At the 2013 Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Houston, Robin Foster asked an excellent question of Kevin Ezell during his North American Mission Board report: “After seeing last night that word was put out that we work together with Acts 29 and that we have partnerships, could you clarify that and also define exactly if there is any partnership formally or informally and how do we work with them if we do?”
Ezell began his response dismissively with, “That’s the absolute first time I’ve ever been asked that,” before recovering with, “I do appreciate your question.” For good reason, Ezell has been inundated with requests asking him to justify the unequal partnership discriminating against Non-Calvinists:
Although Southern Baptists are willing to accept into our membership ALL Acts 29 Pastors who affirm the BFM 2000, the Acts 29 Network is UNWILLING to accept into their membership ALL SBC Pastors who affirm the BFM 2000.
Ezell explained our partnership: “We plant Southern Baptist Churches. Our church planters are expected to endorse The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and give to the Cooperative Program. We don’t ask questions necessarily about what type of conferences they go to or what type of support networks that they might be a part of.” Along with many others, I believe we should.
While conference attendance is irrelevant, I believe we must ask about their support networks. When we plant such churches, we enter into a financial partnership with a distinct religious organization whose beliefs clearly differ from ours. The SBC has labored to remain soteriologically inclusive. Why then should we partner with a network that is soteriologically exclusive?
Many Southern Baptists may be unaware that the doctrinal statement of Acts 29 excludes Non-Calvinists. According to their website, "Churches planted from within the Acts 29 network are expected to agree to the doctrine and mission of our network." Among those doctrinal statements that exclude some Non-Calvinists is an affirmation of total inability found in the statement, "Sin has totally affected all of creation including marring human image and likeness so that all of our being is stained by sin (e.g. reasoning, desires, and emotions)." Their view of election implies that it is unconditional: "We believe that the salvation of the elect was predestined by God in eternity past." The context makes it clear that this is not simply a foreknowledge type of election, but a predetermined type. Even more clear is their position on irresistible grace: "We believe that God's saving grace is ultimately irresistible." Clearly, these positions are much more narrow than those found in the BFM 2000.
Groucho Marx once said, "I refuse to join any club that would have me for a member." My concern is almost the reverse: “I refuse to pay for any network that would NOT have me for a member.” Make no mistake—when we partner with another organization, we are not only supporting our own. We are also supporting theirs. Many organizations have begun such partnerships believing they were using the other party to promote their own interests, only to discover later that the other party was actually using them instead.
Why would any of my Calvinist brothers ask me to support financially a network with a Statement of Faith that not only excludes me personally, but also contradicts The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 on the significant matter of soteriological neutrality, the very issue we are making a special effort to address in Southern Baptist life with such sensitivity and grace?
I gladly welcome the Truth, Trust and Testimony in a Time of Tension Report. It clearly describes both the kind of cooperation we should all promote and the significant differences we should all admit. But when Southern Baptist Calvinists bring a third party to the table whose standards for membership exclude their Non-Calvinist Southern Baptist brothers, the resulting friction is not due to a lack of charity on the part of Non-Calvinists.
Perhaps the affections of some Southern Baptist Calvinists are actually closer to the Acts 29 Network than to the SBC. The possibility is very real that church plants started primarily with Southern Baptist resources might fall into the hands of the other partnering organization. This situation is a bit like the old adage that you should “dance with the one what brung you.”
An indecisive young lady has one suitor who purchases her prom ticket, buys her corsage, takes her to dinner and escorts her to the dance hall. There she meets another suitor, who tells the first one to go fly a kite before engaging her in conversation, offering her a glass of punch and asking her to dance. If I’m the first suitor, I ask the lady to make a choice. She has the right to choose him over me, but they cannot expect me to pay for their date. This partnership does not work. I have been excluded by him and rejected by her.
Southern Baptist Calvinist Brothers, hear my impassioned plea. I don’t mind working together with you in fulfilling the Great Commission, but please don’t make me pay, through an unequal partnership, for the reformed vision of an organization outside of Southern Baptist life that accepts my money but not my membership. Acts 29 excludes me. Please allow me to reciprocate.
By Rick Patrick, Pastor
First Baptist Church