3/13/2008

Wesleyan Discipline Changes

Wondering how the Wesleyan Discipline has changed over the last 50 years I did some homework. What do you see here?

36 comments:

Eric Roemer said...

Dr. Drury,

I thought this was some great research. I really enjoyed reading this.

In all honesty though, as someone who really believes the church be proactive in social reform, I now really have to question if the merger was a good move for the Wesleyan tradition. The WM language explains why, and I didn't really see the PH doing that. After reading this it seems like the merger took a great deal of our social reformer heritage down a number of notches.

I pray we will find our way back.

threexsyrout said...

Keith, I think it's fascinating to read TWC's current statement on christian liberty, particularly after reading some of our other positions in both the "membership commitments" and "special directives" sections.

An example... it's okay to go to war (and potentially kill or be killed), or not go to war (because you sincerely disagree), and we'll support you either way... just don't have a beer.

Another thought... fundraising shouldn't "hinder the message of the church" or "misdirect peoples' energies from promoting the Gospel," but most youth pastors know full well it's going to be a regular part of their job since loads of church members don't contribute 10%, let alone an 'above and beyond the tithe' offering. Do we work for World's Finest Chocolate, or do we work for Jesus?

And what about this one... "It will also involve witnessing against social evils by... the refusal to patronize the motion picture theater (cinema), together with other commercial ventures as they feature the cheap, the violent or the sensual and pornographic..." Are we going to eliminate this rule, since a majority of Wesleyan pastors, leaders, and members watch movies (whether at the cinema, through their local video store, or through Netflix), or are we going to call everyone to much more strongly honor this rule? Or, is it a rule at all, since having the name 'special directives' makes me feel like these are nice ideas to consider, but not obligatory to being a Wesleyan?

I say all this to say... what is Christian liberty, truly, if loads of it is already being defined for me already? How can I exercise true Christian liberty when others are working (or have worked at one point in history) to serve as my conscience?

I mean, what if I have (as 1st Cor. discusses) the stronger conscience? Sure, I should be aware of the one with a weaker conscience, and try to avoid putting stumblings blocks in the way of his/her faith. But neither should the weaker conscience criticize the strong, for the weaker conscience may need instruction.

Perhaps we as TWC have created so many specific membership commitments and special directives that people don't even have to do the hard work of truly wrestling with Christian liberty. Perhaps we have interfered with what should arguably be a private-prayer-closet conversation with God through His Holy Spirit, and created an atmosphere where - so long as one follows TWC's commitments and directives to the letter of the law - they end up seeing themselves as the one with a stronger conscience, when in fact they just might be the one with a weaker conscience.

i don't know... i'd just like to have a beer at the end of the day once in awhile... but it seems like even saying that out loud in our denomination will get you (pick one) fired, marginalized, scowled at, rebuked, "prayed for," or overlooked for potential leadership opportunity.

maybe my discouragement over this reality could qualify as a "proper medicinal usage"?

Wes McCallum said...

TOP RULES MOST IGNORED.
1. Tithing.
2. Gambling.
3. Social drinking.
4. Social dancing.
5. Movies.
6. The Lord's Day.
7. Tongues.
8. Divorce and remarriage.

TOP ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES MOST DEBATED.

1. Christ is the only Head of the Church, and the Word of God the only rule of faith and conduct.

2. No person who loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and obeys the gospel of God our Savior, ought to be deprived of church membership.

3. Every person has an inalienable right to private judgment in matters of religion, and an equal right to express personal opinions in any way which will not violate the laws of God or the rights of others.

4. The Church has a right to form and enforce such rules and regulations only as are in accordance with the Holy Scriptures, and may be necessary or have a tendency to carry into effect the great system of practical Christianity.

Keith Drury said...

