Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Learning Some Lessons from the Acts 29 Network

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

35 comments:

sola396 said...

Bart,

As a Southern Baptist who has many friends in the Acts 29 Network (actually just attended a friend's A29 Church in Memphis while on vacation last week - Christ City) and has defended them against attacks by fellow Southern Baptists, I appreciate your words here greatly and hope that many will read them (particularly Acts 29 critics who miss the fact that Acts 29 Churches are successfully seeing people saved and utilized in Kingdom work).

But I do take issue with your use of the word "denomination" to describe the network. I don't think this accurately reflects them and I think they would say the same thing. Acts 29 is a Church Planting Network which has Churches in various denominations (and some that are non-denominational). But I think you already know that. So why the use of this term to describe Acts 29?

D.R. said...

Bart, sorry, but I signed in under the wrong Blogger account. My comment is above.

Ron P. said...

Bart,

Agreed. Especially that each point you accentuates attests to the fact that Acts29 is in fact a denomination. Therefore Annie and Lottie offerings need to stay away from any other denomination, including Acts 29.

Blessings,

Ron P.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother D.R.

I appreciate your words here greatly and hope that many will read them (particularly Acts 29 critics who miss the fact that Acts 29 Churches are successfully seeing people saved and utilized in Kingdom work)

I presume I may be one that you have in mind in your statement. Allow me to express to you my position on my Acts 29 critiques of the past.
You might have easily concluded in the past that I regard Acts 29 as Enemy Number One. 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.

I pray this clears up, for you and others, my feelings on Acts 29.

Brother Bart,

Thanks for this post. I couldn't agree more. Also, I pray you do not mind me using your words as mine. I could not have articulated such a position better.

Blessings,
Tim

Bart Barber said...

D. R.,

Thanks for clearing up the posting-identity thing. I can't wait to find out what the 396 solas are. ;-)

The phenomenon of a denomination that vehemently denies being a denomination is actually fairly commonplace in the study of Christian History. It touches denominations as old as Roman Catholicism. The followers of Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone generally have avoided identifying themselves as a denomination. Many Baptist groups have rejected the words "denomination" and "Protestant" to describe themselves. The CBF denies that they are a denomination. Southern Baptists frequently say that the SBC is not a denomination.

This just happens a lot. Denominations deny that they are denominations. A denomination cannot cease to be a denomination by merely declining the terminology, any more than I can cease to be tall by sitting down.

Several definitions of "denomination" have been attempted down through the years. Acts 29 meets the criteria not only of my preferred definition but also of every definition that I have seen.

volfan007 said...

Bart,

This was a very interesting read, and it mostly embodies what I believe in this matter. Thanks for being the scholar that you are.

David

kman said...

sola396,

The dictionary defines a denomination as a "recognized autonomous branch of the Christian Church." A29 is a denomination. Here's some ways they are like the SBC denomination:

A29 has a statement of beliefs; SBC has BF&M.

A29 has theological education through Re:Train; SBC has seminaries.

A29 has missions/evangelism/church planting; SBC has IMB & NAMB.

A29 calls for financial cooperation among A29 churches; SBC has cooperative program.

A29 has books & discipleship curriculum through Re:Lit; SBC has LifeWay.

For these reasons, I would consider them a denomination.

D.R. said...

Bart,

It seems you are defining "denomination" in the broadest of terms and using it quite loosely. In applying it to Acts 29, you appear to almost be using it in a pejorative manner and at least one of your commenters picked up on a way to exclude any CP moeny from those affiliated with it on the basis of this broad brush stroke.

The fact is that most people use the term to speak of a group of Churches that are either traditional top-down "denominations" or bottom-up "conventions" (such as the SBC and CBF and many other Baptist groups). Acts 29 fits neither of these models as it holds no real accountability over its affiliate Churches and those Churches have no control over the network (thus it functions more like any other Evangelical ministry which you would not call a denomination).

Calling Acts 29 a denomination also undercuts their unique status as a "transdenominational" network (their word). Most Acts 29 Churches I've witnessed are affiliated with an established denomination such as the SBC, PCA, or EFCA.

