of straw man arguments, and ambiguous, yet incendiary language. I believe our communication would be aided by mutually recognizing that neither one of us is interested in joining together with those of other religions, nor in ecumenism, in the classical sense of the word, as used by such groups as the World Council of Churches. While I sympathize with Dagg’s distaste for the term “invisible church,” for the same reasons as his, I, upon my study of Scripture, am not able, in good conscience, to relegate the Church Universal to a merely ethereal eschatalogical reality that has no practical implications for us as Christians today.

I also believe your choice of wording, “willful or ignorant disobedience,” with regard to “broader evangelicalism,” in Part III of your letter, obscures the real issue. As I inferred earlier in Letter #13, I find it hard to call sincere but mistaken interpretations and/or applications of Scripture, coupled with a heartfelt submission to the Lordship of Jesus, “disobedience.” It seems inconsistent to me for you to say, on the one part, “even those who have a faulty doctrine of justification may be justified by faith,” while those with a faulty ecclesiology are “disobedient,” and unworthy of our cooperation. Are you prepared to call all those with what you would consider a faulty eschatology, or an improper view on the five points of Calvinism, “disobedient” as well? As mentioned earlier, I believe in the necessity of biblical church discipline. However, when you carry this over as a prerequisite for cooperation with other Christians, it even leaves you in the uncomfortable position of eliminating as valid ministry partners the majority of Southern Baptist churches today.

On another front, although they are admittedly related questions, I object to your apparent equating of open church membership and open communion. The qualifications for participation in communion, as I understand it, are embracing those items you refer to in your section on “the true Christian faith,” and a clean conscience before God. It is for this reason that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 11:28, tells us that “a man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” In addition, a local congregation may legitimately “ban” an individual from participation in the Lord’s Supper. Biblically, however, such a “ban” ought always to be as a result of confirmed and genuine unrepentant sin in the life of that person. However, as I presently understand it, refusing someone membership in a local congregation should not be construed as concomitant with punitive church discipline.

I am happy to see that in your answer to my “third set of questions” on evangelism, discipleship, and church planting you are at least consistent. You appear to recognize that the distinction employed by the IMB Board of Trustees between evangelism, discipleship, and church planting in determining levels of cooperation is artificial and unbiblical. As I understand it, a consistent application of what you are saying here would lead the IMB to forbid not only cooperation with non-Baptists in church planting, but also in evangelism and discipleship.

I myself, however, am not prepared to go there. And, I have a strong hunch that neither are the majority of Southern Baptists. While I am in agreement that IMB appointees should be expected to agree with and teach basic Baptist distinctives such as the necessity of believers baptism by immersion, I believe that to limit partnership in Gospel ministry exclusively to other Baptists goes against a biblical understanding of the Body of Christ, or the Church Universal.

Indeed, Paul writes to “all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus” that he regards them as “partners in spreading the Good News about Christ” and desires that they might stand “together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News” (Philippians 1:1, 5, 27, New Living Translation).

While I agree in principle with what you say about the Baptist Faith & Message and “doctrinal accountability,” I believe that my particular case, which I surmise to be far from isolated, exposes an important anomaly in the system that ideally and ultimately will need to be corrected. The truth is that, although the majority of messengers present at the 2000 convention voted to adopt the text of the BFM as it now stands, an apparent majority of Southern Baptist churches do not hold to a strict practice of “closed” or “close communion.” To require a denominational employee to hold to a view that is contrary to the practice of the majority within the denomination, in my opinion, is, at best, inconsistent. In the meantime, I suspect that the majority of Southern Baptists, whether on Boards of Trustees or not, instinctively know such is the case, and, as a result, are not willing to demand a strict concession on this point.

From what it looks like to me, though, if those who hold the strict views I understand you to advocate really gain ascendancy within the SBC, and consistently carry out what is implicit in your line of reasoning, I believe we are headed for stormy days. It will no doubt mean great division and parting of ways between many whom, up to this point, have been able to cooperate effectively and harmoniously in the enormous common ministry project that is the Southern Baptist Convention.

Such being the case, it seems to me that it would be a real tragedy if these differences, which I consider relatively minor, were to somehow place a barrier between our fellowship and cooperation in ministry. According to data from the World Christian Encyclopedia, out of all affiliated Christians around the world, Baptists comprise less than 3%. Out of all Baptists, the number who would affirm the Baptist Faith & Message is a good bit smaller. To demand a strict adherence to disputed points within the BFM, and then, on top of that, add extra points of doctrine, such as narrow stands on “private prayer language” and “alien immersion,” limits the playing field even more.

