Since 1845 our Southern Baptist ship has sailed without the banner of an informal descriptor. Now that we are being asked to choose whether or not to adopt one, we must consider: “What exactly is an informal descriptor?”
1. It is not merely a nickname.
Nicknames are given by people who just start using them and then see if they stick. Nobody ever votes on a nickname. If this were only a nickname, then any church who wanted to use it could do so already. There is no nickname police to stop the Pastor of some Journey Church somewhere from saying, “Hey, everybody, we partner together with some awesome Great Commission Baptists all over the world to tell people about Jesus.” That’s a nickname, and it requires no voting.
2. If adopted, it will most certainly be “official.”
Much will be made of the fact that this will not be our legal name, at least not for now. Someone may try to say, “Don’t worry–it’s not official.” They will be wrong. True, it will not be legal. Documents, contracts, deeds and bylaws will not require changing. However, if we do indeed approve the so-called informal descriptor, name change proponents will point to the official vote of the convention to support their mandate.
At times, people have been known to inaccurately describe such mandates. Suppose it passes 60% to 40%. You will hear people say, “See, 60% of the denomination wants our name to be Great Commission Baptists,” conveniently forgetting all the disclaimers about it being optional, only a description, unofficial and so on, all of which was designed to soothe the concerns of those who voted. But once they vote, interpretations of what they did will vary. The only way to eliminate the claiming of a false mandate is to oppose this motion totally. If we officially approve nothing, then it cannot be twisted into a victory it clearly is not.
3. It will be used both to supplement AND replace SBC.
While some people may think of this as a subtitle, as in “The Southern Baptist Convention: Great Commission Baptists” this will not be the only officially approved use for the term. At the discretion of the individual church, seminary, board or ministry, they will now have the option of replacing and not merely supplementing the name Southern Baptist Convention. Uses might include letterheads, logos, signs, advertising and almost anything else you can possibly think of other than the deed in the file cabinet no one ever looks at. If this passes, it will not only describe the name Southern Baptist Convention, but among many of our churches, it will replace the name, and even though it will not be the legal name, this strategy will have the official approval of the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention.
4. It will change our name, just not on paper.
Clearly there is a difference between (1) an “informal descriptor” which sounds like a harmless tagline, a subheading that will reinforce who we really are and what we are really about, and (2) an “officially approved optional replacement name” which any of our autonomous entities would then be permitted to use with the full blessing of the denomination, completely replacing the name Southern Baptist Convention everywhere it really matters except on the pieces of paper locked in file cabinets few Southern Baptists have ever seen.
It is to their advantage for name change proponents to minimize its significance before adoption and maximize its significance after adoption. Friends, this is indeed a name change in every way that matters to people other than accountants and lawyers. This name change is real, official and important. If it truly didn’t matter, if it were only a nickname or a subtitle, we wouldn’t be voting. Since we are voting, then it certainly must matter to those who have made it their business to propose the name change. I suggest that it must equally matter to those of us whose consciences dictate that we make it our business to oppose the name change.
While I’ve heard many nicknames in my lifetime, I’m less familiar with informal descriptors. However, upon further examination, it is clear that the term “Great Commission Baptists” is neither one. In fact, it seeks to become an “Officially Approved Optional Replacement Name” for the Southern Baptist Convention.