Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Ron Gladden Vents His Opinions

Ron Gladden's (open) letter to Russell Burrill raises some important issues that need to be discussed, but what I'm going for here is the tone of the letter. I'm interested in sensing the spirit of the exchange. Do you feel like Ron Gladden is calm, controlled by a spirit of humility and love? Or do you feel like he's angry, controlled by a spirit of fear and territorialism? Here's the letter:

August 20, 2004

Elder Russell Burrill, Director
North American Division Evangelism Institute

Hi Russell,

Last week when I received your letter, I promised you I would respond. Since your letter apparently was sent to multiple people, I will address mine to you and copy others in hopes that those who read your letter will have a chance to read this one as well.

All of us are familiar with the passage in Luke 9 where John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us." Jesus responded, "Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side” (vs. 49,50; NKJV).

Ellen White comments on this passage in Acts of the Apostles: “None who showed themselves in any way friendly to Christ were to be repulsed. The disciples must not indulge a narrow, exclusive spirit, but must manifest the same far-reaching sympathy which they had seen in their Master. James and John had thought that in checking this man they had in view the Lord’s honor; but they began to see that they were jealous for their own. They acknowledged their error and accepted the reproof” (pp. 543 & 544).

According to the working policy of the General Conference, God does not restrict His blessings to those who work within the structure of the Seventh-day Adventist church. Our official position is that “we hold in high esteem Christian men and women in other communions who are engaged in winning souls to Christ.”

Jesus’ response to the disciples was not ambiguous. Ellen White affirms – as does our official working policy – that God works through those outside of our circles. It seems reasonable that since this is true of those who preach things that are not in harmony with all of the Bible’s teachings, it would certainly include those who preach the same doctrines.

We have prayed much over the decision to start Adventist churches in doctrine that utilize a different organizational structure. We are convinced that God is leading and that many more people will accept this message and be saved in His kingdom. Whether or not a person agrees with us, the above passage makes it plain that God could, in fact, be leading us.

When Hosea announced to his friends, “God told me to marry a prostitute,” I doubt his friends said, “Right on, Hosea. Sounds just like God to me!” Instead, they were alarmed and wondered why he was pursuing a path that would take him away from God. We don’t always understand God’s ways of working. Down through history, He has a track record of leading in some surprising ways.

Perhaps that is why Gamaliel’s counsel in Acts 5 is so vitally important: “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it – lest you be found to fight against God” (vs. 38-39; NKJV).

Gamaliel was not speaking with human wisdom or simply utilizing conflict resolution skills when he delivered this advice; Ellen White states that the Holy Spirit moved upon Gamaliel to speak these words (Testimonies to Ministers, p. 72).

I would appeal to you to follow Gamaliel’s advice. We are not against the Seventh-day Adventist church; we are not against any one. We are loyal Adventist Christians who believe that God will be honored as another group joins in proclaiming the message. If God is indeed leading us, please realize what a tragedy it would be for someone to oppose us, especially if that person does so in a harsh manner and/or persuades others to join their cause. Remember, too, that Ellen White considered her own statements about the church to be conditional. (See 1SM, p. 67 and 8T, p. 247.)

When we met with Elder Schneider and two of his colleagues, we made a pledge that we will remain positive toward the church. By God’s grace, we will keep that pledge. If any arrows fly, we told Elder Schneider, they will only fly in one direction and that will not be from us. We hope and pray that we could all agree to take Luke 9 and Acts 5 to heart, to lay these matters humbly and prayerfully before God and ask for Him to bless or withdraw His blessing as He sees fit.

Now let me respond briefly to the major points in your letter.

1. You state that we are starting a new denomination. This is absolutely not our intention. We appealed to our leaders to consider Mission Catalyst as a pilot project, to give it a few years and see if God is in it. We asked if we could find enough common ground that we could operate under the structural umbrella of the church.

Some people may label Mission Catalyst as a denomination, but we believe it inaccurately characterizes our ministry. We are, in fact, a network of churches that is loyal to the Adventist message and mission and passionate about taking it to the world. We would love to partner with the church to make that happen. We would also prefer to call our churches “Seventh-day Adventist” but are aware that if we did, we would likely face legal action.

2. You state that one of the 27 fundamental beliefs “declares that you believe that the Seventh-day Adventist church constitutes God’s remnant people.” None of the 27 fundamentals states that at all. The only statements that mention the remnant are numbers 12 & 17, but neither of them states that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is the remnant church. Instead, the remnant is comprised of those who meet certain criteria. We agree with those and will proclaim them.

