Cleaning the Outside of the Cup: Why Now is not the Time to Debate a Name Change in the SBC


My three-year-old was doing a three-year-old thing at breakfast. He wouldn’t drink his milk because he said it smelled funny. Every time he put his cup to his mouth to take a sip he curled his nose and told us “This milk smells yucky!”

Finally, I did what dads do. I took the cup and gave it a sniff. Turns out, he was right! Sort of. It wasn’t the milk that actually smelled funny but the cup. The inside hadn’t been cleaned properly and it gave off a noticeable odor when you put the cup to your nose. I attribute the problem to my older children who are too much like the adolescent version of their father who thought washing dishes poorly might get him out of having to do it (as an aside I was wrong, and so are they!).

Of course, I wouldn’t have gotten my youngest to drink the milk if I would have taken a paper towel and simply shined the outside of the cup. The outside wasn’t the problem. It was the inside that was causing the issue. I could have put a sticker on the outside of the cup that said “Clean Cup!”, but alas, the inside is what needed changing.

Let the reader understand how the above illustration relates to the SBC and the name change debate. But first, let’s go to the Bible.

Matthew 23:25-26

In this passage, Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.”

Now first, I want to say clearly and loudly that I am not accusing any person who wants to change the name of the Southern Baptist Convention of being a Pharisee. And I actually don’t think Jesus’s words in context apply on a one on one level to our current situation.

However, there is much wisdom in what our Lord teaches here, and I do think those of us in the SBC can make appropriate applications.

For instance, Matthew Henry comments on this passage, “Now what a foolish thing would it be for a man to wash only the outside of a cup, which is to be looked at, and to leave the inside dirty, which is to be used; so they do who only avoid scandalous sins, that would spoil their reputation with men, but allow themselves in heart-wickedness, which renders them odious to the pure and holy God.”[1]

Are we more concerned about our reputation with men than addressing the problems within the convention?

Two More Analogies

Suppose you owned a hotel and it caught on fire. You called the firemen who upon their arrival told you that it was their opinion that you needed to give priority and attention to the entrance of your hotel as it did not look overly inviting to outsiders.

Or suppose you were on a sinking ship with a hole that needed to be plugged immediately. But then a group of passengers began arguing about cleaning up the name on the side of the ship because it had gotten a bit dirty on your voyage.

In both of these scenarios the outside is not the problem, nor should it be the focus unless you wanted to lose your building or the ship!

The Inside of the Cup

This brings us back to the name change push in the Southern Baptist Convention. This push has been around a while and in 2012 the SBC even voted that churches could use the name “Great Commission Baptists” if they so desired.

My problem with the name change is not so much that I could never fathom a different moniker for the SBC. Yes, I am in the camp that thinks we shouldn’t change the name. However, I’m also willing to discuss it. In fact, I actually long for a day in the SBC where we could seriously talk about things like name changes because nothing was on fire and the ship wasn’t sinking.

But oh the situation we find ourselves in today! The ideologies of social justice continue to infect our churches and seminaries. Women are pastoring some of our congregations. We do not, on the whole, faithfully practice regenerate church membership. We do not have a great view of the Lord’s Day. COVID-19 has revealed that many have a poor ecclesiology. The worship practices in some of our churches are filled with sensuality. And the list goes on and on.

And so, how do we appropriately respond to these things?

The great theologian Maren Morris once sang, “When the bones are good, the rest don’t matter.” But the gospel integrity of our convention is actually what we need to address. Instead, we have people that want to put time and money and effort into changing our name.

This reminds me of the man who has been divorced and remarried seven times. At some point, the man ought to take a very hard look at himself and think “Maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s me.” But he doesn’t. He keeps changing women because he thinks they are the problem.

We could change our name to literally anything, the most “non-offensive”, “inviting”, “relevant” name ever to find itself attached to a group of churches, and it would not matter if we do not seriously address the inside of the cup.

Where is this coming from?

I think there really are people with pure motives calling for the change. They genuinely want to see no hindrances to the gospel. But I think they are misguided. I do not think that the problem with not reaching people in a particular area has that much to do with the term “southern”. But this would be for another post.

What I am more concerned about is any that may see a debate over changing the SBC’s name as a healthy distraction from all of our infighting over the issues I’ve listed above. This is not a time for squabbling how the ship looks outside while it seems to be sinking.

This is a time to fix what needs to really be fixed. Let’s debate over aesthetics later. Right now, I want to keep the ship from going down. I do not want to abandon it. And I don’t want to paint it.

Actually, I want to take it. These are not the days for cowardly leadership. It must take serious introspection as a convention and address our issues with gospel fidelity and unbending allegiance to King Jesus.

Who cares how great the outside looks if the inside is rotten? Let’s do what’s necessary to fix the inside. Let’s put our focus, priority, energy, and resources into cleaning the inside of the cup that the outside may also be clean.

After all, we don’t want to end up as a group of churches with a wonderful name and beautiful buildings, that have ultimately abandoned the gospel. No, as a whole, we haven’t abandoned the gospel yet. Praise God. But this is the trajectory we find ourselves on.

Who cares if the culture likes us today if we don’t leave our children and grandchildren the gospel? If they can’t even drink the simple milk of the word because the inside of the cup stinks so bad?

[1] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 1735.

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