Ask The Thoughtful Pastor: Is Acts 29 A Cult? Why Do They Marry So Young?

Ask The Thoughtful Pastor: Is Acts 29 A Cult? Why Do They Marry So Young? February 16, 2016

Calvin Refusing The Lord’s Supper To The Libertines, In St. Peter’s cathedral, Geneva. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Issues about the Acts 29, neo-Calvinist church movement continue to concern me for multiple reasons. See these questions today for the Thoughtful Pastor.

Two questions today over similar issues:

Dear Thoughtful Pastor: I read your article about neo Calvinism and the Acts 29 network. I have attended a few Acts 29 churches. I am frustrated with how things are, and I am having a hard time finding a church that shares my convictions. I am no longer complementarian, and I am not on board with predestination

Do you see this movement lasting? Or has it been around a while, and people just think it is a new movement?

I feel like this theology is creeping into many churches, not just Acts 29. What are your recommendations on finding a good church?

 

 

And

Dear Thoughtful Pastor: My daughter recently became a member an Acts 29 church. I find the congregations similar beliefs, regurgitation of biblical information, and identical behaviors a bit peculiar. They seem to think that their interpretation is right and above all others understanding of the Bible.

Many of her friends in the church circle have recently become engaged or married. All fit the similar profile of dating 6-9 months before becoming engaged, married within 5-8 months, and knowing each other for a total of a year or slightly more from meeting, dating, engagement and marriage. All are college students under 23. All seem to think Ephesians is the most important book in the Bible.

In your research, is this church border-line cult, or is it the new “religious trend” for kids under 25?

Important definitions:

Acts 29: an aggressive church planting network grounded in neo-Calvinist theology. The president of Acts 29 is Matt Chandler, lead pastor of the Flower Mound-based Village Church. See this site for more infomation.

One Acts 29 core value: “the equality of male and female and the principle of male servant leadership.” This works out in church life as “Complementarian.” Husband and wife complement each other in their roles. Under the Acts 29 assertion of equality, the husband/father/male takes on ultimate leadership roles and responsibilities in both home and church.

Predestination: a theology which asserts that a totally sovereign God chose, even before the creation of humanity, who would spend eternity in heaven. Those not chosen are destined for hell, seen as “eternal conscious torment.”

Both complementarianism and predestination can be found in the Bible, particularly in the letter to the Ephesians, thus its centrality in the teachings of neo-Calvinist churches.

John Calvin, a 16th-century French theologian articulated these understandings as a part of the larger Protestant revolution, which Martin Luther and his 95 Theses had sparked. It’s not new.

Its strengths come from the orderly hierarchical nature of the theology, the direction of God in all of life’s decisions, and its unshakeable belief that the Bible is without error of any kind. These principles support quick marriages because God has a chosen mate of the opposite sex for each. Once that person appears, why wait? God will work out all possible problems.

But life is messy and doesn’t always fit into watertight boxes and boundaries, so those strengths may also be its weaknesses.

Core doctrines are established by a small group of men, mostly Caucasian. Debate concerning them has no place in an Acts 29 church. Believe it or leave.

The book of Ephesians was probably written around 62 AD by Paul of Tarsus. Paul, a Roman citizen, never met Jesus but penned a number of letters that comprise our New Testament.

The Gospels were written later as the formation of communities centering on Jesus began to take place. They speak routinely of the rule-breaking life of Jesus, bringing into question the careful order of life, family, and church found in Ephesians.

Jesus routinely ate with sinners, fed the hungry, touched and healed the untouchables of his day and demanded no particular beliefs. Worse, he hung out with women and let them speak with him in public, an almost unspeakable breach of conduct for a good first-century Jewish male.

So, are Acts 29 churches cult-like?

Yes, in the sense that they are sure they and they only have the correct interpretations of Scriptures and have the words that lead to salvation.

No in the sense that there is freedom to leave, although that freedom is limited to some extent by the covenants that must be signed by those wishing to achieve full membership status. Those membership covenants give the all-male elders considerable leeway in deciding whether to put someone under church discipline. When a member has been placed under discipline, he/she may not withdraw membership until the situation has been resolved to the satisfaction of the elder board.

Even so, it can be safe place to be, to thrive, make friends and find mates. Many people rear wonderful families in this environment.

As for how to find a good church: I’m going to leave that for the next column!


The Thoughtful PastorAll questions are welcome. You can email your questions to thoughtfulpastor@gmail.com, “like” her Facebook Page, or message her on Twitter.

[Note: a version of this column appears in the Friday, February 19, 2016  print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]

"Maybe you could blog about the sound of crickets, Christie Lib..."

A Time Off To Heal; Remy ..."
"Where is your proof of this? You are making outlandish generalizations about what liberals do ..."