All this begs the question - if they call themselves "transdenominational", why do you seem so adamant about labeling them a denomination? Is it for the same reason that Ron P. does? Because it is a reason not to allow CP money to go to fund autonomous Church plants that choose to affiliate with Acts 29?

D.R. said...

kman,

Allow me to address your comments about the supposed similarity of Acts 29 to the SBC.

1) Acts 29 does not have an official Statement of Faith like the BF&M. As such the Churches do not decide on the tenets of a Statement of Faith and thus have no ability or need to alter a non-existent statement of faith (unlike the BF&M, The Westminster, the Concordia, or The Articles of Religion). Acts 29 claims only to be broadly Reformed, elder-led, Complementarian, and focused on Church planting. Otherwise, they are in agreement with the broad Statement of Faith of the National Association of Evangelicals.

2) & 5) Re:Train and Re:Lit are elements of The Resurgence, which is a ministry of Mars Hill Church and not affiliated with the Acts 29 Network.

3) The purpose of the network is to assist in Church Planting - not evangelism or missions. They do no evangelism or missions. Only the autonomous local Churches of Acts 29 do these things. Additionally, the Network does not plant Churches. They only offer training and assessment for candidates and then approve those planters for affiliated Churches do decide whether to assist or not. This is very much unlike the SBC and most of other denominations/conventions, which work through pooled money and who make decisions on funding apart from local Churches.

4) Expanding upon #3, the Network asks for voluntary donations (of 1% of offerings) from affiliated Churches (but do not require them). They do not use this money to plant Churches however. They use it only to run the Network. Much like how Samaritans Purse asks for donations to run its offices. Again, this is completely different from the Cooperative Program. In fact, from what I understand, some of the 10% the Network asks its Churches to designate toward Church Planting could absolutely go toward Cooperative Program endeavors (those related to Church Planting).

So in the end, the Acts 29 is wholly different from the SBC and any other denomination / convention. To use those terms to describe Acts 29 is to stretch their contemporary usage and distort the real nature of the network. It may also be used as a pretext to deny financial assistance to any Church Plants that dare autonomously affiliate with any entity but the SBC.

Bart Barber said...

D.R.,

God bless you, brother. You are a feat of nature. Is there any perspective you could not argue?!

Let's do it this way. You bring us any dictionary, handbook of denominations, or other credible academic source that defines the word "denomination"—it doesn't have to be the majority of them; it doesn't even have to be the best of them; just bring us any such definition at all along with citation—and for the scope of this discussion, we'll go with YOUR favorite definition of the word (other than one you've made up for the occasion) and see whether it applies.

Or, if not, I'm certainly not the one playing around with the definition of terms here.

Bart Barber said...

DR,

Since it appears that it may be a while before you are able to reply, and since I may not be able to check back for a day or so, while I'm awaiting your reply to my question I'll provide some interaction with your observations.

1. No particular form of polity is necessary to be considered a denomination. Roman Catholics are a denomination. Southern Baptists are a denomination. The Church of Christ churches are a denomination. The Quakers are a denomination.

2. Affiliational "monogamy" is not necessary to be considered a denomination. You yourself cited the CBF as a denomination, and yet the vast preponderance of CBF churches are also affiliated with another denomination. A substantial number of SBC predominantly-black churches are dually aligned. A growing number of SBC/SBTC churches are dually aligned with the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas. The affiliation of Acts 29 churches with other denominations does not mean that Acts 29 is not a denomination.

3. Confessional specificity is neither necessary for being a denomination nor is it necessary for being confessional. It strains credulity to suggest that Acts 29 has no statement of faith, when they list their statement of faith on their web site. It is not as long as the BF&M. It is not as specific as the BF&M. It is a statement of faith nonetheless. Having a statement of faith is not necessary in order to be a denomination (viz. CBF, ABC), but Acts 29 has a statement of faith.

4. It is fairly common in denominations (BMA, ABA) for individual churches in the denomination to provide denominational resources. If the resources are widely consumed by the member churches and are considered to be produced according to the doctrinal standards of the denomination, then it is common for them to be considered as denominational resources.

