A confession: I generally really like the Acts 29 Network. They're a pretty good denomination. I prefer them over the United Methodists. I prefer them over the United Church of Christ churches. I prefer them over the PCUSA. Yes, I prefer nearly any Baptist denomination over the Acts 29 Network, but as non-Baptist denominations go, Acts 29 is definitely in the upper few percentiles of quality.
In fact, I believe that there are several things that many of our Southern Baptist leaders need to learn from the Acts 29 Network:
Denominations ought to be confessional communities. Do you want to be a member church of the Acts 29 denomination? Then your church will have to be in agreement with their statement of faith. This is also the principle at work in my state convention, the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. A church can only be a member congregation of the SBTC if that church affirms its agreement with the Baptist Faith & Message. This is not presently the case within the Southern Baptist Convention—churches can disagree entirely with the BF&M and yet still be member churches of the SBC.
Our confessional identity need not go as far as that of Acts 29. They require a particular viewpoint on the question of soteriology in order to participate in their network. I think that the present text of the BF&M says all that needs to be said about soteriology, and I would not be in favor of tightening that deliberately vague portion of our statement of faith, but every Southern Baptist church ought to be in agreement with the BF&M as far as it goes.
To have a confessional community of churches is no violation of local church autonomy. Part and parcel of the autonomy of each local church is its autonomous right to choose which churches, and which kinds of churches, are those with which it will affiliate. We've always had conditions of membership, and these have not been considered by Southern Baptists to be violations of local church autonomy. It has always been thus with money: Autonomously decide to cut the SBC entirely out of your church budget? We'll send you along your merry autonomous way.
We ought to be prepared to value our theology at least as much as we value our money.
- Ecclesiology is important enough for our churches to take a stand on it. The first requirement of the Acts 29 Covenant is an ecclesiological requirement. I do not believe that their particular understanding of ecclesiology is the best understanding of biblical ecclesiology (as is often the case when I interact with non-Baptist denominations like Acts 29), but I agree entirely with them that ecclesiology is important enough to the health of a church that we are wise to stipulate and enforce ecclesiological convictions within our fellowship.
- There's nothing wrong with restricting membership in our denomination to only those who care about it enough to support it financially. The Acts 29 Covenant rightly recognizes freeloading as a sinful habit to which churches are sometimes tempted. Acts 29 churches give 10% of their receipts away. There are benchmarks for how much of that money they ought to give through Acts 29. There are strong suggestions that Acts 29 efforts should have a better-than-average chance of earning the full 10%. That's what Acts 29 ought to do. It only makes sense. I don't know why the SBC wouldn't consider doing the same thing.
- Promoting our own heroes within our denomination is essential to our long-term health. Some decry Acts 29 as a hero cult—the house that the Cussing Pastor built. I think that's a misguided criticism, as though denominational heroes are a bad thing. When all of your young pastors' heroes are people outside of your denomination, then your denomination is in trouble. That's why the Southern Baptist Convention ought to work deliberately to highlight the ministries of men who are comfortable within and committed to the Southern Baptist Convention. Specifically, we need to advance leaders who are not double-minded as to whether the Southern Baptist Convention is their preferred Great Commission alliance.
- Conservative theology builds strong churches. With Peter Masters, I agree that conservative behavior coupled with conservative theology will do even better, but I'm thankful that Acts 29 is a conservative group in its theology, as other denominations go. As our SBC nominations process slowly slips its conservative moorings that were solidly in place just a few years ago, we would do well to learn from Acts 29 not to be ashamed or reluctant about the conservative stands that we were once willing not only to talk about but also to put into actual practice.
This list of accolades may seem to be coming from a strange source—you might have easily concluded in the past that I regard Acts 29 as Enemy Number One. What am I doing writing a post praising Acts 29 and urging Southern Baptists to learn from them?
Well, the fact is that I've never harbored hard feelings against Acts 29. I just recognize that Acts 29 is another denomination of churches, outside of the Southern Baptist Convention. Compared to anyone who would make the Southern Baptist Convention a wholly owned subsidiary of Acts 29, that makes me look like an Acts 29 hater. But that's just a function of juxtaposition, and not a good, absolute measure of my feelings.
Acts 29 churches are preaching the gospel. People are now going to Heaven rather than Hell because of Acts 29 (and Acts 29 believes that Hell exists). Acts 29 is planting churches at an admirable rate. Bravo for them. We could learn a lot from them, and as long as we learn the right things from them, we could be much better off for it.