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Malcolm Yarnell: The Anabaptists and the Great Commission

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Malcolm Yarnell, Director of the Center for Theological Research at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently lectured at Southeastern Seminary as a part of the Page Lecture Series. In this lecture, he discusses what we can learn from the Anabaptists’ interpretation of the Great Commission.

Watch the full talk above. Read a key excerpt below.


The Great Commission was understood by our theological cousins, the Continental Anabaptists, in ways very similar to those exposited by our direct forefathers, the English Baptists.

On the history of interpreting the Great Commission.

“The Great Commission was given to the church in order to prepare humanity for the second coming of Jesus Christ. On the coming day of the Lord, the nations will be required to give an account of their conduct. Human beings will be judged for the sinful deeds we have done and the good deeds we have left undone. There is only one way to avoid the condemnation that is rightfully ours, and that is through faith in the crucified and resurrected King, whose imminent reign will put an end to the misuses we human beings have inflicted upon his creation. To the abuses we have inflicted upon his precious image, and most importantly to the faithflessness we have inflicted upon his glory. Such faith must be a true faith, a covenantal faith….

“The Great Commission was understood by our theological cousins, the Continental Anabaptists, in ways very similar to those exposited in the preaching and practice of our direct forefathers, the English Baptists…. The General Baptists of the early 17th century read this passage structurally so as to preserve the precedence of faith in relation to baptism. The Particular Baptist Benjamin Keach popularized and regularized the term Great Commission to describe our focal passage in the late 17th century…. And the evangelical Baptists (Andrew Fuller, William Carey) revolutionized our own understanding of this passage in the late 18th century, thereby launching the modern missions movement which has shaped Southern Baptist life and thought in significant ways, compelling us to obey Jesus like never before.

“But a century before the Baptists broke from the Puritan separatists from England, the Anabaptist in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Moravia, and Italy, among other places, were advocating an interpretation of this passage that presaged the modern missions movement.”

The 4 ways the Great Commission has been emphasized in church history.

  • Dogmatic emphasis
  • Structural emphasis
  • Missionary emphasis
  • Covenental emphasis

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