Sunday, February 17, 2008

Piles of BS

Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple. — Romans 16:17–19

I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the damage caused by church splits. I lived through one after I’d been a Christian for about 10 years. I remember at the time I said I would never go through another. Four years later one of the elders in the church we attended began canvassing the congregation behind the back of the man who planted the church, to gather support for his ascendancy. He made his case to me, arguing that he was a better teacher than the pastor; he gave other reasons as well, and I gave him about three minutes before I cut him off, telling him that I’d been through one church split and would not go through another. So we invited the pastor and his wife to dinner to share with him the conversation his assistant pastor had with us. The pastor knew about the problem but didn’t know how to handle it (it was not a presbyterian church). I also notified him that I could not live through another church split because of the long-term damage they cause and that we would not attend there any longer. It’s easier to say goodbye than to pick a side — even the right side — and hang in there as the brethren begin biting and devouring one another. That’s the truth, right or wrong, selfish or not.

For all I know, no good comes from a church split. Think about it. First the leadership must fracture. Then at least one of those two sides, if not both, must make its case at the other’s expense. Young Christians don’t have a prayer because they lack the biblical acumen to address the controversy, but nonetheless they will suffer and depending on the level of vituperation the impression left on them will run deep. Older, more seasoned Christians don’t fare much better. If they’d been in the church for any length of time, then their house of worship becomes a house divided against itself that cannot stand. Of course, non-believers have a field day wagging their finger and mocking the believers. And if you have any heart at all, all of this stays with you the rest of your life. No, no good comes from a church split.

I write these things to set the stage for two very thoughtful comments I received regarding the fruit of Burke Shade’s ministry, after he labored diligently to split the church in his charge. The first person wrote,

These last two entries [“BS” and “Diary of a Pirated Church”] are painful to read. Dear friends of my parents labored hard at EP to plant and nurture it. It was doing so well. I know people who still tear-up with anger when they recall what Burke Shade did to that church.

It’s odd that the two churches are so close geographically. I drive by them both and there is little sign of life in either location. Very, very sad.

Another witness to the incident wrote,

It has been several years since I have caught up on the fallout of the Shade incident way back in 1999. At the time I read the entire case study and knew everyone involved. What struck me was how the impression given was that although these were weighty matter, once the split was over and the dust settled that the long-term consequences were not to be a worry. I remember thinking that whenever you have division that results from serious charges, the repercussions would be impossible to predict other than to say that there would be a legacy that Shade would have to live with and explain through his entire career. That has to impact his ministry, though my impression is that the local congregation may be somewhat shielded from this ongoing controversy.

That sites such as this are still debating what happened shows that the stakes over the doctrinal issues involved were very high. EPC (PCA) and Cornerstone (CREC) are literally two blocks from each other but remain world apart! Going on 9 years that doesn’t look to change, and the fallout of the Shade’s actions are having effects that go far beyond the local church. I wonder if 20 years from now that we may look back and point to these events as playing a large part in influencing the direction of the Reformed-evangelical debate of the day.

Finally, ol’ BS himself documented this gleeful little postscript to his actions, for the record:

You have some false comments on your shaderenegade blog (Thanks for keeping that stuff up; it was like a drive down memory lane! And it’s nice to have it all in one location. If you ever take it down, please let me know so that I can archive it all ahead of time). You have on there, up in the left corner, that I asked for those things (“All he wanted was. . .”). That’s false; the people who left EPC asked for those things, not me. It’s in your other documents, if you care to read them. Of course, it would have been nice if they had given them to Cornerstone, but alas, they didn’t.

Oh, and nice picture, too! Thanks.

Shade’s thoughtless stroll down memory lane demonstrates that he is utterly oblivious to the pain he caused, and I am certain that the joy he receives thinking of splitting his congregation cuts deep in those members who opposed his actions. Men who split churches have no idea how much pain they cause. They’re only concerned for themselves and how they might benefit from dividing the flock, unlike true shepherds who lay down their lives for the sheep.

