Earth Day is tomorrow, April 22nd. UMC.org just published this great piece about United Methodists and Earth Day. While the body of the article focuses in particular on Rev. Rebekah Simon-Peter, an ordained elder in Wyoming. What I ap…
I want to update readers on a story UM & Global has been following and correct some of our previous coverage: the process of development more globally-relevant Social Principles. An important step in that process has been the General Board of…
National Justice for Our Neighbors (NJFON), a United Methodist immigration ministry organization, recently reported on a grant that they received from United Methodist Women. The $50,000 grant will be divided among four NJFON region sites to cond…
UMNS just published this story about things that Rev. Marcos Tamega Jr. learned from UMCOR’s recent disaster response readiness training held in the Philippines in February. I think this is a great program of UMCOR, but I was struck by a fact cited in …
I hope all of our readers had a blessed Holy Week and Easter. In the spirit of both the season and the focus of this blog, I highly recommend this article from UM Communications written by Tafadzwa Mudambanuki about the different ways in which Un…
It’s been quite an eventful last couple of months at Africa University, the oldest United Methodist-affiliated institution of higher education in Africa. In case you missed any of these stories, here’ s a rundown of some of the good things that h…
Today’s post is by regular contributor Dr. William Payne. Dr. Payne is the Harlan & Wilma Hollewell Professor of Evangelism and World Missions and Director of Chaplaincy Studies at Ashland Theological Seminary.
During a recent sabbatical, I conducted 50 interviews with Protestants, Roman Catholics, and unchurched people in Costa Rica. Each conversation included discussions about the tithe. Additionally, I preached in many Costa Rican churches in which the pastors required that the people pay the tithe in order to remain in good standing. In this blog, I will share my tentative thoughts on this practice.
First, tithing or giving ten percent of one’s gross income is a means by which many local churches provide monetary support for pastors who do not draw a salary or receive financial support from outside sources. All Christians should give generously to the collective ministry of the local church. Additionally, the scriptures allow a gospel preacher to receive substantive support for the ministry that he or she provides. Even though Jesus did not get a salary, he was supported by gifts that others gave to his ministry (cf. Lk 8:3). Matthew 10:5-12 says the laborer deserves food and shelter. On numerous occasions the Apostle Paul argued that he had a right to be paid for the ministry he provided even if he chose not to receive it (cf. I Cor 9:14, I Tim 5:18, II Cor 11:7-11 and Phil 4:15). Early Methodism also required that the circuit riders be paid. At times, this became a great burden that hindered the expansion of the MEC into new areas. Many of those early itinerants suffered great privation because they did not receive their salary. None became rich or well-off from their labors.
Second, most of the churches that preach tithing connect the practice to some form of prosperity gospel. Often one will preach that the tithe is a seed that one plants in the kingdom of God. When sowed with faith, sacrifice, and obedience, giving the tithe will yield positive material, physical, and spiritual blessings in this life. Additionally, many pastors argue that the Bible requires a Christian to pay the tithe and give an offering. The tithe goes to the pastor and the offering funds the mission of the church.
Third, in other writings I have argued that the prosperity gospel preached by those who come from the margins of society has been shaped and formed by their context of poverty and oppression. It is a contextualized theology that the poor discern from scripture. Many of the poor are attracted to it, eagerly participate in it, and can be manipulated by it. Because of my social location, I do not feel that I have sufficient standing to dismiss this theology or tell the poor that their theology is incorrect.
Fourth, the tithe has inspired many people to plant churches and do extraordinary evangelism. Throughout Latin America, “tithe seeking pastors” have started countless churches in places where new churches needed to be planted. Additionally, in many larger churches that have a strong cadre of leaders, one of the assistant pastors often will leave to start a new church. In an ecclesial system that does not pay people to plant churches, the tithe allows a church planting pastor with as few as ten families to survive without denominational support.
