Like many others, I breathed a sigh of relief when the Task Force to study a possible name change for the Southern Baptist Convention reported that it would leave intact our legal name.
My relief was followed by some degree of confusion when the Task Force then recommended we take on a nickname, especially when I heard the suggestion of “Great Commission Baptists.”
I am quick to agree with those who say the Great Commission is at the heart of our heritage. Yet I cannot help ask the following questions before we vote in June.
1) Will a nickname create more confusion in a confused society?
My entire adult life (albeit younger adult) has been spent in the field of communications. In just the last 15 years, we have witnessed a technological and communications revolution that rivals the days of Gutenberg. Never have we been able to communicate in so many ways.
A side effect of the communications boom, however, has been clutter. We now live in a world of abbreviations, slang, jargon and more. By presenting ourselves with a formal name and nickname, will it only add to the confusion? The time it could take for this name juggle to sort out may be much longer than we expect.
2) Will two names create division?
Do you recall the story in the Book of Judges when the Gileadites, led by Jephtha, were able to detect their enemies who wanted to cross the Jordan River by making them say the word “Shibboleth”? Just by hearing how they said it, they knew in which camp people fell.
The term “Shibboleth” now has modern use. According to Wikipedia, “Shibboleth is a custom, principle or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important.” By creating two terms that we as Baptists use, could it become yet another point of division? Could it become a “shibboleth” that tells whether you are part of the “new guard” or “old guard?”
3) Will “they” get it?
The Great Commission has an important word in it: “them.”
“Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20)
It is this very group, “them,” who we are reportedly trying to reach with the nickname. That is to say, we are looking out for the people who may be offended by the term Southern. There is no guarantee, however, that the very people we are trying to reach know what the Great Commission is. In the wake of the Task Force’s announcement, I took part in a TV interview. When the reporter learned of the proposed nickname, her question was “What is the Great Commission?” She only politely listened as I explained, but will we have the listening ear of the world moving forward?
4) Are we working on the wrong problem?
To get the correct answers, you must start with the right questions. The questions wrestled with by the Task Force were noble and instructive. I wonder, though, if they were tasked to work on the wrong problem.
The word name in the Bible is important. “A GOOD name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold.” (Prov. 22:1)
I wonder if rather than spending energy on a renaming, we spent our time working on our reputation. We have spent more than 150 years building our reputation in the world and have become known as a people who love Christ, serve others and will not rest until every last person has a chance to know the Name of Jesus. For all our faults, we have invested a great deal in our name as a convention, and I would applaud any effort to take the plank out of our eye so we would not cause others to stumble.
5) Are we actually cutting the “baby” in two?
The Bible refers to King Solomon as the wisest man ever to have lived. His decision in the dispute of the two women and one baby is known by believers and non-believers alike. By suggesting the baby be cut in two, he knew that the true mother would relent. It worked.
In the Task Force’s decision, which is being hailed by many as a brilliant compromise, I am afraid we are actually cutting the baby in two. The dilemma, as it would be for the baby, is a loser for both brand names. I am almost willing, like the mother of the living baby, to give away Southern Baptist Convention name so unity can be preserved. Almost.
6) Why now?
Historically speaking, denominational name changes come about because groups split or join with another. The United Methodist Church, for example, adopted its new name in the late 1960s after the union of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. There is no real outside force causing us to consider this. And I am afraid at a time when factionalism is showing its ugly head, creating a new diving line will be counter productive.
I have the greatest respect for the members of the Task Force and leaders in our Convention. I also am a team player, and whatever is decided in June in New Orleans, I will happily march along with. Yet I could not at the same time let my questions be unknown. I welcome your answers to these questions.
In the end, I think we can all agree that the main name with which we are concerned is the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. To Him be the glory!