Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Acts 29 Discussion Question

Is the Acts 29 Network a denomination? Why or why not? What makes a denomination a denomination?


Gospel Growth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gospel Growth said...

There is no such thing as a non-denominational church or ministry because you have to stand for or be denominated by something or you wouldn't exist. There are only inter-denominational ministries and churches that work together (cooperate) in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ dispite secondary or terciary doctrinal or philosophical differences. Even if a church, ministry, mission, or school (like the Calvary Chapel denomination) did not cooperate with anyone else it is a denomination to itself. In this sence (that everyone is denominated by somthing) Acts 29 must be a denomination and that is a good thing.

Acts 29 is also a denomination because they form a cooperateve network for the encouragement, support, and promition of Gospel ministry within particular doctrinal and philosophical boundaries. I also see this as a good thing.

Some denominations are funded, or enocurage a cooperative centralized method in their ministry funding strategy, and some use a societal decentralized method of ministry funding. Many parachurch ministries use this approach to ministry funding while still being a denomination with regard to the other definitinal sences above. Their uniqueness is that they tend to be more willing to be inter-denominational because they attrack people accross doctrinal and philosophyical boundries at times. Acts 29 fits the definition of a societal decentralized denominational.

It is only if you narrow the definition of a denominations to include only churches, that it would be excluded from being called a denomintion. But to me that is way to narrow a definition.

T.R.A. said...

What is a denomination? Let me clarify this.

Anonymous said...

Great question.

Is "Network" or "Partnering" the 21st Century equivalent of "Denomination"?

Probably so.

They might be less "full service" organizations, preferring to leave education, retirement funds etc. to other groups, but that doesn't really change intent - just the scope.

So, I guess if we want to be trendy, we can call ourselves "The Southern Baptist Network of Partnering Churches."

Someone needs to send this suggestion to the GCR task force. Bart, will you do that for me?



Bart Barber said...

I've really struggled academically for quite some time to try to attach a good definition to the word "denomination." Here's what I've arrived at: A denomination is a group of churches for which...

1. Those churches freely exchange pastors and members among one another, whereas the exchange of pastors or members outside the group of churches is less likely or requires the demonstration of compatibility with the group.

2. Those churches presume a certain baseline level of agreement for cooperative ministry, generally without seeing a need for verification of that agreement beyond membership in the group of churches.

3. Those churches derive at least some portion of their identity as churches from their membership in the group of churches.

Does that sound like a good working definition? How would one apply that framework to Acts 29?

Bart Barber said...

In my application of that definition to Acts 29, these are the questions that arise:

1. How likely is an Acts 29 church to call a pastor who is not in agreement with Acts 29 and does not wish to be affiliated with Acts 29.

I am not presuming that the pastor would attempt to change the affiliation of the church. For the sake of discussion let's presume that the pastor's position is, "If the church wants to be affiliated with Acts 29, I'll tolerate it, but I really don't like Acts 29 and will only engage in whatever is the minimum level of interaction with them that is required of me."

2. How likely are members of an Acts 29 church, upon moving to another city, to look for another Acts 29 church to join?

3. How likely are Acts 29 churches to presume compatibility with other Acts 29 churches for cooperative ministry.

4. How likely is an Acts 29 church to consider its affiliation with the Acts 29 network to be an important part of describing the church to others?

David Rogers said...


I don't have much of a problem with your definition of "denomination," as long as you don't enforce it on others who define it differently. I think a big part of the problem is a lack of clarity on what being a part of a denomination means.

But, I also think that a big reason for this lack of clarity is a corresponding lack of biblical rationale for the existence of denominations.

I agree, for instance, that each local congregation must have a certain doctrinal stance, and, when this doctrinal stance largely coincides with that of other local congregations, there will be a tendency to see yourselves as belonging to a certain subset within the Body of Christ, call it a denomination or not.

I also agree that local congregations may cooperate together with other congregations in certain ministry projects. It just so happens that a ministry project, such as the SBC Cooperative Program, is an on-going macro ministry project, which tends to group local congregations together in a way that cooperation in sponsoring a Billy Graham crusade, for example, may not. But, I am not sure if, viewed from a biblical perspective, the difference is more of degree than of essence.

