In recent days, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bryant Wright, publicly announced in his September video that he was commissioning a task force to study to see if a name change is necessary for the vision and purposes of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Immediately, as you can imagine, the blogs were off to the races. Facebook was also involved in this response – and it didn’t take long before many people were calling names and spewing harmful things merely because a study is going to be conducted on this issue. So, what’s the big deal? Why do so many people have opposition to the possible name change of the SBC? For some, it’s a concern about doctrine. For others, it’s based on the history and legacy of the SBC. However, no matter what the reason for opposition, should it really be an issue of division?
The change of a name will not change the foundational convictions and doctrine of the SBC. Doctrine is much more than a name – and quite frankly the name “Southern Baptist” does not mean what it once did in the late 1800′s. Today, we have a mixture of different evangelicals who seem to make up the SBC as a whole. From those with strong historical Baptist doctrine to those with a more Methodist (Free Will Baptist) background – the SBC has become an extremely diverse group. Doctrine matters, but how many churches have the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 as their official doctrinal statement but flat deny the doctrine of election (Article V of the BF&M 2000)? Doctrine may be an issue that should be addressed in the future of the SBC, but a mere name change is not going to alter the doctrine of the convention.
History / Legacy
The history of the SBC is diverse. It has both good and bad history that is connected to the Southern Baptist Convention. The good that should be remembered surrounds the desire for missions and a heart for the nations. This coupled with the solid backbone of doctrinal convictions is what shaped the SBC and what allowed it to shape America! However, the SBC also had ties with slavery that was later rejected. Following the SBC’s rejection of slavery and resolutions against slavery, the convention openly apologized and repented of the slavery issue and made it an open issue of opposition within those cooperating churches of the SBC. It’s clear – the SBC has a diverse history. Something that constantly needs to be explained.
Therefore, the SBC can be remembered and celebrated in many different ways! From documentaries, libraries, and electronic archives of past work and achievements of the SBC – the convention can move forward and still greatly honor its history. Many great leaders and preachers have helped work alongside the churches, associations, and missionaries to further the gospel to the ends of the earth. That should be celebrated and honored – name change or not. However, that raises the next question – can the SBC continue to move forward with the gospel in North America and impact the nations with the message of Christ?
Without doubt, the SBC exists for the purpose of missions. The convention doesn’t control the local church – but the local church can associate with other churches and accomplish great mission goals that would not be possible all alone as a single church. That is the important element that many young pastors and church plants should always remember! The SBC doesn’t have a desire to control any local church, but the SBC exists for the purpose of shining the gospel in the dark regions of North America and the far ends of the earth. Cooperation is essential to achieving these goals.
As we consider the need to plant churches in extremely difficult regions of the United States – such as Oregon and Washington State – we must realize that the people there are not connected with the title “southern” in the slightest degree. The first thing many of those people think of is – “What is ‘southern’ about Baptist?” Those of us who grew up in the Bible belt in the southeastern regions of the US – the “southern” title is normal to us – after all – we are southern Baptist! However, if you are in the mid-west or north western regions – the title “southern” just doesn’t make much sense at all. That’s the issue at hand. We should desire to see many churches successfully planted across these difficult landscapes and even throughout other nations, but the title “southern” is not a help in that process.
Therefore, when people are arguing about the desire to keep the name the same in light of the history of the convention, it’s as if those people are willing to sacrifice missions on the alter of tradition. If it can be proven that more success could be seen from a total name change of the SBC to something that simply reflects us as Bible believing and gospel centered Baptist churches – why would we not support it? Is it true that many of us are simply afraid of change? It seems almost humorous that many Baptist preachers will make fun of the resistance to change in their local ministries in order to get their agenda accomplished, but they are guilty of doing the same exact thing on a national level among the SBC. At the end of the day – many people are simply afraid of change. However, while we wrestle with the possibility of a name change among the SBC, we must not forget that literally millions of people all throughout our nation are dying without Christ and we must mobilize an effort to reach them. According to the latest statistics (9-28-11) from www.joshuaproject.net – there are 6,890 unreached people groups on planet earth. Among those groups – the total population of unreached individuals is estimated at 2.83 billion. These people are on their way to hell without any witness of the gospel. The mission of Christ transcends southern tradition and white America. We must have a mindset to impact the nations. We must also remember that it will not be the name of the SBC that saves them – but the name (total work of the person of Christ) who saves them (Acts 4:12; John 14:6).
So, what should the name be? Personally – I don’t care. If the SBC isn’t broken – let’s not seek to fix it. However, if a name change will help us – let’s affirm it with joy in June of 2013. I simply want to see us reach the nations with the gospel and I don’t have time to waste as a pastor in arguing about the name of a convention (a group of churches cooperating together for the purpose of missions).
Nait Saint once said, “And people who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives… and when the bubble has burst they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted.“
Pastor Josh Buice
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