The Methodist Church in the United States follows a parallel course to civic life in America – representative government; politicking behind the scenes; posturing and positioning. It was only eight years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence that Methodists came together at the “Christmas Conference” in Baltimore, Maryland. They became an official church at that meeting. While John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, gave instructions that Francis Asbury be ordained as “Co-Superintendent” in the newly independent colonies, Asbury refused the ordination until it was voted on by the preachers in the connection. Ordination by election is still part of the process in the United Methodist Church.
It’s odd to think that we determine the will of God by way of human balloting. But that’s the way Roman Catholic popes are chosen and United Methodist Clergy are credentialed. We vote.
And that’s the way local United Methodist Churches do their business – at an Annual Meeting called a “Charge Conference”. It’s a town meeting with a theological – and many hope, a deeply spiritual – twist to it.
It’s all reminiscent of how things were done in the Fifteenth Chapter of Acts. The hot topic wasn’t gas pipelines, school budgets, gun control or whether or not to purchase a new fire truck. The issue was circumcision. Should we, or shouldn’t we? The Bible tells us there were some who felt very strongly on both sides of the issue. You can read some of the speeches that were given. And if we read the text right, it doesn’t sound as if either side got an absolute victory. The decision – one that “seemed good to the Holy Spirit” and those attending the Council Meeting was not to burden the Gentiles with the requirement for circumcision.
In other words, it was left up to the individual or the family to decide for themselves.
Is our way of voting on the issues the best way? Is it truly a biblical way? Might our church be better off if we were to refrain from any more absolutes than are necessary and be a bit more humble about it? Discuss. Debate. And politic all you want. But rather than call for a vote and make pronouncements, might we be better off by sharing observations? There is no way you can run a town, state or national government that way. But maybe that would be a better way to run a church. At least, it seems that way to me.