Though I mentioned it in the introductory paragraphs I should remind us in this discussion that this entire chart can;t be taken as the "rules" of the Wesleyan Church... only the membership Commitments" are actually promises a member makes... the "Special Directions (where media/movies/porn, dancing, abortion, war and other items are mentioned) are "admonitions to people and not promises they are required to make... this distinction is often overlooked in membership discussions and perhaps my including the admonitory "Special Directions" could encourage it even more...sorry about that. I wanted to include them because it is relevant to what we do over the years... since many assume the SDs are "rules" we can quietly put former "commitments" there and conservatives are happy about it even though Progressives/liberals know they can be looser on the SDs then the MCs.... so in conservative areas they say "Wesleyans aren't allowed to dance" (citing the SDs) while in progressive-liberal areas they say "Of course you can dance-that is only a SD."

It is most helpful in any discussion of binding "rules" to stay within the Membership Commitments... but of course there are plenty there (devotions? Fasting? Visiting prisons?) that we might not enforce as much as the alcohol thing.

I apologize for putting this chart on one page...

Kevin Wright said...

Perhaps this seems small, but I would like to move away from the language of "commitment" to that of "covenant." The language of covenant, I would argue, is more theologically coherent within the story of God's People.

Wes McCallum said...

Kevin Wright makes a good point that that membership is better defined as a “covenant”, than a “commitment”. But just what is the covenant that Christ gave to his disciples? Is the membership covenant the same as Christ’s covenant?

Here is Keith Drury’s summary...
36 COVENANT MEMBERSHIP COMMITMENTS.
These are the Covenant Membership Commitments of our Church. We believe ALL these to be consistent with the principles of Christ as taught in the Word of God, which is the only and sufficient rule both of our faith and practice.

1. Honor God’s name.
2. Honor the Lord’s day by going to church.
3. Honor the Lord’s day by avoiding detracting activities.
4. Total abstinence from the occult, witchcraft, & astrology.
5. Give to the church (“remembering” the idea of tithing).
6. Give to the needy.
7. Total abstinence from gambling.
8. Total abstinence from production, sale or purchase of tobacco.
9. Total abstinence from production, sale or purchase of alcohol.
10. Total abstinence from production, sale or purchase of non-prescription drugs.
11. Total abstinence from joining secret societies.
12. Total abstinence from sex outside of marriage.
13. Total abstinence from divorce for any reason other than adultery, homosexual behavior, bestiality or incest.
14. Total abstinence from child abuse.
15. Total abstinence from spouse abuse.
16. Live peacefully with others at home.
17. Nurture children in the home in order to bring them early to Christ.
18. Work together with others at church.
19. Walk in Christian fellowship with other Christians at church with gentleness and affection.
20. Pray for others at church.
21. Help others at church in sickness and distress.
22. Demonstrate love, purity and courtesy to everyone.
23. Attend public worship.
24. Participate in the Lord’s Supper.
25. Have family devotions.
26. Have personal devotions.
27. Practice fasting.
28. Total abstinence from teaching that tongues is a sign of baptism of Holy Ghost.
29. Total abstinence from speaking in tongues in public worship.
30. Total abstinence from promoting a private prayer language of tongues.
31. Give food to hungry people.
32. Give clothing to the destitute.
33. Visit people who are sick.
34. Visit people in prison.
35. Respect individual rights regardless of race, color or sex.
36. Be honest and just in all of life’s dealings.

Chap said...

This is the problem with detailed lists. I respect the Wesleyan Church for attempting to define a position on difficult moral issues--but lists always fall short. They will eventually discourage the Christian "liberty" crowd or be scrutinized as insufficient by the "we love lists" crowd.
I pastor in an evangelical free church--a denomination not known for being liberal, in which our historical debate was not to have a list at all--not even a doctrinal statement.
The leadership realized this was foolish--since you'd have the most vocal individual determine what the church believes and ended up deciding to keep the list as short as possible--12 doctrinal statements.
There are problems with this too-- but it seems to work to make the essentials the qualifying hurdles, rather than the non-essentials.
Good luck brethren!

Michael R. Cline said...

The trend I see is a move towards "rules, "commitments", or "special directions" (or whatever else you want to call them) becoming more and more broad through time. I hear what some are saying on hear about the Wesleyan Church taking away a bit of "Christian liberty" by defining so much, but in reality, the rules have gotten more broad, not more distinct. There is still some room for "imagination"--the buzz word of all buzz words in theological education.

