The Southern Baptist Convention-Name that Denomination

By now you’ve probably read that SBC president Bryant Wright has appointed a task force to study the possibility of changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention. Wright’s announcement has elicited a number of responses, ranging from elation to despair. Besides differing opinions about the possible name change itself, there is an ongoing debate about whether or not Wright’s task force violates Southern Baptist polity, the stated will of engaged Southern Baptists, or both. I suspect much more will be written on these issues in the coming days.

I confess I’m somewhat ambivalent about the name change debate. On the one hand, I have no personal qualms with the Southern Baptist name and seriously doubt that people are going to hell in Vermont or Oregon simply because they object, in principle, to new church plants that affiliate with a denomination that has the word Southern in its name. Furthermore, while the name Southern Baptist Convention is clearly regional in its origin, over time our name has come to mean far more than a group of Baptist churches down in Dixie. I also have some concerns about the timing-like it or not, a lot of Southern Baptists are still upset with either the agenda or the execution (or both) of the Great Commission Resurgence.

On the other hand, I can’t say I object in principle to changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention-no denominational name should be sacrosanct. Furthermore, we’ve been a national denomination since the mid-twentieth century and have what I believe is a godly desire to further expand our witness to those places in America that are most underserved in terms of the gospel-most of which are outside of the South and Southwest. I understand why many Southern Baptists think our regional name doesn’t accurately represent our national reality (or at least our national aspirations). Will the name Southern Baptist look silly in a generation if, say, 40% of our churches are located outside of the South and Southwest? Perhaps.

All that to say, I’m not enthusiastic about changing the name, but I’m certainly not opposed to it. I have nothing but respect for Southern Baptists with stronger opinions than mine one way or the other-I think there are good arguments on both sides. I suspect we’ll change the name at some point, even if not now. For what it’s worth, if we do change the name in the next couple of years-and I have serious doubts we will-I’d recommend something like the Baptist Convention of North America.

Having laid my own irresolute cards on the table, what I want to offer some thoughts on the manner in which we will have this family discussion in the coming months. I’m urging my fellow Southern Baptists (even those who don’t want to be called that anymore) to be as civil and Christ-like as possible. I seriously doubt that the overwhelming majority of those who want to change the name are closet Presbyterians who are embarrassed of our Convention’s southern roots. I also seriously doubt that the overwhelming majority of those who want to keep the name are redneck racists who don’t care about reaching all of America with the good news.

That said, I think it’s both inevitable and unfortunate that we’ll hear from some obnoxious voices on both sides of the debate. I’ve already vented via Twitter about anti-southern hipsters who love all things urban and are embarrassed by all things rural and southern and southwestern. Let me say now on this blog I’m also troubled by those who imply that the South and/or Southwest are somehow superior than other parts of the country because we have more Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and Republicans. I hope few voices will argue for or against the name change who represent even a close approximation to these two (admittedly exaggerated) extremes. But I suspect some will.

I want to plead with you, whatever your opinion might be on a name change, to call down the strident and unhelpful voices that share your perspective. Don’t let the mean or arrogant or irascible or elitist or ignorant tones dominate this conversation. For the sake of our collective witness, let’s mortify the name-calling, motives-judging, power-grabbing tendencies that appear almost every time we engage in some sort of public debate. Let’s agree to act like Christian grownups and love one another on the other side of this debate, whatever our name may be. And let’s agree to continue to cooperate together for the sake of the gospel, even if we don’t get our way when it comes to our denomination’s name.

(This post is cross-published at my personal website, Christian Thought & Tradition)

Reflections on the 2010 SBC in Orlando

The record may reveal that the 2010 Convention in Orlando was a historic moment for the churches of the SBC. Only time will tell. From my perspective it was a wonderful Convention as Southern Baptists affirmed overwhelmingly how we wish to chart our future. What were the crucial happenings and their significance at this year’s convention? Let me highlight several.

