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What’s in a name?

February 27, 2012

Well, the Southern Baptists have decided to not change their name.  Having spent 10 happy years in an SBC church I was following this story with interest but, for those who have not, one of America’s most storied denominations had been considering a name change, reasoning that (a) the name might be offensive to some, most particularly blacks, (b) as they continued to reach beyond the south the name was no longer accurate to who they were, and (c) the name had become associated with negative stereotypes in the media. 

In the end they chose to keep their name and add the optional tag “Great Commission Baptists.”  If you do an internet search you can find several wags who were proposing alternate names, some seriously, some with tongue-in-cheek, some just cruel.  My favorite cute one was “Baptist Ultimate Bible Believing Alliance” or “BUBBA” for short.  But what are the lessons from the exercise?  Some come to my mind.

  • You have to own your history.  There are always things in our past that we regret and repent of.  This is true of nations, denominations and individuals.  And these things have consequences that can stay with us.  The SBC clearly sees this and has chosen, wisely, to own its history.  My mistakes and past sins are no different, I need to own them.
  • Beware of “Christianese.”  It is interesting that all the large secular media, when covering the story, felt the need to explain what “Great Commission” means.  We evangelicals are so comfortable with terms like “great commission” and, well, “evangelical”, that we can use them assuming everyone knows what we mean.  But the world has changed and many don’t.  In our personal interaction with unbelievers we need the same care.
  • Ridicule happens.  Yes, this process was mocked by many in the wider media.  It just goes with the territory.  We can’t let it get to us.  If you talk to an unbeliever about your faith, it will not be long before you face it, sometimes cruelly.   Don’t let it bother you, Jesus pretty much promised we’d see it.  Don’t fire back or walk away.  My motto is always that while it is true that the Gospel is an offense, it doesn’t need help from me to make it offensive.

So go for it, Baptists, and best wishes with the new alternate name. 

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