What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet
– Juliet, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
It would seem that Juliet was mistaken, at least in part. While a name itself does not change who we are, names can tell something about who or what we are supposed to be. There is a reason why we call ourselves Christians, believers, and saints; these names all identify some aspect not just of who we are but what we are to be in Christ – Christ followers, those who believe the word of God, those who have been made saints through the blood of Christ. There is a reason why a man enters Matthew 16:18 with the name Simon and emerges with the name Peter. There is a reason why Jacob’s last child with Rebecca was named Benjamin instead of Ben-oni. Names matter.
At the same time, names are not fixed and immovable. The Bible is full of name changes: Jacob to Israel, Simon to Peter, sinner to saint. There are times for names to change, and times for names to remain the same. In the normal course of things, names will remain fixed and unchanging. There must be a good reason for a change to take place.
There are some good reasons to change the name of the SBC. There are also some good reasons to keep the name unchanged. To some degree, I remain undecided. I think the task force has offered a good compromise, but I’m still not convinced that even this compromise is worth the division it will (and has) inevitably create. I will most likely vote for the recommendation, but with some hesitation. Below are some of my own considerations of the issue.
What a name change could accomplish
- It would be a more accurate name. Southern Baptists are no longer strictly southern. Whatever our history, the present reality is the SBC is global, and praise God for that! Names matter, and a name that shows our national and international scope would be helpful.
- It would send a message that our identity is not tied to our history. We should never – and could never – divorce ourselves from the past. Warts and all, we are who we are because of a long train of historical events. God has been good to us, and we should never forget that. Nonetheless, where God has us today is not where he had us yesterday. The convention has grown, the demographics have changed, and the issues we face are different. The gospel we preach has not changed, but like it or not, we have changed.
What a name change will not accomplish
- A name change will not spark revival. Period. No one will get saved because the SBC does or does not change its name. People with hearts hard to the gospel message presented by someone in the SBC will have hearts hard to the gospel from the GCB or any other name you wish to use. They have a problem with the gospel and the Savior we proclaim, not the name under which we proclaim it. Blaming it on SBC is just an excuse. Changing our name will not change a sinner’s heart.
Why we should/should not change the name
- Pride in the past should not stop us from changing the name. I am from the south: born and raised in Mississippi, moved to Alabama for seminary, and moved from seminary to a part of Florida often called L.A. (Lower Alabama). I understand the pride that goes with southern culture, and it usually strikes me as unhelpful – even sinful – pride. I am afraid this same attitude is affecting the way some people think about the SBC name change. We will remain Southern Baptist because that is who we have always been, and by golly, that is who we always will be!
- In an age of great uncertainty and change, there is a lot to be said for stability. Holding to our name could have nothing to do with pride in the past and much to do with demonstrating continuity and stability.
- Having a name that the lost can understand is important, but not of chief importance. Many people have debated why Saul is called Paul throughout much of the New Testament. God never changes his name, yet he goes from using a Hebrew name to using a Greek name. Some have said that this Apostle to the Gentiles uses a name more familiar to the gentiles he is trying to reach. Nonetheless, as noted before, it is not the name that will win the lost but perhaps the name can send a message to the world that there are some truths that need to be understood, no matter how alien they may seem at first glance. We cannot change the gospel message just because the gospel may be hard for some to grasp; what we do is help the lost understand the gospel. As such, the name Great Commission Baptists can serve as a tool for explaining the gospel: Great Commission? What does that mean? Well, let me tell you what Jesus commissioned the church to do and why it is so important…
The proposed path: risks and benefits
Jason Dukes has gone on record ( http://www.goFBW.com/News.asp?id=13792 ) saying the task force “was kind of a waste of time and purpose. The nickname we got back is no different than what we’ve already known.” His view is that the task force did not go far enough, did not change enough, and thus was a waste of time. I disagree.
I believe the task force recommendation was the best solution possible. The idea of a kind of nickname surprised me and strikes me as, on the whole, a good idea. Early on in the debate I became convinced that all of the legal and financial difficulties associated with a name change are simply not worth it. This aspect points to one way the name change really could have an evangelistic impact: lots and lots of money we could be using for missions would instead be spent on all the fees associated with changing the name. Keeping the same legal name while offering a new operating name allows us to avoid any additional cost while offering a new name people can use. It also presents a compromise between those who want to keep the same name and those who want something new. Both options will be available to the people of the SBC.
The separate names do create one possible risk. Unfortunately, the SBC is following the rest of the world in becoming increasingly polarized. Some of that polarization is good as we isolate ourselves from groups and churches that are, frankly, heretical (and we need still more of that sort of polarization!). Some of that polarization is unfortunate and sad as we divide ourselves on issues that are important but should not be divisive. Some people think an eventual split is inevitable, given the current climate in the SBC. I could see a future in which the SBC does split: one group holding to the historic name, the other group splitting off with the new name. Thus the proposal, rather than helping our unity, could lead only to more disunity. Whether or not a split occurs, this is yet another identifying question: “Are you known as SBC or GCB?” Whatever value the nickname may have, I’m not sure that it is worth an additional layer of polarization.
On the name Great Commission Baptists
I think it is a good name. I have already discussed why I don’t think this name will be a problem when it comes to addressing lost people. I also don’t think we should shy away just because some TV network has created some new silly series. The name is global in focus and even points to the reason why the SBC is now a global convention: we have been about the work of the Great Commission. The name retains our Baptist identity (which I think is important and necessary: we are, after all, Baptists and not Methodists, Presbyterians, etc) while pointing to our Christian mission: spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.