It is always interesting how the media pulls quotes from a conversation. This morning Associated Press asked for my opinion on the proposed additional name for Southern Baptists. Up to this point, I had been intentionally silent on the matter. However, following the release of the proposed name, it was time to speak. My written response to AP's query about what conservative Southern Baptists were thinking was provided. It is funny but they picked up a telephone statement instead. Anyways, for my fuller thoughts, please see below:
From conversations with conservative Southern Baptist leaders, I sense a certain ambivalence about the name change. They see both positives and negatives.
On the positive side, traditionalists are elated the suggested public name is “Great Commission Baptists”! We embrace the priority of the Great Commission given by our Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 28. We also believe our history is deeply rooted in the Great Commission. On the basis of the Great Commission, the Anabaptists in the Reformation started as free churches. On the same basis, English Baptists rejected hyper-Calvinism to start the modern mission movement in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, American Baptist denominations organized on the basis of the Great Commission (the Triennial Convention in 1814; the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845). Our Risen Lord's Great Commission summarizes our commitment to encouraging personal reconciliation with God seen first in believers baptism then in life-long biblical discipleship!
On the negative side, many are disheartened by the implication that the name “Southern Baptist” is only considered to be a liability. First, changing our public name will not change our history. Yes, we failed in the past with regard to slavery and racism, but we also succeeded by rejecting the theological liberalism that infected many other Baptists. We have confessed the former as sin, but we retain the latter as triumph. These make us unique and we cannot nor should hide them. However, we should also be aware of how the people we seek to reach are impacted by our reputation.
Second, changing our name will not by itself ensure our hoped-for revival in making disciples for Christ. Rather, true revival will come when we focus on obeying our Lord’s Great Commission in His order by going on mission, winning people to faith through evangelism, then baptizing these new believers into His churches, and teaching everything in Scripture. We will founder if we unintentionally countenance mere marketing to mask cultural compromises, human theological schemes, and/or unbiblical practices.
Many Southern Baptists are elated while others are cautious, and some of us are both elated and cautious. My own hope is that we will move forward together as what we have always been: Great Commission Christians who are historically Southern Baptists.