Ironically, even though the 2004 edition was more broad in stroke, it says a whole lot less. More words...less substance.

And I do find it odd that there is a stronger stance against selling and buying on Sundays than against going to war and killing people. But, that's just me.

brownie said...

I only had one "now hold on" moment, and it was with the SD dealing with WILLS. While I think it could be a good thing to give your inheritance to the church instead of passing it on to your family, I don't guess I think of there being a scriptural basis for it, so it just seemed out of place. It was packaged as good stewardship? hmmmm.

left coast drury said...

Although the number of comments this weeks is light, they are all quite thoughtful:

I have two observations:

1) threexsyrout seems to hit at least one of the core issues. Is Christian liberty about ME and MY prayer closet? Am I am the final arbiter of what the Holy Spirit is saying? Our Tuesday author has written on this topic quite prolifically. Further, the Wesleyan Discipline is quite explicit that covenant membership commitments are about the collective conscience of the church (of which the Wesleyan Church identifies itself as a distinct subset). See See Paras. 260 & 551.
For anyone who rejects the authority of a collective conscience, no list of membership commitments will stand. Such a person and his Holy Spirit can always label the church as weak-conscience and exercise his liberty. I would label this kind of one-on-one meeting with the Holy Spirit as completely untrustworthy.

2) For some reason we seem overly focused on the narrowly crafted membership commitments. There are a number of membership commitments so broadly written that virtually anyone who isn't entirely sanctified (in a Seth Rees, Martin Wells Knapp kind of way) could be disciplined for violating them.

Try some of these on for size:

only doing things that contribute to the moral and spiritual purposes of the Lord's Day. Para. 265(1).

How does eating at a bar and grill after church stack up?

exercising faithful stewardship of time and material resources and careful self-discipline to further the mission of Christ's church. Para. 265(3).

I suppose a Carnival cruise could be labeled a form of Sabbath rest, especially if we hand out a few Bible tracts to the folks in the casino.

honoring Christ in every phase of family life....and by living peacefully with one another... Para. 265(6)

I only had to shout at my kids two times while trying to type this comment...possibly not quite up to snuff on this "peacefully" stuff

work together for the advancement of God's kingdom... Para. 265(7)

Not many church boards could pass this one 100% of the time...some struggle getting past 10%.

do good as much as is possible to all people... Para. 265(10)

While our beloved John Wesley did a lot of good, I suspect his wife could keep him from passing this one. He might have said it was impossible for him to have done more good to her...but doesn't the Bible say that all things are possible with God?

respect of inherent individual rights... Para 265(11)

Sounds easy for most Americans, but if we decide the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is our standard...we stumble on the universal right to work, housing and social security--Oops.

be just in all dealings... Para. (12)

Can a Wesleyan ever employ bluffs or deception in games or in business. If I artificially raise the ask price or make a low ball offer in a real estate deal, could I be held as unjust?

Forget alcohol, tithing, and devotions. Those are easy to keep. Trying to seriously keep some of these other ones day in and day out...that's a real challenge.

Pastor Rod said...

I think the Free Methodists are on the right track. They say (from memory), "We used to think of church membership as the graduation from discipleship. We now see it as the door to discipleship."

Rod

Kristen said...

I think it is interesting that this discussion so far deals with the "small" commitments. One of the first things I notice is that for a "Holiness" denomination we have completely elminated it from our Membership Commitments. The Pilgrim Holiness and Wesleyan Methodist columns have a statement about "walking in holiness and goodness". Yet, once the merger happened, we don't have anything about striving to live a holy life. It now seems that if one keeps with the other commitments and directives that one would be holy. The question is what is holiness? Is holiness following a list of rules/living a certain way or is it about the heart, attitudes, and motives? Do you think that this move away from the holiness commitment might be the underlining cause for this desire for "liberty"?

