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