SBC Name Change

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I was in attendance as the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention heard a report from the Name Change Task Force appointed by SBC President Bryant Wright. This discussion isn’t new to Southern Baptists. At a press conference following the committee meeting, Task Force chairman, Jimmy Draper, reminded us that the issue was first raised in 1903 and has been considered no less than 13 times. This latest consideration has generated a great deal of discussion across the SBC, much of which has been intensely emotional. Draper stated that 585 suggested names had been received by the committee, and at least another 300 were submitted that were not serious in nature. The recommendation made by the Task Force is for the SBC to keep its name but to allow the use of an alternative name, ‘Great Commission Baptists,’ for those churches, agencies, and institutions that would find it helpful in their mission.

For all that has been said and will be said, and for all that has been written and will be written, this issue took on a new meaning for me during the Task Force’s presentation. That defining moment came when Pastor Ken Fentress, Ph.D., rose to speak. Ken is an appointed member of the Task Force, an African American, and a pastor who is originally from the south (Texas), but currently serves outside of the south at Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Maryland. I have known Ken for several years as a colleague and friend from our days at Southern Seminary.

Ken focused his remarks on his long time enthusiastic identification with the theological positions of the SBC. Ken then expressed his support for the recommendation of the Task Force to allow churches to use the name ‘Great Commission Baptists’ in order to open doors of opportunity for progress for the gospel and progress toward racial reconciliation as a powerful display of the impact of the gospel.

As I scanned the room filled with members of the Executive Committee and leaders from across the SBC, I could see no more than ten African Americans, one Cuban, and one Asian present. While I could have missed one or two others I easily drew the conclusion that Southern Baptists have a long way to go toward integrating our leadership.

Will an alternative name help us accomplish the needful task of reaching the lost among the African American and ethnic communities? Will it help us build bridges to existing African American and ethnic churches that are baptistic in theology and practice and are looking for partners for mission work? Will it somehow result in more African American and ethnic Southern Baptists being welcomed into leadership roles in our convention? I don’t know the answer to these questions with certainty, but if the answer to any one of them is yes, then so is my vote.

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14 Comments

  1. Posted February 21, 2012 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    May I republish your article here in its entirety at SBC Issues? I appreciate your comments on the potential for diversity.

    Bob

  2. Larry J Baker
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Paul,

    While I appreciate the defining moment you had, I do have a question. What does “Great Commission” mean to a lost person of any race, and why does Pastor Fentress think that that name will resonate among Blacks anywhere in the country?

    • Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

      Larry, great questions. Dr. Greenway and I were talking about the first one last night and concluded that the term “Great Commission” probably means nothing to most lost people.

      While I won’t try to speak for Pastor Fentress, what I think he was saying is that African American believers and churches will find it easier to relate to the SBC and even join the SBC because of the alternative name. The mere willingness, on the part of the SBC, to make a statement by approving the alternative name communicates our desire to remove potential barriers in an effort to welcome in our African American brothers and sisters. Thus, the first issue becomes how we relate to churches rather than to lost people.

      What follows, however, are established churches and new plants that are ethnically diverse and focused on reaching the lost in the African American and ethnic communities.

      In the end, it might be what the new name leaves out that is of greater importance than what it includes. It obviously leaves out the word “southern.” To illustrate, the name, “First Yankee Baptist Church,” would likely be a barrier for a lost person in Alabama. Take out the word “yankee” and you have removed a barrier. Since many African Americans equate “southern” with slavery, taking out that word is probably much more important than what we use to replace it.

  3. Posted February 21, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Hello Dr. Chitwood,

    I find the concept of renaming Southern Baptists to “Great Commission Baptists” very interesting. I am not entirely sure that is a good name, because I do not believe that name would describe many Southern Baptist churches. Let’s look at the Great Commission for a moment. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19 ESV). You may ask me, “Why have you only shown verse 19?” My answer would be, “I believe that many SBC churches that claim to be focused on the Great Commission stop there.” On the other hand, many Southern Baptist churches only focus on “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20 ESV). If we want to call ourselves “Great Commission Baptists,” then we must focus on making disciples, baptizing, and teaching! The Great Commission does not stop with making disciples (evangelizing or advancing the Gospel) and baptizing. In the same way, the Great Commandment does not stop at loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We must be willing to do all the Great Commission and all the Great Commandment. We cannot claim to be “Great Commission Baptists” if we are only focused on missions. In the same way, we cannot claim to be Christians if we do not love our neighbors. If missions is our only focus, then we should be called “Missionary Baptists.” If we are only focusing on discipling, then we should be called “Discipling Baptists.” I have no problem with the name “Great Commission Baptists.” I am not sure that I could conceive of a better name, but there may be one. I have a problem with what the Great Commission seems to mean to Southern Baptists currently.

    Sincerely,
    Kevin

    • Posted February 21, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

      Kevin, I join you in praying that our words & deeds as Southern Baptists/Great Commission Baptists will show that we are a people who obey both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment!

  4. Eddie Russell
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    Little concerned about the the next to last paragraph. Sounds like you have bought into the latest PC dogma that unless we meet a certain quota of ethnic groups in our leadership we couldn’t possibly be effective. I thought there was neither Jew nor Greek in Christ. We need devoted disciples in leadership period. I don’t care if they are red, yellow, black or white. We miss the point if our goal is to me some sort of ethnic quota as a qualification for leadership.