First, and by far the most important, was the adoption of the GCRTF Report. By a 75%-80% majority vote the report was passed with only a minor amendment, one that I believe actually strengthened recommendation #3 on “Celebrating & Empowering Great Commission Giving.” (For those wishing to read the final report go to www.PRAY4GCR.com ). The adoption of the report was a small but major step in the right direction. I agree with my good friend David Platt. Adopting the report was a small step forward in the right direction. Rejection of the report would have been a giant step backward in the wrong direction. Now we must ALL get about the business of implementing the report from the local church level to our national entities and agencies. I pledge Southeastern’s enthusiastic commitment to see that the report and its recommendations will permeate a campus known already for its Great Commission passion.

Second, Johnny Hunt completed two years of outstanding leadership as our president. History will identify him and his legacy with the GCR. This is most fitting. He was clearly God’s man for this time. It was a joy to work alongside of him, Ronnie Floyd and many other wonderful brothers and sisters on the Task Force. It also was a thrill to announce to our alumni that we have fully endowed the Johnny Hunt Chair of Biblical Preaching at SEBTS. This will be a wonderful way to honor this man of God until Jesus returns.

Third, strong evidence for the GCR received additional support with the election of Bryant Wright as our new president. That the two men who were strongly pro-GCR were thrown into a runoff is significant. It sends a strong signal where Southern Baptists want to go in terms of what we emphasize and what we support. In the “Axioms of a GCR” message, it was stated that Southern Baptists could come together and would support that which promotes 1) International Missions, 2) Aggressive Church Planting and 3) Healthy Theological Education. Here is a 3-prong vision that transcends generational and methodological differences. Here is a captivating agenda that can lead us into our greatest days as a Great Commission people if God would be so gracious as to allow this to happen and to let us partner with Him in what He is doing in bringing the nations to Himself.

Fourth, Frank Page was elected as the new president of the Executive Committee. The vote was closer than many would like, but Dr. Page accepted the call and has promised to work hard to be a team player and build a healthy consensus. He clearly deserves a chance to do exactly that. He also deserves our prayers as he implements the GCR recommendations at the Executive Committee. He will have both from me.

Fifth, the Resolutions Committee, under the excellent leadership of Russ Moore, brought strong and pointed resolutions which subsequently passed on The Oil Spill in the Gulf, Gospel Centrality, the Scandal of Divorce in the SBC, and Family Worship. Many thanks to Russ and the committee for their superb work.

Sixth, we say goodbye to the long tenured leadership of Morris Chapman and Jerry Rankin. Though I obviously disagree with Dr. Chapman’s opposition to the GCRTF report, I love him and respect his passion for the convictions he holds. I know he only wants what he believes is best for the SBC. I gladly applaud that. Dr. Rankin has become a good friend and encourager, especially since I returned to SEBTS 6 1/2 years ago. He has been a visionary leader at the IMB. I believe he and Bobbye will continue to serve our Convention of churches well as they champion the call of getting the gospel to all the nations.

As we move on from Orlando, we need to pray fervently for the search committees at both the IMB and NAMB. Both need God’s man to lead them in the crucial days before us.

Finally, what lies ahead for Southern Baptists? Of course only our sovereign and omniscient God knows. Will we be seduced by the non-biblical sirens of the emergent church? I do not think so. Will we be divided over the “bogey man” called Calvinism? No. Will we be distracted from our main assignments by differences in worship style, names on church marquees, and other methodological issues that are biblically neutral? Let’s hope not. These are interesting and challenging days to be sure. However, of these things we can be certain:

Jesus is Lord.

The Bible is True.

Salvation is by grace alone thru faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

God is Building His Church.

All the Nations will gather to worship the Lamb.

Our Savior is coming again.

In the end our God wins.

This is more than enough to give me hope. This is more than enough to keep me going until I see my Master face to face and worship at His nail scared feet. What a God we have. What a Gospel we preach. What a family we enjoy. What a Savior we serve!

Post-SBC Reflections

The SBC is over.

