Some interesting news out of Nashville tonight…
There, Bryan Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, announced the appointment of a presidential task force to study changing the name of the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. Unlike a number of other Baptist groups, the SBC has stuck with the same name since its birth in 1845.
Wright explained that his rationale for the task force was two-fold:
“First, the convention’s name is so regional,” he said. “With our focus on church planting, it is challenging in many parts of the country to lead churches to want to be part of a convention with such a regional name. Second, a name change could position us to maximize our effectiveness in reaching North America for Jesus Christ in the 21st century.”
According to Baptist Press, some members of the SBC’s Executive Committee expressed concern over the possibility of a new name and of this task force being selected without convention approval. In fact, since the task force is not an official committee of the convention, members have to pay their own expenses.
Southern Baptist pastor and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee Bart Barber notes on his blog that the SBC has a long history of rejecting a name change. Barber writes:
The messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention are not as clearly on record in our opposition to Satan and Hell as we are in our opposition to changing the name of our denomination (not necessarily a good thing).
And now, SBC President Bryant Wright has chosen to lead the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention to take an action that the messenger body of the SBC has explicitly and repeatedly refused to take—to appoint a task force to study a name change. The normal course of affairs is for SBC Presidents who desire the appointment of task forces to ask for the approval of the convention’s messengers before doing so, especially on questions of such importance. Why not follow that time-honored process now?
And Barber concludes:
Let no one supporting such a thing ever breathe a word of criticism about unelected, unaccountable activist judges wresting legislative authority out of the hands of the people where it belongs. Let no one supporting such a thing ever utter the slightest complaint about Presidential Czars and Executive Orders bypassing the will of the Congress. People on all sides of SBC debate have adopted an “ends justifies the means” approach to our denominational polity. We need to repent of it. We need to quit it. We need to start acting in good faith.
Now, I promised to offer my opinion of the name change idea itself. Here it is. If this process goes forward to the messengers of the convention, then I will fully support a name-change so long as it removes the word “Baptist” from the name of our denomination. When the will of the messengers has become an obstacle to get around by any means necessary rather than the sacred core of our polity, then we are no longer Baptists, and we no longer deserve to own that name.
This new task force will certainly cause a big brouhaha. Wright ought to have the sense to know – assuming the SBC president has some understanding of history – that you can’t do something like propose changing the name of a 166 year-old organization via a top-down approach AND avoid a huge stink.
I guess Wright is prepared for the push-back that he will inevitably get from his fellow Southern Baptists. History tells us that much. Battles have defined the history of the SBC and Wright is likely to get what he seems to be asking for.
Then again, isn’t Wright’s approach here just another expression of the megachurch mentality that has infected many Baptist churches that purport to have a congregational polity? Whether the approach is pastor-rule, elder-rule or staff-rule, can we really say that these increasingly popular styles of church governance are compatible with being Baptist?
Megachurch pastors more than other professional ministers seem to struggle with the biblical concept of church democracy. So, it’s no surprise to see Wright – a megachurch pastor – sidestep the messengers that he was elected to serve to achieve this name-change goal.