In this final installment of the series, I will (1) discuss the complications of setting a double named convention precedent, (2) expose the weaknesses of existing GCB associations, (3) articulate the limitations inherent in a functional rather than geographical name, (4) suggest that the GCB name may be linked to a GCR agenda that is itself less than unifying, and (5) take issue with the timing of this name change proposal during such a transitional period of Southern Baptist life. Following these last five reasons, I will seek to organize all twenty reasons into four general categories before offering a succinct conclusion.
16. Multiple Naming Precedent
Assuming we were to pass GCB and allow some of our churches, with the full blessing of the convention, to refer to our denomination as Great Commission Baptists, for the simple reason that they believe it will help them in their work, then by what guiding principle do we justify disallowing any additional requests by a church or group of churches for their own officially approved convention descriptor? For example, suppose a church in a certain area of the country wants to distinguish itself among the liberal churches in their area as the kind of church associated with a denomination embracing biblical inerrancy. Further suppose that they petition Southern Baptists to allow the optional descriptor Bible Believing Baptists in lieu of Great Commission Baptists. On what basis is the request denied? It’s optional. They feel it will help them. So now we have a third name, right? Next, a church with a unique burden to promote traditional family values in a state dealing with same gender marriage issues, in order to further their ministry, requests the optional descriptor Family First Baptists. Clearly, we support the family and the Bible just like we support the Great Commission. Unfortunately, the practical usage of our name, in such a scenario, would be watered down considerably, all with the full approval of our convention. Once you allow more than one name for your organization, you may find yourself having to deal with some unintended consequences, such as a further splintering of both our name and our identity.
17. Current GCB Associations
While much has been made of the raunchy and profane television show by the same initials, one simply cannot overlook the irony that we are seeking to improve our image as Christians from the South using the very same three initials that are being used by others to mock and ridicule Christians from the South. For a moment, forget about the process, about the concept, about the rationale and a host of other miscellaneous issues and just consider that the name itself is simply not a good one. GCB is a poor choice, and not only because it now conjures up images of cut-throat, religiously hypocritical Texas hotties. There also exists a fellowship of evangelical churches based in Columbus, Ohio, that is already known as Great Commission Churches. Merely replacing the third word “Churches” with the word “Baptists” will not necessarily translate, in common everyday conversation, into the kind of clarity and focus we surely desire as we identify ourselves. Do not forget about Great Commission Ministries, Great Commission Publications, and the Great Commission Alliance. When we take the names of other organizations and appropriate them as our own descriptor, it is fair to assume that confusion will reign. We should not desire to be associated either with other denominational entities or with raunchy TV shows.
18. Functionally Limiting
The claim is sometimes made by proponents that “Southern” is geographically limiting because we extend far beyond the South. I would argue that the location referenced by one’s name need not identify one’s destination but can quite legitimately identify one’s roots. It remains an incontrovertible historical fact that our denomination is rooted geographically in the Southern region of the United States. It is also an incontrovertible historical fact that, despite the alleged limitations of such a name, we have still managed to extend the reach of our missions enterprise all around the globe. If the name “Southern” is really keeping us from reaching the world for Christ, it’s not doing a very good job. Having said that, it is worth considering that the use of a functional name, such as Great Commission Baptists, is similarly limiting in some very important respects. Yes, the Great Commission is our number one priority. However, and please hear this as something other than heresy, the Great Commission is not our only priority. We are involved in hunger relief, disaster relief, universities and seminaries, orphanages, publishing, historical societies, grief support groups, biblical counseling, Upward Basketball and the Tuesday Night Quilting Club. While these and many other causes and pursuits may indeed result in the spread of the gospel, one must admit that such varied activities place great strain on the umbrella term “Great Commission.” Now that NAMB seems to have narrowed the Great Commission to church planting and very little else, will our new denominational descriptor seek to broaden the Great Commission to encompass everything we do as Southern Baptists? When you bake the casserole for Wednesday Night Supper, are you really doing the Great Commission? Again, at the risk of being misunderstood, I’m all about the Great Commission and believe it is our first priority, but we also do a great many other things. Since it is not our only priority, the name Great Commission can be just as limiting functionally as the name Southern is limiting geographically.
19. The GCR-GCB Connection
It is fair to say that the Great Commission Resurgence agenda has not ushered in a utopian Age of Aquarius. Yes, in 2010, the GCR proposal succeeded politically on the floor of the convention in Orlando, albeit with a fair measure of debate, some arm twisting, a bit of confusion and a suspicious locking away of secret documents. But a funny thing happened on the way to its implementation. The so-called “Bloated Bureaucracies” are not exactly behaving the way the GCR architects envisioned. Some, like William Thornton, argue persuasively that the GCR is essentially a dead bird. It promised a revival but only delivered a new set of priorities that have yet to be fully embraced by the convention as a whole. I would argue that the GCR has always been more successful than popular, which is to say it has won the votes of messengers but not the hearts of rank and file Southern Baptists. Is there anyone willing to argue that we are really in the throes of a heaven sent Great Commission resurgence in Southern Baptist life? If the GCR excitement continues to wane, we might fairly conclude that it was merely a temporary emphasis in denominational life. It does not take a genius to realize that in the midst of the Great Commission Resurgence some people came up with the name Great Commission Baptists, and if not for the former emphasis, we would in all probability not be looking at the latter descriptor. Is it really wise for us to name a 167 year old organization after a two year old denominational emphasis? Let me say once again that I have profound spiritual respect and appreciation for the Great Commission as given by Jesus. But if the GCR is really a dead bird, and the GCB is inextricably linked to it, then we would do well to avoid becoming the Dead Bird Baptists.