Fifth, tithe preaching has a long history in western Christianity. It is still preached in many ethnic and independent churches in the United States. Additionally, in the current Western context of material opulence and low demand Christianity, preaching may serve more of an educational, ethical, and “after death” purpose than it does when the poor preach it in the context of material and physical want. Even though the preaching of the tithe may seem oppressively legalistic to middle class majority Christians for a variety of culturally formed reasons, the mainline churches of the West should be slow to judge.
Sixth, without a doubt, the tithe has damaged the credibility of the Protestant church in Latin America. In Costa Rica some have complained that poor immigrants who lack sufficient training and pastoral skills have planted new churches simply because they want to get the tithe. Many of the unchurched people with whom I spoke told me that they were disgusted by the tithe and they thought that Protestant pastors who preached the tithe abused their flocks in order to get rich. They offered many anecdotal stories to support their prejudice about the “Gospel industry.” Roman Catholics tended to be the most critical. They emphasized that their church took an offering and did not ask for the tithe. Those who feel repulsed by the constant preaching on the tithe will not affiliate with a tithe preaching church.
Seventh, many who have been reached by the Protestant churches have gone inactive because of tithe preaching. Often, pastors tell their members that those who do not pay the full tithe are stealing from God and that one should not buy other things like cellular phones if they do not pay the full tithe. One poor woman told me that a rich pastor told her husband that he had to pay the tithe in order to avoid misfortune and the wrath of God. This caused her family to suffer emotional pain. Even though the husband paid the tithe, his wife begrudged the church. Another man told me that he wanted to get back in church but could not do it until his finances improved. One national leader told me that half of the people who claim to be born again do not attend church on a regular basis because of the tithe. As long as the church demands the tithe, it is unlikely that these people will reaffiliate.
Eighth, the tithe preaching church in Latin America needs to have an honest conversation with itself about this issue. From my perspective, the stress should switch from a legalistic emphasis on tithing to a biblical emphasis on stewardship. From the perspective of the New Testament, the church building is not the Temple, the pastor is not the Levite, and giving ten percent to support the pastor is not a commandment. To the contrary, God demands the entire person, not a mere ten percent of the person’s income. Additionally, a pastor who is more concerned with getting a person’s tithe than in ministering to the flock should not be in pastoral leadership.
I will conclude with an anecdote. For two weeks I ministered with a new church start that is led by a gifted pastor who has a full-time professional job. All the members of the ministerial team have jobs outside the church and none get paid from the offering. For that reason, all the money that is given in the offering is given back to the community or is used for internal ministry. As one would expect, this church appeals to lapsed Protestants and other types of unchurched people. I sense that this type of a church will grow with populations that will not attend a traditional tithe preaching church. Not every pastor is called to be bi-vocational. Still, more bi-vocational churches like the one I just mentioned are needed in Latin America.
The folks over at umc.org have been doing a Lent Quiz series of questions related to the symbols and traditions of Lent and Easter. Today, we at UM & Global have the ultimate Lent Quiz question:Lent Quiz: When is Easter?A. April 5B. April 12C…
Today’s post is by regular contributor Dr. David N. Field. Dr. Field is the Academic Coordinator of the Methodist e-Academy in Europe.
European Methodists face particular opportunities and challenges; they are minority churches, often small minorities, within contexts dominated by other confessional traditions. The interaction between Methodist Churches and these traditions varies from country to country but the asymmetric relationship raises fundamental issues about Methodist identity and mission. These are intensified in the broader society where Methodism is not only not known but placed in the amorphous category “free churches,” which are perceived be to be fundamentalist and sect like.
In this context Methodists must ask: What does it mean to be a Methodist? Why is it important to be a Methodist? Does Methodism have particular mission in the contemporary world? The answer to these questions can contribute to international discussions about Methodist identity.
A further challenging dimension of this context is the pervasive secularization that is characteristic of the majority European countries. Church membership is rapidly declining, the influence of Christianity on culture and society is rapidly shrinking, and for increasing numbers of people Christianity is irrelevant to their daily life. It can no longer be presupposed that people have a working knowledge of the Christian faith and what is known is often regarded as an irrelevant relic of only historical interest. People live contentedly without God and have no sense of this being a loss. The danger of this situation is that churches fall into the trap of preoccupation with self-preservation rather than taking up the challenge of articulating the gospel in word and life in a way that addresses secularized people.