Some of the other differences I notice fall in line with what Michael R Cline said "Ironically, even though the 2004 edition was more broad in stroke, it says a whole lot less. More words...less substance." The statements before the merger were fairly easy to understand and interpret. Now, there are so many areas for interpretation--or loop holes. Don't get me wrong, I like that the Wesleyan church can have so many different views that still are in-line with the collective whole. I just worry about the wording getting so broad that someone can interpret it as much more universal than Christ allows the Church to be. I know that there are people who think we should allow people to come up with their own convictions and that "rules" might hinder membership in some areas, but maybe just maybe we should actually have a some definite, distinct statements. Statements that the average person can read and understand.

Wes McCallum said...

Many of the current membership commitments originated (almost verbatim) with John & Charles Wesley's GENERAL RULES. These were published on May 1, 1743 as a list of expectations for those attending the class meetings. Initially, only one condition was required to attend — a desire “to flee from the wrath to come, to be saved from their sins”. However, to continue attending one was expected to observe three areas of WEEKLY DISCIPLINE:
1. Doing no harm and avoiding all evil;
2. Doing good towards others; and
3. Attending all the means of grace (worship, communion, prayer, scriptures, fasting).

A lay leader was responsible to guide a group of 12 persons in seeking salvation. Typically, a class meeting had more seekers than perfected Christians. This class meeting model continued to be observed in many Wesleyan and Methodist churches for over 200 years and phased out of use in the 1960’s.

WESLEY’S GENERAL RULES (1743).

THERE IS ONE ONLY CONDITION PREVIOUSLY REQUIRED IN THOSE WHO DESIRE ADMISSION INTO THESE SOCIETIES, — A DESIRE “TO FLEE FROM THE WRATH TO COME, TO BE SAVED FROM THEIR SINS:” But, wherever this is really fixed in the soul, it will be shown by its fruits. It is therefore expected of all who continue therein, that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,

FIRST, BY DOING NO HARM, BY AVOIDING EVIL IN EVERY KIND; especially that which is most generally practiced: Such as,

— the taking the name of God in vain;

— the profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work thereon, or by buying or selling;

— drunkenness, buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity;

— fighting, quarreling, brawling; brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling;

— the buying or selling unaccustomed goods (that have not paid the duty);

— the giving or taking things on usury, that is, unlawful interest;

— uncharitable or unprofitable conversation, particularly speaking evil of Magistrates or of Ministers;

— doing to others as we would not they should do unto us;

— doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as

— the “putting on of gold or costly apparel;”

— the taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus;

— the singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God;

— softness, and needless self-indulgence;

— laying up treasures upon earth;

— borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods without a probability of paying for them.

It is expected of all who continue in these societies, that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,

SECONDLY, BY DOING GOOD, by being, in every kind, merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and as far as is possible, to all men;

— to their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick, or in prison;

— to their souls, by instructing reproving, or exhorting all they have any intercourse with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine of devils, that “we are not to do good unless our heart be free to it.”

— By doing good especially to them that are of the household of faith, or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others, buying one of another; helping each other in business; and so much the more, because the world will love its own, and them only:

— By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed:

— By running with patience the race that is set before them, “denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily;” submitting to bear the reproach of Christ, to be as the filth and off-scouring of the world; and looking that men should “say all manner of evil of them falsely for the Lord’s sake.”

It is expected of all who desire to continue in these societies, that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,

THIRDLY, BY ATTENDING UPON ALL THE ORDINANCES OF GOD. Such are,

— the public worship of God;

— the ministry of the word, either read or expounded;

— the supper of the Lord;

— family and private prayer;

— searching the Scriptures;

— and fasting, or abstinence.

These are the GENERAL RULES of our societies; all which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written word, the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these, we know, his Spirit writes on every truly awakened heart. If there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break any of them, let it be made known unto them who watch over that soul as they that must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways; we will bear with him for a season: But then if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.

— JOHN WESLEY, CHARLES WESLEY.
May 1, 1743.

JustinJNierer said...

Wow. We really got "wordy" over the years.

Thats ashame.

