The Rev. Dr. Mary John Dye articulates some powerful toughts on faithful life and addresses a common “Christanity my way” practices. Her blog can be found: www.maryjohndye.blogspot.com Thanks Mary John.
“If you have been a United Methodist for 6 days or 6 years or 60 years, you should have had the opportunity to know that, from the days of our founder John Wesley, Methodists are passionate believers in an accountable, disciplined and full discipleship for Jesus Christ; that we believe in living out the teaching of Jesus and that we have a constant, consistent passion for those in need. These characteristics are deeply ingrained in our practice of faith. This defines the United Methodist way of life.
“So I was completely off guard when someone stopped me after church one Sunday to tell me he was going to retrieve his check from the offering plate and never come back to the church again. He was angry because the sermon–an eloquent, engaging presentation of basic United Methodist faith— urged people to live and apply the teachings of Jesus as well as talking about the life of Jesus.
“Now friends, first of all, let us be clear. People in United Methodism have always been encouraged in lively theological discussion. We encourage people to raise questions and think through theological issues in Christian conferencing. Questions, concerns, the search for truth – all of those things are deeply valued in our denominational life.
“Threats? Not so much. Nobody has to threaten to leave to get attention. In fact, threats only discourage a productive discussion. First of all, the threats start the conversation with a very shallow spirituality. I can’t even conceive of getting mad and demanding my offering money back.
“I don’t care how much your check to the church is, don’t put money in the offering plate to get your way. The offering is a sacred opportunity to thank God for God’s love and faithfulness. What you give in the offering of your money and heart is a reflection of your appreciation of God’s many gifts to you. Period. No amount of money entitles you to be happy with what the pastor says. No amount of giving entitles you to have your way in decisions in the life of the church. Buying influence is a common practice in the world and you have many opportunities in civic life in this country to give for influence. The church, in contrast, is a call to Christian discipleship. Jesus’ teaching on money reminds us that wealth tends to have a spiritually devastating effect on people. In church, people are invited to give to put God first and to participate in God’s giving heart. Our unique gift to people of putting money in godly perspective must not be corrupted by the ways of the world. Giving is a spiritual experience that reflects the humility, gratitude, the open heart that becomes the Christian disciple. Giving is not a bargaining chip at church to be extended – or withdrawn-based on the agreement of the giver.
“So many times I hear people who are mad about something say that they will just stop coming to church. Maybe they don’t even hear what that says about their Christian faith. Friends, we have the opportunity, the freedom and the privilege of worshipping God every Sunday. Worship is our opportunity to grow in faith, to be connected to the Christian community, to get perspective in prayer and song and to hear God’s word. Worship not about liking or not liking the preacher. Attendance in worship is not for people to get their way. Worship is about God’s way. We’ve had it backwards way too long. Boycotting worship only shows the spiritual immaturity of the person who stays away. Even more sadly, by their actions, they keep themselves from the rich resources of the gospel in shared community.
“I share this because I know that, in the heat of our shared life, many of you hear others say that they are going to quit giving or quit coming to church. I know this because you call me worried that certain people (and you usually tell me that they are “good givers” to your budget) will stop coming. When people make or live out a boycotting threat, you have a teachable moment. In the spirit of Christian love, I hope you give people the best gift of all: a faithful witness to the things that are eternal.
“I believe that God works in all things for good. And, although these threatening encounters are very discouraging, I pray that speaking the threats will be opportunities to re-think and re-focus on true faithfulness.”