Friday, May 4, 2012

Acts 29: Behind every tree and under every rock

I made the comment to a denominational staffer a few days ago that I could scarcely turn on my computer without Acts 29 popping up. Hardly any Southern Baptist Convention discussion goes any length without someone raising the specter of the dreaded Acts 29 Network.

Part of my retirement regimen is visiting churches, so I thought I might exhibit some steely resolve and take my silver pate to an Acts 29 church around here. There are several in the Atlanta area and one that is a short drive from me.

When I asked about the closest Acts 29 to me, I was informed that it had a Presbyterian affiliation and I already have a favorite Presbyterian church I have attended, so I have dropped the thought of trying to attend an Acts 29 church for now. I'm not sure they permit old dudes to attend, anyway.

But considering doing so reminded me that although I have heard and read innumerable SBCers complain about Acts 29 as if it is the source of many of the SBC woes, I don't know that I have ever heard a critic who has ever visited one of these churches, these ubiquitous and nefarious things that some say are the bane of our beloved denomination.


Acts 29's website mentions all of the grand sum of 400 churches in the US. There are thirteen listed as being in Georgia, three in Alabama, four in SC, and eleven in NC. Hardly a vast number.

Maybe we ought to look into Acts 29 and learn how such a small network of churches has such outsized influence in our denomination of over 45,000 churches.

Why all this complaining about Acts 29?

Aha, I'm told, there's that Acts 29/North American Mission Board connection.


There is?

Last year it was noted that a church listed on the Acts 29 website was a NAMB-supported church plant.

Really?

Yep.

And?

Curious, I asked and NAMB said that they only plant churches that conform to the Baptist Faith and Message Statement. Come to think of it, no one that I know of has pointed to a single NAMB plant that does not so conform.

Maybe SBCers ought to stop looking behind every tree and under every rock for Acts 29 churches and focus on the real problems in the SBC - seriously declining Cooperative Program giving and declining baptisms.

But then it is one of our favorite sports and such fun to find things to demonize.

12 comments:

Rick Patrick said...

Perhaps it would be helpful to consider all 400 Acts 29 churches and ask how many of them are Presbyterian (like the one you almost visited) and how many of them are Southern Baptist.

This might give us a clue as to which denominational perspective truly matches their theology most closely.

William said...

Rick, you can have that job along with the job of finding a single NAMB funded, A29 affiliated church that is not in conformance with the BFM.

Take a Sunday off and visit one of the three in your state. I suggest that you wear a disguise and use a false name. ;)

Rick Patrick said...

I took a few moments to scan the FOUR Acts 29 churches in Alabama--one is indeed lurking (not behind a rock or under a tree) but beneath the other map pin in Huntsville.

One is Baptist. Two appear clearly non-denominational. The last one mentions some Baptist support in their history but no formal ties.

From this brief review I can only conclude: (1) they do not seem to be largely Presbyterian in Alabama, and (2) they do not make it very easy for you to know their denominational affiliation.

Interestingly, none of them really hides their affiliation with Acts 29 the way they hide their affiliation with denominations. It is almost as if this connection is the one of which they are most proud. Most of them describe the A29 church planting process on their site. They seem to be saying: "What kind of church are we? We're an Acts 29 church!"

It is no stretch to say they have an "Acts 29 Identity."

Howell Scott said...

William,

Concerning Acts 29, I don't have a problem per se with autonomous churches choosing to affiliate with whatever outside group that they so choose. While there are certain boundaries, which, if breached, would cause a disruption in fellowship (i.e., affilating with the Alliance of Baptists and other pro-gay rights groups), I do not view Acts 29 as such. I have visited an Acts 29 church a few months ago. In fact, it is now THE face of Acts 29 -- The Village Church in Dallas.

Even at 45, I was way,way over the demographic, I nevertheless was blessed by the worship service, although it would not be the kind of church that would appeal to me on a regular basis. That they were reaching scores of young adults in their 20s and 30s is something to be commended.

Where I and others, unlike you, have a problem is with NAMB funding Acts 29 church plants. As I am learning, how NAMB will be funding "sending churches" who, in turn, fund these church plants, is a complicated and not alway easy to discern process. Therefore, NAMB can rightfully claim that they only support church plants who adhere to the BF&M because they are funding "sending churches" which have so affirmed the confessional statement.

