Sunday, January 22, 2012

What's in a Name?

So, the Southern Baptist Convention is considering a name change. To that I say, "It's about time!" The Southern Baptist name rings of old, stodgy, and stale religion. Southern Baptist will always be stained by years of shameful racism. Southern Baptists make up a large part of the maligned right-wing, conservative, dogmatic, intolerant "moral majority." Whether the perception is correct doesn't matter. Perception IS reality in our current culture.

Having been a member of a vibrant, Bible-teaching, people-loving church that happens to be affiliated with the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) for seven years now has taught me that even the most stubborn Southerner, if he truly wants to please God, will become able to adapt and change. Eventually. With much prodding. One of the things that attracted our family to our current church home was the "ten core values" printed for all to read, posted on walls, and repeated by the Pastor. (And recently, administered in pop-quiz form to all church employees---even the lowly part-time baristas like me!) Most were familiar, as I grew up in an American Baptist (mercy) church, and have attended a number of non-denominational churches that had solid Bible teaching. However, one stood out as unique: We believe in an unchanging message and are committed to ever-changing methodologies. WOW. Not "we will never deviate from the master plan set in place 50 years ago" or "but we've always done it this way." That was refreshing to read as a core value of the church. We have seen that worked out, too, as the church has added contemporary music to some of its services and has fully embraced technology in reaching a younger seeking population.

Churches that do not adapt, die. Churches that forget their first love in making those adaptations destroy. It's a delicate balance that even the best-intentioned churches don't always achieve, but it follows the Biblical model of Paul who met people where they were and modified his approach without minimizing his authority.

The SBC as a group has recently committed to a new focus on reaching the lost and discipling them. This is a change of past years when the focus was on maintaining church order and condemning those who attacked it. Once internally centered, the SBC is making an effort to reach  outward with its time, personnel, and money. It's an exciting change, and one that I think pleases the Father. There is a long journey ahead, but the paradigm shift has begun, and a new enthusiasm should begin to emerge.

It makes sense, then, that the Southern Baptist Convention considers a name change. Saul became Paul. Abram became Abraham. Jacob became Israel. Each name change signified a new role, a new character, and a new vision. The SBC has a new vision and is developing a new character AND a new role. A new name will allow the old perceptions to be put aside so that the new ideals can prosper.

It's about time.

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