Biblically, I think our primary identity must be with the entire Body of Christ, not some subset thereof.

I would be interested to hear if you can think of a specifically biblical rationale for the three factors which you list as defining the existence of a denomination.

Bart Barber said...

No, David. None at all. I wasn't attempting a biblical definition. I was attempting to define "denomination" as an historical phenomenon.

Bart Barber said...

It is "church" that I believe to have been defined biblically, not denomination. I do, however, believe that all of the components of "denomination" are indicated in the Bible, so long as there is one and only one denomination.

What is entirely missing from the Bible is the notion of multiple "denominations" of churches all coexisting as equally valid yet mutually exclusive groups of churches. To the degree that "denominationalism" means "cooperative gathering of churches around the deposit of the faith for the mission" it is a biblical thing. To the degree that "denominationalism" means "theological fracture into factions" within the church, it is an unbiblical concept.

Against the latter concept I labor by trying to call wayward churches to biblical theology, including biblical ecclesiology.

Bart Barber said...


Even if they begin without seminaries or whatever, I predict that they will, should they grow large enough to do so, eventually support their own such structures. I think that they've already taken steps in that direction.

Bart Barber said...

Of course, in addition to Acts 29, one could apply the same framework to the CBF.

I think it is a really interesting topic, but particularly with regard to Acts 29. CBF is a result of a fight—splinter denominations are normally very easy to identify and date.

Acts 29 is something different. The history here reminds me of Alexander Campbell's movement, which originated as a movement within Baptist life (as contemporaries would likely have described it, and indeed did), and was even championed by Baptists. Baptists took pride in it.

But then, later, somewhere a line was crossed, and people came to regard Campbell and his group as another denomination. And then Campbell's group united with Stone's group, making a combined denomination, which then split again at some unidentifiable moment in history to become two denominations (Christian Church – Disciples of Christ, Churches of Christ).

David Rogers said...

"To the degree that 'denominationalism' means 'cooperative gathering of churches around the deposit of the faith for the mission' it is a biblical thing."

I think this begs the question: How do we define "the deposit of the faith." Viewed, for instance, from the perspective of the theological triage model, does it include Tier 1, 2 & 3 issues; only Tier 1 & 2; or only Tier 1?

Then again, the recognition of Tier 2 issues assumes the existence of denominations.

I can see how Tier 2 issues play into our cooperative agreements with other local congregations for ministry projects. What I am not so sure about is to what degree, from a biblical perspective, Tier 2 issues should define our identity.

Once again, I agree it is human nature to recognize our participation in a certain subset, and to identify ourselves accordingly. This, to a certain extent, is unavoidable. However, I think our primary identification, as Christians, must always be with the Body of Christ, e.g. all those who share a common relationship with a common Savior, and who agree on Tier 1 issues.

Bart Barber said...

"Then again, the recognition of Tier 2 issues assumes the existence of denominations." Indeed it does, and without much in the way of biblical warrant to do so.

Look, David, my goal is simply that the Body of Christ be united around biblical truth. Nobody has accomplished this feat yet. Perhaps nobody will until Christ returns. That's no excuse not to keep trying.

I realize that there are limits to the Bible's scope and specificity, and I further realize that sometimes we believers have made division over items that go beyond biblical teaching. Nevertheless, I believe that this very fact sets the stage for a temptation to regard the Bible's teachings with a deliberate minimalism—the less the Bible says, the more we can build unity around it.

And yet our primary goal ought to be neither triage nor unity, but obedience. Unity is important, but it is only important because it is necessary unto obedience, because Christ has commanded unity. Had Christ not commanded unity—had He commanded disunity—then unity would be sin. It is neither virtue nor vice in and of itself, but is important only because unity = obedience.

Thus, it is self-defeating to seek to be obedient in terms of unity by seeking to water down what constitutes obedience in the remainder of biblical teaching. And I think that triage, even if it is entirely accurate descriptively, and even if I embrace it as a practical description of what we inexorably do, is a concept prone to produce precisely this phenomenon: An ardent desire and effort to move into tier 3 as much as possible in order to make those thing unimportant so that unity might be facilitated.

