Yoked to Christ and His Church: A Reflection on Vows

“I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”
-Psalm 116:14 (NRSV)

The change was instantaneous.  The moment I was ordained, the least important thing about me became my “personal” convictions.  Two and a half years ago, at the holy ground called Lake Junaluska Assembly, several bishops as well as two of my most valued mentors laid hands on me and made me, through the power of the Spirit, an Elder in Full Connection in the United Methodist Church.  That warm June evening was the culmination of over ten years of work between candidacy in college, seminary, and the slings and arrows of the ordination process.  That day I made life-changing vows.  I made them with full knowledge of the imperfections of the church,  and yet also with reverence, with joy, and with tears in my eyes.  My class of ordinands exchanged these words with Bishop Larry Goodpaster:

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?
I will, with the help of God.

Drew McIntyre after taking vows and being blessed as Elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church

Drew McIntyre after taking vows and being blessed as Elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church, June 2013. Photo via Facebook

Earlier that day, I was interviewed by WNCC conference staff about what ordination meant to me.  I likened it to marriage.  After a period of betrothal, the church and I decided to make it official. But rather than “putting a ring on it,” the church gifted me with a stole.  The stole is no mere status symbol or decoration, you see. That fabric draped over the shoulders represents a yoke, like the one Jesus spoke of when he said “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30, NRSV)  More particularly, it is a yoke of obedience.  For, as any ranch hand can tell you, a yoked animal is domesticated. It is claimed for a purpose, not free to go about as it pleases.  For United Methodist clergy, especially elders who agree to go where the Bishop appoints, the yoke means that my personal preferences are now secondary to God’s mission.  Because of that night, I am now part of an Order, a community of Elders in which I will serve God for the rest of my life.

We often overlook what it means that United Methodist clergy are ordained in “Full Connection” as Deacons or Elders.  From the very earliest days of the Wesleyan movement, the preachers approved to serve God’s new thing in Britain were said to be “in connection” with Wesley.  If you’ve never before noticed, do so now: the key terms of United Methodist polity are all relational: connection, conference, society, class, band.  The “way of salvation,” as Wesley well knew, is a team sport and not an individual event.

All the more reason why a simplistic binary such as, “personal conviction is more important than ordination vows” makes little sense in a Wesleyan grammar.  Ordination is not about my personal rights or beliefs.  Ordination is not a CostCo card that allows me to participate in membership if and when I choose.  Consenting to ordination is saying to the church something like:

“Having received a call from God which was confirmed by the community, and after due consideration, council, prayer, and training, I pledge my life to Christ’s service through this particular branch of his Body.”

Contrary to the modern notion of freedom which eschews all external authority almost to the level of paranoia, the church never stops asking her children – lay and clergy alike – to make and keep promises to each other and to herself.  As a covenant Body, these are the “ties that bind.”  There is no church without vows made and kept; from baptism to confirmation, in our marrying and certainly when ordaining, we are a community of promises under God.

At the end of his recent column, Mr. Ben Boruff states, “For the sake of progress, we must approach one another with understanding, not with demands for propriety or accusations of sacrilege.” There’s the rub.  Mr. Boruff, you see, mentions “progress” five times in his post, a subject which drowns out both God (two mentions) and Jesus (a lone reference). The Holy Spirit was not consulted.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m open to conversation about the future of our church, including the vexing ethical and structural questions that must be faced.  I have said repeatedly, and will continue to say, that I would gladly live in a church that makes space for different views on what I consider matters secondary to central doctrinal confessions like the Trinity or the Incarnation.  But how we get there matters. The ends, however sincerely believed, do not justify all possible means. If those who baptize a particular version of “progress” wish to pursue that as their summum bonum, so be it.  “Come now, let us argue it out,” as God once said through Isaiah. (Is.1:18, NRSV)

But let us not mince words.  For the sake of the church and her mission, I fully agree that “we must approach each other with understanding,” to which we must also add honesty: until we are released from the oaths we clergy have made, by death, request, or fiat, the sacred promises remain intact. In an ekklesia built on faithfulness to promises made to God and one another, sanctifying infidelity to the vows which constitute our life together is anything but progress.  In fact, it would be in direct contradiction to the God of Israel and the Church, a God who makes promises and is outrageously faithful in fulfilling them.

To paraphrase St. Paul, if we sacrifice our willingness to make and keep vows to one another, we are above all people to be pitied.