3. Your letter states that we are “totally doing away with all mission work.” Actually, we are requiring each church that we start to be engaged in a mission project.

4. Your letter states that we “have no room for any educational system.” Many of the finest Christian schools in America are based in local churches. As time goes on and our churches become significant, I have no doubt that many of them will create Christian schools.

5. You state that “your bureaucracy costs more than the denomination” because the local church will send 10% of its giving to the support office. The vast majority of that money will be spent to start churches in the 318 metro areas in the United States and in other countries. The amount of money needed to staff the support office will be amazingly small.

6. You state that the church planter assessment system belongs to the church. We agree. When we left our office in June, Lavelle Whitehouse and I left the material there in hopes that someone would pick it up and continue with the program. We have created a new and very different process that will help us identify founding pastors of new churches.

7. You state that we have planted 1211 new churches in the last nine years. According to official statistics, the North American Division has experienced a net gain of 318 churches from the end of 1996 (when the first Seeds program began) to the end of 2003. NAD did not track companies in 1996 so these numbers reflect an apples-to-apples comparison.

There may be other points that you have made in other letters. I have heard of another letter (or two?) that you have sent out, but since I have not seen it, I can only respond to your letter to me.

A few more thoughts. I hope we can steer the discussion away from any person or group of persons to the central issue: using the resources God has placed in our care as efficiently as possible for the spread of the gospel. We cannot pretend that the organization is structured as efficiently as possible and is producing the maximum kingdom impact. We all recognize that we have drifted significantly from the days when the mission was primary.

So far, administrators seem unwilling to discuss why a denominational policy permits conference, union or division offices to pays their secretaries and custodians, and to buy office equipment, with tithe funds, while a local church cannot. The conference spends tithe to bring in guest speakers for the annual camp meeting, but a local church cannot. The Union office uses tithe to print their communication paper; the local church cannot. The conference pays part of a Bible teacher’s salary out of tithe; the local church cannot. Through tithe exchange, a conference or union can even use tithe for the acquisition and maintenance of buildings which, of course, the local church cannot. These are some of the issues that bring great concern to loyal Adventists who love the message, but realize that local churches are financially hamstrung when it comes to the mission.

Everyone knows that most of the Adventist ministries accept tithe. When we met with Elder Schneider, I shared with him that several persons from Adventist media ministries have told us personally that their ministry accepts tithe. One leader in a media ministry told me that they get phone calls all the time asking if they will accept tithe. The potential donor is told, “If you mark it as tithe, we are supposed to send it back; if you want us to accept it, make sure the check doesn’t say ‘tithe’ on it.”

Another media ministry leader told us, “When we receive a tithe check, we place a phone call to the donor: ‘It is against our policy to accept tithe. Did you mean for us to receive your tithe?’ If the person says, ‘No,’ we return the check to the donor. If the person says, ‘Yes, I meant to send you our tithe,’ we accept it.”

Accepting tithe for supporting ministries is common practice. Mission Catalyst has decided to follow the lead of others with one exception. We are not pretending that we don’t accept it; we believe that the tithe is for the proclamation of the Adventist message and we will use it as efficiently as we can.

One more thing. Demographic studies show that a large chunk of the population tell researchers that they will never become part of any denomination. Is it acceptable to write them off? It would be wonderful if the denomination and Mission Catalyst could have a Toyota/Lexus relationship.

Researchers told Toyota that people would not spend $50,000 on a Toyota, but they would if the automobile or SUV had a separate identity. Toyota created a separate brand called Lexus and those who were never in the market for what they perceived as a lowly Toyota were soon proudly cruising the neighborhood in a Lexus.

What business are we in? Toyota and Lexus are in the automobile manufacturing business. They will do whatever it takes to make their product attractive. We are in the soul-saving “business.” What are we willing to do to make our “product” more attractive – without compromising our theological integrity – to the greatest number of people?

Since we are not allowed, legally, to use the Seventh-day Adventist name in our churches, we will offer the same high-quality message under a different name. We are praying for a positive partnership with the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. We will preach the same message. We will reach, by God’s grace, hundreds of thousands of lost people, some of whom would never be reached without this ministry.

Please join us, Russell, in praying for God to lead and bless. Please help us keep a positive relationship between the official denomination and Mission Catalyst. I have looked up to you, respected you, and considered you a friend for many years. I continue to respect you and will always consider you a friend. I pledge to pray for God to bless your leadership and your ministry. In the spirit of Luke 9 and Acts 5, please pray for me and for those of us who are sticking our necks out to try and lead more souls into God’s kingdom.

Your friend,

Ron Gladden

There it is. What do you think is the spirit and tone of the letter?