Monday, November 10, 2014

Is NAMB planting vast numbers of Calvinistic churches....

...and, if this is true, should Southern Baptists be concerned?

There has been and is this narrative afoot in our Convention: Calvinists are too numerous, have become too powerful, occupy too many leadership positions, occupy too many pulpits, exercise too much influence, and steps should be taken to slow or stop this Calvinist train.

This is a Gospel Narrative to some in our convention and it colors how this group sees our entities and decisions by our trustees.

For example, our North American Mission Board has this nascent church planting program called Send North America. It is highly successful in attracting interest from ministers who may feel called to plant a church and from churches that wish to sponsor or assist in church planting. Arguably, SNA is the most successful program of any type active in SBC life. Certainly no program has generated the levels of enthusiasm and participation as has SNA.

Aha, there are critics. But then, we are Southern Baptists and this is the Southern Baptist Convention where someone will be found to argue the proposition that the sun rises in the east and complain about Mom and apple pie.

Here's the criticism: NAMB favors Calvinistic church planters and is planting churches that aren't really Southern Baptist churches but rather are stealth Reformed churches.

My friend Rick Patrick is one such NAMB critic. His recent post on SBCToday, NAMB Trustees Deny Partnerships is built on the thesis that NAMB is "co-partnering" with non-SBC networks to plant "hybrid" churches rather than "pure" SBC churches and that this "co-denominational" and "cross-denominational" church planting. NAMB, Rick asserts, is denying such partnership mainly by choosing not to know relevant relationships maintained by church plants sponsored by NAMB. NAMB maintains that they only partner with the 42 Baptist state conventions. I give Rick credit for building his case with an array of trigger words like "hybrid," "cross-" and "co-denominational." At least he avoided the real snarl term, "ecumenical."

But, that aside, how about some evidence please, Rick?

In the past couple of years NAMB critics could point to a couple of NAMB plants who admitted to being part of the ACTS29 church planting network. Hardly, a movement, even if one presumes something nefarious about a church being a NAMB plant and also connected to ACTS29 in some fashion.

NAMB did a study. They said in their response to Rick's inquiry asking NAMB to disclose church planting partners that they had done a "voluntary survey" of their 2500 or so church planters and found 30 were affiliated with ACTS29. I asked NAMB about this, since the language sounded odd. What they did was compare their list of planters to ACTS29's website. They found 30, hardly a vast number.

Here's the kind of church NAMB plants, and no other kind of church:

  • A church that affirms the Baptist Faith and Message.
  • A church that gives at least 6% (above the SBC average) to the Cooperative Program and at least 10% to missions.
  • A church that has an SBC sponsor church.
  • A church with a pastor/planter vetted by faithful Southern Baptists.
So, what about all those Calvinists and Calvinistic churches? 

NAMB doesn't screen out Calvinists. They have no basis for doing so. But if a prospective church planter is evaluated and red flags arise about excessive Calvinism (I call this individual the "foaming at the mouth Calvinist" and have been around a few) they will stop the process in the same way judgments are made about other similar issues. It's necessarily a subjective process.

Rick, and no doubt others, long for an option to direct giving to "pure" SBC churches, those unsullied by partnerships with ACTS29 or other groups. This is problematic. The SBC is a mix of theologies within the framework of the BFM. A "pure" SBC church may well be Calvinistic or it may be Traditionalist or it may be some of both. 

Is it expected or demanded that NAMB further refine Southern Baptist theology to reach a level of purity acceptable to Rick Patrick and other like-minded people? 

Of course not. They would violate their charter were they to do so.

But should NAMB eschew supporting any church that refuses to be wed to NAMB as their only betrothed partner, cling to NAMB alone, and forsake all others? 

I think this unworkable. Churches may have many relationships. A sponsoring church may be an ethnic church that has affiliation with a group in addition to the SBC. At the moment you can certainly be an SBC church and also be affiliated with National Baptists or other groups. We don't ask. This can be messy. I don't think exclusivity will tidy it up.

Should NAMB put in place policies of exclusivity. Would not then Rick's favored network, Connect 316, cause him to be hoist on his own petard and thereby unacceptable to NAMB?   

Let's be more pointed here. Should NAMB offer a funding option that plants only churches that have adopted the non-SBC (the SBC in annual session has never adopted the statement) Traditionalist Statement? 

Of course not. 

We expect NAMB to plant churches that affirm the BFM.

I recognize that the SBC has had, does have and always will have fault lines. This is one and this happens to be a place where it comes to the surface, where there is some friction, where there is some heat, and where good Baptists disgree.  

So be it. No one should be faulted for raising issues and asking questions. It's our birthright to do so.

Issues raised should be addressed. It is incumbent on NAMB to evaluate their plants over time to see if the church plants in which we invest our dollars remain as Southern Baptist churches. This isn't a new issue. There has always been a problem of church plants defecting after funding ends. NAMB should have evaluation tools in place to avoid this. I think that they do.

Questions that are asked of our entities should be answered. After all, they work for us. I've found NAMB to be responsive when I have had questions. I'd encourage my friend Rick to continue to ask, to feel free to disagree, but to perhaps consider dropping what looks a lot like a position of default negativity towards NAMB. Such might be more productive.

We are, after all, on the same side. 

1 comment:

nate millican said...

This was a great article - thanks for writing this

Nate Millican