Congratulations to the Acts 29 Network for selecting a President in Matt Chandler who is altogether less controversial than Mark Driscoll. The issues with Mark’s explicit visions, his edgy sex book, and the church discipline controversy seems to have provided a lot of baggage that this organization did not need. I am certain that these factors would not be cited by leaders as reasons for the change, but the move to Dallas and the transition in leadership can only help this organization to become more acceptable both in Southern Baptist life and in the evangelical world at large. While I have no problem with the latter, the former troubles me.
Have you ever seen one of those cheesy science fiction movies where the aliens take over the earth one body at a time as they either (1) possess the souls of existing humans on earth, or (2) transform their appearance so they pass for men and women when they are really something else? It’s an insidious form of infiltration that goes unnoticed until it is too late and they have completely taken over.
Southern Baptists, they walk amongst us. While our Southern Baptist rules allow ministers and congregations the freedom to hold either of the two major soteriological positions, Acts 29 rules strictly require that they adhere only to one. While there are certainly other clear differences between Acts 29 and traditional Southern Baptists in areas such as methodology, ecclesiology, hermeneutics and cultural engagement, it is this one primary rule that requires unyielding conformity to a specific salvation doctrine that appears to “stack the deck” in favor of the growing influence of Acts 29 churches within the Southern Baptist Convention.
To extend the metaphor, consider other denominations as civilizations living on other planets who are also being infiltrated by the Acts 29 aliens. Because they do not define themselves as one denomination, separate from the others, even though they possess their own leadership, their own literature, their own training and educational conferences, their own church planting process, their own specific doctrinal requirements, and all the other marks that define a denomination, they are able to infiltrate existing churches as well as plant new churches among many different denominations simultaneously.
Although it is not my intention to incite, this next analogy may do exactly that. When I compare traditional denominations to the existing sovereign nations on earth and liken Acts 29 to a terrorist network, I am certainly not speaking of their functional intent–these are brothers who are truly sharing the gospel–but only of their organizational structure. Just like a terrorist network contains infiltrating cells within a variety of nations while preserving their primary allegiance for the terrorist organization itself, Acts 29 churches appear to enjoy carte blanche in forming their own “denomination without walls.”
Since their organizational structure as a network will never wall themselves off as a separate denomination, the only way in which any boundary for their organization can ever truly be set is if the existing denominations themselves wall off Acts 29 churches, declaring them to be the denomination they so fervently insist they are not. Unless denominations are willing to do this, the Acts 29 Network will grow unhindered within several denominations simultaneously.
I believe this is a house divided, which as we know, cannot stand. It is not that I wish the Acts 29 Network any harm. If they called themselves a denomination tomorrow, allowing every member to “choose ye this day” whether they wanted to be Southern Baptist or Acts 29, I would consider them with the same collegial feelings of goodwill which I currently hold for the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Evangelical Free churches and everyone else.
But as they are currently structured, I am concerned that their presence within the Southern Baptist Convention creates a denomination within a denomination, dividing our loyalties and possibly consuming some of our assets, such as church buildings, missions funding and, most importantly, the future young leaders of our denomination.
As I understand it, the new President of the Acts 29 Network was highly involved in the creation of our newest denominational Sunday School curriculum. He has preached in our seminaries and will gain even more access within Southern Baptist life than Mark Driscoll ever could. The Acts 29 Network is alive and growing within our denomination. If I seem a bit threatened by this, it is only because I disagree with enough of their theology and methodology to discern that Acts 29 and traditional Southern Baptist churches are simply not on the same page.
Just as Muslims embark upon both public holy wars and the more secretive infiltration of cultural subversion, religious denominations are subject to the same threats. While the liberalism a generation ago was a “holy war” fought over inerrancy, today we face the more illusive threat of subversion from within as the Acts 29 Network grows stronger and larger inside of us.
If you seek evidence for this growing influence of the Acts 29 Network upon Southern Baptists, consider that NAMB is transforming itself into an Acts 29 styled church planting network. A couple of our seminaries are strongly aligned with Acts 29. Lifeway appears absolutely smitten. Being fond of my retirement account, if they ever take over Guidestone, I suppose I’ll just have to convert, embrace all five points, read more Piper, preach in jeans, talk about meta-narratives, attend boot camps and use the word “gospel” to describe everything. I’ll eat a gospel breakfast, drive my gospel car and mow my gospel lawn.
Only God knows whether Matt Chandler is destined one day to become the new Adrian Rogers, but if he does, he will do it on a platform not of biblical inerrancy and cultural conservatism, but of Five Point Calvinism and cultural contextualization. While this entire post may deeply offend my Acts 29 brothers, I would simply ask that you try to understand my personal struggle with our changing Southern Baptist identity. From my perspective at least, the rising influence of Acts 29 upon our denomination seems, for lack of a better word…alien.