ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–The Southern Baptist denomination is presently engaged in serious, widespread, and, hopefully, fruitful discussions about our identity, our purpose, and our future. One subject getting ink, airtime and “cyber”-space with regularity is our name: “The Southern Baptist Convention.” Many are wondering whether this historic name is still useful as our identifier.
Does the name, “The Southern Baptist Convention,” properly position us in the 21st century? Does it portray the right image? Some suggest the term “southern” is too regional for a nationwide organization or marred by racism of the past. Some, likewise, worry that “Baptist” is too restrictive or otherwise off-putting in a trans-denominational age. There are even those who believe “convention” is not as accurate a description as the more relational “fellowship” or the less confining “network.” It seems the only part of the name receiving no objection is “The.”
I wondered to myself whether we ought to do as the rock star Prince did (I was dreaming when I wrote this) and adopt an “icon” instead of a name. A cleverly crafted, inarticulate, unpronounceable, ineffable icon which, when seen, would evoke the comment “the group formerly known as The Southern Baptist Convention.” Probably not.
It is certainly prudent to take a look at ourselves, even our name, to see if change is warranted. But, if we find a new, better name, I hope we will not lose the important things the name “The Southern Baptist Convention” stands for.
I’m convinced our name is not the primary issue. Our image is. Sometimes name changes help image. Sometimes a new name merely conveys the same image. Humorist Dave Barry recently reported that the nearly bankrupt state of California, in order to hide from its creditors, was changing its name to South Oregon! New name — same problems.
If we Southern Baptists are sensitive about our image, and we ought always to be, I would recommend we do two things:
— One. Forget we are the largest evangelical denomination in the U.S.A. It surely must grate on the sensibilities of our Lord to hear us proclaim to ourselves that our “great denomination” is the last, best hope for the advance of God’s Kingdom on earth.
We may be wringing our hands about our recent declines in effectiveness, but I doubt either the Almighty or His church dispersed in faraway places (e.g., in China where people are coming to Christ by the millions) is in a state of anxiety waiting on the Southern Baptist Convention to provide otherwise unattainable spiritual successes in those places.
Could it be that our God, who humbles the exalted and exalts the humble, will sit us on the bench while He executes world revival by other means? We ought to humble ourselves, ask God to renew a right spirit within us, and beg for the privilege, if he could possibly use the likes of us, to have a part in His redemptive purposes.
— Two. Remember we are the largest evangelical denomination in the U.S.A. As just noted, we are not everything. But we are not nothing. By God’s grace, we as Southern Baptists have been allowed to see wonderful accomplishments for Jesus’ Kingdom. Millions have been led to Christ, thousands of churches preach the Gospel, and ministries of education, influence, mercy, and goodwill are flourishing here and around the world — all by Christians under the brand name “Southern Baptist.”
We know our first allegiance is to Jesus, not a denomination. We know we are not the whole church. We are not, and have never claimed to be, the only ones serving the Lord. But we have made a difference. Based on strong biblical convictions, we have brought a needed perspective to American and world Christianity. We have contributed. Our unique perspectives and our creative contributions have helped other church groups in ways too numerous to recount here.
While we should strive to cooperate with godly enterprises other than our own and seek the welfare of other Great Commission Christians, we should not minimize the distinctives that mark us nor give away the strengths of number, history and affinities that have allowed us to excel.
The Southern Baptist Convention is a blessing, not a curse, and we must not regard it lightly. Don’t despise it. Don’t neglect it. I challenge all Southern Baptists to embrace the brand.
I am Southern Baptist. I am committed to Jesus Christ as the wonderful, unique Son of God and only Savior for the world. I find my purpose as a human in knowing and serving Him with all of my being. I am humbled and helped by the 165 year heritage of faithful men and women who have marched in the Kingdom’s cause under this banner.
I am Southern Baptist. I am guided by His revealed written Word, the Bible. I am convinced of its absolute truthfulness, trustworthiness and sufficiency and am committed to knowing its content and obeying its precepts. I affirm God’s teaching on creation and human existence, marriage and family, life and death, heaven and hell.
I am Southern Baptist. I am committed to Jesus’ church. I am a member of a local congregation that is led by His spirit, populated by His regenerate followers after believer’s baptism, governed by its members under His Lordship, dedicated to loving and serving every tribe and race and tongue in Jesus’ name, and pursuing His mission. I put a primacy on preaching the Gospel to anyone, everyone, everywhere, all the time.
I am Southern Baptist. I am a sinner saved by grace and in constant need of renewal and reformation. Like me, this convention has made serious blunders, foolish mistakes, and has come dangerously close to losing its way. But by God’s grace, we’ve responded, if sometimes slowly, to His rod of correction and continue to cultivate that old Protestant motto: “ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda” and that old Baptist commitment to “further light.”
I am Southern Baptist. I believe in cooperation. I believe congregations can do more together than they can by themselves. I make it a priority to partner and give with other Southern Baptist churches for the furtherance of the Gospel.
Bless God for every Bible-believing, Christ-honoring, mission-minded believer and church. Let’s lock arms every way we can. But let’s not thoughtlessly dissipate our convictions and strengths and effectiveness because we don’t know who we are, or for the mere appearance of common cause, or for short-term gains.
We are Southern Baptists. Embrace the brand.
David E. Hankins is the executive director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention, online at LBC.org.