In Part One we explored both the unilateral creation of the task force itself and the selection of its entire membership by our SBC President. We considered the relatively brief nature of their deliberations in light of the historic decision to change our denominational name by introducing a second officially approved term with which it would be forced to compete. We reviewed the confusion of identity this replacement name would cause outsiders and even addressed the questionable use of a term that may prove, in the course of time, to sound “churchy” as it does not resonate with the culture, or “trendy” as it is bound up with the current GCR movement.
I was more than surprised at the reaction of those readers who apparently did not wish to receive the information. As someone has infamously and poignantly observed, “It does tend to cut down on mental clutter.” I have never written a piece in any blog, newspaper, magazine, journal or church bulletin that has ever elicited such cries of “stop,” “hush,” and “I don’t want to hear it.” To those so mortified by my reflections on this literally “defining” issue for Southern Baptists, let me point out there exists a simple and time honored technique for the avoidance of reading material one does not wish to engage, and it is so patently obvious I’ll just let you figure it out for yourself. I will now continue for the sake of those readers interested enough to come along for the ride.
6. Attempt to Avoid Name Change Protocol
The name of this body is the “Southern Baptist Convention.” Thus states article one of our constitution. Interestingly, there appears to be no specific provision in our bylaws for changing our name. However, bylaw fourteen lists our various entity names, and bylaw thirty-seven specifically requires that any amendment to these entities must be subject to a two-thirds vote at two consecutive conventions. I would argue that in the absence of any specific bylaw related to changing our primary organizational name, we should follow a practice at least as rigorous as that which would govern the changing of our major entity names. Thus, the “two-thirds vote at two conventions” rule must apply. Similarly, in the absence of any provision for an “officially approved optional replacement name,” we must treat the idea of “Great Commission Baptists” as a new name for our convention. Indeed, if it is approved by messengers, those churches who opt to use the new name will have the convention’s blessing in this identification, even though the legal name on the documents in the file cabinets remain “Southern Baptist Convention.” In other words, since this proposal would indeed change the name by which many of our churches would call our convention, it should be treated as the name change proposal it really is, rather than as some kind of marketing slogan, tagline, nickname or descriptor. In my opinion, all the other “names for the name” represent an attempt to mask the reality of a proposal to change our name in every way except in our legal documents, which frankly matter only in the realms of law and finance and not in developing our core identity, image and public relations efforts. I believe the task force is seeking a simple majority vote at a single convention. If the idea is truly worthy, it should pass muster without any parliamentary dodgeball.
7. Changing Internal Task Force Mandate
Having already argued against the legitimacy of the Task Force’s external mandate, I would now like to address the illegitimacy of their internal mandate. That is, when they decided against an official and legal name change, the Name Change Task Force actually moved beyond their original internal mandate to address a matter never previously suggested in their purpose for existence, namely, the proposing of a dual named convention. Apparently disliking the logical conclusion they were driven to accept by the reality of their research, they changed the terms of their work scope and began considering an option outside their original work assignment. To put it simply, they were the “Name Change” Task Force, not the “Name Expansion and Dilution” Task Force. They were formed either to propose changing the name or not changing the name, but instead chose to propose a confusing, informal and optional augmentation of it, rewriting the purpose for their own existence.
8. Compromise Suspected of Incrementalism
The motion states that those churches, entities and organizations in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention which may desire to utilize a descriptor other than the term “Southern Baptists” to indicate their relationship with each other and their involvement in the Southern Baptist Convention and its ministries, use the descriptor “Great Commission Baptists,” a phrase commended as one fully in keeping with our Southern Baptist Convention identity. While this may sound like an innocuous descriptor, and I have no doubt that its framers intended it to sound exactly that way, I have heard numerous individuals refer to this proposal not as a friendly and final compromise, but rather as a “start” or a “move in the right direction.” In other words, to quote the Arabian proverb, “If the camel once gets his nose in the tent, his body will soon follow.” In light of this openly discussed strategy for gradual implementation, it makes sense for those who would oppose the ultimate legal name change from Southern Baptist Convention to Great Commission Baptists to honor the wisdom of that great Southern folk hero Barney Fife and simply “Nip it in the bud! Nip it! Nip it! Nip it!”
9. Cannot Possibly Impact the Elect
Arguing now from a soteriology I do not personally hold, no Five Point Calvinist who understands the “basic structures of thought” (to borrow a phrase) which undergird his or her theological grid, can possibly maintain that changing the name of our denomination will result in the salvation of souls who would not otherwise be saved. Anyone who claims that the term “Great Commission Baptists” will improve our evangelistic efforts over against the term “Southern Baptist Convention” must necessarily argue from a decidedly Non-Calvinistic perspective. (As a Non-Calvinist, I still do not believe that the argument has any merit, but at least it makes theological sense.) Is there truly a Five Point Calvinist among us who believes that God’s eternal decree of the elect, from before the foundation of the world, would be impacted one whit by the decisions of man regarding a denomination name change? If I can truly influence God’s Sovereign choice of the elect simply by voting to change our name from SBC to GCB, then I scandalously wield far more power than any mortal man should possess, regardless of his theological system.
10. Biblical Church Names Always Regional
You will look in vain to find that church name in the Bible based on anything other than geography. Furthermore, the geography referenced is everywhere and always the region representing the source of the missionary activity and not the destination for the missionary activity. In other words, the Church in Jerusalem scattered and sent missionaries throughout Asia Minor, but they did not change their name to the “Church of Asia Minor” nor did they name themselves by their activity, as in the “Church Spreading the Gospel.” One may argue that the name “Southern” identifies, for those we reach in the northern areas of America and all around the globe, the precise location in America from which the “people, pennies and prayers” have been sent in order to touch lives and carry the message of the gospel to the entire world. The link below clearly demonstrates the geographic source of our ministries.* One might hope that our church planters in North America and missionaries around the globe would be pleased to help those who are reached by our generous donations of “people, pennies and prayers” to develop an appreciation for those Baptist Christians primarily in the Southern region of the United States of America responsible for the greatest evangelical missionary sending effort in world history. It provides an excellent opportunity not only to share the tremendous vision of the Cooperative Program, but also to foster appreciation for a region which should be known more for its gospel proclamation today than for its slavery 200 years ago. Rather than hiding from the misperceptions of Southern life held by those we reach, we can hopefully overcome such misperceptions and foster greater appreciation for the flow of “people, pennies and prayers” from the Southern region of the United States to the entire world.
Thank you for your patience in reading this lengthy series. In the next installment, I will debunk the notion that personal evangelistic efforts are limited in any meaningful way by our choice of a denominational name. I may also allude to the present freedom among all church planters and missionaries to use whatever informal descriptors and nicknames they may choose as unofficial descriptions requiring absolutely no convention approval. I will argue that since they currently possess this right, there is no need for formal convention approval, which might possibly lead to the controversial incrementalism strategy mentioned in Point Eight.