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Conventional Thinking: Six questions about the proposed nickname

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!


Brian Hobbs

Author: Brian Hobbs

Brian is editor of The Baptist Messenger.

View more articles by Brian Hobbs.

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  • Brian, I am one who does not want our name changed. I also believe that anyone who is out there sharing the Gospel with people, may be caught off guard at times with peoples remarks or questions, but every time that happens they should be ready with an answer the very next time that remark or question arises. Especially remarks or questions about the supposed “bad reputation” our name has in certain places. Where is all our “equipping teams” who should be teaching people how to use those opportunities when people are attacking our History as Southern Baptist to share with those same people the glorious Truth of God. Just simply admit what is true, correct what is misunderstood, and explain to them that apart from God living in us and controling our behavior people do not always treat others like they should . What a great open door to explain to them what Salvation is and how it works out practically in a persons life. It takes God living in a man for man to live as God intended him to live. So your number 4 question was also a great point. We as Christians first and then as Southern Baptist should deal with our faults as publically as needed and then simply yeild ourselves to the leading and control of the Holy Spirit as we reach out to the lost and dying world.
    But I also would like to say that I believe there can be division within the Southern Baptist Convention, but without being divisive. I believe we could easily defuse the tension that is building up within the SBC by simply making sure that everyone knows where everyone else stands on Doctrine. Surely no one is ashamed of what they believe the bible teaches. So if everyone would just quit using the excuse of “mislabels” of who they are and what they believe, and simply be up front about it. Maybe the task force was working on the wrong thing. Maybe they should have sit down with all the leadership who hold to different Doctrines and come up with some “labels” or “names” that everyone could agree on. Like if Dr. Al Mohler was going to speak somewhere he could be introduced as… Dr. Al Mohler, of Reformed Theology, or Dr. Al Mohler, Calvinist President of Southeastern . But something that everyone would agree on that would atleast let those who don’t know that Dr. Mohler believes in the Doctrines of Grace , know that he may believe differently about what the bible teaches than they do. People not knowing who is who is the main problem.
    So if you want to work on names I suggest we begin to work on those.
    Pam Knight

  • Clifford McGhghy

    I would recommend not changing our name. It would give another name for a group of people that already has a problem with division(the SBC). The main problem we are having now is we have not discipled our people so they can know what we believe. When names begin to change then theology begins to change and credibility is lost. Once we put our hand to the plow handle we should not look back. Our former pastor wanted to change names all the time. When he changed the name of our Sunday morning study from Sunday School to Community Groups many of our people got lost in the mix up and could never figure out when they were supposed to come to Sunday School. Things that are working should not be repaired or changed. We have other things that they have changed and most of it has died.

    I watched with great interest as an Assembly of God Church across town changed their name. They removed Assembly of God from the church name and put a small AG in the bottom corner of their sign. Is this supposed to be some kind of secret code or secret church. Are they no longer proud to be a part of this organization? I believe their numbers were declining so they felt desperate. It didn’t help. Their numbers have continued to decline.

    I believe we will become another joke in the eyes of the news media and in the current climate for Christianity I just don’t feel that we can afford this. Would we like to begin with “A Southern Baptist Church Following the Great Commission”? That might be looked into. If we agree to that change perhaps we should have leadership that would lead us forward into that. We will not exceed the expectations of our leadership. If the leadership want to make the change and then go home and do nothing then what has been accomplished?

    We have leadership in our seminaries that is teaching our young men and women that we have been wrong all these years. This is splitting our churches. We need to screen the people we allow to teach in our seminaries. We need to screen the non teaching staff also. If you want to believe differently than I believe then that is your privilege or my privilege. When I start standing in front of a seminary and tell all the students they are wrong in here so listen to me then you will have me removed. Maybe it is time to remove some of our people teaching things outside of the mainstream Southern Baptist thinking. If we choose to believe and teach certain critical core beliefs we might remain intact. I can keep certain things to myself and it is okay because the things that really matter are agreed upon. Pastor’s and teachers today want to ignore many of our core beliefs and go to the fringe items to stir up problems. Satan loves this. Who gets the Glory when this happens?
    If we continue in the way our current leadership is going the SBC will implode in a short number of years. Don’t change the name. Put some feet under what we have. How many of those that will vote on this have knocked on the door of a lost person in the past 5 years?

    Clifford McGhghy
    Duncan, OK

  • Donald Wahl

    Bro. Hobbs,
    I also am one that believes changing the name will do more harm than good. Who proposed changing the name? We have been named Southern Baptist for many years and have become the organization with the largest membership of any Protestant denominatlion. So, the name Southern Baptist must not have been too bad.

    I agree completely with your editorial in this week’s Messenger. Let’s leave well enough alone. I am a firm believer in the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

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