The Southern Baptists have just concluded their wrestling with changing their name or not. I agree – time to reconsider their label as a growing percentage of their churches are not in the “South”. It is more reflective of present realities, and respects and validates the number not in the “South”.
The issue being missed though is the wrestling with what is church, how do we practice life as Christians and what do we need to change.
The SBC, born from a peaceful departure from the Baptists in the mid-19th century over the issue of slavery, has lots of issues to wrestle… and have traditionally been late in doing so. Baptists in the 18th and 19th century failed to bring Christ, the Gospel, to their slaves as common practice. The departure from the NA Baptists was done peacefully with a promise to do so. Historians can wrestle if this was done in the spirit of that agreement or not. But to not have done so, to deny the soul of a person with a different skin pigmentation is something only recently, historically speaking, addressed in any real public manner, though there is still work to be done.
More contemporary, and yet historically common in all denominations, is a slow uptake on the changes in societies, particularly the passing of Christendom to post-Christendom (where our society has abandoned its mooring to the church and has become secular, to the point where our society is now 2d generation pagan as a vast majority!). The SBC while wrestling it’s label, has not done well wrestling the churches it plants in the US or overseas. In both cases, generally, even in their self called “cutting edge” church plants, there is a US conventional model of church. Sure, this includes the Sunday morning representation, or gathered aspect of being the church, but in a much deeper way, the SBC (LIKE every other movement I know of, study, watch and interact with) continues to plant and operate in Christendom. Overseas the churches planted are American churches on foreign soil, failing to be good missiologists, or missiologists at all, of the host culture…and confusing American cultural expression with Biblical definition of being the church. In America, the definition of being the church, its organization, power, pedigree (& value of pedigree), function, ministry, and little mission that occurs, is all in a Christendom paradigm. The SBC, the most “evangelical” (focused on proselytizing) movement in the world, fails miserably to understand, embrace, wrestle with and move in the missiology of a post-Christendom reality.
So, the SBC did not change it’s name… to be honest, my response is “So?” It doesn’t matter one iota if they do or don’t. It’s the wrong question, wrong use of their time, and wrong focus of their heart. To be more reflective of their geography, their focus of resources, and their trite attempt to engage a culture (by changing their name) is all great, but the wrong answer in the wrong order.
If they asked me, and they won’t, my counsel would be to get some people who are outside their institution, and anything similar with similar issues, and have them speak and walk with them, investing into them, into the future. Listening is nice, but this must be followed by real and substantial legitimate changes to their orthopraxy, orthodoxy and their posture, resources (including $$$) and orientation.
Will they? To be serious (& I like the SBC folks – at least they want to reach people!!!) I doubt they will. People and institutions do NOT change until the pain is high enough and while the $$$ is going “South” (pun intended) it’s not painful enough yet. They’ve noted a 1/3 decrease in baptisms (the mean all standard by BAPTISTS), the reality has not yet hit to consider actually changing, wrestling some ways that have gotten in the way, and redefine themselves. Right now, they are just doing what they do harder. Hmm. When did we see that work recently? …Me, neither!
So SBC, we love ya, but we got some bad news. There’s hope, but you gotta embrace some reality… it’s a huge shift and will mean some warm cozy comfortable things change, but it’s that or follow the way of the UMC…. their decline is about to roll over stage now.
We need leaders courageous enough to lead change in the SBC and far beyond to every conventional movement… and if they are squelched, they’ll go outside the structures, oh, ugh, wait, that’s already happening. Sad and exciting!