It’s Official: We Are The United ..."
"P.S. Wow,Christie Lib, only one sympathy card so far? Doesn't seem like anybody cares..."

A Time Off To Heal; Remy ..."
"As we say in Texas, this here blog "is going to the dogs." LOL"

A Time Off To Heal; Remy ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Acts 29 was founded by Mark Driscoll, the former pastor of the former church Mars Hill. When it was clear that it’s founder was disqualified for leadership, the reigns were handed to Matt Chandler of The Village church. The Village church was in something of a controversy over the way that a discipline situation was mishandled. The focus of Acts 29 is to be a ‘church planting church’ – it often sets it’s sights on larger cities as targets to reach people. Their membership covenants are rather strict and can be viewed as legally binding – they’re designed to protect the church itself from lawsuits from believers, they are not designed to protect believers from the leadership of the church. One regulation is that people who leave one Acts 29 church must join another Acts 29 or Acts 29 approved church from a sister network. Perhaps the certainly of Neo-Calvinism is what attracts young people – being a member in good standing, submitting oneself / obeying authority over them as Jesus obeys the Father in everything, etc. must mean that they’re among the the few who are the elect who were predestined to be saved because they attend not just a biblical church – but THE most biblical church there can biblically be. To be sure, there are plenty of good men and women who attend Acts 29 churches, but the way the system is set up, some not so good ones can somehow be qualified as elders / leaders even when they’re not yet 30 years old and are spiritually immature. The conditions exist where spiritual abuse can / will / does happen. I think it’s something like a storm, as long as a steady stream of young people are converted into Acts 29 it will build and last until the young people are taught to question inerrancy or some major scandal shows it’s flawed DNA causing problems in most Acts 29 churches and chokes off the source of young people or diverts them to another school of thought. With so many seminaries focusing on Reformed / Systematic theology / biblical inerrancy – there’s just so many sources from which young people will learn and lean towards Acts 29 type churches in big cities. The best way to do that is to start with high school students and stop telling them that the Bible is inerrant and ought to be understood literally – but is a culturally derived document with the collective wisdom of millennia that can guide us in our interactions with the world. (It’s a good idea to live peaceably with your neighbors so you can count on them in an emergency – the Bible says so, too, but it’s not true just because it’s in the Bible alone.) At least, that’s what helped to give me the tools to see that Calvinism and Complemententarianism aren’t the only truths in the Bible, Arminianism and Egalitarianism are in it, too.

    • I am guessing you are right about the life-cycle of the Acts 29 movement. You hit the nail on the head with this comment: “Perhaps the certainly of Neo-Calvinism is what attracts young people – being a member in good standing, submitting oneself / obeying authority over them as Jesus obeys the Father in everything, etc. must mean that they’re among the the few who are the elect who were predestined to be saved because they attend not just a biblical church – but THE most biblical church there can biblically be.”

    • joe

      I’ve served A29 churches and non A29 churches, even a broadly evangelical mission board. I don’t know where you are getting this information. A29 is a single issue network, centered around church planting. It’s not a cult, it’s not even a denomination. Some churches are independent, Southern Baptist, Congregationalist, Presbyterian and more. Each church has it’s own culture, bylaws etc. There is everything from house churches to megachurches and everything in between. There is no rule that you must go to a A29 / A29 approved church when you leave a church. As far as why people get married young in these churches, probably because these churches tend to plant with young people, and are filled with young people.

      Has there been scandals among A29 Church leaders? Yes, but I do believe the network seeks to be self-reflective on this issues, and I would point out that these types of scandals are not the sole domain of those who believe in God’s sovereignty or are complementarians.

      • Acts 29 requires elder-led church form, which is the very antithesis of literally all of the denominations you mentioned being compatible with it.

  • Acts 29 was founded by Mark Driscoll, the former pastor of the former church Mars Hill. When it was clear that it’s founder was disqualified for leadership, the reigns were handed to Matt Chandler of The Village church. The Village church was in something of a controversy over the way that a discipline situation was mishandled. The focus of Acts 29 is to be a ‘church planting church’ – it often sets it’s sights on larger cities as targets to reach people. Their membership covenants are rather strict and can be viewed as legally binding – they’re designed to protect the church itself from lawsuits from believers, they are not designed to protect believers from the leadership of the church. One regulation is that people who leave one Acts 29 church must join another Acts 29 or Acts 29 approved church from a sister network. Perhaps the certainly of Neo-Calvinism is what attracts young people – being a member in good standing, submitting oneself / obeying authority over them as Jesus obeys the Father in everything, etc. must mean that they’re among the the few who are the elect who were predestined to be saved because they attend not just a biblical church – but THE most biblical church there can biblically be. To be sure, there are plenty of good men and women who attend Acts 29 churches, but the way the system is set up, some not so good ones can somehow be qualified as elders / leaders even when they’re not yet 30 years old and are spiritually immature. The conditions exist where spiritual abuse can / will / does happen. I think it’s something like a storm, as long as a steady stream of young people are converted into Acts 29 it will build and last until the young people are taught to question inerrancy or some major scandal shows it’s flawed DNA causing problems in most Acts 29 churches and chokes off the source of young people or diverts them to another school of thought. With so many seminaries focusing on Reformed / Systematic theology / biblical inerrancy – there’s just so many sources from which young people will learn and lean towards Acts 29 type churches in big cities. The best way to do that is to start with high school students and stop telling them that the Bible is inerrant and ought to be understood literally – but is a culturally derived document with the collective wisdom of millennia that can guide us in our interactions with the world. (It’s a good idea to live peaceably with your neighbors so you can count on them in an emergency – the Bible says so, too, but it’s not true just because it’s in the Bible alone.) At least, that’s what helped to give me the tools to see that Calvinism and Complemententarianism aren’t the only truths in the Bible, Arminianism and Egalitarianism are in it, too.