I have not delved too deeply into this labyrinth because I don't have the time and because things are not as clear now as they will become in the months ahead. One thing lost in this discussion is something that Rick touched on, namely churches which seem to have an "Acts 29 Identity" as opposed to perhaps an SBC identity (although this could change if the nickname "GCB" is adopted this June -- which I hope is soundly defeated). Acts 29 styles itself as a network, not a denomination. All of its supporters in the SBC see it as a network, not a denomination. However, just because something is identified as a network does not mean that it could not also be a denomination or at least denomination-like. And, therein lies the problem.

If Acts 29 is more akin to a denomination -- with churches who contribute to its mission and who self-identify with their name -- then I think we have an even more foundational problem with the so-called NAMB/SBC and Acts 29 "partnership." Do we have a denomination within a denomination? Do we have certain megachurches and entity heads who ARE exerting more influence than their numbers would dictate? I know that you are very much in favor of the direction that NAMB is headed, but there are still unanswered questions with their relationship to the State Conventions and with how they are funding church plants. Acts 29 will continue to be an integral part of that discussion. Sorry I got so long-winded, but you know how lawyers-turned-pastors can be :-) Have a great day and God bless,

Howell

Kevin said...

William,
ACTS 29 is not an enemy of Christianity, but neither is it a model that many SBC churches would be comfortable with in regards to their ecclesiology & soteriology. I studied this issue a couple of years ago and checked the cooperative giving of the dually aligned SBC + ACTS 29 churches and from the results, I found that there is a MINIMAL financial commitment overall to the SBC causes of these dually aligned churhes. That is certainly the prerogative of any SBC church, but if cooperative money is being used to start a church that will "grow up" to become a inactive SBC church, is that what we want? Presumably , we start SBC churches b/c we believe in what and Who the SBC represents. There are good things about ACTS 29, but don't kid yourself if you think there are not legitimate differences that Southern Baptists see in ACTS 29 which they cannot endorse as worthy of replication.

William Thornton said...

I appreciate hearing from someone who has actually been in an a29 church.

What is the basis upon which we may object here? Not doctrine, although folks generally point to soteriology, but not to say it violates the bfm. On cooperation or future cooperation, NAMB has standards here if we're taking about funding. If not, then very little is required to be a cooperating SB church. We can all point to churches whose level of cooperation we think to be insufficient but have no valid basis for declaring these not to be SBC churches.

It became a bit wearisome to me to continually have a29 declared to be a problem yet no one points to definitive evidence for doing so.

I appreciate the comments and am still looking for one NAMB funded, a29 affiliated church that is nonconforming to the BFM.

Howell, you need evidence on NAMB funding sending churches as a way of finessing the question.

Joshua said...

William,

Thanks for being a voice of reason in the A29-SBC conversation.

I will be waiting for Rick to find those A29 churches that don't conform to the BFM2000 and yet still receive NAMB funding. :)

sola396 said...

Kevin,

Regarding your point about minimal financial commitments of SBC/Acts29 Churches 2 years ago, I have to wonder about a few things:

1) Were these Churches you examined funded by NAMB or just merely affiliated with the SBC?

2) What specific percentages were these Churches giving - what constitutes "minimal commitment" in your view?

3) Have you checked their financial commitment since that time and has it increased, decreased, or stayed the same?

4) Did you compare the Acts 29 Churches' CP giving with others' in their association?

5) Did you compare the Acts 29 Churches' CP giving with other SBC-affiliated Church plants? Those funded by NAMB? Those simply affiliated with the SBC?


Having known a few Church planters who affiliated with the SBC, a couple of which got a "minimal commitment" from NAMB in the past (approx. $400/month), I can say that it is pretty common to give 1-2% back during the early years. The Churches that were examined need to be considered in light of where they were in the plant process and what level (if any) of commitment NAMB made to them. Otherwise, there is no context in which to understand comments like "minimal commitment".

sola396 said...

Howell,

Regarding your concern over Churches having an Acts 29 identity as opposed to an SBC identity, I have to wonder why you are worried about these now and previously have said nothing about many, many other younger Churches who do not primarily identify as Southern Baptists (or even Baptists for that matter).

We have a couple of Churches around my area that are affiliated with the SBC, who give little to nothing to the CP, who have almost no identifying markers of being SBC on their website and in their Church, and who did indeed receive previous funding from NAMB. I have seen this same thing in every city I have lived in for the past 15 years (5 different places). I could rattle off at least 3 very large Churches who grew in recent years after being NAMB supported plants in the early 2000's. None would primarily (or even barely) identify with the SBC - and each gives little to nothing to the CP.