The Christian church and the PCA are better off without Burke Shade. He crashed his vessel of destruction into the CREC, according to the blueprint, though minus one piano, a building, and seventy grand. It would have been ironic if they gave him the hymnals, however, because then he could have joined his faction in song, singing,

Bind us together, Lord,
Bind us together
With cords that cannot be broken.

Then, perhaps, his soul would be better prepared for that day when the Lord of glory declares to him, “Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness” (Matt. 22:13).

Thank you.


Anonymous said...

"That’s false; the people who left EPC asked for those things, not me. It’s in your other documents, if you care to read them. Of course, it would have been nice if they had given them to Cornerstone, but alas, they didn’t."

I am the first commenter you quoted and the above statement has made me so mad, even after all these years! "...but alas, they didn't." What a horrible thing to say. Does this man have a soul?

I'll quit now. I've deleted three sentences in a row and can't seem to type anything that is Christian in tone and content, not to mention free from name-calling.

Mark T. said...

It’s clear to me that Shade and his fellow FVists have no concept of evangelical Christianity. Furthermore, while they produce no evidence that they are Christians, they produce loads of evidence that they are enemies of the gospel. Like you, I have no idea how a man could act so cavalier about dividing asunder the flock of God, ostensibly so that he could remain employed — unless of course he’s a hireling, living only for himself. Whatever else is true, if Burke Shade is looking to his baptism as proof of regeneration, then there’s not enough water in the world to keep him cool for eternity.

Sean Gerety said...

I have been debating whether or not to post a remark on this thread, but as someone who has also gone though a painful church split that my family is still reeling from 5 years later, I thought I would note the obvious and that God is sovereign even when churches split.

So, while painful, they do ultimately serve God's purpose and are to the benefit of God's people. He does promise to work all things for the good of those who know and love him does He not? Consider even Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15 specifically v39:

And there arose such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

Besides, I have to think it is a great blessing to those who were once under Shade's leadership to be free from him and the CREC in general.

Mark T. said...

Hi Sean,

Your point applies to all of life — whether brain cancer, church splits, or blown light bulbs — God overrules all for His glory. However, I have a special place in my heart for someone who would sow discord among brethren to tear asunder the flock of God, which is much different than the disagreement between Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark. I see church splits more along the lines of cirrhosis of the liver. Someone seeks their external personal satisfaction to the point that their willing to exact deadly internal harm. The analogy fails, however, because an alcoholic kills himself, whereas a church-splitter kills a church.

SamuelConner said...

Part of the horror of a church split appears to be the character of the people who are at the root of it, wouldn't you say? One could imagine an amicable separation, where the two sides agree to disagree and to fellowship separately. If, for example, DW had quietly taken his views away from ECF and submitted to the discipline of a more Reformed congregation long ago, things might be very different today. That would-be splitters insist on preserving their own power suggests that their hope and confidence has a very "this world"ly locus.

I would like to think that believers whose fundamental hope is Christ would find the power to swiftly recover from even an ugly split. To be burdened by this for years and decades afterwards strikes me as perhaps too much "sight" and too little "faith." The Church is a mess, and is to a significant extent an arena for the pursuit of worldly agendas. That should not be, but it is to a greater or lesser degree in every congregation. The wheat is leavened with tares, and even in the hearts of regenerate people there are remanent idolatrous motives.

I wonder whether it might be that the anti-pietist mindset of the FV crowd makes them insensitive or less sensitive to the biblical imperative of 'purity of heart.'

Thanks, Mark, for your 'blog.

Mark T. said...

Hi Sammuel,

Great comment. I agree that would-be splitters are more concerned for themselves than for the things of God. Selfish through and through. Recovering from a church split, at least in my case, involved resolving the ill will. I am not interested in taking sides in something like this, let alone picking fights with the brethren, and in a church split the two sides are always at odds for years to come. It’s horrible. So at least in my case, a church split is not a constant torment, but fear of acrimony among the brethren in the last place where anyone should foster ill will, let alone harbor it. That’s why I’d rather bolt.

And your “anit-pietist mindset” observation is a bull’s eye. Their anti-pietism drives most of their hostility, which militates against the beatitude. “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”