First, a couple disclaimers:
(1) While I am a complimentarian, I like the work of at The Wartburg Watch, as well as Watchkeep (by Amy Smith).
(2) I empathize with TWWs concerns about the neo-Calvinists, particularly those who flirt with the overly-authoritarian church model.
(3) I believe Mark Driscoll got what he deserved.
(4) I also agree with TWW about C.J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries.
Having said that, I also think TWW raises some issues regarding the Acts 29 Network of churches.
TWW has written several stories involving Acts 29 churches and harsh discipline. We believe that the legend of Mark Driscoll lives on. We hope that Matt Chandler will take time to review the problems inherent in this network. Here is one such story on Countryside Christian Church (they even have some documentation as well!) Do Acts 29 Churches Share the Same DNA as the Mothership – Matt Chandler’s The Village Church?
As a nearly 8-year member of an Acts 29 church, I can answer with two words: it depends.
The problem you have is not so much the Acts 29 system; the plurality of elders is as workable as any other church governmental model. As for how elders are chosen, again, it depends on the church.
In any church, the leadership can easily become a good-old-boys network. In most Baptist churches, deacons–who would be analogous to elders–are often nominated by members, but–in reality–are approved by the other deacons (and even the pastor). You can’t say that such a model cannot be abused.
Whether the model is more democratic or more authoritarian, the fact remains: any church governmental model can be abused. We humans have ways of exploiting just about anything.
As for authoritarian an Acts 29 church is, much of that depends on the way the church was founded, and the visions of the leaders. At my church, it’s an atmosphere of substantial liberties. As long as members aren’t engaging in flagrant immorality, the elders are not interested in micromanaging anyone. In a case like Karen’s, it is doubtful that the elders would have objected to her seeking a divorce or annulment. As for her husband, they would have been pretty hard on him, referring him to local authorities.
OTOH, I realize that other Acts 29 churches are more micromanagy while others are taking this “covenant membership” business to provide what you rightly call “Hotel California”: you can check out anytime, but you can never leave. My take: these folks are gung ho for the 9Marks/SGM/Whatever NeoCalvinist Celebrity Flavor Of the Week puts out. These pastors often lack wisdom that comes from the knowledge of history; they often have MDiv degrees and have drunk the Neo-Calvinist Kool-Aid, fawning over the every word of Piper, Keller, Mohler, Dever. Ask the young hot shots some hard questions, and watch them offer canned answers. That tells me they haven’t thought; they just drink Kool-Aid.
(FWIW: I’m not knocking Piper or Keller; I’m just saying we need to be careful not to fall for the allure of the celebrity circuit. I’m old enough to have seen a number of high-flying hotshots bite the dust.)
Unfortunately, the Acts 29 churches that aren’t causing trouble aren’t the ones making the headlines.
Like I said, it depends. Personally, if I see a leadership that is run by young neo-Calvinists who went to neo-Calvinist seminaries AND–here’s the catch–provide canned answers to hard questions, my advice is RUN…DO NOT WALK.