It has recently been proposed that the Southern Baptist Convention change its name. After much discussion and prayer in the Task Force and much speculation throughout the rest of Baptist life, a proposal comes for forth to keep the name and simply add the option of “Doing Business As” Great Commission Baptists for those churches and agencies that might find it beneficial.
I have read a lot of discussion about this. It all seems to follow similar paths. First is the nostalgic. We have always been Southern Baptist, we always will be Southern Baptist. We all have traditions that make us feel comfortable, but such things can be idolized if we are not careful. When I hear it suggested that “Southern” has some negative connotations (especially given Southern Baptists past views on slavery), I immediately hear the retort: “What if Baptist is offensive? What if Jesus is offensive?” I can answer those questions, but that would not solve the problem that is evident in those questions. “Southern,” “Baptist,” and “Jesus” are hardly equal even in name (Acts 4:12). The questions is symptomatic that nostalgia for “Southern Baptist” may be rising to the level of idolatry.
Another path of discussion is that of evangelism. It is said that changing the name from “Southern Baptist” will not share the Gospel with any more people. This is true. However, I have not heard proponents of the name change say that it will. I have heard people discuss wether or not the name is a hinderance. There is a significant difference between what shares the Gospel and what hinders the Gospel from being shared. For example, imagine two missionaries travel to a far away country. One learns his new language perfectly, but the other struggles and barely learns how to find the nearest restroom. As they begin to share, they may use the same methods, but the former is more successful. The latter is hindered by his limited vocabulary. For the former, learning the language did not share the Gospel, but it removed the hinderance of a limited vocabulary. Sadly, there are many hinderances among many comfortable and nostalgic things in our churches. We should remove any hinderance to the Gospel, and that goes much deeper than just a name.
Ultimately we are left asking, “what’s in a name?” Is it hindering the Gospel? I know a lot of research has been done at Lifeway Research, and they are far more knowledgable than I. I did a very informal poll by simply asking my non-Southern Baptist friends on Facebook to tell me what they thought of when they heard “Southern Baptist.” The results varied, but there were a few trends. One, many people assume that some stereotypes are true. Some of these are well earned, some are not. Two, the regional name of “Southern” implies only a flavor regarding style. In either case, the name could be said to be misrepresenting who Southern Baptists are and what we stand for.
What does a name change do? It may avoid misrepresentations like these. In doing so, it may remove a hinderance to someone hearing the Gospel. Before I can determine if that name change is necessary, I want to know if the name is hindering people. In my informal research, I learned that many people did not even realize that some of the largest Baptist churches and institutions in our area are in fact part of the Southern Baptist Convention. It may be there is very little in a name. Of course, it may be that there is a great lot in the name or it may be that there is a significant hinderance. I want to know more about this before I would opt to use the new name or want to see our larger agencies spend significant money to use the new name.
Wether the name changes or stays the same (or as the case may be that some churches call themselves Southern Baptist and others Great Commission Baptists), the fact of the matter is that these names do not share the gospel. The only way is to love God, love others, and tell everyone of this good news of Jesus Christ.