Drew McIntyreThe Rev. Drew McIntyre is an Elder in the Western North Carolina Conference and serves West Bend UMC in Asheboro, NC. Born and raised in the Tar Heel state, he was educated at High Point University and Duke Divinity School.  Drew enjoys spending time with his wife, playing with their pets, reading, and watching movies. He is avid fan of mixed martial arts and Duke basketball, and also blogs at pastormack.wordpress.com.  Follow him on twitter @drewbmcintyre.

 

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74 Comments on "Yoked to Christ and His Church: A Reflection on Vows"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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John Wesley Leek
Guest

This is very good Drew. I understood your position more clearly after reading it. (That is less common with online writing than you might expect!)

Wes Andrews
Guest

Blessings to you all. And I ask God to pour out blessings upon George as well. I am grateful that there is a God who loves everyone unconditionally. I am grateful for his revealed truth found in inspired Scripture. I’m grateful for his Spirit who desires to live freely within each of us. And I join you friends in gratitude toward Jesus for being the Way, the Truth, the Life, for dying for us all and for rising again! Jesus IS Lord!

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

So, you managed to just right there identify me as “the other” for your fellow extremists there. That’s a great example of the use of public “prayer” used as a weapon.

Elaine T
Guest

Still praying ,Brother George. And for me too because I always have had difficulty relating to a playground bully.

james
Guest

Amen and AMEN, Wes. A Blessed Resurrection Day to you and those who take time to “visit” within the confines of this “publication.” A visit over a cup of coffee would be a blessing. ‘twould be quite a round-table………………………….

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

“tried” as used here = “interrogated.”

Kevin
Guest

You may be right. I am grateful for the opportunities this site provides for commenting. I have learned a few things from the adult commenters on this site. The open forum does mean that we will occasionally see the pathetic rants of bitter small minded individuals. That is the price we pay for an open forum. I can skip over those easily enough. No point in responding or even reading those. I hesitate to draw sweeping generalizations from the sample we see here. A joyful Easter to you all.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Well, my friend, enjoy, because all the far right ever posts here is “pathetic rants of bitter small minded individuals”. There was even one so overcome with his hatred of LGBT persons and those who support their inclusion that he seemed on the verge of collapse. He wasn’t fooling anyone. Any demagouge can cry real tears on exercise of will. Another saw fit to question my military service and patriotism. Still another threatened me with violence. You will hnot be told the truth by any right wing poster here, but, then again, theirds is an ideology based on lies and… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest

Yes, and progressives are allowed to name call, bully, marginalize… those who disagree with them. I find everyone respectful on this site making their point except one. And the one is a good example of a high percentage of the progressives in church and in the culture offering the same closed minded, stereo-typing judgmentalism that they claim sober-minded conservatives of having. Certainly there are rabid conservatives. Certainly there are very sober-minded liberals. It seems that the progressives are to the liberals as the fundamentalists are to the conservatives.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Wes, you have never posted a civil post in the entire time I have been commenting here. Never. everything you have posted is arguing in bad faith, namecalling, refusing to answer questions, disrespect, sowing of discord, and bearing of false witness. The same is so with every other far right poster here but none can match your vitriol. As to your final sentence that is a perfect example of an individual being willing to shoot off his mouth when he does not know jack about something. Progressives and Liberals are synomous terms. Conservative used to mean someone opposed to change.… Read more »
james
Guest
TD: you are correct. there is enough blame to share, no doubt about that. consider, however, something else: when did the liberal/progressive folks invade the umc publishing house? when did the social gospel begin to usurp the Good News Gospel? when did Sunday school curriculum start mirroring the liberal progressive ilk that is found and ever so prevalent in public education? when Father/Son/Holy Spirit was denied a Presence in the public school setting Father/Son/Holy Spirit was kicked out of umc Sunday school for the most part. and, this country and the umc–as well as others–began their demise. Who should have… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

The blame all goes back to a fellow named Jesua, Yeshua, Christ, said to be a carpenter, a Nazarene, related to a fellow named Joseph who was said to be of the line of descendants of David and the other Joseph, the one in Genesis. It is by following the teaching of that aforesaid fellow that the progressive movement including Welseyanism that those movements began.

