Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Russell Burrill Vents His Feelings

Russell Burrill's (open) letter to Ron Gladden 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 Russell Burrill 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 8, 2004

Ron Gladden
Mission Catalyst Network
PO Box 873520
Vancouver, WA 98687-3520

Dear Ron:

On Friday someone handed me a copy of your proposal to start a church planting network. I must say you have shocked me. I have always thought you were a loyal Seventh-day Adventist, but it is hard for me to believe that you are actually starting your own denomination. That may not be your intention, but if you proceed with what you have outlined, that is virtually what you are doing.

I remember many discussions with you over the years about those who ended up leaving the denomination and starting their own church. I remember how insistent you were that when we assessed potential candidates that we made certain they were loyal to the church. We did not want the church planting movement compromised by those who would use it to leave the church. That is why your decision shocks me. You have been a prominent leader in the church planting movement, and now with you leaving the denomination and starting your own movement, you are going to cast bad reflection upon the church planting movement in Adventism. This just seems totally out of character for you, Ron.

You are going to make it very hard on the rest of us now, for people and leadership will be telling us that they are afraid of church planting because it leads to abandonment of the church. You will have to answer to God for that. I am praying that we will be able to continue with full power in spite of your leaving, but I know the next couple of years will be rocky because of what you are doing.

I have read your document and I was also upset that you reference my book, Rekindling the Lost Passion, as part of your justification. I resent that. I do not support what you are doing in any way. I understand your frustration that led you here. It is always difficult when we get let go, but to use that episode to start a new denomination is overreacting. My book does not support what you are suggesting. I merely talk about early Adventism’s role of the pastor as a church planter rather than having a pastor over a church. I do not deal with, nor does history support, from what I understand, that the early church put its money in the local church. They did not. All the money went to the Conference. The local church got nothing, not even a pastor. You cannot use that history to support sending money to the local church instead of the Conference. That is a misuse of history and what my book says. Therefore I request that you remove all reference to my book or my name in any of your documents. You do not have my permission to use them.

There are other issues that I wish to address with you. I hope you are patient enough to read through this. I am obviously upset with what you are doing and feel I must respond. You may have thought through all these issues, but I feel obligated to at least bring them to your attention.

First, you have started a new denomination. You may counter that this is not your intention, but when you receive tithe from the churches, the churches are not called Seventh-day Adventists, and you have a structure totally independent from the denomination You have started a new denomination.

You claim that all the churches must agree with the 27 fundamental beliefs of the church, however, that is impossible in the light of what you are doing. One of the 27 beliefs declares that you believe that the Seventh-day Adventist church constitutes God’s remnant people. How can you profess to believe that and not be a part of the Adventist denomination? You may say that it is the message, not the organization. There is a semblance of truth in that, but the belief statement does not say message, it says church. So, you only believe in 26 of the beliefs.

Second, you also don’t fully believe Ellen White, which means you disagree with another fundamental belief. You may say you do, but Ellen White in no way, shape or form endorses the starting of any new movement. She continually labored against it throughout her life, and gave strong counsel to any who attempted to do so.

Here is another problem in your structure – you have no room for any educational system, medical work, or even the support of ADRA, because you are using most of the tithe on a local level. Ellen White’s counsel is very strong that Adventists are to operate in all these areas. That requires money. You would destroy all that in the name of the local church, which by the way you will ultimately destroy with this model. So bottom line, you don’t believe Ellen White or you would have to work all the above into your structure and you do not. So now there are two fundamental beliefs that you profess to accept, but in reality totally deny. So please Ron, do not claim that you are asking people to accept all 27 beliefs to be a part of your structure. If they join you they are accepting only 25. Don’t deceive people by stating that you still believe the entire message, when you do not.

Another area that concerns me is that you would totally do away with all mission work. Your view is very limited and selfish. You are only concerned with North America. You say overseas churches could join, but you have no plans to send missionaries and support them because that would cost money and you do not have the bureaucracy to do this – all your money is kept in the local church.