    • Posted February 21, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      Eddie, thanks for your comment. Hopefully I can ease your concerns. I’m not at all a fan of PC dogma, nor a proponent of quotas. Nor did I suggest that Southern Baptists “couldn’t possibly be effective” without a quota. But if we do “need devoted disciples in leadership,” and I agree with you that we do, does the lack of any diversity in our leadership mean we believe that only white people are devoted disciples?

      In my opinion, we have a ways to go toward modeling “neither Jew nor Greek in Christ.” I read that verse to be an expression of the unity the gospel brings to those who were formerly at odds. The New Testament tells the story of the struggle of the Jews to welcome the Greeks/Gentiles into the church without placing upon them the burden of the cultural and ritualistic requirements of the Jewish Law (Acts 15, Gal 2-3, etc). Paul repeatedly argues that the Gentiles should be embraced as brothers. James states, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19). I suppose Paul & James could have been accused of spewing PC dogma but I believe their heart was simply to receive the Gentile believers into the churches without qualification or limitation.

      Is ethnic diversity a legitimate concern for Southern Baptists? I believe it is. As recently as a couple of years ago a friend of mine was dismissed from his pastorate in the south because he encouraged the church to admit African Americans for membership. We have somehow made it all the way to 2012 and not yet elected an African American to the SBC presidency or to the office of president or state executive in hardly any state convention. The percentage of African American churches and ethnic churches in the SBC is way below their population percentage. Why?

      A few years ago, we began to talk about getting more young leaders involved in denominational life. That talk really didn’t amount to much until a few young leaders were welcomed to the tables of leadership. Then, all of a sudden, I began to notice more and more young guys showing up and getting involved. If we care about evangelizing and planting churches among ethnic groups and African Americans, and we want to provide the powerful imagery of the gospel that racial reconciliation displays, I think we should care if some of our leaders are red, some are yellow, some are black, and some are white. Does that mean quotas? No. But it does mean acknowledging that there are qualified leaders who aren’t white.

  5. Justin W
    Posted February 21, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

    This issue concerns me every time it is raised. I have no problem being known as a Southern Baptist. I realize everyone may not have a similar feeling.

    I think the name change committee made a great decision. Those who want to continue using the SBC name can do so. Those who want to use the Great Commission Baptists name can do so. For those who continue to use the name Southern Baptists they can use the Great Commission Baptists as a tagline. In the end the dual names will allow our work as a denomination to thrive outside the South. I like the new name. To me it serves as a reminder of what Jesus called us as Christians to do.

    As a kid, I remember hearing about the Bold Mission Thrust and the desire to carry out the Great Commission by the year 2000. Somewhere along the way this noble idea lost its boldness and its thrust. Hopefully the Great Commission part of the name will help us to get our eyes back on the task Christ called us to do.

  6. Eddie Russell
    Posted February 22, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I think you miss my point. The Gospel is the unifier. Our call to go out to all nations and preach the gospel, is the unifier. If we really are serious about that I believe God will take care of the rest of it. Obviously because of Paul’s faithfulness to his calling, the non-jewish world experienced a tremendous drawing to Jesus. Churches grew and became diverse not because Paul felt a call to diversity but because he was faithul to the call of God to proclaim the gospel to the gentile world.

  7. Posted February 22, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Eddie, that was exactly my point: the gospel is the unifier. And when Paul preached the gospel, he sought to remove cultural and racial barriers and boldly declared that the gospel demands love and unity among the elect from every tongue and tribe. I would argue that Paul’s intentional proclamation of the gospel to the Gentile world grew out of Paul’s understanding that the gospel is a call to diversity. When Jesus commissioned his church to make disciples panta ta ethne, was he not commissioning diversity?

  8. Rodney Cude
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate the spirit of the committee’s decision to open a potential doorway for churches and church plants to reach new people in their area and to remove “a barrier” by allowing the use of an alternate name. It is reminencent of when the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship decided they wanted an alternative way to do missions besides going through the Cooperative Program and the KBC. They wanted to maintain an affliation on their terms and to accomodate them allowed dual alliances for churches. They did not have to choose to be Southern Baptist or Cooperative Fellowship Baptist and the end result is an ongoing confusion of identity. Will such confusion be furthered by the use of “Great Commission Baptist” . When we meet for the annual meeting will the Southern Baptist Convention meet or will it be “Great Comission Baptist” convention. In the long run I am fearful that this may be used by the media to infer a division within our convention and to some SBC churches that perception may already be considered. Perhaps there is a reason that the name change has been considered multiple times since 1903, but never changed.

    • Posted February 27, 2012 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      Rodney, thanks for jumping into the discussion! Your comparison is very interesting but I think it quickly breaks down. The alternative name suggestion will not provide for another missions channel or another giving plan. It’s more like my first car, a Chevy Nova. Some called it a Chevy and some called it a Nova but either way they were referring to the same engine, wheels, tires, etc. CBF and SBC became two different organizations with which some churches sought dual alignment.

      As for the “reason that the name change has been considered multiple times since 1903, but never changed,” I would take your argument a step further and suggest there isn’t “a” reason; there are a host of reasons. Does keeping the official name but permitting an optional, alternative name, actually more tagline than name, set aside all of the historical objections? I doubt it. Is it feasible? I think so but I’m just one voice among millions of Southern Baptists. Is it acceptable to Southern Baptists? We’ll know in June!