I recently read an article regarding Mt. Bethel UMC (One of the largest UM churches in Georgia and east of the Mississippi River) in Marietta, GA withholding their apportionment giving because of their disagreement with the United Methodist lack of response to Bishop and Pastors breaking their ordination vows and flagrantly violating the Book of Discipline. You can read one of the articles by clicking here.
I certainly understand their feelings as I have many of those same feelings myself. I am very disappointed in the response or really non-response of the Church in this regard and as disappointed in the joint resolution that was recently passed in regards to Bishop Talberts disregard for church law and order according to the Book of Discipline. This resolution has no chance of uniting our church but in reality creates further division. Now the shouts of a split within the UM Church are louder than ever and it is understandable. When there are no consequences to blatant disregard of the vows we take as ordained clergy and the Book of Discipline, it is easy to understand the position of Mt. Bethel and the frustration of many clergy and local churches. I agree, I’m disappointed and I’m ashamed of the lack of action of our church leaders.
However, I do not believe that withholding apportionments is the right course of action. I will even go as far as putting it on the same level as the actions of Bishop Talbert and other UM Clergy who have officiated at homosexual weddings. As ordained clergy, we have a “fourfold ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service and thus serve in the local church in witness and service of Christ’s love and justice. Elders are authorized to preach and teach the world, to provide pastoral care and counsel, to administer the sacraments, and to order the life of the church for service in mission and ministry as pastors, superintendents and bishops” (Book of Discipline 2012 Paragraph 340). Paragraph 340 goes on to say that clergy are “To administer the provisions of the Discipline and To model and promote faithful financial stewardship and to encourage giving as a spiritual discipline by teaching the biblical principals of giving.”
No place in Scripture have I found where we instructed to withhold our giving because we don’t like what was happening in the church. Withholding giving is an expression that our tithes/offerings/apportionments are going to the church “to keep the lights on.” We should be teaching that our tithes/offerings/apportionments are our gifts/sacrifices to God. If we have a Kingdom understanding of giving, then by withholding our apportionments/tithes we are withholding from God not from the church. In our giving (whether to the local church or the general church), we must trust that God is using our gifts to further His Kingdom. If those who receive the offerings don’t fulfill God’s will…that’s something they will have to answer to God. That’s not a answer that I desire to give and neither is the one in response to the question as to why I withheld God’s offering because I disagreed with the churches position on an issue.
2 weeks ago, I had to refuse to re-baptize a youth because he had been “Christened” as an infant. It was a tough decision. There was a large youth group who along with the young man had an incredible experience and wanted to make this very public profession. Deep inside I understood his desire. He didn’t remember his infant baptism, he had not been taught that baptism is God’s work and not ours, and that once we had been adopted into the family of Christ we are never “kicked” out. I wanted more than anything to re-baptize that young man, but it went against what I believe as a Methodist. Some may say, you should have gone ahead…what would it have hurt? It would have hurt my integrity as a clergy. It would have hurt my character as a man. Most important it would have hurt my witness as a disciple of Jesus Christ. In the same section of the Discipline on Unauthorized Conduct (Paragraph 341) that states, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches” the very next line states, “No pastor shall re-baptize.” I cannot be true to myself or to God by willingly breaking my vow.
It does us no good to fight brokenness with brokenness. Remember the old saying, “Two wrongs don’t make a right?” That saying is true. There are other ways of expressing our disappointment and making a stand for what we perceive to be right but it must not cause a lack of integrity, character or our witness.