This recent episode involving the GARBC, Faith Baptist Bible College & Seminary, and Saylorville Church has offered us another enlightening scenario to test that hypothesis and examine the values of various groups and individuals. It's been a complex scenario, perhaps with more ways to handle it poorly than wisely.
Several matters related to Baptist identity and polity are quite reasonably in play—local church autonomy, connectionalism, soul liberty, and the role of the parachurch ministry. And of course, church names.
As it happens, I'm a pastor in what must be one of a very few churches in the nation that reinserted "Baptist" into its name after having removed it. Though I wasn't a party to that decision, I believe it was a good one. But I also believe that the mission of a local church is not primarily to maintain "Baptist Identity." I'd argue that the church's mission is far more closely related to proclaiming the Word in such a way that the gospel's power transforms pagans into disciples. The biblical principles that shape "Baptist Identity" are related to the mission—perhaps even advance the mission—but maintaining that identity is not the zenith of the mission. At most, it's a servant to the mission.
Now, I don't have a dog in the fight as to whether it is fruitful for the cause of Christ for FBBC&S students and faculty members to be members of Saylorville Church. There may well be reasons why it is not. I also don't know whether Saylorville's name change will help or hinder its fulfillment of its mission. I strongly suspect that this sort of decision will vary according to individual church context. Saylorville Church may make a bad decision on that point (or many others), but I'm not sure who or what institution is in a better position to make that decision than the church itself. My understanding of Baptist distinctives had led me to believe that Baptists would universally affirm that notion. Perhaps I was misinformed.
I was struck by this sentence in Faith's official statement [PDF]:
"We stand with our gospel-loving Baptist forebears of past centuries who loved all the brethren yet celebrated their unique Baptist identity."As I reflected on our forbears who embodied that description, one of the first who leapt into my mind was Charles Spurgeon. No big surprise, right? Gospel-loving? Who was more so? Loved all the brethren? Not all professing brethren, but all who held fast to the Word! Celebrated unique Baptist identity? Well, there's a reason that such diverse strains of contemporary Baptists claim him as one of their number. And yet he pastored . . . "The Metropolitan Tabernacle."
Now, isn't it rather typical of fundamentalism to attach more weight to an individual or institution's public identification, rather than the substance of its identity and theology? It's been argued that Faith's decision is "reflective of who they are." I suspect that's true. But "who we are" is at least in part a reflection of "what's most important to us." And I'd suggest that's part of our problem.