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Missouri board votes to de-fund Acts 29

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–The Executive Board of the Missouri Baptist Convention met Dec. 10 in part to discuss their concerns about alcohol use and alcohol-based evangelism strategies within the greater Missouri Baptist family. They concluded by taking significant action on the issue.

In an historic move members of the board voted by a nearly 3-1 margin to cut off state convention Cooperative Program support to Acts 29 Network churches/church plants in Missouri. The vote does not impact MBC churches who, on their own, are assisting Acts 29 churches.

The controversy over Acts 29 began when one church, The Journey, started holding regular discussion sessions in a bar where some participants drank alcohol. The “Theology at the Bottleworks” (the name of the bar) sessions were the focus of a handful of secular media reports, including one on NBC’s “Today” show. Acts 29 is a nationwide non-denominational organization that receives funding from multiple denominations.

Acts 29 Network Director Scott Thomas wrote on www.acts29network.org that it was wrong and unjust for the MBC to “dis-fellowship an entire family for one family member’s sin.”

“Unfortunately, the Missouri SBC viewed this autonomous church affiliated with Acts 29 as a good reason to dis-fellowship … with EVERY Acts 29 church and to cut off support from those who have honored the abstinence agreement, of which Acts 29 fully respects,” Thomas wrote on the Acts 29 website. “These are the real victims of the recent decision by the [MBC].”

Thomas further said that Acts 29 “does not promote alcohol” and believes “drunkenness and/or being controlled by or addicted by alcohol is a sin.” He also stated Acts 29 does not “decry the personal decision of each church planter to decide what the Scriptures teach about alcohol.”

MBC Interim Executive Director David Tolliver said Acts 29 ought to take into consideration its own policy statement on alcohol, which says in a concluding paragraph that Christians should “submit to the leadership of their church or denomination, and do everything for God’s glory.”

The Executive Board meeting in Jefferson City, Mo., was marked by several unequivocal statements about the peril of associating in any way, shape or form with alcohol.

MBC Chairman Gerald Davidson declared that he has never been soft on alcohol, saying “I’ve said time and time again alcohol is one of our greatest evils in our society.” Tolliver said the convention will have no working relationship with churches “participating with alcohol,” which specifically means that Cooperative Program funds will not be used for “sinful outreach ministries.” And at the end of his report about Southwest Baptist University, President C. Pat Taylor pleaded with board members to “preach, and teach our youth, that alcohol is an evil thing” to counter what he said is “a soft attitude toward it” by non-drinking students.

The decision will take effect Jan. 1. The controversy dates back to 2005, when the Executive Board loaned The Journey $200,000. MBC leaders are in the process of determining how much money is involved in the decision to de-fund the congregations.

The motion, presented by Board Member Denny Marr of Republic and amended by Board Member Monty Dunn of Highlandville, recognizes the autonomous nature of all areas of Missouri Baptist life beyond that of the Executive Board staff while directing the church planting department and other ministry departments to not provide Cooperative Program dollars toward those affiliated with the Acts 29 Network.

The result is that all Acts 29 church plants, not just those with barroom ministries, are being de-funded. And the decision was not tied to just one issue. Board Member Vic Borden of Kansas City broadened the debate beyond alcohol by stating he is even more offended by The Journey’s movie ministry that includes R-rated films.

“There is becoming more and more of an abuse of Christian liberty, and it is most prevalent in the churches that have been connected with the Acts 29 Network,” said Marr, who was part of a theological study committee that examined this issue from February through July. “That’s why this motion is stated this way.”

Davidson argued that only a handful of board members were informed enough about the Acts 29 Network to be able to vote on any motion that was critical of it. He said on two separate occasions that his knowledge was lacking.

But Dunn spoke for the majority of board members who have at least heard about The Journey’s well-publicized barroom ministry and are bothered by it and vow that it will never happen again.

Dunn said that the way Acts 29 churches tend to minister is problematic. Board Member Michael Knight of Viburnum was more direct, stating, “Shame on us if we can’t make that clear.” The language in Dunn’s amendment attempted to strike a balance between those who feel the executive director is there to lead without being micromanaged and those who feel the Executive Board is there to lead the staff by way of the churches. Tolliver noted that Dunn’s amendment helped clarify things a bit.

“We want to put the brakes on this thing, and we’re telling the convention we know where the brake pedal is,” Dunn said.

Board members discussed postponing a decision until the April board meeting, when Tolliver will be delivering a report on the matter. Tolliver noted that he was working in early December toward de-funding an Acts 29 church due to their use of alcohol in an outreach event.

“We will continue to work with Acts 29 churches who choose to also be Missouri Baptist Convention churches,” Tolliver said. “The Executive Board decision simply precludes us from funding those churches or church plants.”

Thomas, writing on the Internet, said he has the same goals of the MBC.

“Acts 29 Network and the Southern Baptists share the same mission: to seek and to save the lost; to go into all of the world and share the gospel of Jesus and to baptize and teach the believers through the local church,” Thomas wrote. “For this reason, we love the SBC, have appreciated our partnerships throughout the country and are now mourning the loss of our fellowship with the [MBC].”

Missouri Baptists have taken stances against alcohol twice in recent months. First, messengers to the MBC annual meeting in October passed a resolution, 503-360, that in part urged that “no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Missouri Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages.” Then, on Nov. 29, the nominating committee of the MBC unanimously approved an alcohol abstinence provision that has already been added to the 2008 nominating committee profile sheet that nominees must fill out.

Historically, resolutions against the use of sale of alcohol have passed at approximately 60 annual meetings of the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as 36 resolutions since 1881 at annual meetings of the MBC.
Based on a story by Allen Palmeri of the Pathway, newspaper of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

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