Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Gospel must Trump Tradition

"I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel." (1 Cor. 9:22b-23a)

I've heard, many times before, that there are moments in life when "you can't see the forest because of the trees". Almost a seeming paradoxical statement, this is a powerful and meaningful truth when grasped. Can such a statement be made regarding tradition in ministry? I think it can be.

Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention president, Bryant Wright, has proposed that the convention look "out of the trees" and consider renaming the convention. A bold move by Mr. Wright. But, could this proposal have gospel merit? I believe that if we are going to be good stewards of the gospel message and continue to be Christ-centered in Great Commission focus, we must, at the very least, consider this proposal.

Dr. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, expresses sentiments that touch my personal feelings on the matter almost exactly. Mohler writes:

To be honest, I am personally traumatized by the very idea of changing the denomination’s name. I feel an almost physical loss at the very prospect. It is a deeply and unavoidably emotional question for any Southern Baptist whose life is intertwined with the Convention, its work, and its churches.

At the same time, our commitment to the Great Commission and the urgency of the Gospel must exceed our emotional attachments and fears. A responsible movement of Gospel churches — of Baptist churches — must be ready to ask this question and face it fearlessly. We can and will do this together.

The apostle Paul invariably placed importance on doing what was necessary to reach people where they were and in their context. Maybe this is the time that Southern Baptists step out of the forest of tradition and legitimately take the time to look at this issue clearly. The very letters SBC carry powerful connotations--many that emphasize a proud dedication to global missions and others that are painted with hints of early-history racism.

What are we, as Southern Baptists, to do with Wright's proposal? At the very least, may we be willing to step out of the forest of tradition, look at the trees, and decide, in unity, upon the result which most clearly and boldly exalts Jesus before the nations in gospel faithfulness. May we say, along with the apostle Paul, that we, "do all this for the sake of the gospel."