The biblical message is, by contrast, so simple: Keep my commandments.

This one long enough...I'll start a new comment.

Bart Barber said...

So, here's my great struggle, on which I confess to an ongoing "squishiness" and internal struggle.

The biblical model is not one of numerous denominations. Rather, it is a model of exclusion and "removed lampstands" and contention for the faith. Biblically, we are compelled to have one denomination. Here I make reference to my historical schema. If my congregation would not have your pastor as our pastor (not out of any personal characteristic, but ipso facto because he is a good representative of your church's kind of pastor, then we are not in unity, no matter how many verses of Kum Ba Ya we might manage to sing. No matter how much we agree about, if our disagreements mean that your pastor could not be my pastor, then we are divided by our disagreements and are not in unity.

If we would not easily exchange members, same thing.

We must either...

1. Tear down those barriers
2. Honestly confess that those barriers are up because those are not valid churches over there.
3. Honestly confess that we have chosen pragmatism over obedience in our relationships with other congregations

It might surprise you to learn, David, that all three of those options make me uncomfortable.

Bart Barber said...

But I bet you'd correctly guess which makes me the least uncomfortable. :-)

David Rogers said...


Thanks for continuing to think this out together with me.

If we accept that there is such a thing as Tier 3 truth, I think it is legitimate to ask if it ever were the intention of Jesus that His Church be united on Tier 3 truth.

Of course, this is non-sensical, given the definition of Tier 3.

Then, we must ask, is it possible that a certain degree of leeway and flexibility was intentionally built into the system by our Lord Himself? That He never expected us to unite around what would normally be considered "Tier 3" issues today? Perhaps, even, that our unity was never meant to be based upon our uniformity?

As far as who one church will accept as pastor, and who another will accept, I think that our modern system of ecclesiology may perhaps create and issue here, where, biblically, there is none.

As I see it, each local congregation has the on-going responsibility to search Scripture, learn from Scripture, and obey Scripture, as they understand it, at any given time. They also should recognize those among themselves who are proving, by their lifestyle, and by their doctrine, to be good examples to the flock, and whom God has gifted/equipped to fulfill a leadership role among them. Thus, the question of theoretical standards for pastors who come in from outside of the congregation is irrelevant, from this perspective.

David Rogers said...

I didn't really finish my thought on the last comment.

I meant to add:

And, if it does not make sense to unite around so-called "Tier 3" doctrine, does it make sense to unite around "Tier 2" doctrine?

As I see it (and as I have consistently argued for some time, now), there is a key difference, here, between unity and cooperation.

Our unity (and identity), as I see it, is based upon a common relationship with a common Lord, and agreement on Tier 1 doctrine.

Our cooperation in certain ministry projects, however, may well be based on agreement on Tier 2 doctrine.

When we take the legitimate criteria for cooperation in ministry projects, and make them also criteria for unity, we are guilty, as a result, of creating disunity.

David Rogers said...

And, I meant to also say:

"When we take the legitimate criteria for cooperation in ministry projects, and make them also criteria for unity--AND FOR OUR PRIMARY IDENTITY, we are guilty, as a result, of creating disunity.

Bart Barber said...


You know, it's interesting. I really like the 3-Tier thing as an historical tool. It is PRECISELY the same as my "denominations" definition—a framework without good foundation in scripture but which does a pretty good job of describing what has happened historically.

But I'd rather not confine my responses to that terminology. I find that, the more I force myself to say "Tier 1" this and "Tier 3" that, I wind up sacrificing accuracy in relating my thoughts for conformity to someone else's system.

Bart Barber said...

So, I'll try to reply using my own framework:

1. I believe that every commandment of Christ is worthy of our obedience. I believe that this sentiment is embedded within the Great Commission itself.

2. I do believe that there are matters that are not commandments of Christ (e.g., should there be pianos playing in the worship of the church). Of course, we also have commandments regarding what to do with matters that are not commandments as well (how many years have you been waiting for me to cite Romans 14!?).

So, when the Churches of Christ divide over which instruments are present on the platform, although (because) there is no commandment to that effect in the New Testament, they are in violation of the commandment against dividing over "doubtful issues." And that commandment itself is not "doubtful."

