Editor’s note: Maryland pastor Ken Fentress and seminary president Paige Patterson, at the four-month point since Southern Baptists embraced “Great Commission Baptists” as an informal name, reflect on the new descriptor. Fentress and Patterson were members of the task force appointed by then-SBC President Bryant Wright to study the possibility of an SBC name change. And both men addressed the SBC Executive Committee’s February 2012 meeting when the task force recommended the option of Southern Baptists being known as “Great Commission Baptists,” which subsequently was approved by messengers at the SBC’s June 19-20 annual meeting in New Orleans. Fentress is senior pastor of Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Md.; Patterson is president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Fentress’ reflections appear first, followed by Patterson’s.
ROCKVILLE, Md. (BP) — The 2012 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans was a historic occasion for Southern Baptists and American Christianity. The election of Fred Luter as the first African American president of the SBC signaled an important step forward in the progress of racial reconciliation.
The implications are far-reaching for the advancement of the Gospel. But Southern Baptists didn’t stop there. We also adopted the name Great Commission Baptists as a new descriptor for our convention, which also will have far-reaching implications.
God demonstrated His glory in New Orleans by guiding our convention to show the world what the power of the Gospel can accomplish in the hearts of His people. I believe the Great Commission Baptists descriptor will have a positive impact not only for church planters but also for existing SBC churches who are seeking to make disciples of all nations.
In the Washington, D.C., region, I can attest that Great Commission Baptists is more warmly received because it moves us beyond the painful memories of past racism and focuses us on the mission to which God has called us.
We must remember that there are two important theological reasons for the Great Commission Baptists descriptor: 1) the progress of the Gospel through evangelism and 2) the progress of the Gospel through racial reconciliation. These two theological objectives signify that all Southern Baptists must also be Great Commission Baptists.
The progress of the Gospel brings people to God while also bringing people together. No matter what opinion you held regarding the name change issue, there should be no debate as to the central importance of the Great Commission among Great Commission Baptists. By affirming the descriptor Great Commission Baptists, we have identified ourselves as people who will work for the progress of the Gospel in every nation, every tribe, every language and every race (Revelation 5:9; 7:9).
This signals an important moment in our history as Christians. The largest Protestant body in North America has committed itself to the progress of the Gospel in its leadership and in its labor. Only God could accomplish such things.
The 21st century is confronting us with new challenges as we engage a world that is increasingly different from the 20th century. Yet the remedy for the human predicament is the same: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now is the time to increase our efforts to advance the Gospel throughout the world. Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations by going, baptizing and teaching faithfully (Matthew 28:19-20). As Great Commission Baptists, our first priority is to make disciples of all people. God created all people (Genesis 1:26-27). All people have sinned in Adam (Romans 5:12). Christ died for all people (Romans 5:18). God wants all people to hear the Gospel and repent (2 Peter 3:9). God wants us to preach the Gospel to all people so that disciples will be made from every people group on the earth (Romans 1:14-16).
The name Great Commission Baptists is global, and therefore not limited to any specific region of the world. Every region of the world is our mission field. But it’s not enough to accept a new name if we do not continue to live up to the things the name represents. Let us practice being Great Commission Baptists even more than we have in the past. There is much at stake. The glory of God is at stake. The salvation of souls is at stake. The spiritual growth of the church is at stake. Eternity is at stake. Let us remember that we have the promise of our Lord’s presence (Matthew 28:20) as we labor to live up to the mandate He has given us and the name we have chosen to affirm: Great Commission Baptists.
Ken Fentress is senior pastor of Montrose Baptist Church in Rockville, Md.
FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -– “Hi, my name is Rahim Ban Gorda. I live in the inner city in Cleveland, Ohio. I have a friend who works with me at Federal Express. He is a really nice guy, and we see a lot of things alike. With the exception of one thing, I really enjoy being around him. The problem is that all conversations seem to lead somehow to an invitation for me to go with him to his church.
“I grew up as a black Muslim and have zero interest in attending anybody’s church. However, I finally made an agreement with my buddy. You go with me to the mosque, and I will go with you to your church. We attended the mosque first, and then I went to his church. When we got there, I looked at the sign and saw that it was Bethel Baptist Church and, underneath, it had, ‘A Great Commission Baptist Church.’
“I had no idea what Bethel meant. I thought that was part of Cleveland that somehow I had missed out on, but I knew that Baptist represented a denomination and I knew what church was. What on earth Great Commission Baptist was all about I had no idea, but it seemed harmless enough and I went inside.
“It just so happened on the day that I was there that the pastor preached a sermon stressing the importance to his congregation of loving even people who hated them and said that this was the spirit and the commandment of Christ. He also explained that Christ’s Great Commission was to see to it that every person in the world heard about the love of Christ and then spoke at length about that love.
“Nothing was offensive to me, and I thought, ‘Been there and done that.’ But for some reason I could not get away from what that pastor said about the love of Christ. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Across the weeks to come, I slipped back unknown even to my friend and visited that congregation. He was probably surprised when he looked up one morning and found me standing at the front confessing Christ as my Savior. I later learned that the church with which I had affiliated was a member of the Southern Baptist Convention. By then, it made no difference to me, but I have to tell you that if I had heard at the first that it was a Southern Baptist church, I had been taught that just about any church originating in the southern part of the United States was a racist congregation. Now I knew that was not true, and I was happy to be affiliated with the people who loved me regardless of my race and background. Today, I am a happy member of a Great Commission Baptist church that belongs to the Southern Baptist Convention.”
There is no way to be certain how often this hypothetical situation actually will take place, but anybody who has worked in the northeastern part of the United States as well as certain other parts would have to know it is a real possibility. And if being Great Commission Baptists results in only one Rahim being given an opportunity to know Christ, I argue that it is well worthwhile.
Here is what I like about Great Commission Baptist: First, it still says, with gratitude to God for Baptist martyrs and witnesses who have gone before, that we are Baptists. We believe what Baptists believe. We practice what Baptists practice.
Second, while Great Commission Baptist focuses on the Great Commission of our Lord, it also is misleading in no way whatever. The church is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and makes no denial of that. It simply has chosen to use the descriptor Great Commission Baptist to state clearly what we intend to do. Southern Baptist is who we are. Great Commission Baptist is what we do.
Third, by emphasizing what we do before we emphasize who we are, we give an opportunity to people who assume the racism of Southern Baptists or some other negative aspect of Southern Baptists first to consider the claims of Christ on their own lives. Once they realize who it is that has brought that claim to them and shared with them the love of Jesus, then the Southern Baptist Convention name is not going to be a problem for anyone, but Great Commission Baptist is our assignment and is what we do.
I have been asked how Southwestern Seminary will make use of the descriptor. We will continue to be a Southern Baptist seminary. That is what we are. But we also will make it clear to everyone that we are Great Commission Baptists. This is what we do, and this is what our Lord has asked us to do. I am happy that we have the descriptor, and if one or 25 or 75 or 10,000 come to Christ as a result of the descriptor, I argue that it will be worth the effort.
Paige Patterson is president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. To read the comments by Ken Fentress and Paige Patterson during the February 2012 SBC Executive Committee meeting, go to www.bpnews.net/BPnews.asp?ID=37226. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).