I’m in a Seinfeld state of mind. First Mr. Mendelbaum and now Newman. Even Postal Employee Newman — Kramer’s friend and Jerry’s nemesis in the popular 1990s sitcom — was wise enough to know that you can’t split a bicycle in half. Upon hearing the news Monday night that the unofficial Name Change Task Force was recommending no official name change for the Southern Baptist Convention, but instead recommending adding an optional nickname — Great Commission Baptists — I was perplexed. My initial thought was, “this doesn’t make any sense.” My wife had a more pithy word to describe the recommendation.
Surely this Task Force, whose members include such Convention stalwarts as Dr. Paige Patterson, Dr. Albert Mohler, Dr. David Dockery, Dr. Kevin Ezell, Dr. Tom Eliff and others, are surely wiser than Newman, thus applying the Old Testament principle and realizing that Conventions — like babies — cannot be split into two different groups with two different identities and, knowing the New Testament principle that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” must be applied to any proposed Name Change recommendation. That being the case, it is hard for me to understand how this can be a “win-win” for the Convention of churches now known as Southern Baptists. However, with a long drive from Dallas to New Mexico on Tuesday, I had plenty of time to come to an understanding of what I think Dr. Draper, in his report to the Executive Committee for/through President Bryant Wright, meant by “win-win.”
Perhaps he meant it like this: Suppose a good-sized County Seat First Baptist Church was in search of a new pastor. The church, although the oldest in the county and the mother church to all the other churches in the area, had hit a bit of a rough spot. Not content to continue on a downward spiral, the Pastor (or Elder if you prefer) Search Committee interviews a nice young man about serving the church. He is passionate and energetic, telling the committee that he wants to reach families in the area. The committee likes what it hears. Who wouldn’t want to reach families for Christ? Of course, when the Pastoral candidate said “families,” he really meant people under 40, but the committee thought families included senior adults as well.
The committee recommends the pastoral candidate to the church and the church, based largely on the committee’s glowing recommendation, calls the new pastor. Eager to make an impact and purposefully-driven to implement his vision, the young pastor arrives on the scene, only to find that the church has very few families, at least not how he would define families. He’s really not sure how this church has survived this long because it doesn’t seem like they know what a “true” church looks like. He sets out to “bring ’em in,” and, in fact, does attract a lot of younger families with children (which is a good thing). So many new families start coming to the church that a second worship service needs to be added. Not to worry. An early morning worship experience at 8:30 a.m. would be perfect. Not too early and not too late so as to interfere with Sunday School.
Just to mix things up, why not try something different at the early service. How about more contemporary songs and a praise band (not that there’s anything wrong with that — another Seinfeld reference)? The folks who have been at the church, despite their initial reluctance and questions, get behind the pastor because they believe that he sincerely wants to reach people for Christ. After all, more families have started coming to the church. After the new service is announced, but before it launches, the pastor has a change of plans. Not a big deal, really. It turns out that young families with children don’t get up early on Sunday morning (I can vouch for my family on that). It would be better if we moved the “traditional” service to 8:30 a.m. (old people get up early and they are the only ones who would go to a traditional service, anyway) and the new, contemporary service to 11:00 a.m.
While some of the older folks are not happy, the pastor begins to pull out the Al Haig card, “I’m God’s man here and I’m in charge. I cast the vision for my church. If you don’t like the direction that my church is heading, then there are lots of other churches down the road that you can go to. Anyway, we’ve attracted 50 new families to my church in the long six months I’ve been here. If we lose one or two older families, it won’t matter much because I’m growing my church.” Now mind you, this is said to an elderly Deacon and his wife who have been pillars in the church for over 50 years. What the pastor has just said is, “you can shut up and get with the program or you can get out!”
If you think this is far-fetched, then you have not been in Southern Baptist life for any length of time nor do you know anyone who has been in the SBC for any length of time. Churches have been destroyed because of “driven” pastors — driven by methodology, theology, or their own cult of personality. There are Calvinists, non-Calvinists, anti-Calvinists and, Arminians among the driven bunch. It takes all kinds!
Why do I share this story? Because the pastor of this story, when selling new — and sometimes radical — ideas, will often use spiritual language similar to what we have already heard from the Name Change Task Force — it’s a “win-win” situation. Tell that to the older Christians who were displaced from the church that they loved and lovingly served for 50+ years. Tell that to pastors and lay folks in the south who have labored for the Kingdom by sending missionaries throughout North America and the world, all the while identifying themselves as Southern Baptists but, apparently unaware of the stigma that attaches to the name.
With all due respect to the unofficial Name Change Task Force, I’m not sure that a committee which was created to circumvent the will of the messengers and perhaps contravene the Constitution and By-Laws of the SBC in the process, are the best folks to unilaterally declare the nickname option a “win-win” (although some of our leaders sure like to do things unilaterally; some don’t even need a vote to change the name of a seminary). That only a few EC members had the courage to vote against bringing the recommendation to the floor of the Convention is a sad commentary on the “ends justifies the means” mentality that is so often employed in the hardball political process of the SBC. And, when trustees dare to speak up against the establishment, they subject themselves to ridicule from “denominational servants.”
The Nickname path, as has already been demonstrated in the report, is one that will surely lead to more division in the short run. How? Wrap your minds around the concluding paragraphs of the Name Change Task Force Recommendation:
“That the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention report to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 19-20, 2012, that it will study ways in which the use of the phrase “Great Commission Baptists” might be protected and preserved for use by those churches and institutions (emphasis added) which find its use beneficial and will assess how using the phrase in various ways in its communications and publications might be helpful to those groups.
We deeply believe that if the phrase “Great Commission Baptists” is regularly used in publications and promotions of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as in state conventions, associations and churches, that it would provide an identification that not only tells who we are, but what our mission as Southern Baptists is — the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”
Before the Task Force Recommendation has even been officially approved by messengers in New Orleans, the President of our oldest seminary tweeted this:
“Let the word go forth: THE Southern Baptist Theological Seminary proudly is a Great Commission Baptists institution”
I guess Southern now joins Lifeway in demonstrating that they really don’t care what the messengers have to say at the Annual Meeting. But, I do applaud the boldness of Dr. Mohler in making such a statement. Coupled with the wording of the Task Force Report and Recommendation, Dr. Mohler’s words are a clear signal of where our Southern Baptist entities will head. Those entities whose trustee boards are populated by “yes men” — who think their job is to serve the interests of the entitiy head instead of the interests of the SBC — will embrace the Great Commission Baptists moniker quicker than the Kardashians recycle husbands. If the Convention messengers meeting in New Orleans vote to approve the recommendation, those who still choose to identify as Southern Baptists — folks who cling bitterly to their God, their southern heritage, their outdated identity, their traditions (CP, State Conventions, Local Associations) and, their anti-Great Commission mindset — will be on the outside, looking in, and muttering to themselves, “What happened?” But, the Great Commission Baptists will be a leaner, younger and, smaller house, much better off without those traditional-minded folk who just didn’t understand how to do church in the first place. And, get this — no longer a divided house, either. After all, it’s hard to be divided after the troublemakers leave! Just ask conservative Southern Baptists what happened when the Moderates left. Well, on second thought, maybe that’s not such a good idea.