Monday, December 17, 2007

Could someone give me a mainstream, fundamentalist movement, separatistic perspective on something?

Ok, I'm genuinely inquisitive here—not being snarky in the slightest or even trying to make some subtle point.

The Missouri Baptist Convention (more or less the state-level manifestation of the SBC) recently voted to withdraw financial support from churches that affiliate with the Acts 29 Network of church planters (think Mark Driscoll).

Though the MBC offered no official explanation in their action, recent discussion from both sides seems to indicate that moderate use of alcohol is the central issue. Here's the Acts 29 response. More details shouldn't be too hard to find.

So here's my question: How would hard-line, rigidly separatistic, independent fundamental Baptists respond to this? Is this a good thing or a bad thing, and why? Don Johnson, Frank Sansone, anybody in the OBF, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks in all sincerity.


Don Johnson said...

Hi Ben

Here's my initial take. I read the posts you linked to and some of the comments. I also read most of an article about the controversy in the St Louis newspaper linked in one of the comments.

The move strikes me as a fundamentalist-like move. I am strongly against the use of alcohol in almost any circumstances and thus find the position laudable in itself.

I see problems, however, with the 'strategery' of the move. While I am a convinced abstainer, there are many other reasons why the Acts 29 crowd should not be funded by Bible believers. The alcohol issue would be one of several. I would rather the separation would be over a more comprehensive scope of issues.

Nevertheless, I applaud the move and the courage of the men who took the move. As you read the comments in the first post you linked, you see the whole neo-evangelical mind on full display. The men who took a stand will be under a good deal of pressure from naysayers, but I hope they stick to their guns.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Greg Linscott said...


It seems to me like an application of the principle espoused by Paul Hartog in this 2-part article. In short, the MSBC does not have unlimited funding, and though, as Scott Thomas notes, "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," the fact remains that those churches who affiliate with Acts 29 have a much different philosophy and approach than most of those in the MSBC.

I think the MSBC made a good move here. They know who they are, they know what they believe, and they know that the churches in question represent a divergence from their identity and principles.

Keith said...

I'm no separatistic fundamentalist (that's a mouthful). Even so, I have no problem with a group of churches funding or not-funding whomever they wish. That's a different matter than separating.

I would have a problem with "come out from among them and be ye separate" being applied to Christians who partake of alcoholic beverages. That would be a completely inacurate and inappropriate application of Scripture.

Don, what are you talking about in re: "neo-evangelical mind"? Alcoholic beverages are not a "neo" issue. If they were then most Christians and Jews for most of time have been neo.

J. Dale Weaver, M.Div. said...

I'm just a drive by poster here, though I read this blog every so often. Just a comment --

As I understand the MSBC -- and the SBC as a whole -- the decision of the convention is not binding on any local congregation. Local Church Autonomy is a key principle of Baptist autonomy.

While the state convention can decide not to support Acts 29 (which I think is probably a wise decision) that does not prohibit local churches to give as they wish -- correct?

If that is not the case, it seems Missouri Baptists need a refresher course in Baptist polity.

J.Dale Weaver, M. Div.

Chris said...

Rigidly separatistic? OK. I'll take the bait. The Acts 29 response clearly indicates that "no reasons were stated in the motion". Then they go on to defend themselves on the alcohol point. I thought jumping to conclusions and attributing wrong motives were the sole province of the "rigid" fundamentalist! The truth is, we don't know (for sure) why the decision was made. I guess that makes it a perfect opportunity point-scoring on both "sides". By the way, having a church-related function in a bar is a stupid idea. This equally stupid debate is evidence of that fact.

Don Johnson said...

Keith, what I mean by the neo-evangelical mind is the mindset displayed in the post Ben linked to. The vast majority seemed shocked (shocked!) that the MSBC would dare take a critical position against other Christians.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...

Guys, thanks for the replies. To keep things on track, let me drop in a couple points.

First, I'm not asking whether the convention had the right to de-fund the planters on the grounds of local church autonomy. I'm asking whether it was a good decision to de-fund planters on these grounds.

Second, I didn't keep track of all the links to post them in this entry, but it seems pretty clear that alcohol use was the central issue, even if it wasn't the only one. Here are two articles, the first based on a piece by a writer for the MBC newspaper, seem to clarify that fact with words from MBC officials.

Ben said...