It really is. The “convention” is a meeting that meets once a year and that meeting has closed. Now, we will all go back to our locally autonomous churches and work to fulfill the mission of God. Hopefully what was accomplished at this year’s annual meeting will help that work press forward. But ultimately, the Great Commission is given to believers and the church, not denominational structures, entities, and employees.

But, because I am hopeful about our tribe and what denominations can accomplish together, here are some observations:

1. There was not the massive turnout that many predicted.

I heard talk of 18,000 messengers. We were not even close. It was larger than some of the meetings from the last few years because of the issues at hand, but it was not the meeting many expected. The same thing happened at the 2006 convention in Greensboro and the 2007 San Antonio convention, and neither materialized into massive attendances.

On the other hand, I do think it encouraging that in the midst of our ongoing sluggish economy there was an uptick in attendance rather than a drop-off. But, the fact that the masses did not show is worth noting.

2. This was not as big of a battle as many had predicted.

The Great Commission Resurgence Task Force report passed by a 3-1 margin. I think the amendments helped (and made the report better), but they did not change the substance of the report. Southern Baptists voted overwhelmingly for the report even though many key SBC leaders were vocally opposing the report.

But, that is the past. The convention has spoken, now the implementation discussion will begin.

3. Bryant Wright’s election is an interesting surprise and worth considering.

I am friends with Bryant Wright, Ted Traylor, and Leo Endel. (Full disclosure: I do not know Jimmy Jackson well, but he seems like a great man. I have spoken for Leo Endel multiple times in Minnesota / Wisconsin and consider him a friend. Ted is a close friend of many years and I have preached at his church. I preached for Bryant just recently at Johnson Ferry. I did not endorse any candidate for SBC president.)

At LifeWay, we are not permitted to endorse candidates or motions (something I would suggest for all agency employees), but I can tell you my perceptions. I do not think that the votes were a statement about the men running. They are all good men who share the theological values of our convention of churches. But, as I see it, they represented “degrees” of change.

Jimmy Jackson and Leo Endel both represented a position that might be called, “Little Structural Change / Focused on Spiritual Change.” Each wanted a resurgence of the Great Commission, but not the restructuring they saw evident in the GCRFT report. Jimmy was most widely supported by those who valued working with and making the current system better.

Ted Traylor was the candidate most closely tied to the GCRTF. His position might have been, “GCR-Sized Structural Change / Focused on Spiritual Change.” He valued the Cooperative Program and was a clear candidate to help exhort the SBC into the implementation of the GCRTF recommendations.

“Beyond GCR Structural Change / Focused on Spiritual Change” would have been the best way to describe Bryant Wright’s position. Had he been leading the GCRTF, the changes would have been more radical. He has called for a dramatic increase in funds going directly to the global field, has led his church to restructure its Cooperative Program funds to contribute directly to IMB projects, and he clearly communicated that the GCRTF report was a start, not the conclusion.

And, the convention chose Bryant– he received the most votes in the first round and the majority in the second. I have no interpretation of this apparent dualistic vote of the convention choosing to strengthen the CP language of the GCR, yet electing Bryant Wright as president whose church has redirected its cooperative giving to the IMB. Johnson Ferry was the picture of Great Commission Giving which was of so much concern that the convention went on record to amend the GCRTF report around such giving. Perhaps someone has an idea about it but, as of now, I do not.

I do not believe that Bryant Wright was elected by name recognition alone.. He has been president of the SBC pastors conference (and did a fine job). But, it appears to me that Ted Traylor is better known. Ted is loved by Southern Baptists, particularly in Florida, and just about everywhere else. (I can truly say I do not know anyone who does not like Ted Traylor.)

The fact that Southern Baptists would elect Bryant and overwhelmingly endorse the GCRTF report appears to demonstrate a desire for more change. And, I anticipate that Bryant will communicate that in the days to some.

I believe that Bryant will do an excellent job as SBC president. Most importantly, we can be assured of a round of quality trustees at our agencies. Also, I would expect Bryant to use the pulpit of the SBC to encourage a greater commitment to global missions and domestic church planting-and those are two emphases on which we all can agree.

More tomorrow…