Let me point something else out to you. The churches are to send you 10% of their donations to support your bureaucracy. Interestingly, the amount of tithe that supports the bureaucracy of the General Conference, the NAD, and the Unions amounts to between 7% and 8% of the tithe. It is true that more money is sent up, but what you forget to mention is that most of it is sent back in the form of appropriations for education and evangelism. That means your bureaucracy costs more than the denomination. The denomination has chosen to use the tithe for education and other things besides pastors. That is where the debate should be – on how they use the tithe, not that it is being swallowed up by a huge bureaucracy in the upper echelons of the church. The reality is you absorb more money for bureaucracy than the denomination does, especially in light of the fact that you are asking for not just 10% of the tithe, but 10% of all donations. (I realize I did not include the local conference, but rarely have I seen anyone criticize the local conference, it is always the upper echelons that are named in the big hole theory.

I am well aware that we could make improvements in the area of denominational spending, but some things are absolutely essential. Yet you make no provision for them. For example, how will you educate your clergy in the future? Will you send them to the SDA seminary? Will you use our tithe to train your clergy? If so you will be unethical, since you will not provide money for training and yet want to use our educational services. What are you going to do when one of your churches gets sued? Will you have to create a legal department? If so, you will be adding to your bureaucracy. What will you do when members wish to leave money to your organization? Will you create a trust department so you can get that money? Presto, the next thing you know you have created a similar bureaucracy to that of the present Adventist church. It is easy when you start an organization to exist without a large bureaucracy, but as you get larger, I believe you will discover that much of it is needed.

You see Ron, it is always easier to stand outside and criticize than it is to stay in the church and attempt to work within the structure. You should examine history. There has never been a successful offshoot of the Adventist denomination that has remained faithful to the basic tenets. History is not on your side.

From what I am hearing you are aligning yourself with disgruntled pastors who have been fired or left the church. I even hear that some of those who are uniting with you have been dismissed over moral issues. That is no way to start a church. Those kinds of people will blow up in your face sooner or later.

Well, I have rambled on for too long. As a friend, Ron, I am greatly concerned for you. I know your heart is good, but I don’t think you realize the damage you are doing, especially to the church planting movement. What you and I have spent the last ten years creating, you are undoing by this one bold act of defiance. I am sorry I cannot in good conscience support you.

One final issue. Ten years ago we purchased the Assessment program from the Presbyterians which you have been using with adaptations. The rights on that program were given to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It was paid for by NADEI through a special appropriation from NAD. You do not own the program, the church (NADEI) does. I am hereby requesting that you cease using the program until you can purchase it in your name from the Presbyterians. I also request that you return all the information for the running of the program to NADEI. I have no other choice, since you can no longer operate under our license. We have also informed the Presbyterians that you no longer have the right to use their program under our license.

I am sorry Ron that we have come to the parting of the ways. I hope the separation is amiable. I have written to you as a concerned friend. Knowing you, I believe you have already thought through most of what I have said and you have your response. I sympathize with a lot of your concerns obviously, but this one just blows my mind in view of your strong stand in the past and your disgust with those who chose to leave. Now you have joined them.

I do commend you for stating that you are not advocating churches leaving the denomination to join you, but you will only take in new churches. That is commendable. Only time will tell if you hold to that position. I hope so.

Thanks for partnering with us these last ten years and for your contribution. I am praying that your present action will not undo all that we have labored to accomplish: 1211 new churches planted in the last nine years. That is an unbelievable accomplishment. I would not have believed that would have been possible ten years ago, but it happened. Could it be greater? Hopefully yes, but I believe we are finally moving in the right direction in church planting, unless your movement kills it. I still beg of you to abandon this approach before it is too late. God bless you.


Russell Burrill, Director
North American Division Evangelism Institute

c: Don Schneider

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