I started this particular series of blogs here, and continue in the same basic vein. As always, I can not represent anyone but myself, but I do think that these opinions are shared by many and might serve as an answer to some of the questions that I have been asked over the past several months. As before, the reference for my comments will be a selection from 1 Timothy 5: 19-25, but the ideas found here can also be found in the other epistles, especially the pastoral epistles, as well as various places in the Old and New Testament.
“Do not receive an accusation against an elder except before two or three witnesses. Those who sin, rebuke before all, so that the rest also may fear. I charge you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that you guard these things without prejudice, doing nothing by partiality. Do not lay hands quickly on anyone, neither be partaker of the sins of others. Keep yourself pure. Drink water no longer, but use a little wine for your stomach’s sake, and for your frequent infirmities. Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment. And some they also follow after. Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand, and those who are otherwise cannot be hidden.” (1Ti 5:19-25 MKJV)
In the UMC, a pastor makes a vow to uphold the Book of Discipline (the book of both law and much of the doctrine of the UMC) as well as confirming their faith in God, Christ and the basic Christian faith. This is not a terribly unique approach in protestant circles and i imagine that it is much the same in other denominations as well. To start exploring the issues and reasons that some conservatives believe that increased discipline is required, we must first go the what the qualifications of a pastor in the UMC is to begin with. They can be found here. The relevant portion is reproduced here for convenience.
“j) Be accountable to The United Methodist Church, accept its Doctrinal Standards and Discipline and authority, accept the supervision of those appointed to this ministry, and be prepared to live in the covenant of its ordained ministers.”
So, before any vow is taken, the basic qualifications involve accepting the doctrinal standards and Discipline of the church and to be prepared to live within them. This is followed by the vow taken during the ordination service itself (found here) the relevant section reads as follows: “Will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?” The response being “I will, with the help of God.”
Some believe that the disobedience to the BoD they exhibit is in keeping with their vow to God above their vow to the church. This tends to be publicized as performing same sex weddings, but extends to teaching and preaching contrary to the doctrine of the church and other less publicized things as well. The problem with that line of thinking is that is artificially separates the vow to the church from a vow to God. There is only one vow that the ordained pastor is making and that is to serve God through the UMC. If you try to separate the single vow into two separate parts, then the vow has already been broken and the pastor in question has shown themselves to be unqualified as they can not live within the Discipline of the church. They have broken the singular vow made at ordination as well as shown themselves to be unqualified from the beginning. They have lied, and in doing so claimed that they were led by God to do so. Think on that. God led them to lie. I, and many, can not believe that. Mind you, this is not applicable to those who are working to change the stance of the church through the process that they have agreed to, but rather to those who are knowingly and willfully breaking the Discipline of the church and in doing so breaking the vow they made to God through the church.
First, the accusation is brought. The model in Timothy has two or three people bringing it and is consistent with the Old Testament on matters of accusation against teachers. This matters greatly so as to prevent slanderous accusations against pastors and prophets alike. Second the accusation, if found to be true, there is then rebuke before all so that the rest may fear as Timothy says. This is not a terribly pleasant teaching to be honest, but it is echoed in both the Old and New Testaments as well. In Deuteronomy, the rebuke could even be stoning, though I am not suggesting that we stone anyone these days. The purpose is two fold here. The first part is discipline. There are some who have suggested this is retribution as opposed to reconciliation, but that is not the case. Let’s face it, none of us enjoy discipline, but there is a subtle difference between discipline and punishment. Punishment is a penalty paid for actions that are not in accordance with the rules, nothing more or less. Our legal system has unfortunately drifted into that realm it would seem. Discipline however is actions designed to lead one back to proper behavior. For those of us who have children, we do our best to not punish and instead to discipline. Yes, discipline sometimes takes the form of unpleasantness so as to lead us back to the proper path, but it is discipline none the less. Often how it is seen is a matter of perspective. Those who wish to see a thing as discipline and those who wish to see a thing instead as retribution. The challenge for us in the UMC is to see it as the church using discipline to bring a pastor back into the fold. To bring a pastor back into alignment to the vow they made to God through the church. Keep in mind that the pastor being disciplined has already agreed to it before hand as that was a part of their vow as well.
The second part of the rebuke is as a warning to others. A warning that the teaching or action is improper and should not be allowed as well as a warning that the church takes the matter seriously enough to take action. Quite honestly in the UMC I think that we have largely failed in both of these areas, but that is a topic for a different blog I suppose. A pastor in the UMC has agreed to be in covenant with other pastors and the Church in general. Alan Cairns in his Dictionary of Theological terms defines covenant this way: “Both the Hebrew berith and the Greek diatheke denote a compact or an agreement between two parties, the obligations of which are mutually binding.” This should not be confused with the theology of covenants in the Bible, but it should be viewed in a very serious light. The implication here is that it is more than a promise (I will do this) and more than a vow (I will give my word on it) but rather a mutual agreement and understanding. It is not you or I promising a thing individually, it is rather you and I agreeing together to abide by a set of things. It is community in it’s truest sense. If our pastors can not model that effectively, then what hope is there for us laity types? If our pastors can not live in covenant community with each other, then is there any hope that we can? The example set is vital to the continuing health of the church, and if the example set is broken covenants between people, then that is certainly not a model of the covenant theology that Christianity is rooted in. It is certainly not a model for us to live by.