Let me start this with a of honesty. I chose the word “like” instead of “love” for a reason. I don’t love this solution. In my perfect world, we’d be voting to actually change the name of our convention to “Great Commission Baptists” instead of just adding it as a designation. Like Dr. Paige Patterson, I’ve wanted to see our regionally-focused name replaced for a long time. But the Task Force determined (and from what I have seen, rightly so) that a name change would cost so much and be so legally difficult that whatever benefits might come from it were not worth it. So, we are going to legally and officially be the Southern Baptist Convention for a long time, probably for as long as I live.
But even though my desired name-change isn’t going to happen, I think what our President Bryant Wright and the members of the Task Force did was a great compromise solution.
I know that the mindset among bloggers has been mostly to scorn this solution. In fact, the negativity has been extreme. I’d like to give a counterpoint to the negativity and share briefly the reasons why I think this is a good idea and why I hope the convention will vote in favor of this motion this summer in New Orleans.
1) “Great Commission” is a great name!
In fact, I will do so far as to say that Great Commission Baptists is vastly superior to Southern Baptists as a designation for our convention.
Imagine for a moment that our convention is not over 165 years old, but is being formed today. There are two options for a name. The first option is a name that honors a single region of our country above others. The second option refers to the basic command that underlies the work of the church – the Great Commission. Which name would you choose?
I’d go with Great Commission Baptists over a regional name every time. It is a name that is about our work and not about a particular region and culture. Why focus on the South when we can focus on the work of making disciples as commanded in the Great Commission.
Simply put, Great Commission Baptists is a better name than Southern Baptist. I hope my church has a chance to use it!
2) GCB represents a noble aspiration.
Our Great Leader here at SBC Voices, Tony Kummer, leveled the accusation that the new name was a form of false advertising. If we were truly devoted to the Great Commission as we should be we would likely not be bogged down in petty bickering or see the numerical decline that has become a reality in our convention. Paul told the Corinthians that their tendency to divide into schismatic groups was a sign of their spiritual immaturity and the same is probably true for us.
Is “Great Commission” a completely accurate name for us as Southern Baptists? Probably not. But it is a noble aspiration, a worthy goal.
Whether you like the name Southern or not, you would have to admit that it is not a name that inspires us to spiritual nobility. But if we adopt the moniker Great Commission Baptist,s it is a constant reminder of what we need to be about.
I live and work in Iowa. We have no desire here to be Southern. But we really do want to be Great Commission Baptists. And you know what, I believe most of the Baptists in Georgia and Mississippi and Texas and Alabama want to be Great Commission Baptists more than they want to be identified as Southern Baptists.
It is a noble goal and a powerful reminder of who we need to be!
3) I respect the leaders who arrived at this decision.
It has become common to disdain the leaders of our denomination, identifying them as “power elites” and lobbing accusations, sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant, that they are seeking to rule over us instead of observing Baptist principles and polity. There are times I have found this accusation to be accurate.
It was not so here. I read more than one blogger who made the assumption that the Task Force was a rubber stamp for the decision of the “power elites” that the name needed to be changed. It was a done deal, they claimed, and the Task Force was more of a Task Farce.
Lo and behold, these men and women actually studied the issue and demonstrated that they were not rubber stamping anyone’s done deal, that they were not ideologues, but that they had seriously studied a difficult issue. They came to realize that a legal name change was too difficult and expensive to be justified. So they came up with this compromise solution.
Just because our leaders recommend something doesn’t mean we have to go along. That is the nature of the democratic polity of a convention of autonomous churches. But the fact is that they studied this issue honestly and diligently and we ought to at least show them the respect of seriously considering their proposal.
4) The proposal is unifying.
When Bryant Wright announced the Task Force, the vote to attempt to derail the appointment failed 39-20. By the time this proposal was presented several of those in opposition had become enthusiastic supporters. According to reports, only 5 trustees voted against the Task Force recommendation.
We have a divided convention. We have Calvinists in influential positions and some anti-Calvinists in some equally influential positions. We have traditionalists and contemporarians (if that is a word). We have Baptist Identity and the evangelical unity movement.
This proposal could have added to that division, but the Task Force arrived at a solution that need not be divisive. Those who still prize the name “Southern” will not have to give it up. Those for whom the name is a problem have something else to identify with.
Some have seen this as a problem, but why should it be? Currently, some churches use Baptist in their name and some don’t. We are not a denomination that enforces uniformity (or at least we shouldn’t be).
A Final Thought
I am grateful that to this point I’ve not seen anyone who favors the informal new name act as if it is a panacea for all our denominational problems. I don’t think anyone believes that by using the name Great Commission Baptists we will enter a denominational golden era. But just because the new name wouldn’t solve everything doesn’t mean it is without merit.
It’s a good name. Frankly, it’s a better name than the one we currently have, even though it is new. In New Orleans this year I will be enthusiastically voting with what I hope will be a strong majority to endorse the name “Great Commission Baptists.”