I’ve tried to avoid rants recently, but sometimes us old codgers (after Sunday, I’m one year more codgery after all) just need to codger. Our president, J.D. Greear just announced the theme for the 2021 convention in Nashville. We should be rejoicing that there are VOWELS in it, but I saw several people grousing about his chosen theme, “We Are Great Commission Baptists.”
Back in the dark ages, we appointed a name-change committee to see about the possibility of changing from being the SBC to something more reflective of who we had become – a nationwide Baptist convention. We ran into two problems.
- All the good names had been taken. American Baptists. National Baptists. Conservative Baptists. I don’t think any of us wanted to go with trendy names like Converge.
- The biggest obstacle was our founding charter from Georgia which locked us into the name SBC. I don’t remember all the ins and outs, but the only want to change the name is to nullify the charter and redo everything – costly and unwise.
So, what the name-change task force came up with was the idea of a moniker, a DBA that we could use. That motion was approved (in 2012, I think) and then it drifted into oblivion. No one followed up on it. Recently, a group of people began to advocate for using it and our president, J.D. Greear has seen the wisdom of it. That is his announced theme for 2021.
We Are Great Commission Baptists.
I have read some interesting criticisms. I have some friends (some who write here) who are apathetic about it at best. They wonder why this is needed and what difference it will make. This is a valid critique and I would answer that changing our name is not going to fundamentally change anything or solve our problems. It can, however, help us as we move forward. It is a worthy step even if it is not, in and of itself, a game-changer.
I have heard other criticisms, though, that boggle my mind. Today, a pastor with whom I am Facebook friends posted about how this move is a sign of the doom of the SBC. In his post and in the discussion, the following accusations were lodged.
- J.D. and those who supported him had taken massive amounts of money out the hands of our missionaries and now they were seeking to change the SBC to Great Commission Baptists. (Anyone who knows the facts knows that Summit sends the most money and missionaries to the IMB of any SBC church).
- This is evidence that we are abandoning the Bible and giving into culture. We are being led by politics and culture instead of holding true to God’s word. (Am I the only one who sees the irony of this. “Southern” represents God’s word while changing to “Great Commission” is evidence of being a slave to culture.)
- The SBC has become postmodern. (Because the Great Commission is postmodern?)
The primary criticism I’ve heard is that this is evidence that we are abandoning our conservative, biblical stands for cultural approval, and that boggles my mind. Focusing on the Great Commission is seeking cultural approval? Last I checked, the world doesn’t much love evangelism.
I would make the following observations about “Great Commission Baptists” and the push to use it. I read two great articles, one a Facebook post by Nathan Finn a few weeks ago, and then on August 14, the Biblical Recorder (best Baptist Paper by far) had an article by Spence Sheldon that spelled out 3 reasons to use the moniker. With those two sources, and my own history on the subject, I would make the following observations.
1. If you love “Southern Baptist” you can stay with “Southern Baptist.”
I was a supporter of the name change. As an Iowa Baptist, I don’t want to be known by a Southern history and heritage I not only do not share, but reject. Here’s the thing, we don’t have to fight about that. You SEC-loving, gun-toting, camo-wearing, drawl-speaking, sweet-tea-drinking Baptists (did I offend everyone with that?) who so desire can keep being Southern Baptists as long as you like. No one has to change. It’s voluntary. It’s optional. I’m encouraging my church to be GCB. Your church has a choice.
2. We are no longer a “Southern” Baptist convention.
At one time, SBC accurately described the SBC. We were a convention of Southern churches in the south. That all changed. My dad was part of the first wave of young seminary grads heading north in the late 50s/early 60s into the Midwest. Now, the SBC is in all 50 states. We are Western, Midwestern, Northeastern. We are no longer a “Deep South” convention. Oh yes, the convention’s numerical and financial strength is still Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Texas, and other Southern states, but much of our growth is taking place in areas outside the Deep South.
3. The history of the Southern Baptist name is not all good.
This is where some will get defensive, but it is true. We started because the Baptist Convention would not allow slaveholders to be missionaries, based on the proposition that slavery was God-ordained and not evil. Our preachers stood in the pulpit and defended it. Our founders were by and large slave-owners and slavery proponents.
Even after slavery was over, Southern Baptists spend 150 years defending segregation, white supremacy, and other forms of racial oppression. These are facts. We have apologized for it, but it is part of our history.
Changing the name would be a sign that we are not holding on to that history.
4. Great Commission Baptists is about what we want to be, not what we were.
Southern is what we WERE. We were Southern geographically, culturally, racially, socially. It is our past – for good and for ill. Is that what we want to be in the future?
One of the mistakes Southern Baptists made in Iowa (and I suspect in other “pioneer” states) in the early days was attempting to recreate Southern culture in Northern areas. Eventually, when they stopped trying to be Southern in Iowa and became Iowa Baptists, churches found greater success.
In the future, what do we want to be? Isn’t our goal to be Great Commission Baptists? Isn’t that a noble goal? Isn’t that far nobler than being Southern Baptists?
GCB is an aspirational name, not a name that protects a particular culture or heritage.
5. We are moving toward a White-minority future, let’s prepare.
I’m not a prophet or the son of a prophet, but everything I’ve seen is that by 2040 or 2050, those of us with the white skin will be a minority in America. Who knows the future, but it seems inevitable. If the future is multihued then isn’t it smart to leave behind a name that has offensive implications to our (current) minority brothers and sisters?
Look, if a group of Black pastors tells us that we have to change our Gospel or the BF&M to fellowship with them, I will gladly join in telling them to take a walk. But the Black pastors I speak to are not asking us to change our doctrine, just to stop holding onto vestiges of the racist past. This DBA seems like a simple and worthy step, a way to build bridges to minority communities.
6. The Great Commission is our biblical task.
It was commanded by Christ.
7. State a good reason not to use the name.
Granted, for you and your church, “We don’t want to” is all the reason you need. But I’d like to hear a decent reason articulated against broad use. I’ve seen so many Facebook posts giving this as evidence of our demise as a denomination. What is the problem?
- “It won’t really change anything” – Granted, it is not a panacea, but it is a worthy small step, I think. To me, this is a valid criticism – probably most valid to churches in the South. For me, it’s worth it.
- “It costs too much” – What does it cost? Someone on Facebook said it would cost tens of millions of dollars. How?
- “It’s about culture” “Great Commission Baptists” is cultural and “Southern Baptists” is biblical?
Are there solid reasons not rooted in the protection of Southern culture and heritage? I would love to hear them.
I plan to continue leading my church to be GCB ASAP. I’m thrilled the SBC is going to be a place for Great Commission Baptists!
May that be more than a name.