Paul W.
Guest
James, sadly, as I’ve looked into when liberal theology gained a foothold and then gained control of the seminaries, the answer turns out to be much further back than many realize. Essentially the battles for the mainline seminaries happened in the 1920’s (and earlier) with liberal theology consolidating control in the 1930’s/1940’s. Theological liberalism actually goes back to the last half of the 1800’s. Why most of those in the pews never saw it until much later is that, while our clergy were becoming increasingly theological liberal driven by what was being taught in seminary, our publishing house has consistently… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest

Paul W. excellent and accurate observations.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

Nice conspiracy theory, but not factual. Wesley was not an enforcer of political correctness, as right-wing Methodists want to be today. What is called “progressivism” or “liberalism” is nothing more than applying the teachings of Christ to reality.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

The premise is invalid. Progressive UMCers have been here from day one starting with the Wesleys.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest

“Orthodoxy” as used here means “political correctness.”

DW
Guest

To the editor:
In your guidelines you state that you “cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others”, etc. yet I see references to ayatollahs and Nazis in these posts. This raises the question of just what you would consider to be harmful or inappropriate if not comments such as these.

George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Well, my friend, any terms I’ve used are fact-based; as I’ve said, if a thing walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s not a chicken. I never intended harm, unlike some to whom I’ve responded here, including one who threatened me with assault. I’ve seen liberals/progressives called every epithet under the sun, without facts to back it up. I’ve seen the most hateful sneering terms affixed to our LGBT brothers and sisters, women, Moslems, Episcopals, agnostics, and the President of the United States. I’ve had it said that I have said things which… Read more »
Charles Harrison
Admin
DW, Guidelines are exactly that. Depending on how the “references” are used we probably agree with you assessment. The problem is that once a comment goes through the algorithm and is not blocked, there is very little chance we will ever see it. We really don’t sit here all day long reading people’s comments. It would be too depressing. Since this is an automated function, let me encourage you to personally bring it to our attention anytime you feel like someone is over the line and we will look at it on a case by case basis. Thank you for… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
Charles, it’s not just one comment. It’s all comments from one individual. Sure, I understand you potentially may not agreeing with my point of view. But I think it would be hard to find me using extreme names to describe the individual that is attacks and ridicules here, in the same way he attacks the rest of us. But let me say I would prefer to put up with George than for he and the rest of us to become censored. Your role as editor is difficult. I do appreciate the privilege to comment, please know that you have my… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

As usual the abuser blames his victim.

DW
Guest

I certainly agree that these comments should not be censored, but I am bothered by some of the personal attacks that I have seen and that I believe were in poor taste. I’m not sure what the solution is.

james
Guest
this computer has NO idea who “I” is !! Yes! please, “TD” read these comments. point being the whole umc system squashes the laity. the council of bishops is a sterile body that is afraid to do anything because of political correctness and radical feminism and pro abortion advocates. the council would choke if it learned of a layperson baptizing or serving communion or officiating at a funeral etc. all of those activities are JEALOUSLY guarded. one of my very favorite photos on my refrigerator is of my son in the baptismal at the church he attends with my youngest… Read more »
Wes Andrews
Guest
Spot on accurate, James. If the people called, or at least inspired by, the Methodist/Wesleyan ideas are to be effective at proclaiming the Gospel, the bureaucracy needs to be dissolved. Actually, what we are seeing occur might actually be the freeing of the church to be the church, rather than the local churches continuing to be burdened by bad leadership among Bishops, and bad faith among the agencies and institutions. If you think about it, this is where the progressive thinkers have infiltrated. They can have it. Let those who trust in Scripture lead and serve the churches and equip… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Interesting argument, but “those who trust in scripture” as used here actually means “those who are so homophobic they have memorized the citation of chapter and verseof all of the “clobber passages” that seemingly refer to homosexuality but have no concept of the golden rule; those who grasp at straws to seek biblical authoriteh to play gynecologist but whose woman hatred oozes out of every pore; those who seek to make the United Methodist Church into a replica of Westboro Baptist Church.” And so having translated the deceptive phrase into what it truly means, my response is “not on my… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest
Where to begin? That’s an interesting concept, “a holy-spirit filled laity.” I can’t decide if it means se habla glossolalia, cultural warriors ready to kick clinic receptionists in the crotch, just raised hands and few tears during the praise songs, or it’s metaphorical. Okay, social issues have changed? But from what to what? It would seem to me if one is “pro-life” the best thing one could do about it would be abandon the internal combustion engine and live on mantiwoc like poor Africans do. Human knowledge has changed by increasing and a part of that is we now have… Read more »
George Nixon Shuler
Guest

I don’t believe there is evidence progressives “infiltrated” the UMC. We were already here. If anything those who follow the Institute for Religion and Democracy’s corrupt agenda are the infiltrators, urged on by outside agitators seeking to make us into Westboro Baptist Church. The agenda is hardly secular, just reality-based, unlike those who cling to ancient prejudices.

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