The following is a transcript of the address given by Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, to the SBC Executive Committee on Feb. 20, 2012, regarding the SBC name change task force, on which Patterson served. To read more comments on the matter from Patterson, click here. To read Baptist Press’ coverage of the task force’s recommendation, click here.
When President Bryant Wright telephoned late last year asking me to serve on a committee to provide counsel to the president about a change in name for our beloved Convention, my initial thought was, “Mr. President, why do you hate me?” My life has been spent, too much of it, in controversy, which contrary to popular wisdom, I thoroughly despise. In fact, my life verse has become Jeremiah 15:10,
Woe is me, my mother, that you have borne me, a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have neither lent for interest, nor have men lent to me for interest. Every one of them curses me.
My love for and devotion to this fellowship that we call a Convention and to its churches and mission causes is by now, I hope, apparent. Soon, if God wills, I will attend my 60th annual meeting without a miss. While I seek neither sympathy nor applause, my family has paid a high price for faithfulness as we understood it to Christ, the Bible, and to the faith of our Baptist Fathers. For thirty- six years, I have led three different institutions to train your missionaries, pastors and evangelists. For fifty-five years I have faithfully preached the unsearchable riches of Christ mostly in Southern Baptist churches and mission points. Haltingly and often poorly, I have sought to be a personal witness to the saving grace of our Lord.
So what is your point, oh hoary with years? Just that in the pedestrian words that I am about to utter, I sincerely hope that my motive and intentions are pure even should you find my logic flawed. From my vantage point in the forced march to the summit of Nebo, the twin concerns that rivet my heart are seven billion lost people on this globe and the care of the churches that serve as the launch pads for the dissemination of the gospel.
Since I was a boy-preacher somewhere back in the Pre-Cambrian era, I have been concerned that Southern Baptists needed to change our name. Every time the issue arose, I cast a losing vote contrary to that of some of my dearest friends. The logic that appealed to me then was as simple as the mind that assessed it. (1) We were no longer regional and (2) If the regional moniker were an offense, a barrier to some, used in turn by the Enemy to keep them from Christ, then we should remove the barrier.
Please note what I did not say. While I recognize that some of our own are offended by our Southern Baptist history of sometimes fierce clashes, of our moral stands against abortion, gender confusion, the dissolution of the family, the devastating effects of gambling and alcohol on our families and the social order, and even belatedly the more politically correct, but in this case biblically correct stand against racism, while I regret that any are offended, I view all of this as noble, even if in our flesh we were sometimes ignoble in our approaches to these issues.
Neither do I think that the name on the shingle has much to do with evangelistic success. History is replete with the objections of the establishment to the evangelization of the lost. When God’s people seek His face for His mighty hand to move and then when they witness as though they were in the fourth quarter, I know for a fact that the baptismal waters will be stirred far more frequently than Bethesda.
Consequently, I am not ashamed of the Southern Baptist name. Indeed, I love and treasure it for what it represents in terms of doctrine, ethics, shared mission, response to human need, and world mission endeavor. But my brothers and sisters, if at least a descriptor could be found which focused on the nature of our mission, how could that be a bad omen?
The recommendation which our distinguished Baptist statesman, Dr. Draper, will now bring is one that satisfies my conscience on all levels to a degree I never thought possible. I support it enthusiastically. I have just two requests of you my brethren. First, let us seek God’s face with ardent supplication to see if the committee’s report is an amazing solution given by the Spirit of God. Second, if at the end of the process, you do not agree, that is fine. This is why you are a Baptist, a dissenter, and why I am not your bishop, cardinal or pope. But may we agree that we will debate and decide the issue without recourse to a discussion of motives and intentions of the heart which only God can see and know.
Whatever the outcome, I remain confident for the future. The gates of hell will not conquer the church of Jesus the Christ. The Spirit and the Bride say come. Southern Baptists say come. Let whosoever wills come and slake his thirst with the water of life. Such remains the mission of Southern Baptists until Jesus comes.