5. Church planting is not missions?

6. The Cooperative Program is far more voluntary than is the Acts 29 financial agreement. No particular financial agreement, however, is necessary for something to be recognized as a denomination. The Acts 29 arrangement would be nowhere near the least restrictive (nor most restrictive) financial arrangement inside a denomination.

sola396 said...

Bart,

Fortunately, it didn't take more than a Google search to find an authoritative source regarding denominations. How about the World Christian Encyclopedia by Barrett, Kurian, Johnson (Oxford Univ Press, 2nd edition, 2001) and then the Center for the Study of Global Christianity located at Gordon-Conwell Seminary that continually updates the list (it's up to at least 39,000 since publication).

This is their definition:

A denomination is defined in this Encyclopedia as an organized aggregate of worship centers or congregations of similar ecclesiastical tradition within a specific country; i.e. as an organized Christian church or tradition or religious group or community of believers, within a specific country, whose component congregations and members are called by the same denominational name in different areas, regarding themselves as one autonomous Christian church distinct from other denominations, churches and traditions.

I have put in an email to see if they would recognize Acts 29 as a denomination. One reason why I think they would not is because of the part of the definition I bolded. Notice that they state a denomination views itself as distinct from other denominations, churches, and traditions. Clearly Acts 29 does not view itself as distinct, but rather as a network that serves Churches of multiple denominations.

But I will concede my argument if indeed the Center notes that Acts 29 would be a denomination. The question is, "would you concede your terminology if such an authoritative source states that Acts 29 would not be a denomination?"

Bart Barber said...

D.R.,

You're in the other profile again! ;-)

If they do not classify Acts 29 as a denomination, then I would concede that it can be disputed whether Acts 29 is or is not a denomination.

Indeed, I would concede that Acts 29 is no more a denomination than the Southern Baptist Convention is. The SBC is full of churches that do not employ the name of the denomination in identifying themselves. The SBC does not regard itself as one autonomous Christian church.

The "distinct from other denominations, churches and traditions" is open to interpretation. If, by "distinct," the authors mean that membership in the denomination must be exclusive of membership in any other denomination, then a wide swath of groups normally recognized as denominations (see above comment by me on this point) have just been excluded. If, on the other hand, it simply means that, for example, an Acts 29 church would believe there to be distinctive attributes of Acts 29 churches, then I think I can make that case easily out of Acts 29's own materials.

I'll put in an email, too, asking whether they consider the Southern Baptist Convention to be a denomination, whether they consider Acts 29 to be a denomination, and if they have different answers for the two, at which point in their definition they see a differentiation between the two cases.

Finally, although we'll have to wait and see, if I were a wagering man I'd bet good money that Acts 29 will be listed in the next edition of the Handbook of Denominations in the United States.

D.R. said...

Bart,

As to your second comment, allow me to offer some response:

1) All of the denominations you listed as such do indeed have some sort of organizational polity. That's my point. Acts 29 does not. Under your view many Christian ministries would be considered denominations. Ministries like Samaritan's Purse and The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability would have to be declared denominations as well.

2) According to the World Christian Encyclopedia "monogamy" would not be a qualification but distinction and independence would be. Acts 29 is not a distinct denomination, but rather is "transdenominational". I think the Center for Global Christianity will agree, but again I will await the email.

3) Acts 29 does not have its own distinct doctrinal statement. The website notes that it is in agreement with the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals. One could say any Baptist state convention has a doctrinal statement, but they are not distinct and you wouldn't label each one a denomination.

4) That's nice Bart, but no where on the Acts 29 site is there even an endorsement of The Resurgence. They are two separate ministries that kman (and now you) have lumped together. Would it be accurate to say that John Piper's Bethlehem Baptist Church is a separate denomination simply because they sell their own resources and offer theological education to Churches that have been planted by Bethlehem members? Of course not.