Quick question, what defines

"Inter-church sponsored athletics " ? and why would they be prohibited?

Wes McCallum said...

“Inter-church sponsored athletics are prohibited” (78).

Justin asks:
“What defines Inter-church sponsored athletics… and why would they be prohibited?

This meant church ball teams and leagues.
In 1950, holiness people were pietists, separatists, and sabbatarians. Their highest virtues were piety and evangelism; thus their mission was prayer and preaching, not socializing and athletics. Another virtue was separatism; thus they didn’t associate with ecumenical churches (whose members might swear or smoke at the ball game). Yet another virtue was sabbatarianism; thus they didn’t play ball on Sunday “to keep the Sabbath holy”.

Dave Ward said...

Interesting that porn is in special directions...beer in covenant commitments. Hmmm. Hadn't noticed that before your comment above, Keith. In our preaching and thinking we seem to preach the opposite. True? Not commenting which should be where...just noticing.

Keith Drury said...

Dave ward...

You have pointed out my own position here... the whole list needs revised... I have no doubt that if we were making this list today we would make porn and abortion more important than an "admonition" to members... and I have little doubt we would remove from the "commitments" some items that we think are good but not the minimum to get into the church (fasting, family and personal devotions, visiting prisons and perhaps others?)...

While addressing alcohol alone may be the pressing need [to some] I personally think it makes a mockery of all the list to pick and choose which ones we consider binding while we ignore or dismiss others as not really binding... if we can so easily ignore four or five of the commitments who is to say someone else can't ignore their own 4-5 or one?

Perhaps it also points out there is always an oral tradition accompanying such lists... some things we list we really don't even ask members about (or even expect of existing leaders) while other things that are not even on the list "are obvious to us" as the minimum (for instacne, most Wesleyans would just assume a pastor would not get an abortion and a vice chair of the local board would never be a Doctor who performs abortions) While I think an oral tradition tat agrees which ones are "more important" than others may be (sociologically) accurate I don't think it is the best way to deal with "church law" and it lacks integrity for pastors to say "I can;t take members in because of rule #X due to my integrity." Where is this integrity on fasting and devotions?

I think the whole list needs to be revisited every decade or two so that it always represents the current collective convictions of the church while not totally ignoring the "carry over" of past tradition. (I don't worry much about the carry over since the process of revising the constitution is so elaborate and lengthy that "the past" [that is the now-dead people who made these former rules] always get a powerful vote since the process of changing them is so hard.

I believe the denomination will eventually look at and revise the whole list..as we did at merger in 1968...and as we did under Lee Haines' leadership in 1980. It is either that or the rule will become like those of the United Methodists... "historical positions" and not current.... I believe it will happen...

Matt Guthrie said...

Here's what I think is the obvious follow up question to this post. I'll leave it up to Keith to decide whether I'm right or wrong. The question is, "What do you do when General Cnference is over and you don't like the outcome?"

This question could go either way. Maybe the prohibition on alcohol is removed and you don't like it. Or prohibition remains and you disagree. Or maybe we'll be bold enough to do what has been suggested in several comments here - rewrite the whole dadgum thing.

Since all the heated talk that surrounds this issue (alcohol) from sides leads to "TWC will split as a result of this" how should we handle it? At what point do churches stop turning a blind eye to certain behaviors and go their own way? At what point do churches START turning a blind eye?

These are not easy questions and can't be answered in one short paragraph. You have submission to the authority of the church on one hand and the need to be practical, relevant, AND different at the same time.

Like many pastors (and laypeople) I have been watching the membership debate rage on for quite sometime. I'm at a point where I feel like I have to make a decision on quetions like these and then uphold that decision regardless of which way it goes.

Keith Drury said...

Matt....
I think this is exactly the reason the commitments must represent the majority of the [present] church.... when they don't (as eventually became the case on movies, on shorts on wedding rings and a variety of other matters in the past) increasing numbers of churches and pastors simply defy them and flaunt their disobedience until (eventually) other "commitments" go into meltdown too and the whole list becomes meaningless. Which is an argument to revisit them periodically.

