WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Last week in Baptist Press news broke that the Executive Committee of our national Convention voted to allow our SBC President to appoint a task force to study changing the SBC’s name. The major reasons given for consideration of such a name change were that 1) the Convention’s name is regional, and 2) a name change could help us maximize our effectiveness. This push to change the SBC name is not new considering that motions or recommendations have been made in 1965, 1974, 1983, 1990, 1998, 1999, and 2004. The name of the SBC came under scrutiny after the first half of the 20th Century when the SBC began planting churches outside of the South with greater success.
While the reasons cited are ones that most would give for any name change of any organization, the difficulty comes as one considers the heritage both good and bad that people identify with our regional name. As Albert Mohler states,
“I have known nothing by the Southern Baptist Convention in terms of my own personal identity… To be honest, I am personally traumatized by the very idea of changing the denomination’s name. I feel almost a physical loss at the very prospect… At the same time, our commitment to the Great Commission and the urgency of the Gospel must exceed our emotional attachments and fears.”
I think Dr. Mohler puts the conversation in the right context, so I would like to offer several points that may help us clarify our thinking.
- The Southern Baptist Convention was born out of the controversy over slavery. Southern Baptist believed in large that the Bible taught no definitive abstention from the practice of slavery. While this was more than likely an accommodation to the Southern slave culture in truth Southerners were correct in their belief that the Bible did not ban slavery. Even so, Southerners did not go far enough in their theology of slavery to see that the Bible does clearly encourage the granting of freedom to slaves who have converted to Christ (Philemon) as well as a severe accountability for masters concerning their conduct as men and women before God (Ephesians 6:9). To ignore this part of our history and its connection to our name is to ignore the greatest single reason lost men and women may be hurt by our name.
- At the very same time that the SBC was born within the context of slavery she was born in the context of a global concern for the lost. It was the SBC that sought out Adoniram Judson and fielded missionaries like Lottie Moon. In fact the great cooperative spirit of our convention was born in an attempt to ensure missionaries be supported on the field. For this reason in 1925 our Convention developed the Cooperative Program which has been the single greatest tool we have discovered to fund Great Commission work. Whatever name we have must be synonymous with our commitment to cooperate to achieve the Great Commission of King Jesus.
- The 1979-forward Conservative Resurgence in our Convention is the only documented turn-around of a denomination from theological liberalism. Even so, the Conservative Resurgence came at a high cost to many who may have desired that the Convention sought a solution that emphasized more Christian love. This event has singularly established theological soundness with the SBC name while at the same time creating a reputation for us as the fighting fundamentalists.
These three points amid many others should be ones that we consider as we look to what is in our name. Jesus says in Matthew 7:15-19 that we must beware of false prophets and we must examine individuals based upon their works -“A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.” If this can be applied in this context we must say that our name may be something that limits or bolsters our appeal because of past works like those mentioned. Further if we change our name it will be more or less appealing for times and seasons depending upon the works people associate with it. Whatever the outcome, this is a reminder for each believer that our name does matters inasmuch as people link a name with one’s works. Let us as the children’s song reminds us be careful what our eyes see, our ears hear, our mouth says, our hands do, and our feet go in order to be pleasing in the sight of the Father who is looking down from above.