Just finished Tom Ascol's interview with one of the de-funded pastors. I think it's worth a read.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Ben

I read the Ascol interview. While there may be more to the story than appears on the surface, I couldn't support a ministry such as the one described. As I see it, the young fellow is equating 'grey hairs' with liberalism. Note this quote:

But the grayer a congregation or denomination looks, the more bleak the future becomes. Well, those mainline denominations are graying due to liberalism. Young people want something true and something worth believing and dying for.

It may be true that some of the mainline denominations are becoming increasingly gray headed. But to equate gray heads with liberalism is preposterous.

As I see it, the young fellow, along with many like him are making a case for libertinism in the church. For them, worldly living is fine as long as my theology is right.

Holiness isn't just mouthing the right systematic theology.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bruce said...

He said "graying due to liberalism," not "liberalism due to graying." I don't see him conflating the two. He's saying mainliners are dying because they have no substantive theology, not that longevity brings liberalism.

Don Johnson said...

ok, you're right, he didn't say that graying = liberalism, but he is saying something about the older saints. There is a young vs old divide in many church groups, with the young dismissing the old and saying your values, standards, etc. are irrelevant and aren't reaching the young.

I think he is saying that.

And I think he is advocating a libertine philosophy, as long as your theology is ok.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...


Unless you're referring to something other than the portion you're quoting, I think you're wrong. He's not talking about older saints. He's implying that the gray heads are non-Christians who populate the mainline denominations.

Liberal churches are graying because they're liberal, and younger generations aren't buying into hollow, cultural nominalism anymore. They're either sleeping in on Sunday, or they're in churches outside the mainline denominations.

Of course, that glosses the interest of some youth in the new liberalism of the Emerging movement, but that's another discussion--tangential to what the interviewee is saying.

Keith said...


Accepting moderate drinking now equals libertinism? Come on.

I didn't see anything in the interview that even hinted at libertinism.

And as to grey hairs, he said some quite positive things about the little old ladies that support his work. He wasn't at all putting down old people or equating old with liberal.

He was saying churches, works, movements, will die without new/young members. And, the liberal churches aren't getting new/young members because the young (in his theory) see no reason to go make nice for their empty religion.

Don Johnson said...


Yes, advocating drinking is libertinism.

But you are diverting attention from Ben's question, which was:

How would hard-line, rigidly separatistic, independent fundamental Baptists respond to this? Is this a good thing or a bad thing, and why?

So I am responding. I think it is a good thing. I think the lifestyles and/or theological drift promoted by the Acts 29 group is dangerous to holy living and is often unbiblical.

Now regarding my reading of Kevin Larson in the Ascol interview, he goes on to say:

But the SBC, I'm afraid, could gray and ultimately die because of legalism. If this is allowed to persist and grow, it will push young Reformed, expositional preaching, church disciplining, and gospel cherishing guys like me out to the curb.

You see? He says the SBC will die because of legalism. (?) If the SBC persists in conservative opinions, contrary to his, it will push out the golden boys like him. What makes him a golden boy? He has the right theology and he preaches expositionally! He cherishes the gospel. [Implication: the legalistic SBC types don't.]

He goes on to say:

For years, many have been praying for laborers for the harvest. They've wanted men with sound theology and a heart for the lost. Even though I may not look or think exactly like them, I think they've asked God for people like me.

It's amazing how he knows better what 'they' were praying for than those who were praying!

If the MBC were really fundamentalist, though, they would throw rabble rousers like him completely out. He intends to stay in to give them a chance to change. Pretty big of him! But watch out, MBC, if they don't change, he'll be on his way out.


Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Keith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keith said...

Sorry about the deleted comment. Had some typos.


You're correct, the main question was how would guys like you respond. And, you are providing the answer. Sorry about heading down a rabbit trail.

But, since I did, I'll follow the hare just a bit further . . . He didn't "advocate drinking" he just didn't teach or require the appearance of complete abstinence (I say appearance because most churches that "require" complete abstinence have congregants who just do their drinking secretly). Further, the reason that he doesn't teach complete abstinence is that such teaching is, by his reading, and mine, and most of the church's throughout most of history, contrary to Scripture. If that is libertinism, then all Christians ought to be libertines.

You are also correct that he goes on from commenting on the graying of the liberal churches to suggest/predict that the SBC might similarly gray -- but due to legalism instead of liberalism.

However, I didn't get the impression that he thinks he's a golden boy. Maybe he does, and I sure have no abundance of interest in the young guys who think that meaningful ministry requires a minister who is too hip by one. But again, I didn't get that impression from the interview. I got the impression that he was voicing his belief that the convention is majoring on minors and choosing the wrong things to emphasize/focus on.