5) Acts 29 doesn't plant Churches. They don't do missions. They don't do evangelism. They offer resources for Churches and planters. They assess candidates and make recommendations to Churches who offer financial aid to start new Churches. Again the Network doesn't plant Churches. They offer resources.

6) You missed the point here Bart. Kman's comment was that the Cooperative Program was similar to the Acts 29 Church Planting strategy. The two have little to nothing in common.


Finally, Bart, you seemed to ignore some previous questions that I believe should be answered:

If [Acts 29] call[s] themselves "transdenominational", why do you seem so adamant about labeling them a denomination? Is it for the same reason that Ron P. does? Because it is a reason not to allow CP money to go to fund autonomous Church plants that choose to affiliate with Acts 29?

Bart Barber said...

D.R.,

Allow me first to address that in which you accuse me of being remiss: The question of why I used the term denomination to refer to Acts 29.

I used it because I believe it is the accurate word to employ to describe the organization. This is my field of study, to which I have dedicated a considerable amount of time, effort, and other resources in my life. I have even presented a paper in a symposium on the subject of denominationalism. Acts 29 was not mentioned at all in the paper. I have interest in this topic apart from this one instance. Must I have a political agenda to be publishing in my field.

Furthermore, considering theological and lifestyle differences that exist between myself and Acts 29, I thought that this was a complimentary piece, to speak frankly. Yes, I have differences with Acts 29. Will nothing satisfy you other than to take a piece that does not mention those differences and to make certain that those differences become the focus of the comment thread?

Bart Barber said...

D.R.,

Churches do not make covenants and affirm statements of faith in order to work with Samaritan's Purse.

The Church of Christ has no polity or denominational structure. They were first acknowledged as a denomination when the U. S. Census Bureau declared them as such about a century ago. They still maintain that they are not a denomination.

I think it is also a stretch to call what the Quakers have any sort of "organizational polity," unless the absence of any organizational polity counts as an organizational polity.

It's late. I have to go to bed. Good night.

D.R. said...

Bart,

I wasn't trying to offend you in asking those questions. Rather, I asked them mainly because one of your commenters took what you said regarding Acts 29 as a denomination and made it into a reason to reject Acts 29 affiliated planters from NAMB consideration.

Additionally, you gave no reasoning in your original post regarding why you would label an organization a "denomination" when it has stated explicitly on its website that it is not a denomination. It just seems strange that you are so adamant about using the label and you have gone to some lengths to defend this terminology, despite clear differences between the Network and other recognized denominations.

Your explanation is helpful and does seem reasonable, but I am still concerned that this terminology could be used as a pretext to reject SBC Church planters who desire to independently affiliate with the network.

Finally, as for the aforementioned Handbook of Denominations in the United States, indeed the 13th edition, published in 2010 does mention the Acts 29 Network, but not as a denomination. Rather it is labelled a "Community Church", alongside of other Mega-Churches that have multiple campuses or affiliated Churches. It seems that the Handbook does make some distinction between these "Community Churches" and denominations. If you want to see it for yourself, it is available in Kindle format.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks! I hadn't seen the new edition yet. It doesn't surprise me that they are in there.

It does surprise me where they have been included. It almost looks like Atwood read our exchange and tried to keep to choosing sides. ;-)

The narrative introducing this "Community Church" section doesn't sound like Acts 29 at all, really (not committed to doctrine, disengaged from "social justice" questions, etc.).

When you look at the groups included, they have very little in common with one another, other than that Atwood didn't quite know what to do with them yet. I'd say that Atwood leaves us here:

1. Clearly, Atwood felt that he couldn't leave Acts 29 out of a Handbook of Denominations.

2. Clearly, Atwood didn't feel comfortable listing Acts 29 as a denomination in the Handbook of Denominations.

I'd say that Atwood sees both sides of the matter and would give us both a leg to stand on. It seems to me that I'm entitled to my opinion that they are a denomination and you are entitled to your opinion that they are not. History will likely vindicate one of us in the long run.

Anonymous said...

I think you all have been taking some kind of Rxs that are making you talk and write WACKY stuff. Come on and get real. Any group of churches that band together under like beliefs are a DENOMINATION! Plain and simple. Ask Jesus and He'll tell ya. Lol

D.R. said...

