Missouri Baptist rift widens when leaders restrict funding for church starts

Posted: 12/17/07

Missouri Baptist rift widens when leaders
restrict funding for church starts

By Vicki Brown

Associated Baptist Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (ABP)—A decision by Missouri Baptist Convention leaders to cut off funding for certain new church starts has set off a firestorm of protest and further widened a rift among conservative Baptists in the state.

Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board members approved a measure at their December meeting to withdraw funding and other assistance to church plants affiliated with the Acts 29 Network. The regularly scheduled board meeting was truncated due to an impending ice storm.

As presented, the motion directed convention staffers to stop working with, supporting, or endorsing the church-planting network “in any manner at any time,” effective Jan. 1. An amendment added the provision to direct “the (state convention’s) church planting department and other ministry departments to not provide Cooperative Program dollars toward those affiliated with the Acts 29 Network.” The amended motion passed 28-10.

The network has been controversial since last year, when some conservatives accused an Acts 29-affiliated church start in St. Louis of endorsing alcohol consumption by holding a Bible study night in a local pub. They later accused the network of being riddled with similar churches. Acts 29 is a non-denominational association of so-called “new paradigm” congregations.

Micah Fries, pastor of Frederick Boulevard Baptist Church in St. Joseph, Mo., was “very upset” by the board’s decision. “This is further evidence that our lip service given to church planting is just that, lip service, and not representative of a significant commitment to the act of planting new congregations and pushing back lostness,” he wrote in his blog,

“We’re not talking about a liberal/conservative argument, either,” he continued. “This is a matter of differing opinions between theological conservatives. … This decision is more evidence that we, as a convention, are moving from simply being biblical and conservative to being legalistic and exclusionary over non-essential issues.”

Fries and other bloggers point out that several Southern Baptist Convention leaders participate in the Acts 29 Network, including Ed Stetzer, senior director of the North American Mission Board’s Center for Missional Research. Stetzer is a former Acts 29 Network board member.

Some bloggers are convinced the issue has more to do with the convention’s position on alcohol, a stand against its use confirmed at its recent annual meeting. But Missouri Baptist Convention President Gerald Davidson said he believes other issues are involved.

“Just to be real truthful, I don’t know much about Acts 29,” Davidson said in a phone interview. “Alcohol was made to be the issue. … That was one of the big issues, but I don’t know if that was the real issue.”

A report by a theological study committee appointed by the convention to study the issue may have played into the board’s decision as well, Davidson said. He emphasized the board did not vote to adopt that report, but simply to “receive” it.

The board did not receive a “minority report” prepared by committee member David McAlpin.

The theological study committee labeled the Acts 29 Network part of the emerging-church movement. But network participants disagree with that characterization.

The committee called the network “the relevants” or the “right-wing” section of the emergent movement, which seeks to integrate the Christian message into post-modern culture.

The report charges the emergent movement with de-emphasizing “systematic Christian doctrine and biblical theology,” “intentional reluctance” to deal with “social, moral, ethical and political issues,” “distrust of traditional values” and “levels of immaturity and even rebellion,” among several other accusations.

In his blog, Acts 29 Network Director Scott Thomas attributed the Missouri Baptist decision primarily to alcohol and emphasized the network is conservative and holds conservative views.

The organization’s website emphasizes its Reformed theological views and notes that planted churches are asked to follow the guidelines set by their sponsoring denominational groups. If a denomination requires a pledge to abstain from alcohol, the church is asked to sign a pledge.

The site emphasizes the network’s evangelical identity and lists its basic beliefs. It also lists 18 differences between the organization and those to which it has been compared, including liberal groups and fundamentalist groups.

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