I personally don't think any change in full membership commitments will actually happen this summer. More likely I suspect there will be an expanding of the rights of "community members" in a local church which could functionally make "Covenant members" become "leadership standards."

That would plug the hole in the dam some are all in a frenzy about--but it will not address the long range issue here. I think we need a four-year study and revision group that seriously does what lee Haines et. al. did in 1980 and what the merger committee did in 1968. As for me, I think many of these things belong in "statutory law" that can be changed by any General Conference and not in "constitutional law" that takes a massive amendment process. , Some can argue that 34% of the church should not be able to block the church from changing its rules on these matters... so to be honest I prefer putting many of those things in the statutory law section that can be addressed each four years... it is hard enough to change a thing there.

But take all this with a grain of salt--I am an old man and the young men and women who are inheriting the denomination must have more to say on these matters than us old guys...

Marcia said...

In the light of all the "thou shalt nots" and "we'd rather you didn'ts," here's something I've been pondering....

There is mention made, either in the MCs or the SDs of the need to refrain from certain activities (the use of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs) because of the harm they generate.

Given the current proliferation of obesity in the US, its documented damage to health, and the resulting curtailment of ministry due to disability, maybe we should consider a special direction regarding excessive consumption of food?

left coast drury said...

Here's an interesting thought experiment.

Pastor gets caught:

1) Viewing on-line porn and being in possession of numerous pornographic magazines

2) Drinking a cold-beer while out on a hunting trip. Bottle of wine found in the fridge.

What happens?

1) Pastor is absolutely out--don't let the door hit you on the way out.

2) Pastor may be out, but much less certainty. Possibly the issue will be shrugged off, or the pastor simply chided. It is also possible the pastor is eventually dismissed but likely the ouster would take time.

Keith Drury said...

MARCIA... Note how the Free Methodists addressed that issue. Once again the importance of making our "thou shalt nots" and "we urge you to not's," regularly and keeping them current.... there are constantly new issues that need addressed 9as my study illustrated... we added gambling when state-sponsored lotteries arrived, and we added tongues when that became a big issue, and we changed our stance on war as we became more pro-war, and we removed bans on shorts and rings when culture changed... my guess is if we were writing a list from blank paper today we would include porn and maybe obesity in the rules not the admonitions.... and I'm pretty sure the younger members would insist on intentional efforts to reduce each family's carbon footprint etc.

LEFT COAST NEPHEW: Now that you are moving to D.C. to work for World Hope you'll need to find a new name... "Beltway Drury?" heh heh heh... to your point: you have cited an example where the oral tradition trumps the written law... I have little doubt the porn-monger pastor will be removed promptly and the hunting-cabin-beer-swallower will take longer or even "only" disciplined. Again, more evidence that statements need to be made often enough to reflect the current "collective convictions" of the church.

HOWEVER, I am not totally in favor of mandating most of these collective convictions. While I have a right-leaning-Republican on the line here nephew, I have little doubt that we could get a majority vote mandating that every Wesleyan vote for John McCain in the general election--indeed I believe we could get a 2/3 vote mandating all Wesleyans vote Republican in every election. We might even get a majority vote against international aid or just a few years ago I am certain we could have gotten a 2/3 vote against and Wesleyan subscribing to HBO.

I think somehow, just because 51% of Wesleyans agree on a thing does not mean it should be church law for all Wesleyans. To me a "collective conviction" should be more than the current 51% majority opinion forced on the 49% minority... somehow it should be more permanent and universal and protection should be provided for some minority views. But I can make this speech easier than I can craft such a law...

YOU'RE the lawyer... how would you craft the Discipline to provide for something like this? Would you put a lot of this stuff in statutory law/Special Directions-admonitions but require a 2/3 vote to do it? Or how else? You are perhaps the best at Wesleyan church law in the whole church... how would you write this up? I'm calling you out Counselor. At this stage we need lawyer-types along with theologians, Bible scholars and church leaders....

Pastor Rod said...

Keith,

With genuine respect for lawyers who are sincere disciples of Jesus Christ, I don’t think that this is a “legal” problem. It is a theological issue.

