We Are Great Commission Baptists

Baptist identity has always been rooted in our shared beliefs. The discussions around Baptist identity over the last few decades have centered around “Baptist distinctives.” While Baptists share a majority of their beliefs with other Protestant Christians, they also hold to certain beliefs that set them apart. Baptist distinctives include believer’s baptism by immersion, regenerate church membership, congregational polity, and local church autonomy. Baptists have consistently been confessional, convictional, and champions of religious liberty. They believe that the Great Commission is the work of the church, and they have cooperated together to advance the gospel to the nations.

I am a third-generation South Carolina pastor. My grandfather grew up in the central part of the state. The church that he grew up in was a mill village Baptist church. In the late 19th century, South Carolina Baptists strategically targeted the many textile mills throughout the state with the gospel. It was one of many great cooperative efforts to reach people with the good news of Jesus Christ. He pastored a small rural Baptist church for the last 25 years of his life and preached the last Sunday before he went to be with his Lord. My father grew up in the same mill village church, was called to ministry in his early 20s, and preached at the same church for 34 years. Both were men who taught me the Baptist distinctives and the urgency of the Great Commission. 

My grandfather’s favorite verse to quote to me was Proverbs 22:1: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” Our name is often the first thing that people know about us, and people form their judgments rather quickly. Our name will always identify us, sometimes before we even speak. For example, because my grandfather had such a good reputation in the community, when many people hear my name, they associate me with him and I get instant credibility, even before I speak. It is important that our names represent the heart of who we are and what we stand for. 

The discussion in Baptist life has often arisen concerning our name, the “Southern Baptist Convention.” Since 1965, the question of changing the name of the convention has come up eight times. The first seven times, the question was thoroughly defeated. However, in 2012 under the leadership of SBC President Bryant Wright, a task force was named to study a name change for the convention. That task force, containing a diverse list of pastors, institution heads, convention leaders, and church planters, brought a motion to the floor of the 2012 annual meeting in New Orleans. The motion passed. It stated:

The Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention recommends to the Southern Baptist Convention that those churches, entities and organizations in friendly cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention which may desire to utilize a descriptor other than the term “Southern Baptists” to indicate their relationship with each other and their involvement in the Southern Baptist Convention and its ministries consider using the descriptor “Great Commission Baptists,” a phrase commended as one fully in keeping with our Southern Baptist Convention identity. 

The farther we move from 1845, the clearer we must be about who we are. And as we move to the future, we must continue to do all we can to remove the barriers that our history poses as we seek to reach everyone with the gospel. We must celebrate all that is good in our history, and when we do we will find that we are at our best when we focus unitedly on the mission to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone, everywhere. Our identity is not bound up in a region, and it is not found in a cause other than the cause of Jesus Christ. Maybe it is time to use the name that reflects our mission. We are Great Commission Baptists.