At the same time, I recognize that all organizations, such as the SBC, must have some mutually agreed upon set of standards. Perhaps the convictions of people like you demand that this set of standards be relatively rigid and narrow. Admittedly, there are denominations and associations of churches out there that are even narrower. However, I personally think the interests of the Kingdom of God are better served by a Southern Baptist Convention that is not quite so narrow. And, since the interests of the Kingdom of God are something to which I am strongly committed, I find it worth my while to contribute my grain of sand towards the effort against increasingly narrow parameters of cooperation within the SBC.

In the end, I do not know which side will win out in the current conflict in the SBC. What I do know, though, is that, when all is done and told, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church Jesus is in the process of building. And, in the meantime, I am called, to the best of my ability, to “love each stone” being built up together with me to form “a holy temple in the Lord,” – “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that [we] may declare the praises of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Blessings,

David

Introduction

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

14 comments:

Trey Atkins said...

Dear David,

A fantastic response! I have been reading this series of posts because it so vividly talks about the issues related to where we are as an organization and convention. If you are only contributing a grain of sand, I won't even try! The days to come will be interesting; we can know who controls those days whatever the outcome may be.

Trey Atkins
IMB Croatia

R. Grannemann said...

Things such as whether a believer is baptized into the local church or the universal church would be unimportant as long as no one thought holding one of the views was a legitimate basis for exclusion. That fact some think this, or some theological derivative of this, is a reason for exclusion points out there is an important theological issue buried below. Improper views of ecclesiology, such as Landmarkism or Roman Catholicism, place such an elevated importance to form over faith that they enslave the soul, as I can testify from my own enslavement to Landmarkism for a decade. If Christendom could ever discover the "proper" view of "church," much of what has shackled it for two millennia would fall away.

David Rogers said...

Trey,

Thanks for your encouragement. I pray God will bless your ministry there in Croatia in a special way this year.

R. Grannemann,

I agree with you. I plan to post linking to some interesting articles on ecclesiology in the near future. I will be interested to hear your reactions.

Joel Rainey said...

David,

Excellent. Simply, excellent! Thanks for this contribution.

Joel

Malcolm Yarnell said...

Good but unconvincing rhetoric, David.

Dear Readers, David and I have agreed to write two final letters, and then we will bring this dialogue to a conclusion.

Please be in prayer for the Christians in Kenya, especially in light of the burning of the Pentecostal church with the people inside. It is a beautiful country with beautiful people, and the current situation is tragic.

In Christ,
Malcolm

barrett said...

David and Malcolm,
Thanks for the sharing of your convictions. I have to say that most of your disagreements seems to me to be more theoretical than Biblical. It reminds me of some of the thoughts shared in "My Utmost for HIS Highest".... I may not always understand what Oswald Chambers has said after reading his devotional. In the last forty plus years, my wife and I have used it as a devotional multiple times..... Every time we've used it.... I'm challenged! The same has been true with your exchanges. I honestly regret they are coming to a conclusion, but your exchanges have been a Blessing for me. With an accumulative total of more than 65 years as a Southern Baptist, 55 of those as an SBC pastor and strong supporter of Global Missions... my prayer is that you'll both continue to "stay" by the "stuff" as God's people continue to seek HIS will and discern HIS correction! ...and for you both... Philippians 1:3-4 & 9-11 HCSB ......Blessings.....
barrett
Assoc. Pastor;Pastoral Care & Assimilation
Tallahassee, FL

Strider said...

David's 'rhetoric' may have been unconvincing until you mentioned the Pentacostal church in Kenya. Isn't that the point Malcolm? We have theoretical differences until reality sets in, the enemy attacks, and we stand together as brothers and sisters in Christ? If this is true when they burned alive why is it not true when they live and breath?
They are our family- not invisible at all- and I would have shared the Lord's cup gladly with any one of them if I had the chance all the while smiling as we discussed their errors about baptism in the Holy spirit!
There is one faith, one Lord, one baptism, one God and Father of all and all the rhetoric we spout will not change what God has ordained. I am a Southern Baptist and proud of that but much more than that I am a child of God and will love and work with all of God's children- period.
David, you are the best! Thanks for your efforts on this blog.

Anonymous said...

David, I also want to express my thanks for your efforts here and on many blogs that are so reflective of my own opinions after many years of service with the IMB. This series of letters should be required reading for all that wish to be involved in SB life in any way, as I think that they accurately reflect the fundamental differences that are rising up among us. Please continue in your efforts knowing that there are many reading that seldom comment, and never with such clarity and grace as you alwasy display.