20. Lousy Timing
As any comedian will tell you, timing is everything. In the last two years, Southern Baptists have elected new Presidents of our International Mission Board, our North American Mission Board and our Executive Committee. We have embraced an omnibus piece of legislation redefining our mission metrics and outlining new ways of cooperation between our state conventions and our national work. We have debated the tactics and doctrines of the emerging churches. We have struggled to understand and adapt to the reality of the New Calvinism, especially as it manifests itself within the churches of our convention. We have endured a national financial crisis, along with an unprecedented assault on both religious liberty and the definition of marriage in our society. We are poised to elect our first African-American President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Frankly, I believe we have enough to wrap our minds around in dealing with all of these other matters. Why is it so necessary that we make such a major decision in the context of our present atmosphere of change and turmoil? For 167 years, we have never yet granted any of our churches the license to use an alternative denominational name with the full blessing of Southern Baptists. Why must we do it now? Why do it in the midst of our present instability? Why not let the waters recede a bit, give the matter some prayerful and careful deliberation, and focus on this when the boat is not rocking so violently? I have always heard it is unwise to make major decisions in the midst of turmoil. If this is really a good idea, then it will certainly seem that way when the rest of our denominational life has returned to a calm sense of normalcy.
SUMMARY OF TWENTY REASONS
In reviewing the twenty reasons listed, it is now possible to place them in the following four categories:
A. Concerns With Process
(1) Inappropriate Task Force Creation
(2) Inappropriate Task Force Membership Selection
(3) Insufficient Evaluation Period
(6) Attempt to Avoid Name Change Protocol
(7) Changing Internal Task Force Mandate
(8) Compromise Suspected of Incrementalism
(15) Spiritual Bullying Leadership Tactics
(20) Lousy Timing
B. Concerns With Concept
(4) Confusion of Dual Identities
(12) Identifying the Identifier
(16) Multiple Naming Precedent
C. Concerns With Name Choice
(5) Churchy and Trendy Language
(10) Biblical Church Names Always Regional
(17) Current GCB Associations
(18) Functionally Limiting
(19) The GCR-GCB Connection
D. Concerns With Rationale
(9) Cannot Possibly Impact the Elect
(11) Names Don’t Evangelize
(13) Optional Illusion
(14) Mammon Over Morals Compromise
The GCB proposal was born of a questionably formed leadership group chosen by one man to solve an alleged problem whose existence the Southern Baptist Convention has never, ever, affirmed. Not only was the evaluation period brief, but if proponents get their way, the approval process will be as well — one brief majority vote at a single convention will authorize certain of our churches to claim membership in a denomination known as Great Commission Baptists. Even though the mandate was to consider changing or not changing the name, the task force went beyond that mandate in selecting a descriptor to be used in a wide variety of possible ways, informally being used while the official name remains on the paperwork only. Since some have spoken of the approach as “just a start” it becomes clear that in authorizing this compromise, the convention may be initiating the process that will eventually lead to a total name change for everyone. Reports from the Executive Committee cited difficulties expressing opposition to the ideas presented, since they were offered with the insinuation that leaders had so clearly heard from God that anyone raising questions must have missed more than a few quiet times. Making this decision in the midst of our current denominational state of flux is unwise. The concept of a double identity for an organization is inherently unstable–confusing to those outside and divisive to those inside. The concept of this informal descriptor is also vague in terms of its application, with some citing it as a kind of marketing slogan while others intend to use it as a full blown replacement name. Such ambiguity can easily lead to false mandates and misunderstood ramifications. There is also the matter of the proverbial cat being let out of the bag. Once we allow ourselves to be known by a second officially approved replacement name in lieu of Southern Baptists, one wonders how long it will be before the request for yet another optional descriptor will surface. The name itself does little to connect with the world we are seeking to reach. It fails to follow the biblical pattern for church names, which always point to a geographical region. The name is not only identical with a raunchy TV show portraying the very opposite image from that which we seek to present, but it also may become easily confused with several other Christian organizations who were using two-thirds of the name well before we were. Although the name does identify our first priority, it does nothing to acknowledge our other priorities, proving just as limiting functionally as the name “Southern” is geographically. The name also identifies us with a controversial and possibly extinct denominational emphasis whose two year existence pales in comparison with the 167 year tradition of our historic and legal name. Since the “burden of proof” for making the change should rest upon GCB proponents, consider the weakness of their rationale. Five Pointers must admit that the identity of the elect, chosen by God before the foundation of the world, cannot possibly be impacted by something as man-driven as the voting of SBC messengers in New Orleans. No matter our name, from their theological perspective, the same exact people will come to faith in Christ Jesus. More importantly, the name of one’s denomination does nothing to limit evangelistic work at all–it rarely comes up, if ever, in a typical evangelistic encounter. In response to those who claim this proposal doesn’t even matter since it is optional, please understand that it may be optional for any particular church to write the name on their bulletin or speak it in their services, but if approved, we will all be required to read it and hear it used by others to describe our own organization. I would advise against letting one’s guard down because the proposal is said to be optional, since our principles of autonomy really make every convention decision optional on the part of each church. For that matter, membership in the convention itself is optional. Finally, if a legal name change was required in order to satisfy moral principles, we should not have compromised in order to save dollars, but should have been willing to pay the price for the name change. That the task force compromised on this measure either weakens the original moral argument or establishes that the going rate for moral behavior is simply too steep for Southern Baptists to pay. Finally, this is a bad idea whose time has not come. It was not proposed the right way. The concept itself is inherently weak and unstable. The name choice is poor, and the reasons given for doing it are altogether unconvincing. We should remain the Southern Baptist Convention and continue to wear this label both legally and publicly, demonstrating to the world that we possess the quiet, simple dignity of a people who are unashamed of our own name.