If a congregation simply comes to the conclusion that they don't like piano music and that they'd rather have a guitar, then I see nothing wrong with that. But denominational divisions have historically not included discussions of "you like it your way and I like it mine." Rather these have historically been convictional discussions—discussions of right and wrong.

3. Home-grown pastoral leadership does not seem to me to be a given in the New Testament. Peter and Paul both claimed to be elders, and not in their home regions. If the movement of pastors among churches is a novel development, it is a novel development on record from our earliest glimpses of the history of Christianity.

FBC Farmersville has both imported and home-grown pastors. I believe that both phenomena are reflected in the New Testament.

Wow. I'm out of time. David, I really enjoy conversing with you, but it wears me out. Each volley is like a tree diagram. Each reply that I wish to write multiplies exponentially.

We just need to get together face-to-face sometime for about 10 hours and hash it all out. I think we could manage that.

David Rogers said...


I hope our dialogue doesn't wear you out excessively. :-)

Actually, it's been awhile since we've dialogued about these matters. And, your current topic on this post was one that caught my interest, as it is something I have thought and wrestled about, as well. And, I find my dialogues with you to usually be stimulating, and helpful, as I seek to refine my own thought.

In any case, I appreciate your aversion to using the triage model (as not directly biblical) as the basis of our discussion. I think it has a certain value for clarifying terms, but I do understand, and sympathize, to a degree, with your aversion to continue to use it as a defining prism through which to discuss these matters.

I also agree that we should all do our very best to obey each and every one of Christ's commands.

However, I wonder, would you agree there are certain commands on which the interpretation as to how best to obey them is, at times, unclear? Do you agree that the degree to which the proper way to obey a certain command is clear in the Bible should determine the clarity of the lines over which we separate with one another in Christian fellowship (and, at times, in cooperation in ministry projects)? Do you agree that, what may be clear to one Christian, in relation to this, may not be so clear to another Christian?

Do you think Rom. 14:5 is applicable here: "Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind," and yet, in spite of this, others do see things differently, and we are to respect that?

Do you agree that all of this has something to do with how denominational structures should or should not affect the way we relate to fellow believers as members of the Body of Christ, and the way in which we identify ourselves before the world, and one to another?

David Rogers said...

Oh, and on the home-grown pastors thing, I see that as actually a bit of a side-issue.

But, anyway, I am not dead-set on never, ever bringing in people from the outside. It just doesn't seem to me to be the biblical norm.

Also, I am curious, on what basis do you say that Peter and Paul were both elders, and not in their home regions? I remember that Peter says in 1 Peter 5, that he is a fellow elder, but not that he ever specifies, in which local congregation, or even that he necessarily views his "eldership" as being confined to a particular local congregation--though, it seems likely to me that he was viewed as such in Jerusalem, if the roles of apostle and elder are compatible, which, I don't see why not. However, I don't see that being an apostle (as Paul) automatically makes you an elder. However, it is possible that Paul (along with the other prophets and teachers in Acts 13:1) were recognized as elders in the church at Antioch (it is also possible that not). In any case, as I understand it, that would be that, after a period of living there, and ministering among them, he eventually came to be recognized as an elder, which is something different than being directly imported in already recognized as an elder.

David Rogers said...


I can't remember whether you and I have ever interacted over the content of John Woodhouse's excellent essay on "Christian Unity and Denominations" (linked below).

I understand if you don't have time. But, I really think that what he has to say is very apropos to our conversation now, and I would be quite interested to hear your response.

By the way, he has a good definition for denominations, which, is a bit different from yours here.


The first two articles in the series are also well worth reading for context. But, the one linked here is the one most directly related to our present conversation.

Bart Barber said...


I'd be happy to interact sometime with you regarding Woodhouse's article. I will say that I find his definition insufficient, having considered it for a recent paper. By his definition, the Collin Baptist Association would be a denomination, whereas the Campbellite-Stoneite groups (which had no real association) would not be a denomination.

The measure of a good definition is that it keeps in all that belongs in while shutting out all that does not.

I guess that's equally true of a good denomination. ;-)

David Rogers said...


So you are already familiar with Woodhouse's article? Fantastic.