Bruce said...


Am I reading your last post rightly? Are you ripping a guy for criticizing legalism and espousing good theology and expository preaching?

Would we not agree that both legalism and licentiousness are detrimental to the life of a church? It really then comes down to whether there is such a thing as moderate consumption of alcohol that is biblically permissible, or if any consumption at all constitutes worldliness.

It seems to me that this man has come to his position through careful consideration of the Scriptures, not a desire to be more worldly. We may disagree as to our conclusions regarding the biblical commands (no drunkenness, or no alcohol), but I can't see criticizing this pastor's character or integrity.

If there's any sense in which he is a answer to their prayers, I am hearing him say that it is because he is as committed at they are to reaching the lost with the gospel, not because he is the next superstar pastor.

I guess there's a difference as to how sympathetic we are as listeners/readers here.

Bruce said...

I'm not trying to jump on those whom Ben invited to respond.

I can see that one's view on the moderate consumption of alcohol can be seen as legalism or license, depending on where you stand.

But I hope that we can all see why some pastors like the one interviewed are frustrated. Those holding the stricter position are demaning adherence from all, while those granting more freedom of conscience are not trying to get the abstainers to partake. That's why, it seems to me, that the charge of legalism sticks more than the charge of license.

I don't know that this is the context to argue the various positions, though I do think it is legitimate to debate whether or not it should constitute a matter of separation.

Fundamentalists are most explicitly committed to separation, but clearly this situation is an example that shows that it is not only Fundamentalists who practice separation. It seems then more significant to determine what we should and indeed must separate over, and what should be left to individual/congregational conscience.

I believe separation should be over more critical core gospel issues, though I agree that behavioral issues do color our gospel witness. Another factor is that I believe this issue to be in an area of less biblical clarity than other doctrines/convictions. I would like to hear those of the total abstinence position show that they have their convictions, but that there is room for differing understandings here. If there is, then it shouldn't be a matter of separation.

Pearson said...

The teetotaling issue may be a floater for the fact that many cp's supported by the Coop Program are not really becoming Southern Baptist Churches in the traditional sense. They don't have the traditional standards, philosophy of ministry, etc--nor the name (thanks to Rick Warren setting the trend) of Baptist churches.
Even the Ascol interviewee, as gracious and appreciative of Southern and the SBC/Missouri association, doesn't seem to have a foundational committment to being a Southern Baptist.
In fairness to the planters, I would have recommended a graduated reduction in support. It is not best to give approval, encouragement, coaching, then pull out the rug with no warning.

Ben said...


Thanks for the thoughtful response. I know you have a useful awareness of SBC culture and mission for this discussion. Let me push you a bit further. Are you suggesting that the culture and prevailing ministry philosophy of the SBC/MBC is (or should be) more essential to its identity and its partnerships than its statement of faith?

To all,

Feel free to chase the rabbit trails.

Don Johnson said...

Pearson is right in describing the issue as a 'floater' for opposition to a more difficult to define (and perhaps more difficult to sell) sense that the defunded men are not really interested in producing authentic SBC ministries.

Bruce, legalism is in the eye of the beholder. One would hardly think of SBC churches as legalists. Usually the charge of legalism is uttered by those who refuse restraints.

You say:

It seems to me that this man has come to his position through careful consideration of the Scriptures, not a desire to be more worldly.

But how would you know? You only have his say so in the interview. You haven't seen any evidence of his careful consideration, etc. You have read him mouthing buzzwords about theology, and since they resonate, you assume he really is the exegete and orthodox Bible believer he claims to be.

Further, with respect to the integrity of this particular fellow, note that he says this:

I have practiced abstinence respectfully. I have taught the warnings of consuming alcohol. That is all that is required by the document we signed.

You can find the document he refers to here.

But he also says:

Their main concern, I think, was when I told them that we allowed members to drink in moderation according to their own consciences.

On the one hand he says that he has integrity, that he is following faithfully the document he signed, etc. Read the document. Read the admission. Ask if this is integrity as you know it?

Methinks there is just a bit of disengenuity going on.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bruce said...


Thanks for the link to the document. As I read it, a church planter must agree to abstain, but in my quick reading of this contract I don't see how this should keep a pastor from teaching his congregation that moderate consumption is a viable biblical conviction.

In other words, this document limits practice, not belief/conviction. What about teaching? Well, if you can't teach your convictions, then that seems overreaching.

