Southern Baptist Convention churches are being encouraged to use an alternate name, “Great Commission Baptists,” in another step by the world’s largest Baptist denomination to distance itself from its racist past amid ongoing racial unrest.
The alternate name, which was approved for use by SBC messengers in 2012 “as one fully in keeping with our Southern Baptist Convention identity,” has been drawing a lot of interest from church leaders around the country in recent weeks, the denomination’s president, J.D. Greear, told Baptist Press. It will also be the focus of the SBC’s 2021 Annual Meeting under the theme “We Are Great Commission Baptists.”
“In the last month we started receiving emails from around the country with pastors and leaders asking about using the name. By making this our annual meeting theme and encouraging the use of the alternate name, we do not in any way want to minimize the significance of our past, either its accomplishments or its failures,” Greear said.
“Utilizing ‘Great Commission Baptists’ is simply one more step to make clear we serve a risen Savior who died for all peoples, whose mission is not limited to one people living in one time at one place. Every week we gather to worship a Savior who died for the whole world, not one part of it. What we call ourselves should make that clear.”
Greear said The Summit Church, which he leads in Durham, North Carolina, will begin to use “Great Commission Baptists” in support of the 2012 decision to highlight the primary reason why the church is a part of the SBC.
“Our leadership affirms the decision made by messengers in 2012,” Greear said. “We believe now is a good time to use it due to the fact that the primary reason we are part of the convention is for the Great Commission.”
Last month, the SBC Executive Committee published a new logo on their website reflecting the alternate name and Pastor Marshall Blalock, who served on the 2012 SBC task force, encouraged churches to embrace “Great Commission Baptists.”
“Will you opt to use this mission-focused name rather than the regional name (SBC) rooted in the past? We honor Christ most when we are truly Great Commission Baptists. #optforGCB,” Blalock, who leads First Baptist Charleston in South Carolina, the oldest Baptist church in the South, urged on Twitter.
The SBC was organized in 1845 by Baptists in the South who supported slavery and disagreed with their brethren in the North. It wasn't until 1995 when the SBC passed a resolution, officially apologizing for its past — including the practice of slaveholding, not supporting the civil rights of African Americans, and racism.
In the resolution, they "unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin;" "repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest;" and "apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously or unconsciously."
Spence Shelton, lead pastor of the Mercy Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, argued in an op-ed published in the Biblical Recorder that the prevailing name of the denomination comes with too much baggage and limits it to the South while “Great Commission Baptists” opens it up to a bigger vision.
“Our future leaders are not confined to the South. Let’s look down the road a bit. If God in His kindness should turn the tide and increase salvation numbers through our cooperative efforts to reach the nations, then He is also going to raise up leaders for tomorrow’s church among those people. One of our future presidents of Great Commission Baptists may never set a childhood foot in the ‘Bible Belt,’” he wrote.
“What if our banner has created blinders to the possibilities God has for us across the world? What if 50,000 churches could be 500,000 churches in 30 years? That is the kind of vision I hope we start dreaming of as Great Commission Baptists,” he continued. “I have one life and so do you. I want to be known for what I am for – the glory of God in the unyielding hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let’s lock arms together under the banner of the Great Commission.”
Hunter Baker, dean of arts and sciences and professor of political science at the private Christian Union University in Jackson, Tennessee, praised support of the alternate name Tuesday.
“The movement to rename the SBC as Great Commission Baptists is back. It's the right idea. Why not have a name that refers to something organic to Christianity rather than one that refers to a not very good time in American history?” he said in a statement on Twitter.
Ronnie Floyd, president and CEO of the SBC Executive Committee, who will be sharing more details on their 2021 annual meeting on Tuesday evening, revealed last Friday that he recently completed a period of 40 days of fasting and prayer in response to the ongoing upheaval in the nation over matters of race and the pandemic as well as strife in the Christian community over these issues.
“Many Southern Baptists and evangelicals would rather live in the downstream of cultural disagreements and infighting between themselves than provide spiritual leadership to a nation that desperately needs it,” Floyd wrote. “The angry, cruel, ungodly, and carnal statements by Christians and even some Christian leaders via social media, articles, or comments in the media. These create suspicion and greater fear rather than faith and hope.”
Floyd said during his fast, God gave him a word for “His people” found in Haggai 1:5 and 1:7.
“I wanted so much to hear what the Spirit was saying to me through God’s Word each day. Our gracious God gave some special words on days 37 and 38 of the fast. These words were declared by our God four times in the book of Haggai. This statement is given only in Haggai 1:5 and 1:7, when the Lord of Armies says: ‘Think carefully about your ways,’” Floyd said.
“As God spoke these words to prepare His people for a great and new work among them in their days, I believe He is also preparing us for a great and new work for the days ahead. These resounding words of God need to be heard by all of us: ‘Think carefully about your ways.’”