Toward the Great Commission
The news broke on Tuesday of this week. The theme for the 2021 meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, TN is “We are Great Commission Baptists.” They even made an awesome graphic!
If you have kept up with many of the developments in Southern Baptist life over the past 20 years, one recurrent theme has been for a new name. Several reasons for this have been given over time, including the fact that our convention of churches is no longer “southern”. Our particular grouping of Baptists comprise the largest denomination outside of Roman Catholicism in the US and in the World. The Catholic Church boasts 1.28 billion adherents worldwide as of 2017 and 69.3 million members in the US in 2019. Our convention claims 14.52 million members in America and we have over 3,600 missionaries around the world.
This statement about missionaries serves two purposes. First, it highlights that our commitment as a cooperative gathering of churches has been to see the Great Commission fulfilled in a very literal since. No other organization outside of the London Missionary Society of the 18th and 19th centuries has expanded the Gospel around the globe the way our convention has. Second, this displays the greater geographical feature of our cooperation.
Think of it this way: if each of these IMB missionaries converts one person or family to Christ Jesus in their mission field, then we have an immediate church established in these nations. That would be more than the number of SBC churches in the state of Georgia. As another example of this work, the Chinese Baptist Convention operates out of Taiwan. This is the direct work of Southern Baptist missionary work in China prior to the Communist Revolution in 1949. At that time, 220 IMB missionaries had established nearly 400 churches and created another 400 contact and access points for the Gospel. This is a clear indication of how we are not just “Southern”, but we are oriented toward the Great Commission.
So, why is this a thing right now? Great question.
Some have shifted the name of their individual churches. There is a cultural sensitivity and awareness that surrounds some perception of the word “Baptist”. Over the past 30 years or so, many churches have elected to use names like “community church” or just “church”. I have seen the social media backlash and have even heard it from the floor of the annual convention meeting that if these people are ashamed of putting Baptist on their signs, they should get out. That is a foolish suggestion. There may be wisdom in a name change for an organization within the community. I can see some benefit for my own church in this regard.
A deeper look into many of these churches and even our NAMB church plants will reflect that these churches are operationally and convictionally Baptist. Having the name on the sign doesn’t make you anymore Baptist that I become a football player when I wear a Gators jersey on Saturday. The same principle actually applies to our greater convention of churches. We are, by conviction and practice, committed to the Great Commission. This shift makes sense.
In 2011, then SBC President Bryant Wright (retired pastor of Johnson’s Ferry Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, GA) established a task force to study the possibilities of a name change for our convention. This task force brought the recommendation to the 2012 SBC annual meeting to adopt the new moniker “Great Commission Baptist” while keeping the legal name “Southern Baptist”. The issue is that no one really knew about this and it hasn’t gone anywhere in the last 8 years.
Thankfully, that is changing now. As a pastor of a church that has members from 16 different nations, there is so much to gain from a new perspective here. With members in our church now who remember when we were solidly mono-ethnic, we have been able to embrace a more robust picture of the Gospel in our community as we have all changed. The Gospel didn’t change, it changed us!
However, a name change does nothing if there is not heart change the accompany. Over the next few weeks, we will talk more about our history as Baptists in the south. We will talk about some of the ugly so that we can express the beauty of the Gospel at work in us now. In doing so, I believe our Baptist roots will be strengthened and affirmed as we embrace being Great Commission Baptists.
 https://www.catholicvirginian.org/global-catholic-population-tops-1-28-billion-half-are-in-10-countries/, accessed September 16, 2020.
 https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/highest-catholic-population, accessed September 16, 2020.
 https://i2.wp.com/blog.lifeway.com/newsroom/files/2020/06/2019_ACP_State_Convention.jpg, accessed Sept 17, 2020. Georgia Baptist Mission Board reported 3,361 cooperating churches.
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Baptist_Convention#cite_note-Taiwan_Baptist_History-6, accessed September 17, 2020. While Wikipedia can be adjusted by many users, it is interesting to note that these statistics are archived by the Republic of China.
 https://www.baptistmessenger.com/sbc-president-names-task-force-to-study-convention-name-change/, accessed September 17, 2020.