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FIRST-PERSON: Covenant or confession

INDIAN TRAIL, N.C. (BP)–According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the following definitions exist for the words addressed in the title of this article:

Covenant (Noun)

1: a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement, compact

2a: a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action

2b: the common-law action to recover damages for breach of such a contract

Covenant (Verb)

Transitive verb — to promise by a covenant, pledge

Intransitive verb — to enter into a covenant, contract

Confession (Noun)

1a: an act of confessing; especially a disclosure of one’s sins in the sacrament of reconciliation

1b: a session for the confessing of sins (go to confession)

2: a statement of what is confessed, as

a: a written or oral acknowledgment of guilt by a party accused of an offense

b: a formal statement of religious beliefs, creed

3: an organized religious body having a common creed

As I prepared this article I ran across the covenant at the Acts 29 Network. The Acts 29 covenant uses precise language and certainly is one that holds strict accountability on those that plant churches with them. The network is a tight doctrinal group focused only on reproducing churches with Calvinistic doctrine. However, as one looks at the difference between “covenant” and “confession” one finds the success of the Acts 29 church plants rests not as much in their doctrine as in their covenant.

Some within the SBC have advocated a partnership with Acts 29.

Dr. Danny Akin was accused of such a charge and he took opportunity to deny the allegations. However, as an entity head he advocates a connection with Acts 29 in presenting them as church planting models to younger pastors.

We also have an SBC entity employee who was on the original board of directors and was instrumental in launching the Acts 29 Network.

We have serving on the Great Commission Task Force one who is openly partnering with Acts 29 and advocates that partnership within his local church. According to Baptist Press, his church gives nearly $750,000 to missions that are neither Lottie Moon, Annie Armstrong, nor Cooperative Program. While local churches are free to decide where they spend their mission dollars (I am not one who advocates good Southern Baptists are only those who give 10 percent to the Cooperative Program), this information astounds me. Seeing that Acts 29 asks, through covenant, 10 percent of a network church’s funds be placed back into the network through planting Acts 29 churches, one understands this particular pastor’s push in the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force.

I am one who believes strongly in local church autonomy. I do not want anyone to think I am opposed to any pastor on the task force doing what God leads them to do in their local church setting. The church I am honored to pastor gives 6 percent of our undesignated funds to the Cooperative Program; we also give 2 percent to local missions where we have better control over the funds. We also fund our local Baptist association with 2 percent of our undesignated funds. That is what we do and I certainly do not believe anyone on the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force will object to any local church making those decisions.

All this leads me to one question: Who are we as Southern Baptists? Are we a covenant people or are we a confessional people? It seems that we have become a people who want to delineate between confession and covenant. Certainly, there is a difference in definition, but do the definitions actually lead to an opposing viewpoint between the two? I am one who says no, it should not.

With the covenant that Acts 29 has implemented and with many of our younger pastors leaning toward that type of network, I believe the GCR Task Force needs to ask themselves a question: What is the difference in a moderate Southern Baptist church giving the majority of its missions dollars to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and a conservative Southern Baptist church giving the majority of their missions dollars to Acts 29? In reality there is no functional difference. I know the argument of the SBC was that the moderate churches would bring in the back door a majority of people who did not believe the Bible, thus we do not receive from our churches funds to be forwarded to CBF. The SBC voted on a definition of Cooperative Program funds at the annual meeting in San Antonio. Within the debate it was clearly stated that the SBC does not receive funds from or forward funds to the CBF. With Acts 29 heavily involved with so many churches of the SBC, I wonder if as a convention we will make the same statement concerning that network. Will the GCR Task Force bring about a recommendation that we allow Acts 29 to head up our church planting strategy?

If that becomes a reality then we will have more than a large theological conflict. The Acts 29 covenant calls for “Primary funding consideration shall be given to Acts 29-approved planters” and also “We agree with the theological beliefs of Acts 29 as a Christian Evangelical Missional Reformed network.” Soteriologically speaking, only Calvinist churches will be planted if we turn over the church planting strategy to a group such as Acts 29. What is the problem? The primary agreement that an Acts 29 church planter makes is spelled out specifically: “We agree that our church will meet all biblical requirements for elders, including that the church will be governed by a plurality of qualified male elders.”

However, let me reiterate that my most significant problem with an Acts 29 church plant is in the funding formula spelled out on their website: “This means that when we begin our public services we will give 10% of our internal tithes and offerings … to church planting, under local elder authority as follows ….” If this does happen, then Southern Baptists would have more missionaries in the pipeline waiting because our local churches would be dually aligned with their first commitment to Acts 29. Now, I understand the Acts 29 covenant does allow for “denominational church plants” but that does not remove the “Primary funding consideration” from the language of the covenant. Thus the majority of the locally planted church’s missions dollars would be going back to Acts 29, not IMB, NAMB or CP. I can see it now, Christmas 12 months a year.

The confession that Southern Baptist currently have, called the Baptist Faith and Message, addresses our current needs in church planting. It is a confession but it is also a basis for our covenant together as Southern Baptists. It is a confession that clearly spells out who we are and what we believe. It is a covenant in that it provides for us a basis of cooperation. For some, it has served us well and we desire to see it continue to serve us. For others, it does not spell out specifics, and some desire changes in order to be specific in what it addresses.

It is on the basis of this confession (the Baptist Faith and Message) that we entrust doctrinal accountability of the leaders within our convention to the point that we lead our churches to send large portions of our budget to fund our cooperative ministries. This confessional statement is also a covenant we make with other Southern Baptist churches and, while we do not agree on every jot and tittle, we enjoy fellowship with one another. However, when the covenant is broken through entity connections with networks like Acts 29 (advocating strict soteriological agreement) and pastors of high-profile churches within our convention funding them with a majority of their mission dollars, then the confession begins being ignored.

I submit to you that if we are going to see a Great Commission resurgence we must stop pitting our confession against our covenant. “Confession and covenant” is not an either/or, it is both/and.
Tim Rogers is pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Indian Trail, N.C.

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