I do agree that anyone who signs such a document should abide by the agreement to practice total abstinence regarding the consumption of alcohol, but the requirement to "preach and discipline total abstinence" seems to go farther than the agreement in its demands.

Keith said...


Wow. I may be reading you wrong, but you seem fairly hostile in your disagreement with this guy. Yet, he didn't seem hostile to those with whom he disagreed in the MBC. Why the hostility?

I am not saying or implying that all heated debate is wrong. Sometimes it is just what is needed, and quite a few Christian men need to thicken their skin if they wish to enter public life and discussion.

But here's what I mean, to Bruce you wrote: "But how would you know? You only have his say so in the interview. You haven't seen any evidence of his careful consideration, etc. You have read him mouthing buzzwords about theology, and since they resonate, you assume he really is the exegete and orthodox Bible believer he claims to be." This seems to suggest that we ought to doubt his say so. Why? On what basis? Do you know him or anything about him other than the interview? If not, then is not the proper thing -- at least the non-hostile thing -- to take him at his word? Why should he be guilty until proven inocent? What biblical principle allows that?

Unless I read additional information, I trust that the teetotalers in the MBC are sincere in their conviction. I think they are wrong -- flat out, absolutely wrong -- but I don't think they are lying. I understand that you think this church planter is wrong, but why do you think he's dishonest?

I also agree with Bruce that it does not appear that the church planter violated the specific wording of the teetotaler's document. I do not see any disenenuity here at all. He pledged to abstain -- he respectfully abstained. He pledged to warn of the dangers of alcohol -- he so warned.

That said, I do think that "he who takes the king's coin becomes the king's man." If he wants their money, he has to follow their rules -- whether stated clearly at the outset or not. And, if he doesn't want his church to be an SBC church as defined by the SBC/MBC, then he should find other sources of funding.

I also think that the MBC can fund or defund whomever they wish. That's their right and they should exercise it. I think it might have been some guy named Jones who said, "If I want to run a school for bow-legged preachers, I ought to be able to" (or something like that). And, I agree.

However, I don't agree that the MBC or Dr. Jones should be able to do this with the unquestioning blessing and agreement of all Christians. The MBC has every right not to fund non-teetotaler ministries. But noone has the obligation to agreee with their rationale.

Finally, the fact that different people are going to label different things legalism ("legalism is in the eye of the beholder" as you say), does not mean that there is no such thing as true legalism. The question here really ought to be does the Bible require this standard of all people? If it doesn't and we do, we're legalists.

Don Johnson said...

Keith & Bruce

The terms "expositional" etc are relative terms. They are the currently popular buzzwords. People utter them as popular code to say "see, I'm a good guy". We have no way of evaluating whether or not the statements are actually true.

My argument here is not with whether or not the speaker is what he claims to be. My argument is with the notion that he is somehow noble in his position because he has surely come to this position from a careful consideration of Scripture. That's rubbish. We are flirting with relativism if we give people a pass simply because, well, they are allegedly arrived at from a careful consideration of Scripture.

Keith, I want to see if you will be consistent here:

The question here really ought to be does the Bible require this standard of all people? If it doesn't and we do, we're legalists.

Would you say the same for someone arguing for total abstinence from smoking?

It seems to me that it is kind of legalistic to say that the supported church planter must totally abstain from alcohol because of his agreement, but since the agreement only applies to him, he is free to teach moderation to his people. The spirit of the agreement would seem to militate against that, no matter how legally fine you parse the document.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...


I'm at a loss for how you can say of this church planter,

"Methinks there is just a bit of disengenuity going on."

Then, when your interpretation of the document is accurately critiqued, you write,

"My argument here is not with whether or not the speaker is what he claims to be."

By the way, thanks for the link to that document. Are you saying, Don, that you like the document. If so, I'd agree. It's an excellent document, and one that seems as though it could be a useful guideline for all parties.

One more thing you wrote:

"He says the SBC will die because of legalism. (?) If the SBC persists in conservative opinions, contrary to his, it will push out the golden boys like him."

Is that really how you think he's defining legalism? Conservative opinions contrary to his own? What makes you think that's what he means?

Don Johnson said...

Hi Ben

I guess we should remember that we are in a discussion here, not a dispassionate academic discourse. I freely admit to being given to rhetoric.

Let's see if we can sort it out a bit and become a little more understandable.

