What’s In a Name? A Few Thoughts on the SBC

One day a friend recounted to me a sad but true story from his childhood. It occurred in the late 1960s, when David was about eight years old. On a Sunday night service at his church, a hippie family came to their worship gathering. The husband had a scruffy beard, and they were all wearing beads. They obviously stood out in the congregation. The pastor got up, looked across the auditorium, and said in an uninviting tone, “It is so nice to see everyone who came to the church clean shaven and well bathed this evening.” By the time David turned around to see the hippie family’s response, he saw only the back door flopping back and forth. They got the message, and left.

I don’t know the name of that church, but it should have been called the “Clean-Shaven and Well Bathed Only Baptist Church,” because the hippie family was not welcome there. It made me grateful that my Baptist Church from childhood loved the hippies and saw more than a few come to Christ. But this story made me wonder about church names, and the testimony of a church when compared to its name. Thankfully, I know plenty of Baptist churches and others who would be described as the “We Love Our Community Baptist Church,” or even better, “We Unashamedly Love Jesus and People Baptist Church.” Many could be known as the “Great Commission Baptist Church.”

In the Bible a name often described the character or something unique about the person-Abraham means father of nations, Amos means Burden, and Jesus means God is Salvation. Just think for a minute-what if we gave churches names that represent their real convictions and character? Have you ever noticed how churches that come out of splits often call themselves Harmony Baptist Church or Unity Baptist Church? Have you ever noticed the variety of names we have for churches? Well, of course there are lots of First Baptists, and more than a few Calvary Baptists. But think of all the unique names. Some are geographical, named for roads or rivers. Biblical names abound as well-Shiloh, Bethel, Ebenezer, and Canaan come to mind.

Imagine just for a moment that a church took its named based on the character and convictions it reflected in a community. In the eighteenth century the Holy Club was a term of derision given to the band of John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, and a handful of others, because of their diligence in the study of Scripture and desire for holy living. They were later called Methodists because of their methods.

Our Baptist forefathers the Anabaptists were so dubbed because they “re-baptized,” or baptized adults following conversion. What if our church names reflected our character? Beyond the more flattering names mentioned above, here are some church names I think would fit:
–The “If-You-Aren’t-Kin-To-Me-Get-Out” Baptist Church-the church where everyone is related. Better name: The Weekly Family Reunion.
–The “We-May-Be-in-the-North-But-Will-Do-Church-Like-Rural-Southern” Baptist Church-the church that refuses to reach anyone but folks just like them. I saw some of these when I served in Indiana. Better name: The Geographically Challenged Church.
–The “Dinner-On-the-Grounds” Baptist Church-the church that considers Homecoming Sunday the most spiritual event of the year. Better name: The Fellowship and Gluttony Chuch.
–The “We’ve Never Done It That Way” Baptist Church-the church that will probably not be in existence in twenty years. Better name: The We Will Soon Be Closed Church.
–The “First Baptist Church of Insomnia”-the church that is so dead, if the Holy Spirit left they wouldn’t know it for six months. Better Name: ZZZZZZZZZ.

Okay, I am having too much fun with this, and these are the exceptions not the rule, or we in my tradition would not even be able to consider a name like ‘Great Commission” Baptists as has been in the news this week. As we consider renaming (rebranding might be a better term) ourselves the “Great Commission Baptist Convention,” we plan to remain legally the SBC (the cost of change financially and other ways makes this make sense). The new branding will hopefully help us as we seek to represent Christ in our culture.

I wanted to name the Convention the Southeastern Baptist Convention so my school could be called THE Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, but nobody seemed to agree with me. I stink at slogans.

I want our Convention to reflect the Great Commission. I have no problem with changing the name for that matter. Let’s face it; many (maybe most?) new church plants in the SBC the last 20 years have opted for a change, far fewer using traditional names or even Baptist in the title. If we reflected core Baptist principles and the Great Commission really represented us, in a few years the new slogan would make a lot of sense.

Seems to me you either choose a name and hope you grow into it, as is being done with the new “name,” or you get a name from outsiders, like Methodist, Baptist, Protestant, or others. I think the former makes a lot more since for us just now.

After all, the name Christian was given to the early believers in Antioch (Acts 11:26) because they reflected the Christ they followed. Can it be said that the church you attend, regardless of its particular name, is a reflection of the Head of the Church, our Lord Jesus? Does your church demonstrate a radical commitment to the Great Commission? The SBC/GCB is a collection of cooperating churches after all. We will only truly be whatever title we wish as we reflect Christ in our lives.

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