Why our Methodist church left the denomination
The strapline for the Methodist Marriage and Relationship task group was ‘God in Love Unites Us’. Like many other denominations, Methodism has come to question the long accepted and understood definition that marriage is between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others for life. This revisionist backdrop increasingly sees a traditional stance as outdated, unjust - unfair even for a modern and progressive society. Sadly, many denominations have got tangled up with the questions of the age, with a desire to stay relevant and modern, and Methodism has been very much leading the way. This has meant that many individuals and indeed entire congregations within the Methodist church have questioned how they are to move forward, in order to remain faithful to God’s Word. For our church family, we were no exception. Growing up in a small fellowship within the Methodist denomination, I have been thankful to have been able to both worship and serve there my whole life. Latterly, I have been privileged to be a part of the Leadership Team through some very challenging, yet encouraging, times for us as a fellowship.
Deciding to leave
Following much prayer, we made the decision as a church back in 2019 to leave the denomination should the Methodist Conference adopt the proposed changes to redefine marriage to include same-sex marriage. Due to the Covid pandemic, the Conference decision was postponed by twelve months until the summer of 2021. But taking a great step of faith, we very much felt God’s call and leading to leave as planned in 2020 before the final Conference decision was made and a newly independent church was formed.
Our decision, which had little, if any, sympathy or understanding from the majority of the wider denomination, came at great cost - emotionally, relationally and financially. For me and many of my peers, the Methodist label held no great significance. But for many older members of the congregation, who have fond memories of how Methodism was foundational for them and shaped much of their early lives as they began to walk with the Lord, it was profound. Over recent years, these faithful people have been greatly troubled and saddened to see decline in John Wesley’s movement, born to promote scriptural holiness throughout the land, a decline both in numerical terms and also the move away from biblical orthodoxy. In truth, those of us that have left the denomination believe ourselves to be the true ‘Methodists’. Sadly, the denomination, as a whole, has left its roots behind, the consequences of which are becoming more and more evident.
Resigning our membership meant we gave up and left everything we knew as a Methodist Church. We left our buildings, finances, structures and resources behind- churches that were built by the local people for the local communities. Though we left with nothing and were fully aware that there was no guarantee that we would be able to return to our building, we felt very much at peace about the decision, which the Lord had led us to, and very much trusted Him for what He had for us. Leaving everything behind meant all we had and were able to do was to rest in the Lord and trust that He would provide for us - what a wonderful place to be!
A painful process
Eventually the vacant church was put up for sale and despite our approach and offer to buy this privately from the denomination, under provisions that allowed property to be sold to similar charitable organisations, it was insisted that it go on the open market. Members pledged financial gifts in order to purchase the building, and the Lord more than provided. After a lengthy process of back and forth, an offer was finally accepted and a completion reached some months later.
Though we were prepared to leave the building behind, we were not prepared to leave our community. Though small, we felt God has a work for us to continue in this locality and He has made a way for us to do that. The church sign may have changed on the wall, but the message of the Lord Jesus does not and we are still the same believers seeking to remain faithful to God and His Word.
This decision was taken by the vast majority of the fellowship, but was sadly not unanimous. For differing reasons, some could not see a home outside of the denomination and this made for some very painful meetings and discussions. Being a small family church, this did somewhat magnify these differences and relationships became strained and fractured. Though it has not been possible to all move together, and though we may not always agree with the conclusion of others, we respect individual decisions. We continue to pray for all, despite our differences, as they settle in to other Methodist churches in the area.
Becoming an independent church has been a lengthy process. Having to deal with Charity formations, constitutions, buildings, finances and setting up of new structures etc - though necessary and a part of wider church life - they can too be a great distraction from the mission of making Jesus known. But despite these additional burdens, it has been a time of excitement and encouragement as we see how the Lord is at work in these days. We are finding new opportunities to seek to reach our community, without what became the hindrance of denominational labels. We continue to look forward, and though we can feel inadequate and incapable, the Lord equips and provides for such a time as this, and we continue to learn, trusting Him for what lies ahead.
United in the gospel
God, in love, does indeed unite us. Romans 8:39 reminds us that “…nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But this uniting comes only through the gospel - through the shed blood of our Lord Jesus on the cross. The good news of forgiveness, reconciliation and new life is available to all. We are so thankful to Him, that despite the many challenges and obstacles of this process, He has led us through. It is overwhelming how He has provided for us in such abundance and blessed us, as we have sought to honour Him. A verse or passage of Scripture, which has been prevalent to me during that time, has been Exodus 14, where the Israelites are being pursued and there seemed obstruction on all sides as they came to the Red Sea. Terrified, they cried out to the Lord, but Moses reassuring them states: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm…The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:13 -14). Though we can feel hemmed in and pressed from every direction, sometimes we need only to be still, as our Almighty God fights for us and goes before us.
For someone who struggles with same-sex attraction, this brought a different and painful dynamic for me. It hurts to hear that the best way for me to enjoy life in all its fulness is to seek a sexual relationship with someone of the same sex and, indeed that God will even bless this in marriage. As does the view that remaining single and celibate is to miss out on what is seen as God’s provision and blessing in this area. It is so important that as churches we show there is another way, and that God’s plan for human sexuality and flourishing is good news for all and what is best for us. For someone in my position, it is essential that my church, one where I am in a position of leadership, is clear and faithful on these issues. It is so important that we remain rooted in God’s word, sharing this word in both truth and love. And as we seek to uphold the scriptures and faithfully teach this, that we can be churches where those, like me, who struggle in these areas, are faithfully encouraged and supported. This is particularly necessary when there is so much opposition from the culture around us and indeed sadly in our churches today.
We continue to pray for our brothers and sisters who face similar challenges and discussions within their own respective churches and denominations, particularly where the faithful scriptural voice finds itself in the minority. We know all too well the emotional cost and strain and pray that they have wisdom and strength in these difficult and challenging days. But we take courage that the Lord knows the beginning from the end and He continues to work His purposes out in these days. All praise to Him.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2023 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
Download the Autumn 2023 edition of Ascend