So I wonder why the concern now about NAMB and not previously. At least now it appears that NAMB is requiring much more commitment than in the past and Acts 29 Churches (at least the SBC ones I know) do indeed want to be a greater part of the SBC. It just seems like a double standard here.


D.R. Randle
(sorry I posted from my other gmail account)

Jonathan said...

So let me make sure I understand, one of the primary concerns about SBC churches that are also affiliated with Acts29 is their low CP support?

Does this mean that the SBC megas who essentially have a monopoly on the top SBC institutional, agency, and trustee position have now increased their own churches CP giving near 10%? I'm going to guess that the answer is "no".

An unintended consequence of decades of conservative leaders of the SBC coming from churches who barely give to the CP is that the standard for giving has now so low that the CP can no longer sustain what we, collectively, want it to sustain.

Trying to make this an issue in the Acts29 discussion just comes off as something between sour grapes and pathetic.

Anonymous said...

Just came across this blog while searching for something completely unrelated...thought I'd submit at least a different perspective on the subject, albeit a perspective that is not deeply knowledgeable in matters of SBC relations.

I have been attending A29 churches for 4 years now, starting with what one commenter referred to as the "face" of A29, The Village in Dallas, TX. I have to say, first, that although there are a large number if 20/30 somethings at that church, I can attest first hand that there are an almost EQUAL number of 40+ members, as well. In a sea of faces, it might be hard to recognize, but it truly is a mixed age group, as are almost all the A29 churches I've visited. I know that A29 puts an emphasis on the wisdom and guidance that comes from those who have been walking this walk far longer than a 20-something has.

My "input" into this particular post is that I have also heard much grumbling amongst my SBC friends regarding A29 churches, and it's baffling to me. The A29 Network requires an extensive and exhaustive process to be sponsored through them, and that process is set into place in order to solidify as much as is humanly possible whether or not the leadership of a new church plant is fundamentally rooted in sound biblical theology. Why you will find a handful of Presby's in this mix (and I do stress a handful, as the proper majority of A29 churches are non-denominational, seconded by Baptist affiliation) is because the network strives to keep the main thing the main thing: is the Gospel being understood and demonstrated clearly and correctly, and are the secondary areas of theology (or the "open-handed" areas of our faith) being given their proper place of importance? Isn't that what we should all be striving for? This has been my experience across the board with A29, and whether Baptist, Pres, or any other denomination, with all their differences in practice, every A29 church exemplifies the truth in Christ Jesus our Savior, and all that that truth entails. Praise God for that!!

Anonymous said...

I found this conversation interesting in that the author and the vast majority of posters are entirely ignorant of Acts 29 and how they conflict with the majority of SBC churches.
Primarily, the objections would come on moral grounds. I have visited The Village Church in Dallas and will only tell you what I personally know of them.

First, Matt Chandler, the preaching pastor, tends to use crass language that is out of place in the pulpit. I was present at one service on church planting and missions where Matt told the congregation, "If you aren't sharing Christ with your neighbors I don't know what the hell you are doing here."
Such profanity is absolutely unacceptable and would not be acceptable with the majority of SBC churches.

Second, there is an obsession with alcohol. Matt Chandler has announced from the pulpit "We drink light beer at The Village." The staff has told members about drinking hard liquor at staff retreats and my brother, who is a member of the church, personally witnessed one of their elders publicly intoxicated. The staff is known to congregate at bars and revel with members. There is an atmosphere of openly embracing of revelry, carousing and drunkenness. This is true of Acts 29 churches across the country. Church sponsored movie nights that showed nudity, holding church parties where alcohol is served and even church functions at bars. This is not something Acts 29 hids and can easily be verified.

Fourth, unlike the vast majority of SBC churches, The Village ecclesiology is far more elder driven that congregational.

Fifth, they strong Calvinists and moderate/liberal theologically. Before I knew anything about Act 29 I spoke with them about planting a church. They wanted to know if I agreed with all 5 points of Calvinism and if not I had to explain why. That is WAY off track from SBC churches. On the other hand, they never asked a single question about where I stood on Biblical inerrancy. After looking through their network everyone of them are moderate/liberal theologically. They are the new crowd of moderates within the BGCT and SBC who do not hold to Biblical inerrancy.

This is what I have observed from The Village and my conversations about planting through Acts 29