FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson has historically advocated changing the name of the Southern Baptist Convention to more accurately describe the scope of the convention’s mission. However, as a member of the task force appointed last fall by SBC president Bryant Wright, Patterson agrees with his fellow task force members that the issue is more complicated than many might think.
“I’ve always been in favor of a name change, but after I understood all that was involved, I made a switch in direction, and I believe that it’s best not to change it,” Patterson said in an interview.
The task force recommended, Feb. 20, to the SBC Executive Committee that there be no official name change of the convention but that a non-legal descriptor be added. They recommended the descriptor “Great Commission Baptists,” which will be presented for a vote at the 2012 SBC Annual Meeting in New Orleans in June.
Patterson hopes the descriptor—should it be approved—will have both an external and an internal impact.
“My first hope is that it will enable us to reach indigenous people in every state more quickly,” Patterson said.
“My second hope would be that by giving a specific emphasis in the descriptor to the Great Commission, that our people will take the opportunity to consider seriously with their churches what is the Great Commission, what it is to which we’re committing ourselves.”
Patterson noted two reasons he has historically been in favor of a name change.
“Reason number one is our name no longer reflects who we are as the Southern Baptist Convention. The problem is that we have churches in 50 states, so we’re no longer the ‘Southern’ Baptist Convention. Some of our best work is happening in states outside of the ‘Old South.’ So, it’s just no longer descriptive of who we really are.
“The second reason I agreed with a name change is you can build four separate Southern Baptist Churches on four opposite corners in any state in the United States, if you have the right people in those churches. It doesn’t matter where it is or what the name is out front. It’s absurd to think that people are that much influenced by what the title is, but it is true that there is initial reaction against the name Southern Baptist in certain parts of the country—some of it politically motivated; some of it regionally motivated.
“I’ve always been in favor of removing every barrier that we possibly can to someone coming to Christ. If it’s legitimate at all to change it, we should do it to get people to Christ.”
By Keith Collier