Most have probably heard the news. The task force appointed to consider a possible name change for the Southern Baptist Convention has given a recommendation. And in the end, it’s just a name game with no significance. I mean after all, this is the group that is so fixated on how things sound that we use “task force” instead of “committee.” Anyway…
The decision is to recommend that we keep the name legally Southern Baptist, but allow folks to use the alternate name “Great Commission Baptist” if they want. Seems a bit odd, since as autonomous local churches, we can all call ourselves whatever we want anyway, but…
The whole thing seems to be a lot of political maneuvering and “symbolism over substance” stuff. The argument is that the word “Southern” is a deterrent to church planting work outside of the south. I wonder if that is really the case with the people who live outside the south, or just the perception of the church planters.
Case in point. In the early 1990’s we did some church planting in the far off reaches of North Dakota. Even then we were told by the powers that be down south that we should be careful with our name thing. People might not like the SBC, so don’t focus too much on that. Use a generic name like Community Baptist or something.
Fine, but here’s how our experience turned out. The little group we started eventually started meeting in a motel conference room, and eventually in an old church building not in use. We gave the decision for the name of the church to the people who lived there, were born there, were part of that community, etc. The name they voted on: Trinity Baptist Church, SBC. They specifically wanted to be identified with the Southern Baptist Convention because of its doctrinal stand and to differentiate our church from some other questionable “Baptists” who had been around. So…
The other argument is that the word “Southern” highlights the fact that the SBC was on the “wrong side” of the War Between the States. In fact, in recent years the SBC has officially apologized for that. Folks, let’s move on.
I have less tolerance for racism than most of my friends and family and even many others in the church. Having lived on a Sioux Reservation and experienced all that first hand, I’ve developed a particular distaste for basing anything on skin color, heritage, etc. But folks, we are living in the 21st Century. While the atrocities of the past should be remembered so as not to be repeated, we need to stop acting like it happened yesterday and move on.
Furthermore, this whole thing seems to be a bit oxymoronic to me. On the one hand, the Convention wants to be sensitive to diversity and not isolate others and on and on. And yet at the same time, we are heavily promoting those works that do nothing but highlight our lack of diversity and our selfish individuality: see Cowboy Church, and Biker Church, and whatever other “identity” you want to throw on something to isolate ourselves from everyone else in the body of Christ.
OK, I’m digressing. This is supposed to be about the name change. Here’s the deal. Why do we spend so much time worrying about the name? Why don’t we just focus on being the Church? I’m proud to be Southern Baptist because of our strong historical theology. Next week I’m going to a Southern Baptist Founders’ Conference, highlighting the strong Reformed faith of our faith forefathers. For that matter, our church is Faith Southern Baptist Church (named before my arrival for the record).
But the names are secondary. How many man hours, how much money has been wasted by the “task force” studying this issue, which could have been spent on actually obeying the Great Commission; only to bring a recommendation that does nothing but offer a fluffy bunny option?
Again, the names are largely irrelevant. And I really don't want to seem insensitive to those who feel greatly troubled by this name. But it’s the gospel that counts. If we really think that simply calling ourselves Great Commission Baptists rather than Southern Baptists will change the quality and character of the gospel message, then maybe we don’t understand the message. And maybe that’s our problem to begin with.
Maybe our problem is not the name, but the emphasis. Maybe our lack of success in other regions has to do with the fact that most of our efforts are still in the South, and those efforts outside the South are still approached like they're in the South. Our biggest problem while with the then Home Mission Board was that they acted like things in North Dakota should work just like they did in Atlanta. Regardless, the focus should be on the Gospel, not the name.
Preach the Word, in season and out. Preach the Gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can bring regeneration to the heart of dead sinners, and regardless of what our T-shirts say, He accomplishes that miracle through the preaching of the Gospel. Let’s go do it and stop worrying about what to call it.