You identified a real concern with the current approach to membership rules (no matter where they reside). Not every majority position should be absolutized. Maybe none of them should be.

We can have a distinctive culture without using the membership requirements to enforce it. In fact, I suspect that membership requirements are the least effective way to develop and preserve culture. The most powerful tools for shaping culture are informal.

I would also like to see us get away from a focus on the easy-to-police but peripheral issues like gambling, smoking, and drinking. I would rather see the focus on the hard-to-enforce but essential qualities of the fruit of the Spirit. I’d like to see us create a culture where being Christian means being a serious follower of Jesus Christ.

I also think that local congregations should be able to define what it means to be a serious disciple in their context. When people try to prescribe that for universal application, they always get it wrong (for example: early missionaries). These universal rules tend to focus on the wrong things and not deal with the pet sins that can easily sidetrack real discipleship.

I do think that our expectations should be high, but I also think that this must be maintained within the context of grace. The Free Methodists have it right. Membership is the beginning of discipleship, not the end.

Of course, none of this will happen. The membership requirements will remain unchanged at General Conference. Perhaps a “bone” will be tosses to the “younger progressives” in the form of some symbolic expansion of the community membership. A study commission will be established, filled mostly with institutional types and a few token “progressives.” By the next General Conference, those calling for change will be worn down, disenfranchised or gone.

In a slightly different vein: We are too concerned with institutional survival and not concerned enough with discerning what God is up to in this world. In other words, I doubt if any of the eventual Wesleyan Methodists ever said, “We shouldn’t make an issue out of slavery because it will split the Methodist Episcopal Church.”

God Bless,

Rod

Keith Drury said...

ROD, thanx... however the theolgians, the Bible scholars and your comments (like mine and most everyone else's) are long on opinions and short of the actual writing of legislation... a few church leaders like Lee Haines. Steve Babby and West Michigan's Jim Wood can do it, but most of the rest of us just give our principles without doing the hard work of writing legislation. So the lawyers are left to offer the actual changes...

Pastor Rod said...

Keith,

I agree with your point that eventually someone has to put together legislation to enact whatever "solution" is decided upon.

My argument is that we are not there yet. I think the theological and ecclesiological battles must be fought before the "smoke-filled-room" process can begin. [Insert own Wesleyan joke here.]

I think that there are still too many people who see this issue as "accommodating to the world." As long as that is the case, there can be no satisfying resolution for anyone.

We really can't get there from here. The whole issue has to be re-framed. The only chance that this could happen is for someone to spend his or her clout and influence to make it happen (something analogous to Paul's stand against the requirement for circumcision).

Even then, it would be a long shot.

One thing we all have to remember: God will preserve his church, but that is not identical to The Wesleyan Church.

I applaud all the work you've done on this issue and the risks you've taken so far. I certainly don't mean to belittle that.

Keith Drury said...

Thanks Rod... since the GBA has been working with this issue for years (I left the GBA 12 years ago and we had been discussing it off and on for 8 years even then) sooner or later we have to write legislation. I understand the GBA did just that last week, so we may see at least some dealing with it, I hope though we deal with the larger issues in the MCs and SDs... my hunch is (as mentioned above) we will deal with it by upgrading the rights of community members, and that works for now... but for the next generation we need a more broad approach... but perhaps only a merger will do that. (But with whom?) ;-)

Bitty said...

Okay, so maybe it's because I've been surrounded by UM's the past few years, but does anyone else feel concern that this list neglects proactive initiatives reflecting social justice? If we're going to clean out the attic of accumulated, dusty, forgotten edicts, let's sort through it and remember that we still need to take a stand on slavery worldwide, that IT IS OUR CHRISTIAN, AND our WESLEYAN DUTY to fight HIV/AIDS, and that fighting poverty in the name of Christ is JUST as important as whether or not you dance at a &%^$ wedding! What about asking this: are there things for which the Wesleyan church should repent? If so, what are they?
A) poor treatment of minorities (need I mention the once-segregated Ohio district?)
B) allowing Wesleyan pastors to live without health insurance (small churches often offer an either/or - either a salary or health insurance)
C) systematic prejudice against women
Most of the membership rules and standards emphasize personal holiness at the loss of social holiness. These two things are always, inextricably, linked.THAT is our Wesleyan heritage.

