Wade Burleson resigned as trustee of the International Mission Board on January 30, 2008 with a simple terse statement:
“This letter is to officially notify you and the other members of the IMB Board of Trustees that I am resigning my service on the Board effective today.”
His resignation came after a long lengthy struggle with the trustee leadership of the IMB over policies and restrictive guidelines placed on the actions of the trustees that for all practical purposes muted the trustees from any kind of public dissent. Burleson wrote what he considered a lengthy explanation of his actions and an apology of sorts, but the IMB rejected his statement and the impasse widened to the point of no return.
On one occasion Jesus was accused of working by the power of Beelzebub as He drove out demons. To this audacious accusation He replied:
“Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. 18 If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. 19 Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.
21 “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. 22 But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.
23 “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters. Luke 11:17-23 (NIV)
In the spiritual realm division brings devastating and deadly consequences. Those who draw lines in the sand to divide the followers of Jesus over less than essential doctrines ultimately hurt and hinder the work of God among us. When we take a “lose/lose” attitude toward conflict in our ranks, the body of Christ suffers, and our mission to reach the ends of the earth is hindered.
We should not be surprised that there would be an attempt to divide our ranks. Remember we are struggling in a spiritual war for the hearts and lives of nations. The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to live in contentious times. He even contributed to the conflict at times like when he and Barnabas split ways over John Mark. (A decision I believe he lived to regret, and repent of). Paul wrote:
11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Eph 6:11-12 (NIV)
Is it any wonder that Jesus shortly before facing the cruel cross prayed to our Father saying:
11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name–the name you gave me–so that they may be one as we are one. John 17:11 (NIV)
It appears Jesus recognized that any attack on the unity of His body was an attack on the very heart of His mission.
As moderate Baptists are gathered in Atlanta celebrating a “New Baptist Covenant”, the reason for this call to unity is vividly being lived out in the actions of the IMB in Gainesville, Florida. Meanwhile, over 5000 IMB missionaries struggle to keep their eye on the ball and win the world to Christ while we play a version of high stakes “political chicken” behind closed doors. Being “one in Christ” is not as easy as it may appear on the pages of the Scriptures but it is worth striving for with all our hearts, because being “one” with Christ and with each other stands as one of the keys to the explosive expansion of the Kingdom and our enemy knows it very well.