Recently the Missouri Baptist Convention cut all ties (most notably financial ties) with a church-planting network called Acts 29. The wording of the motion was pretty strong: Staff of the Convention “will not be working with, supporting, or endorsing [Acts 29] in any manner at anytime.”
The conflict here stems from one Acts 29 church supported by the Missouri Baptist Convention having an event called “Theology at the Bottleworks.” This was a discussion group that met in a bar, and not surprisingly some members drank alcoholic beverages during the event. Also not surprisingly, this upset some Missouri Baptists, as it would many of our Baptist brothers and sisters, who tend to take a pretty hard line on the use of alcoholic beverages. As a result, the Convention has determined not to support any Acts 29 churches, including those they are already supporting financially. (This does not prevent individual churches in the Convention from supporting Acts 29 church-planting efforts.)
There are several critiques that we could make of this decision. For example, this will cut off considerable financial support to several Acts 29 churches who actually take the same view on alcohol as the Convention– and they have until January 1 to make other arrangements. But I bring it up in order to illustrate something that’s problematic: Christians sometimes make the mistake of turning a personal conviction into a sort of litmus test for orthodoxy. Now personal convictions are great, and I commend the Baptists for sticking to theirs. But we step over an important line when we begin to treat our personal convictions as though they were clear biblical truth.
The Bible simply does not forbid the moderate use of alcohol. Of course the Bible forbids drunkenness, but it does not forbid alcohol per se. So while abstaining from alcohol altogether may be a good idea for some believers for various reasons (such as a personal or family pattern of alcoholism, the cultural context in which they want to minister, etc.), it is not something that can be commanded, a requirement that some believers can place on others.
That said, a church or organization is still free to decide who it will and will not support. So my complaint with this action by the MBC (as if they asked) is not that they’ve decided not to support a given ministry, but that they’ve bypassed a whole lot of important issues where Acts 29 and the MBC agree and cut all their ties over a small area where they disagree. Acts 29 is solid on the person and work of Christ, the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, the need for evangelism and missions, and a thousand other important things. In fact, they are one of the groups leading the charge for the planting of solid, Bible-based, Gospel-preaching churches in the States. But because they don’t share the common Baptist conviction that all use of alcohol is a sin, they’re getting the plug pulled on a big source of funding.
This decision by the MBC effectively places the ban on alcohol on a higher level of importance than essential things like the doctrines mentioned above. And when Christians do this, when we confuse secondary issues with primary issues, we cloud the centrality of the gospel. We make it look like to be one of us, you have to do certain things and not do other things. We make it look like the gospel is about rules, about ethical behavior, rather than about trusting in the work of Christ.