Whenever you find the time and energy to start any new "tree diagrams," in addition to my other questions on my last couple of comments here, I would love to hear where you disagree (or agree) with Woodhouse (other than what you deem to be the insufficiency of his definition of denominations).

From my perspective, Woodhouse pretty much captures what I consider to be a balanced, biblical approach to the whole question of denominations. It would be hard for me to improve on what he has already written.

Steve Young said...

Just dropping in to say I really enjoy your blog. Another blog I visit from time to time is just more and more negative, sort of like MSNBC.
I appreciate your's for a couple of reasons, illustrated in the present discussion. First, you approach real issues about getting the work done. Second, you interact with class not crass. (I could also say the same of David Rogers.)
Far from being the exception, I believe this type of debate is the norm in SBC life. Thanks for bringing important topics for discussion. I believe bloggers often attract comments from people more like themselves. Your blog attracts civil debate because you are civil - Thanks.

Steve Young

Chris Johnson said...

Brother Bart,

I was wondering by the blogs tonight and this one caught my attention.

I appreciate the great dialogue that you and David have had on the subject matter. The paragraph …… “The biblical model is not one of numerous denominations. Rather, it is a model of exclusion and "removed lampstands" and contention for the faith. Biblically, we are compelled to have one denomination. Here I make reference to my historical schema. If my congregation would not have your pastor as our pastor (not out of any personal characteristic, but ipso facto because he is a good representative of your church's kind of pastor, then we are not in unity, no matter how many verses of Kum Ba Ya we might manage to sing. No matter how much we agree about, if our disagreements mean that your pastor could not be my pastor, then we are divided by our disagreements and are not in unity.”…..I think this really does get to the heart of the matter.

Why would a congregation not accept another pastor?,…maybe a better question is should the congregation be taught to judge what they like about the man in terms of preferential acceptance…or should they be discipled on what the man (men) is/are to be doing and then be satisfied that God has provided this/these qualified man/men to meet out those responsibilities in the midst of the congregation.

I completely agree with you that the biblical model is not one of denominations. It seems the biblical model is conditioned on maintaining unity of the Spirit, where today by contrast we are composed of church members motivated by the opportunity to create the type of unity they may like to experience together (until the next vote)…..which is really a unity of preference, …and not maintaining the already existing unity of the Spirit.

It seems for ACTS29, it is not so much a denomination, nor will it promote itself to that level so it seems. The cooperating churches may be content with designing their model through ecclesiology, not so much cooperating politic.

Thanks for raising this question.


Bart Barber said...


After a busier season, I find a few moments today to interact again on this thread. Thus I offer the following thoughts about Woodhouse's article:

1. I think that Woodhouse's articles belong somewhat in the vein of Wesley & Whitefield—largely accurate and important expositions of much biblical truth, given cogently enough that those who read and believe what these men wrote and believed could not possibly do what these men did. In other words, these Anglicans preached a gospel inherently lethal to Anglicanism. I find reason to be hopeful that Woodhouse's chicks will largely become ducks.

2. This truth, however, does come alloyed with some Anglican error, IMHO. I'm confident that enough good is present to outweigh much of the bad. I'll give some quick synopses in the following comments of my thumbs-ups and thumbs-downs on what Woodhouse has written.

Bart Barber said...

First, areas of agreement.

I agree with Woodhouse that the gospel both unites and divides. I am thankful for his insistence that both unity and division are biblical, inevitable, and prescribed by Christ. I also agree with Woodhouse in harshly evaluating Evangelicalism's overall prowess in dealing rightly with these matters.

I agree with Woodhouse's critique of the ecumenical movement.

I agree with Woodhouse that a church is "a gathering of people of true faith in God" with the proviso that such a gathering of people is not a transient gathering but is instead such a gathering of people covenanted together and sharing the same elders, deacons, accountability, and ongoing relationship with one another.

I agree with Woodhouse that the immediate and primary concern of New Testament teachings regarding Christian unity deals with the interaction between believers within a particular church: "If we are serious about the unity that matters, our focus will be on the health of the local congregation—the church as it is in each place. That is where the unity of the Spirit is displayed, and that is where it is to be ‘kept.'"

