As some of you may have seen, in December 2007 there was quite a commotion caused about certain SBC churches mixing “beer with [their] Bible.” This was occurring in various ways, through Bible studies being hosted at bars, poker nights with BYOB notices, or simply just an open policy about a Christians right to brew and consume adult beverages. Many of these churches, it happened, also shared another common bond besides their affinity for alcohol: they were funded by the Acts 29 Church Planting Network.
For those of you who don’t know, Acts 29 is a loose association of church planters and church plant mentors who work together to plant churches with a commitment to “rock-solid theology and contextualizing the gospel.” The network was founded by controversial Seattle-based pastor Mark Driscoll and, though not large (particularly compared with the size of NAMB), is nonetheless increasingly influential in the area of young church planters. One distinctive trait that is not required of Acts 29 churches, but many seem to gravitate towards, is the idea of being theologically conservative and culturally liberal. This appears to be where the rub with the SBC came.
Following a report highlighting “Theology at the Bottleworks,” a theological discussion held in a bar with drinks available and hosted by Acts 29 and SBC affiliated The Journey out of St. Louis, MO, the Missouri Baptist Convention decided it was time to make some changes (see article in BP). In December of 2007 they passed a resolution stating that
“Effective Jan 1, The Acts 29 Network is an organization with which the MBC Exec[utive] [Board] Staff will not be working, supporting, or endorsing in any manner at anytime.”
“While recognizing the autonomous nature of all areas of MBC life beyond that of the Executive Board Staff, the MBC Executive Board directs the Church Planting Department and other ministry departments to NOT provide [Cooperative Program] dollars toward those affiliated with the Acts 29 Network.”
Thus, as of January 1, 2008 it was decided that the MBC could no longer support any church plant who was also receiving support from the Acts 29 network.
Missouri Baptists & Acts 29: One Year Later
In the aftermath of the brief uproar surrounding these decisions there has not been much said, so this past week I contacted the MBC to see if they had any follow-up about how the implementation and enforcement of this policy went. I spoke with Jerry Field, State Director for Church Planting with the MBC and he informed me that there really had not been much to report since this motion was passed. He said that in the end only two existing churches had been affected by this, with one choosing to withdraw its membership from the MBC. Moreover, he reiterated that this was simply a decision about financial support and that Acts 29 churches are welcome in the MBC and will be treated the same as any other church in the state convention. Personally, I was encouraged to hear that this was not a bloody conflict in Missouri and that after much hoopla in the beginning things had settled out fairly nicely.
However, this still does not comfort me on the larger scale and I will tell you why. In my opinion, there is no reason why animosity should exist between any SBC entity and a network with the commitment to biblical fidelity like Acts 29. As time goes on I feel that people within the SBC are digging in on alcohol and other culturally conservative positions (homeschooling, entertainment, etc.) without taking into consideration to what extent the Bible actually speaks on these issues. This is not a call to antinomian Christian liberty, but I do believe that the SBC is doing itself a disservice, particularly in the area of planting and new works, by trying to export the culture of the Old South to the four corners of the United States and beyond. Awhile back the question was raised about whether having ‘Southern’ in our name hinders our work outside of the South, but I think the bigger issue is how our cultural ignorance and possible biblical legalism hinders our ability to be taken seriously in a culture that does not reflect the conservative neighborhoods of Nashville, TN.
Sure, the issue in Missouri seems to have passed without much damage, but my fear is that there is still an underlying tension between Acts 29 and the SBC which, if not treated with discernment and eyes to the Bible over our own preferences, may wind up in a group of energetic, young, biblically sound churches, something the SBC needs badly at this point, being black-balled from SBC life because they have not found the verse that says “Thou shalt not drink or listen to rock music.” If we stay in the South we’ll be fine, but if our desire is to see the Great Commission brought to all peoples everywhere we may need to step outside of our comfort zone a little, which is a step I have yet to see many in the SBC willing to take.
et’s pick a name that has God’s love for the Nations in mind!
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