Bart,

Obviously I disagree that we both have a leg to stand on. Atwood spoke at length about megachurches as well and included them in his book, and I doubt anyone is going to call Bellevue Baptist in Memphis a denomination.

In either case, again my main concern is that the use of this term for Acts 29 could be used as a pretext for exclusion of funds for Church Plants that dare to associate with the network. Given that the Acts 29 network Churches have a 99%+ success rate, I would say we need to allow SBC planters to work with them if they desire. At least we can know that our money won't be wasted on unsuccessful plants, as it has in the past.

Bart Barber said...

D.R.,

Disagree all you like. I predicted that Acts 29 would appear in the next edition of this book, and they do. They are listed in a section for large churches, but they are not a church. Or are you arguing that the Acts 29 Network is a church (after you've explicitly said that they are not a church)?

Why would a researcher put a non-church into a section describing Community Churches? Because he doesn't quite know what to do with them.

This fits a historical pattern, and I guess I should have foreseen it. The Acts 29 Network is just like the Campbellite movement. They denied that they were a denomination for decades, although everyone agrees now that they are (and were) a denomination. Some researchers went along with them, valuing politeness over accuracy.

And then, finally, long after the reality was undeniable, the U. S. Census Bureau finally began to count them as a denomination in their religious survey about 100 years ago. Once the Census Bureau broke the ice, the flood came rushing out and everybody acknowledged what had long been the case, that the Church of Christ churches were indeed a denomination.

So, we've been here before. It is still very early. Acts 29 meets the definition of a denomination in every way. It meets the definition of a denomination that you yourself have submitted in every way. It is a denomination, regardless of whatever temporary sanctuary the illogical denial of this fact may find.

Bart Barber said...

D.R.,

Looking back, I see that have not yet articulated how Acts 29 meets the definition that you gave earlier. Pardon me for the oversight. Allow me to clarify.

If I understand you correctly, the bold section of the definition is the area in which you dispute that Acts 29 is a denomination. It appears to me that you are asserting three points of difference: (1) the "same denominational name" objection, (2) the "one autonomous Christian church" objection, and (3) the "distinct" objection. I will respond to each of these in turn.

First, the "same denominational name" objection. Acts 29 is known by the same name throughout the United States. The requirement is not that the member churches have to identify themselves prominently (or even at all) as members of the group, but simply that the member congregations, when they refer to their affiliation with the group, use the same name to do so even in different areas. In other words, if we had the "Georgia Acts 29 Network" on the one hand and the "Next Chapter of Acts in New England Network" on the other hand, and the churches were affiliated with those two networks but would not describe themselves as being affiliated with some umbrella national organization, then the Encyclopedia is not going to conjure up some umbrella national organization to which they are affiliated. The member churches have to identify themselves as being affiliated with the same organization.

Obviously, this is the case for Acts 29. Whether a church is in Baltimore or Bakersfield, if it is affiliated with Acts 29, it identifies itself as being affiliated with Acts 29.

Bart Barber said...

2. As to the "one autonomous Christian church" objection, you really have good ground to stand on. This ground is not based, unfortunately for you, on the nature of Acts 29, but instead on the insufficiency of the definition.

The list of denominations listed in the Encyclopedia that would not identify themselves as "one autonomous Christian church" is a mile long. Would either you or I identify the Southern Baptist Convention as "one autonomous Christian church"? I don't think so.

So, Acts 29 doesn't meet the letter of this element in the definition, but it is clear that the application of this definition doesn't take that portion of the language seriously, or if you would prefer to word it differently, that it is based upon a different ecclesiology than our own, which the researchers apply to groups like the SBC and Acts 29 regardless of our ecclesiological proclivities.

Bart Barber said...

3. Finally, as to the "distinct" objection, Acts 29 is a distinct organization. It is not a subunit of any existing denomination.