I agree with Woodhouse that "denomination" is a biblical phenomenon.

I agree with Woodhouse that there are gatherings that claim to be churches (and perhaps once were), but that are not churches. I further agree that there are entire denominations of churches that are no longer any such things, their churches no longer being churches.

I agree with Woodhouse that churches should never regard themselves as "independent."

I agree with Woodhouse that the existence of many denominations is an outworking of freedom of conscience (essentially, the right of people to be wrong). State-churches and religious persecution are essentially a manifestation of ecumenism gone bad in the hands of the wrong people.

I agree with Woodhouse that a denomination is not a church.

I agree with Woodhouse regarding the dangers of Denominational Centralism. I find his fourfold prescription to be a delightful trailhead down the path of John Smythe and Roger Williams.

I agree with Woodhouse regarding the dangers of Denominational Loyalty.

I agree with Woodhouse regarding the propriety and value of relationships with people of different denominations.

Bart Barber said...

I disagree with Woodhouse regarding the notion that Old Testament contains within its pages any pattern or precedence for the New Testament church. This presumption, it seems to me, appears in various places throughout the essay. In this matter I agree with Roger Williams.

I disagree with Woodhouse in his presumption that church order, liturgy, polity, etc., are matters unrelated to the gospel. In one passage, for example, Woodhouse wrote: "Being united in the one gospel with diversity of church order and other similar things is surely the unity God has created." This is perhaps the necessary refuge of one whose church order does not reflect his gospel (i.e., the corpus permixtum). The Baptist conviction for four centuries, on the other hand, has been that church order ought to be an expression of the gospel and ought to be driven by the gospel.

I disagree with Woodhouse's demolition to insignificance of the physical and visible aspect of the church. He stated regarding that church that "it is not a physical or a visible reality." Again, Woodhouse has defined the nature of the church so well, and given the fact that the physical organization of Anglican churches stands so at odds with the spiritual reality of the church, a neat cleavage between the two certainly must be handy in holding together these items which exist in such innate tension! Woodhouse's own exegesis develops the nature of the church as a physical and local gathering of believers, but he will not follow those facts where they lead—to his local Baptist congregation.

I disagree with Woodhouse's assertion that the "one baptism" of Ephesians 4 must "surely" not refer to water baptism in any way. Yes, some make too much of baptism. Woodhouse makes too little of it (and again, thus he must, since Anglican baptism corresponds so little to spirit baptism).

I disagree that the churches founded by Paul existed as some sort of a separate "denomination" from the Jerusalem church, or that there was any such thing as multiple denominations in the New Testament. Such a position would be easier to maintain were Acts 15 not in the Bible. Certainly the Jerusalem church believed that these Pauline churches existed in a robust mutual accountability with itself (without compromising autonomy), and I see Paul nowhere correcting that concept, but rather submitting to it.

I disagree that denominational distinctives are an unhealthy outworking of the churches. Woodhouse has ascribed all but the gospel to the invention or interpretation of man, as though the New Testament says nothing else. Yes, there are things that the New Testament has not commanded (as I said above), but that which the New Testament plainly commands also plainly goes beyond the gospel (if one construes it minimalistically as the gospel agreement among evangelical denominations).

Groseys messages said...

G'day Bart,
I had an interesting trip to Israel last week with one of Dr. Woodehouses' mentors Canon Bruce Ballantine Jones, where we discussed the strange phenomena of his push (and Dr. Woodehouses') to bring Sydney Anglicans to a Baptist Ecclesiology and practise. Note his insistence on local church control of a. gospel ministry, b. gospel ministry ordination, and c. local church properties.
While the Sydney Anglicans are becoming Baptists, the Sydney Baptists are becoming episcopal, placing control of all church properties irrevocably in the hands of the denomination (see the Baptist Union of NSW Property Trust Act), and restricting ordination to those who a. the small (partially elected) denominational committee decides should be ordained and b. who a smaller (unelected) denominational committee believes should continue as accredited.
All I can say is, if the Sydney Anglicans hasten to becoming Baptists, Australian Baptists with a Baptist ecclesiology would have no alternative but to sign up, or deny their convictions.

Groseys messages said...
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