SBC Life Articles

SBC Name: A Case for “Great Commission Baptists”



Marshall Blalock, one of nineteen individuals SBC president Bryant Wright enlisted to advise him on a possible name change, posted this essay on his church's Web site on February 23, 2012. His essay has been edited for length.

The History

One of the surprises in the first meeting was learning that the name change had been discussed off and on for over a hundred years. One little known fact is that the SBC voted in 1903 to consider changing the name to "Baptist Convention of the United States" at its 1904 annual meeting, but the motion was withdrawn by its author the next year for reasons that are not altogether clear. Several name change studies have been commissioned since then; the idea seems to keep coming back each decade. This task force was asked to settle the question of whether such a change is feasible and whether it serves the mission of the Convention as a whole.


The Case for Change:

1) Change for the sake of mission
A significant portion of Baptists outside of the South made a compelling case that a non-regional name would benefit the cause of missions. Those who preferred to keep the name generally took the position that it was an honorable name that no one should find objectionable.


2) Change to break down barriers
One of the most transformative moments in the meetings came when Ken Fentress spoke on behalf of the name change. Ken is an African American pastor of a large multiracial church. He eloquently described how many people in the minority community see the name "Southern Baptist" as a barrier. Southern Baptists separated from Northern Baptists in 1845 over slavery. Southern Baptists were on the wrong side of the Gospel and of history at that time. By God's grace, that is no longer true. Dr. Fentress asked us to take a step toward millions of people by removing a barrier to the black community. As a white person, I never considered that the name "Southern Baptist" carried overtones of the injustice of the past. We had unconsciously been saying "Get over it" for decades, but those words conflict with our Gospel of grace. The task force was convinced that a name change would be another step to breaking down barriers of racial division.

3) Change on purpose
As we considered a name change, one of the first questions to answer was, "What name should we suggest?" After going through hundreds of options, the group became convinced that our name should not describe our location; rather, the name should describe our purpose. The Great Commission has been our main purpose since 1845, something Baptists have been right about from day one. The name "Great Commission Baptists" speaks to those within our fellowship to call us forward for Christ.

The Legal Question

The task force resolved at the outset to make a recommendation only if it would advance, rather than harm, the cause of missions. Members learned that a name change had the potential of creating legal exposure that could negatively affect the mission. The SBC charter was authorized by the Georgia legislature in 1845. Should Baptists adopt a new name, it had the potential of vacating our charter, forcing a reorganization under current non-profit law. Such a change would lead to the restructuring of our Convention at considerable expense. In addition, if the original charter were vacated, the potential of legal exposure to the Convention would increase significantly, something that would ultimately harm the mission. The conclusion was that a legal name change would not be in the best interest of the mission and purpose of the Convention.


An Informal, Non-legal Name Change
The task force was faced with two competing conclusions: a name change would create legal problems that could potentially harm our mission; and the name change would eliminate barriers and stimulate greater focus on the Gospel and the mission to reach lost people. The idea of an informal name that could be adopted by the Convention became an intriguing concept. What the task force is recommending is that the SBC use "Great Commission Baptists" as a descriptor that identifies us and becomes our public representation of who we are. The beauty of this plan is that none of the legal documents of any of our institutions or agencies will be affected or changed. The task force members are recommending that we adopt the name "Great Commission Baptists" in all of our work as we identify ourselves. The individual agencies and institutions would have to make the decision, just as individual churches would do as well.

Timid or Wise?
Certainly some will take a glance at the fact that there is no recommendation to change the legal name and say this is too timid. I would have thought so myself until I understood all of the ramifications of the change with the unique legal standing that our 1845 charter gives us. I hope those who believe the motion is too timid will look carefully at the whole picture and see that wisdom involves being prudent in all of our responsibilities.

Politically Correct or Missional?
There are some who have communicated to us that the name change is only a matter of political correctness. Well, it is not politically correct to say the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, or that Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior, or that we are called to share the Gospel with all people everywhere. The suggested name affirms all of these truths, considered by some to be offensive. Our goal obviously had nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with extending God's Kingdom into a world which is in desperate need of the Savior we serve.

Southern Baptists or Great Commission Baptists?
One of the dynamics of Baptist life is that we are autonomous. No one can be forced to use either name. Do we think, if the motion passes in New Orleans, that the name will be commonly used? We hope so, and we believe it will occur over time, but there is no guarantee. [W]e are suggesting that we describe ourselves in all of our publications and communications as Great Commission Baptists. The real key to our future, however, is not in the programs we vote for or the names we choose. The real key is whether indeed we are Great Commission Baptists. For the sake of our Savior, I hope so.


    About the Author

  • Marshall Blalock