The "distinct" test is the reason why the Collin Baptist Association is not listed as a denomination. It meets all of the other criteria for being listed as a denomination, but it is not distinct from the Southern Baptist Convention. Rather, it consists (so far) only of other Southern Baptist congregations. It is a subunit of the SBC (although our polity would balk at describing it as such).

This is obviously not the situation with Acts 29. It cannot be described by or included within the statistics and descriptions of any other denomination. It is not a part of another denomination; it is a denomination unto itself, albeit one with a large number of churches, for the time being, that are dually aligned with other denominations.

Bart Barber said...

OK, so I think I've stated my case as fully as I know how. I'm content to leave it at that, and allow the truth or falsehood of the matter to be determined not by any hoped-for concession in this comment thread, but by the ensuing events of history, as it was the last time we had a conversation this lengthy.

D.R. said...

So Bart,

Having stated your case so fully now, are you ready to address my biggest objection to Acts 29 being labelled a denomination by you (in particular), which is that this could be used as a pretext to keep money from SBC Church planters who desire to affiliate with the network?

In your opinion, since you consider it a denomination and have so adamantly made this point (why you've gone to such lengths is still not clear, whereas I have made the purpose of my objections very clear), is your classification a reason to reject Church Planters who desire to affiliate or to disallow approved Church Planters from networking with Acts 29?

This is the crux of the issue for me and so far you have curiously not responded to any comments or questions I have made regarding this.

Bart Barber said...

D.R.,

What if I hold an opinion about that question, but desiring to be irenic in the spirit of this post, have chosen not to articulate it here? Does holding an opinion necessarily obligate one to share it upon demand?

Without delving into specific cases, I'll simply say this: I am in favor of SBC support going to any congregation that is convictionally Southern Baptist and values its affiliation with the SBC above its affiliation with anybody else.

Mark | hereiblog said...

Does this mean that the IMB and NAMB are their own denominations since, as I understand it, they each have their own criteria beyond what is required for being SBC?

Bart Barber said...

Mark,

IMB and NAMB would fail the "distinct" test, since they exist wholly within the auspices of the SBC, making them facets of that denomination.

Also, for any denomination, the theological requirements for drawing denominational paychecks are probably higher than the theological requirements for being a contributing member.

D.R. said...

Bart,

Your opinion on this does matter and I believe it should be shared since 1) you were the first person (possibly ever) to define Acts 29 as a denomination; 2) you have shown that you are adamant about using the term; 3) you have had comments on this post which reflect a use of the term as a means of disqualifying autonomous SBC Churches from receiving NAMB or IMB funding, and thus 4) it speaks to a potential further motivation on your part for this post and this terminology.

Bart, in all honesty, there's some evidence here to suggest this post is more in line with a backhanded compliment than pure, unmitigated praise. Speak well of Acts 29, but use terminology to undermine the ability of our autonomous SBC Church Plants to affiliate with them? Is that what is happening here? All I am asking is for you to put your cards on the table and reveal any conflict of interest you might have in using the terminology of "denomination" for Acts 29. If it's part of your potential reasoning for opposing NAMB money to autonomous SBC Church Plants who desire to affiliate with the network, then say so.

But regardless of whether you want to be open with your readers or not, your opinion on this does matter. And no amount of irenicism can make that point moot.


Finally, you said:

I am in favor of SBC support going to any congregation that is convictionally Southern Baptist and values its affiliation with the SBC above its affiliation with anybody else.

This to me seems quite vague. Can you offer some qualification as to what this looks like? Just seems like there are some dangerous potential implications here for local Church autonomy.

Bart Barber said...

D.R.,

"Denomination" is not an insult, at least not to me. I am not a post-denominationalist. I have written and presented a paper, later published as a chapter in a book, in which I have defended as good and biblical the idea of a denomination of churches. This is not a backhanded compliment. In my opinion, the denominational status of Acts 29 is evidence of their effectiveness and strength.

I believe that local churches are autonomous so long as they are self-funding. Just as Acts 29 has covenantal commitments required for church plants to receive funding, I think the SBC ought to do likewise. Part of the point of this post is that the SBC ought to learn from these strengths of the Acts 29 denomination.

