Editor's note: This article has been updated to include additional content from annual meeting sermon.
PIKEVILLE, KY (KT) – The dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has called on Kentucky Baptists to stand united in spreading the gospel to every corner of the state.
“We are blessed with an incredible richness of diversity and beauty in our state from the mountains to the Bluegrass to the Pennyrile and to the Purchase,” Adam W. Greenway told hundreds of messengers who gathered at the East Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville for the KBC annual meeting. “There is also a staggering amount of lostness right here in Kentucky. We need small churches and large churches. We need mountain churches and Purchase churches. We need churches in Louisville. We need churches in Louisa. We need churches all across our state with all the riches of diversity that can agree to major on the main things, to work together for the sake of the Great Commission, and to believe the best about one another.”
Greenway, the keynote preacher at the annual meeting, centered his sermon on the question: “What’s in a name?,” telling messengers that the name “Kentucky Baptist Convention” is filled with meaning. “Kentucky,” Greenway said, speaks to the field of service, “Baptist” speaks to faith, and “Convention” speaks to cooperation involved in sharing the gospel.
Greenway said that, of the 41 state Baptist conventions, only one has the assignment of reaching Kentucky for the cause of Christ, and Kentucky Baptists need to work together in unity to accomplish the task. He read from Ephesians 4 to make his point:
Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. For it says: When he ascended on high, he took the captives captive; he gave gifts to people.
But what does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower parts of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, to fill all things. And He himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head — Christ. From him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.
“Let us not succumb to the satanic strategy to turn inward and fight one another,” Greenway urged Kentucky Baptists. “Let us remember the words of Paul here, a clear call to unity and clear call to mission.”
Greenway asked messengers if they loved their state enough to love its residents to Jesus, to be intentional in reaching their neighbors with the gospel.
“If not us, who will?” he asked. “There are four and a half million Kentuckians today, and by the most generous estimates, only 750,000 of them are members of a Kentucky Baptist church. Friends, the task is great. And, I want to ask you, pastor, associational mission strategist, state missionary, do you have a genuine love and desire to see your fellow Kentuckians changed by the power of the gospel of Christ?
In rallying Kentucky Baptists to the task of fulfilling the Great Commission, Greenway also said they ought never to be ashamed of the name “Baptist,” because the name points to the convictions they hold and the truth they proclaim.
“It seems like the name Baptist has fallen into disrepute in some corners, and there are some who argue that we need to discard the name because it’s filled with baggage; it’s unmarketable; it’s unhelpful,” he said.
If that’s what a local autonomous church wants to do, Greenway said he, as a convictional Baptist, will defend the right to do just that.
“But before you throw out the name Baptist, realize what you are giving up,” Greenway said. “By ‘Baptist,’ all we mean is shorthand for biblical truth and for the New Testament church. When I say I’m a Baptist, all I’m saying is I’m part of that line of faithfulness that goes all the way back to the apostles and, yes, to Jesus himself, who, as the old preachers used to say, was baptized by a Baptist preacher named John.”
Greenway said Baptists have a rich heritage that should be celebrated.
“I don’t know if there’s a group that has taken it more on the chin that in terms of PR than the Catholic church with all their scandals and abuse, and, yet, I’ll submit to you, I cannot name to you one Catholic church that has taken “Catholic” out of their name.
“Are we ashamed of our name? What I am saying is what’s most important are the truths we confess and the doctrine we preach and believe. You cannot believe just anything and be a Kentucky Baptist. And I am thankful for this convention that is willing to say, when we need to take a stand, we will take a stand for what is right and let the chips fall where they may, because we are concerned first and foremost not with the applause of man, but with the praise of God in all that we do. Dare I say, we need to put some iron in the Baptist blood, and I want to do everything I can to help strengthen our Baptist convictions, our Baptist identify, our Baptist distinctives, because our forefathers fought and, yes, some of them even died to stand upon these truths and we dare not sell them short.”
In 1837, the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky gathered for the first time with a clear focus on the gospel and a clear purpose of reaching Kentucky, Greenway said. It was in 1961 that the name was changed to Kentucky Baptist Convention, which, Greenway said, was a move to clarify Kentucky Baptists’ desire to cooperate.
Greenway said Kentucky Baptist forefathers called for churches to unite and harmonize to carry the great principles of Bible truth to every corner of the state.
“That was the original vision that called forth the Kentucky Baptist Convention in 1837, and I would submit to you that is still the vision we should be holding forth today to do all these things to reach our Commonwealth for Christ,” he said.
Greenway said he wants to be the kind of Southern Baptist who is always looking to cooperate, not separate from fellow Southern Baptists.
“In fact, the genius, the beauty, of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, I believe, is that we have been that big tent convention with those four pegs that we’ve heard about: the high view of Scripture, the Baptist Faith and Message, the Cooperative Program, and the Great Commission,” he said. “If you’re on board with these, then we need you on board with us. We’ve been the convention that, frankly, has been too busy fulfilling the Great Commission and doing Christ’s work to get distracted on the side issues of things that just really don’t matter.”
Greenway acknowledged Southern Baptists do have differing opinions on some points of theology.
“A lot of the tensions that we see in Baptist life right now are tensions, I believe, we should be working to diffuse rather than to fuel,” he said. “Our Kentucky Baptist Convention has been the convention where issues like Calvinism, Landmarkism and Dispensationalism are not going to be litmus tests to faith or lines to divide over. Whether you like the KJV or the ESV, there’s room for you in the KBC tent.”
Greenway said his heart has been grieved by “contempt and disdain” he has seen among some in the Southern Baptist family.
“This is wrong,” he said. “It ought not to be so. Before I slander my fellow Southern Baptist, I ought to pick up the phone or send an email and say, ‘Hey, can we get together and talk so I can hear you say what you do and don’t believe.’ Are we willing to believe the best about our brother or sister in Christ or are we too eager to anticipate and believe the worst.”
Greenway closed his message with a final reminder of the importance the Baptist name.
“What’s in name? Everything,” he said. “I’m proud to be a Kentucky Baptist. I hope you are too.”