    • I am guessing you are right about the life-cycle of the Acts 29 movement. You hit the nail on the head with this comment: “Perhaps the certainly of Neo-Calvinism is what attracts young people – being a member in good standing, submitting oneself / obeying authority over them as Jesus obeys the Father in everything, etc. must mean that they’re among the the few who are the elect who were predestined to be saved because they attend not just a biblical church – but THE most biblical church there can biblically be.”

    • At my small Acts 29 church the pastor kicked out all of the young people because they didn’t have any money and were scaring away families. One by one I watched them all disappear, not putting 2 + 2 together that I was next (but I was). When the elder and the pastor came to “confront” me I demanded to know the charge, and they refused to state any. That’s when I got up and walked away and never looked back.

  • Paul almost certainly did not write the book of Ephesians. He would almost certainly dispute that he never met Jesus. Paul, if you read his undisputed letters carefully, seems to claim he had an encounter of some kind with Jesus. Different perhaps than the apostles found in the Gospels, but no less meaningful. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul contends his understanding of the Gospel came to him from a revelation of Jesus Christ.

    • Yeah, Paul probably didn’t write Ephesians but I didn’t want to get into that in this column–it runs in a newspaper in a town where I’m already pretty well hated by the conservative church element, so I let it go. And yes, the book of Acts does speak to a vision (mentioned twice with conflicting accounts) of Paul and Jesus. But Paul was never a disciple or saw first-hand the work of Jesus.

  • Paul almost certainly did not write the book of Ephesians. He would almost certainly dispute that he never met Jesus. Paul, if you read his undisputed letters carefully, seems to claim he had an encounter of some kind with Jesus. Different perhaps than the apostles found in the Gospels, but no less meaningful. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul contends his understanding of the Gospel came to him from a revelation of Jesus Christ.

    • Yeah, Paul probably didn’t write Ephesians but I didn’t want to get into that in this column–it runs in a newspaper in a town where I’m already pretty well hated by the conservative church element, so I let it go. And yes, the book of Acts does speak to a vision (mentioned twice with conflicting accounts) of Paul and Jesus. But Paul was never a disciple or saw first-hand the work of Jesus.

    • James

      Paul did write Ephesians I have no clue as to why you don’t believe in that but another error that Paul didn’t meet Jesus um hello Road To Damascus.

  • Chris

    Good article. But I would say that under US law a person can withdraw their membership from any religious organization at any time without requiring agreement from church or its leadership. Period. A person might choose to submit to church discipline (if called for) but they cannot be compelled to do so, and they CAN withdraw at their own choosing.

  • Chris

    Good article. But I would say that under US law a person can withdraw their membership from any religious organization at any time without requiring agreement from church or its leadership. Period. A person might choose to submit to church discipline (if called for) but they cannot be compelled to do so, and they CAN withdraw at their own choosing.

  • LorenHaas

    The blog The Wartburg Watch has been following the actions of Acts 29 for a few years. You can learn much more by visiting their website: http://thewartburgwatch.com

    • Thank you. I’ve followed many of the posts on that website. They do great work.

  • LorenHaas

    The blog The Wartburg Watch has been following the actions of Acts 29 for a few years. You can learn much more by visiting their website: http://thewartburgwatch.com

    • Thank you. I’ve followed many of the posts on that website. They do great work.

  • Pingback: Ask the Thoughtful Pastor: Finding a Church and Ted Cruz as Messiah – The Thoughtful Pastor()

  • Pingback: Ask the Thoughtful Pastor: Finding a Church and Ted Cruz as Messiah – The Thoughtful Pastor()

  • Amber
    • The more I learn about Acts 29 the more I think it’s a pyramid get-rich-quick scam for preachers. Though they get ekklesia and complementarianism almost entirely wrong, I agree with their theology otherwise.