I think it is foolish for the SBC to put SBC funding dollars into churches that are not committed to the future of the SBC. Do we have so much money that we have fully funded all of the primarily-SBC church plants and need to find somewhere else to spend it? Great, then. Let's start funding church plants that are not committed to the SBC.

I don't even mind our funding of dually-aligned church plants, so long as the planted church has a convictional and primary allegiance to the SBC. Too many church plants enter with the question on their lips, "What is the minimum amount of involvement and financial support that we have to give through the SBC in order to gain the benefits of SBC affiliation?" In fact, that's a problem with quite a number of established churches as well.

For churches whose hearts are with us and who are committed to the future of the SBC, let's fund them and welcome them with open arms, even if they have other affiliations. They may be a black church dually aligned with the NBC. They may be a northern church moving over gradually from the ABC. They may have a connection with the BMA. They may he associated with Acts 29. Fine.

But for those churches whose hearts are really with another denomination and who are affiliating with the SBC in an opportunistic fashion, I do not believe that it is wise for us to invest SBC dollars into them. When they leave the SBC, it will scandalize those who support the CP.

In Arkansas, several of the flagship churches of the fledgling Baptist community in Arkansas departed to join the then-emerging Campbellites. Baptists had invested heavily in several of these churches. One entire association defected. The damage to Baptist missions efforts in Arkansas was acute.

pastor rob said...

I would humbly submit that our SBC denomination is in trouble if we are more concerned about funding specific denominations than we are in investing our money in the gospel of Christ.

Bart Barber said...

Pastor Rob,

If you believe that ecclesiology plays a role in the long-term success of planted churches, then denominational preferences can be strategic choices rather than prejudiced ones.

And if I did not believe so, I would repent and be something other than a Baptist.

Jonathan Melton said...

I likewise agree that our associations (I am ABA) should be confessional. You make an excellent point that church sovereignty (you call it autonomy) should extend to our right to declare which churches we wish to have fellowship with. IMO, if there is no Scriptural way for churches fundamentally sound in the faith to make a break with those who are not (the Scriptures teach plainly the necessity of the separation from false doctrine), then we should dissolve our fellowships altogether.
I also agree with you that we should restrict our fellowships according to ecclessiology. The acceptance, for instance, by most Baptists, of the universal, invisible church theory (that the church is composed of all believers) has led directly to the
unscriptural practices of alien immersion and open communion. Also, to teach that the origin of Baptists is with John Smyth, or that immersion originated in England in 1641, is diametrically opposed to Jesus' promise of the perpetuity of the church in Matthew 16:18. I could say a lot more in regards to this aspect.

However, I would disagree with you in that we should make soteriology a stipulation. I do NOT want to fellowship churches that are, for instance, Calvinist (teach that Jesus only died for the "elect") or that are Arminian (teach the possibility that one can lose his salvation).

And, I disagree with SB's on the money-basis for number of additional messengers allowed to represent a church at the annual sessions of the Convention. Where is that in the Scriptures?

Jonathan Melton said...

I made my first comment before I had actually read the discussion going on in this thread. Yes, we would be considered one of those groups, even though the American Baptist Association has a loosely, more church-oriented one but a structure nonetheless, that rejects the term "denomination." And you were also right in that we reject on it for a similar reason that we reject "Protestant" or "evangelical". It would identify us with churches who are totally unscriptural as to doctrine and practice. The term "denomination" by its very definition assumes that we are just a "branch of Christianity", along with groups such as Church of Christ, Catholic, Methodist, who in one form or another pervert the gospel. The term "Protestant" assumes that our origin as Baptists comes from the Reformation. And while, I might hesitatingly to some extent concede that there are churches, such as non-denominational churches which teach salvation by grace, eternal security, etc., to identify ourselves as "evangelical" would identify ourselves with churches that do not originate with Christ and the church he established on the shores of Galilee, which is diametrically opposed to the fact that Jesus gave the authority of the Great Commission to the church at Jerusalem and her descendants ("and, lo, I am with YOU alway: not THEM).