Dr. Yarnell, thanks for taking the time to post these letters, as I feel that I understand your positions much better now. While I don't think we will ever be in agreement concerning these issues, as seen from a couple of our other dialogues at Barebones, I can at least understand where you are coming from. May I very humbly suggest that the thoroughness and grace that came out in your last post will always go much further than the usual "Baptist" is "biblical" sound bytes that you have frequently offered in the past.

***IamanM***

Anonymous said...

David
I've really enjoyed the dialogue. Probably more so because my heart and mind resonates with the way you approach things about "the kingdom". I suspect that if Dr. Yarnell's position rules the day in the SBC and becomes the "rules" by which we all have to live and serve, many of us M's will be out of the IMB real quick. I feel "sort of" confident this won't happen. Stay the course. You have become a voice for us with your clearly stated beliefs that represent many who feel similar.
Thanks
Joel
IMB

Russell M. Minick said...

Malcom Yarnell wrote:
"There are two directions before us: either we will continue reducing our church standards in order to "build bridges" to other Christians and even other religions, or we will maintain the ordinances that Christ instituted in obedience to Him."

The command not to work on the Sabbath for those under the Torah was for man, not man for the Torah. Jesus taught the priority for those arguing for faithfully obeying the Lord not to use God's ordained commands of form as an excuse for escaping his ordained commands of principles. Some of the scribes did not like Jesus' "lack of faithfulness to a clear command"; they were obviously wrong.

The arguments for theologically vigorous precision in our ordinances as a basis for breaking fellowship with those whom Christ has accepted are sadly familiar. I got suspicious that there was no clear and obvious answer for the whole alien baptism idea when no one could articulate it in less than a treatise of extended arguments far beyond the question asked (or any immediately recognized text like, say...
Galations 7:4 "I also told Peter to his face: "How dare you eat with those Community Church people, Repent and be Baptist for the remission of your ecumenicism!"). [[insert smiley face icon to show that I am teasing in a friendly way, not pontificating in an unduly self-important way]]

Seriously:
Someone who is baptized in obedience to Christ showing they are saved by grace is good enough for me to fellowship with. A baptized believer with commitment to Christ as King of the Kingdom who is in church fellowship is someone I'll share the cup with.
I fear God enough not to be so bold as to tell one of His that he needs my denominational credentials before I can worship and serve with him.

Thanks for giving us your perspective Malcom. Thank you also for considering that some of us who reject it do so not out of shallow worldiness but out of passionate devotion to seek the full counsel of God. May He give us all grace to hear and obey Him even if that means any of us really do need to repent.

shalom,

Russell Minick
Chiang Mai, Thailand

David Rogers said...

Joel Rainey,

Thanks for the encouragement, and for continuing to provide a solid voice of reason and balance on key issues in our convention.

Malcolm,

I look forward to your response. I pray we will all remain open to being convinced by a consistent exegesis and well-reasoned application of the eternal principles of God's Word.

Barrett,

Thanks for your kind words, friendship, and partnership in the Gospel.

Strider, IamnM, Joel, and Russell,

I especially appreciate the affirmation of you my colleagues at the IMB. May we remain open to being instructed by God's Word, and unwavering in our commitment to "whatever it's going to take" to reach all the peoples of the world with the message of the grace of Jesus that reconciles us with the Father, and also reconciles us one with another by way of our common relationship with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:3,7).

Paul said...

David,

I'm a Johnny-come-lately in getting around to this post, but let me say that it is a wonderful response, rhetoric and all. ;-)

I read that article you link to on the spiritual landscape in Spain and wonder if the gospel-believing church in Spain, small in numbers as it is, has the luxury of isolating themselves from one another over some of these issues under discussion.

Blessings,
Paul

David Rogers said...

Paul,

Thankfully, I have experienced some good examples of the Body of Christ living and working in unity in Spain beyond what I have seen in the States. But, there are probably examples in the States too that I just have not had the opportunity to experience personally yet. Also, the thorny issues of denominationalism seem to follow us wherever we go. Yes, they are present in Spain, as well, to a big extent.

David Rogers said...

For whomever may happen to read this at this late date, and is wondering what happened to the last two posts to which Malcolm alludes in the comment stream here, I never did receive another letter from Malcolm, so have decided to just leave it as is for the time being.

In the meantime, the dialogue continues, albeit in other settings, and with additional participants.