NOTE: This post is the opinion of Brent Thomas only and does not necessarily reflect my blogging partner Adam Groza.
Surely you know that there is a controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention (when isn’t there, right?!) regarding some SBC churches and their involvement with the Acts 29 church planting network. Let me just say right up front, I am in the candidate phase of the Acts 29 membership process, so I have one foot in that camp (or at least I’m stretching my toes in that direction). At the time I received my undergraduate degree, the school was Southern Baptist. I received my M.Div. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. While in Louisville, I was a member of a Southern Baptist church prior to taking my first ministry position in a Southern Baptist Church and moving to TX to pastor a semi-SBC church. So I have a foot in that camp as well (at least I have a foot that seems to be coming out but still has a “soft spot” for the denomination, though maybe I just need to grow some calluses and let go?).
When we moved to Arizona to plant Church of the Cross, we tried to partner with the Southern Baptist Convention. But, coming in as a church plant, we needed to find a sponsoring church that would help us through the process. Yes, there were financial considerations involved but that came to nothing because no church was willing to sponsor us. Not only that, I know for a fact that my paperwork was “flagged” by a good ‘ol boy in the AZ SBC. This man went to two different associations (local associations are not geographically based here in AZ) and said “You know this guy’s ‘Reformed,’ right?” In other words, my paperwork was flagged because of a historically Baptist position I hold on salvation.
So here at home, we tangibly felt the sting of rejection from the Southern Baptists. Then, at this year’s convention, there were motions against Ed Stetzer and Danny Akin for their involvement with Acts 29, not to mention the motion to ban all of Mark Driscoll’s books from Lifeway stores. Not only that, it’s now “illegal,” so to speak, to be SBC and Acts 29 in Georgia and Missouri. So now, not only do we as a church plant hear the message that we’re not wanted locally, we hear the message that we’re not wanted nationally. My sentiments may be summed up in something I posted to Twitter on June 23, 2009:
The SBC thrives best when it has a common enemy and it seems to rotate between “Liberals,” “Calvinists,” and “Tongues-Talkers (Not quite Pentecotals)”. And guess what, they’ve (Falsely) rolled all of those categories into one common enemy in Acts 29, a group that will not only not outright ban alcohol but calls the SBC out on its legalism for going beyond Scripture. Talk about the perfect storm! Such a storm, in fact, that now, as a pastor planting a church, I have members of Church of the Cross that not only see no discernible benefit to partnering with the SBC, they in fact see disadvantages and worry about us trying to fit in somewhere we’re not wanted.
Jared Wilson, author of Your Jesus is Too Safe, recently took a stab at summarizing the “controversy”:
My basic appraisal of this criticism can be summed up this way:
- a) The SBC is fading and will continue to fade more quickly especially if they keep stiff-arming the young men the Acts 29 Network appeals to, who are passionate about the gospel and about planting evangelistic churches.
- b) What I continue to see is Acts 29 demonstrating love and affection, and a desire to cooperate, to a denomination that continues to cast aspersions in the other direction. The way things are going, the SBC could seriously use the injection of youth, mission, and passion for doctrine over pragmatism of the Acts 29 Network, and the Acts 29 Network has virtually nothing to gain by hitching to a fading denomination that snubs its nose at them. Yet they still want to find ways to work together. If you’re measuring by Jesus’ prayer for love and unity in the church, who wins that one, do you think?
Wilson contends that the “SBC is fading.” This is not just conjecture, Ed Stetzer himself in April, 2009 wrote a pieces for Lifeway Research entitled “The Southern Baptist Convention: A Denomination (Continuing) in its Decline” and “A Year Is Not A Trend: Decline And the SBC.” There are other voices in the wilderness crying wolf for the SBC. Ed Stetzer’s boss, Thom Rainer posted a “wordle” (a visible representation of words) of a recent survey he conducted about what the first thing people think of when they hear about the SBC:
When “Pharisee,” “Don’t,” “Tradition,” “Legalism,” and “Fried Chicken” are the first things people think of, there’s a real problem (by the way, I’d like to do the same thing for Acts 29. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear of the Acts 29 Network? Let’s compare the results.). The SBC has a self-imposed and self-inflicted identity crisis and many of those at the top simply don’t care. They will go down with the Good Ship Tradition. Of course, there are exceptions. Watch Al Mohler’s recent talk on “The Future of the SBC:”
But what about those of us stuck in the middle? To be absolutely honest, if they would have taken us, the church I’m planting would have been Southern Baptist. But they made it crystal clear that they didn’t want us. So why would I pursue a denomination that doesn’t want me? It breaks my heart to see a denomination that, honestly, has been quite good to me and I still care for choose sin. And I see no other way to describe what is happening. You may disagree, you are welcome to do so and I’m sure some of you will. But when I look at the loudest SBC voices, I hear vitriol, gossip, slander, and one-upsmanship. When I listen to Acts 29, I hear things like Scott Thomas pursuing a “Ministry of Reconciliation,” saying:
My goal is to reconcile the relationships between Acts 29 churches and Southern Baptist churches so that we can spend our time, money and energy planting gospel-centered churches and not interacting through blogs and comments ad infinitum, ad nauseam.
I typically avoid commenting on the Southern Baptist Convention here for many reasons, but I feel like I just need to say to my SBC brothers “knock it off.” Turn the magnifying glass of criticism inward, ask why people think of fried chicken before they think of Jesus when they think of the SBC?! While one side is calling for reconciliation and partnership, the other is calling for book and partnership banning.
No, Acts 29 is not perfect, but let’s be perfectly honest, they are succeeding in many areas where the SBC is choosing to fail miserably. Guys like myself would have stayed in the SBC if they would have opened their arms just a little. But if I have to choose, am I going to go with the ones banning books are calling for reconciliation? Except that the real issue is that I shouldn’t have to choose at all.
The current situation breaks my heart, as a (possibly former?) Southern Baptist and (possibly future?) member of Acts 29. In the now oh-so trite words of Rodney King, “can’t we all just get along?” After all, isn’t that what Jesus Himself would have for us (John 13:35, Philippians 2:3, 1 Peter 2:17, etc.)?