Methodism’s minority status pressurizes Methodists to justify their existence in relation to major churches, yet in the face of pervasive secularism such concerns seem irrelevant to the larger task of articulating the relevance of Christianity. Is an emphasis on fostering a Methodist identity a waste of time and resources that could be better spent on ecumenical co-operation in mission? Does the particular identity of the Methodist tradition have any continuing relevance? Is an emphasis on Methodist identity an exercise in self-preservation that is bound to fail in the long run?
These questions demand responses not the least from those who are preparing people for the ordination. A creative response to this challenge needs to re-frame the question of the Methodist identity from a different perspective. The starting point is not our differences from, nor our commonalities with, other churches. The starting point must be the challenge of mission in the context of pervasive secularization. Hence the question becomes: “What are the particular gifts that Methodists bring form our heritage that contribute to equipping all Christians to articulate the gospel in this context?” The question of identity thus becomes a significant contribution to ecumenical commitment and mission.
Historically a central dimension of Methodist self-understanding has been the calling to practice and proclaim “holiness”. However, in a pervasively secular context “holiness” not only lacks resonance but appears bizarre, esoteric and alienating. In the ecumenical context locating holiness as “our” distinguishing characteristic appears arrogant. Yet paradoxically, I propose that it is precisely a recovery and reconceptualization of holiness as central to Methodist identity that offers a potential way forward. This is not the mere reiteration of historical theological affirmations about sanctification as doctrinal distinctive; rather, it is a critical retrieval of the concept from the Wesleyan heritage in order to creatively reconceive and rearticulate it for the present.
Borrowing ideas from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is it possible to develop a “non-religious” interpretation of holiness for a “world come of age” that is a pervasively secular society? For Bonhoeffer, a central aspect of a “non religious” interpretation of theological concepts is that the gospel embodied in praxis has priority over theological formulation. This resonates with the emphasis in Wesley’s writing on Methodist identity that the distinguishing mark of Methodism is not a doctrine, not even a doctrine of holiness, but transformed character and lifestyle.
In Wesley’s understanding persons are transformed by encountering the love of God in Christ that liberates and empowers them to love God and their fellow humans. This transformation affects both inner attitudes and motivations and outward behavior. There is a dynamic relationship between outward behavior and inner attitudes – inner transformation leads to outward transformation and active engagement on behalf of others leads to inner transformation. This dynamic relationship suggests that holiness can be conceptualized as love embodied in praxis.
Wesley often described the outward dimension by the triad of justice, mercy and truth. This triad was particularly interpreted in terms of the relationships with those he described as “the outcasts of men”. Hence in a “non-religious” interpretation, outward holiness is the embodied practice of justice, compassion and integrity on behalf of and in solidarity with the marginalized, the victims and the vulnerable. This embodied practice arises out of and leads to inner transformation by the Spirit of God.
It is this which should be the key identity marker of Methodism. Our particular theological formulations only have significance to the extent that they undergird and interpret this embodied practice. They have no value independent of this.
The understanding of holiness as love embodied in praxis also opens a new approach to ecumenical (and inner Methodist) relationships. In Wesley’s thought, holiness is only possible in the context of interpersonal interaction; as embodied love it only exists as it is concretely expressed in the diversity, conflicts, and complexity of human relationships. It is through this expression that inner attitudes are transformed.
Analogously Methodist churches only embody holiness in dynamic relationships with other churches, not because we agree with each other or we share common practices, but because we disagree from each other and have contradictory practices. It is only as we live with each other and engage in mission together in our diversity and disagreements that we embody love for each other. Holiness as Methodism’s gift to ecumenical relationships is not primarily a theological affirmation but the embodied praxis of love. In this way we manifest our particular identity.
I am excited to announce a new format for UM & Global. This new format involves several elements:1. Visual redesign – As regular readers will have recognized by now, we’ve updated the look and feel of the blog. We’ve added a distinctive…