I have to say that alcohol is a hot-button issue with me. I suppose you couldn't tell! I am dealing with people all the time whose lives have been completely broken. The first step is alcohol, almost universally. I find the accommodation made to its use to be extremely offensive.

As for the specifics: Yes, I find the young pastor to be a good bit self serving and somewhat disingenuous, but my conclusions about him are not central to the discussion of the board action.

The board felt the church planters were violating their covenant as expressed in the document, so they acted. I think they were right to do so, given the admissions this particular church planter made.

BTW, the document was linked to in the interview, so I brought the link over since it seemed particularly critical to this discussion.

As for the document, I think that it is good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go far enough. It is good in that it spells out fairly explicitly the expectations of the supporters concerning the matter of alcohol. I suspect that its framers might want to make it even more explicit now, following this row. But it appears to be sufficient to show that the church planters are not operating within the spirit of the document, even if they can justify themselves by saying they are following the letter of it.

As for his claims about the SBC and legalism, this is what he said:

But the SBC, I'm afraid, could gray and ultimately die because of legalism.

The whole context of his use of the term legalism is this row over alcohol. That is why I made my statement about conservative opinions contrary to his own.

At least it is interesting to see the SBC hoisted on the legalism charge...

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Keith said...


I would say the same for someone REQUIRING total abstinence from smoking for all people as I would for someone REQUIRING total abstinence from drinking for all people. Yes.

However, I have no problem with people making a case for (arguing FOR) the wisdom, for some in some circumstances, of abstinence from smoking, drinking, eating, marriage, driving, watching tv, reading the newspaper, buying a house, playing sports, or a whole host of other activities.

As far as the document goes, it is a clear and fair covenantal agreement. However, it is based on at least two errors. 1) The historic support of prohibition by the SBC -- prohibition was a governmental overreach of immense proportions. 2) The rationale that "since too much of thing is bad, the safest approach is complete abstinence." Such a rationale cannot be applied consistently, and very few even try with anything other than alcohol.

Don Johnson said...

Hi Keith

So would you say that the secular anti-smoking zealots are legalists?

In BC, smoking is banned in all public places, now banned within 15 ft of the entrance to a public building (or something like that), and I think even banned in one's own vehicle if children are present. A public building is any building the public uses, including private property such as stores, pubs, etc.

Now I hold no brief for tobacco, and I do make requirements for abstinence. But... this is legalism? Hardly.

You need to do a little more study on the meaning of legalism.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Keith said...


Give me a break.

I understand certain people like to brush aside even the possibility that they may be engaging in legalism by allowing only one definition of legalism -- something like "the view that one can earn his salvation through obedience to the law." I have no argument with that definition. Of course, most words allow of more than one definition.

Clearly, for a meaningful discussion it is important to stipulate our definitions and define our terms precisely. I defined mine, and I think it fits acceptably within the semantic field of the word.

To be more precise, I could have added a few words. Something like: "If it doesn't and on Biblical, religious, Christian, grounds we do, we're religious legalists." But, as you said, "we are in a discussion here, not a dispassionate academic discourse." My main point was that "legalism" is not merely a relative term like "tall" or "rich".

Are the laws of British Columbia legalism in my opinion? Well, yes and no.

Yes -- I do think that much contemporary governmental overreaching is a form of secularized/political works righteousness.

The governement does, biblically, have the obligation and right to protect the citizens from harm by others. So, I believe an argument can probably be made for banning smoking in public buildings which citizens are required to visit.

However, banning smoking in private property which no one is required to visit smells like more than a stretch. Such laws are the work of church ladies who don't believe in church. They want to save themselves and everybody else -- even if we don't want their salvation.

But no -- those making these laws are not doing so on the basis of the Christian religion or the Bible.

There are many ways to be wrong.

For what it's worth. I do think it is quite possible that the church planter in question obeyed the teetolers' document in a legalistic fashion as you suggest (another legitimate use of the word). It is possible that he understood the intent of the document was to abstain and advocate abstinence. If he did he was using legalism for his own purposes much like the pharisees when they tried to get out of taking care of their parents.

On the other hand, he could have been sincerely mistaken about the full intent of the document.

Pearson said...

Hey Ben,
Been out of town.
I don't think culture/phil.of min. should be "more" essential than its doctrinal statement, but it should have some bearing on support "triage" if you will.
The SBC has only become much more "kingdom" focused rather than denominationally enclosed in the last decade or so. There may be many in the MBC older guard that are more guarded denominationally. I start guessing at this point though. If they are, I would not hold it against them as it is their cooperative program.