Pastor Rick said...

The most tragic shift over the years is the church's acceptance of divorce and remarriage. Jesus never said "don't drink a beer," but he was very clear on this, "whoever marries her that is divorced is committing adultery."

We admit that divorce and remarriage is sin, but then we explain that God's grace somehow excuses that particular disobedience to the explicit teaching of Christ.

The consequence: The authority of Christ is diminished, the infallibility of God's Word is rejected, and a tolerance for sin in believers is embraced.

At precisely the moment when the Church of Jesus Christ should have stood with our Lord, as a voice for righteousness and a compassionate conscience to a nation that was rejecting the permanence of the marriage vow, we flinched.

One can only imagine how different history might have been had God's people stood as the Early Christians did for the sanctity of the home and the marriage vow.

Love your writings Dr. Steury!
Pastor Rick Jones
St. Louis, MO

Anonymous said...

I find much of this debate anal and nothing but a power struggle by leadership to "control" its members.

Regarding devotions, it says to study morning and evening.

Regarding murder, it says not to do that. The only statement necessary on the part of the Wesleyan church is when is a baby a baby and when does ending the life of that baby constitute murder.

Regarding dress, the Text already says to be modest, let your adornment be inward and not outward.

Regarding, alcohol, it says not to be drunk with wine. It never says not to drink.

I also find it rather disburbing that as you look at Keith's comparison chart, the move away from the "love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strenth" mentality to a "do this/don't do that" mentality is so obvious it is scary. If I didn't know better, I would believe you were Calvinists!

At this rate, the Wesleyans will have their own Talmud within a few more years!

Besides, you keep rewriting your rules and (re)defining them, pretty soon when any one of those rules is ever challenged in a court of law, you won't have a leg to stand on! If you can change or embelllish one, you can change or embellish another!

Maybe that is why God used Holy men who were inspired to write since what He had to say is timeless and applicable to every situation in every generation.

But like everything else man puts his hand to, what God does is never good enough. Man can do it much, much better.

Maybe if you spent more time studying and teaching the Text, a Wesleyan Talmud would be unnecessary!

But then again what do I know, I don't have a Theological education and I'm not an ordained minister. I just read my Bible and obviously, I must be ignorant because it is not good enough to stand on its own or to direct me w/out a General Superintendent, District Superintendent or Pastor!

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Pastor Rick:

The reason one can overlook what God says about re-marriage of a divorced person, especially of a pastor, is because of one interpretation of holiness....that is, if your intent is right, the law does not matter.

I sat under a holiness pastor who married a divorced woman. Both were divisive, hateful, uneducated spiritually, manipulative, controlling, and legalistic....but, they were clean and they were holy! They even spent hours in their prayer closet.

Go figure!

If that is clean and holy, I'll remain unclean and unholy and never have a prayer closet!

Duke said...

I'm amazed at the increased wordiness across time. The irony is that the more that is written, the less is being said.

One way through the impass would be to select a like denomination who has made the transition and merge the best of both worlds. The downside probablity would be an acceptance of the worst of the two clans.

Duane Brown, Ph.D. candidate at Asbury, is completing a project related to Wesleyan church planters and their membership quagmire.

Wes McCallum said...

JOHN WESLEY ON "THE DISCIPLINE".
“And, remember, a Methodist preacher is to mind every point, great and small, in the Methodist discipline! Therefore you will need all the grace and sense you have, and to have all your wits about you.”

-- Rule # 12b from “The Twelve Rules of a Helper” by Rev. John Wesley, 1744.

Kristen said...

I think there are problems with "upgrading the rights of community members". A community member should be a Christian that regularly attends the local church, and is being discipled towards holiness. Some churches use community membership as a starting point for attenders who want to belong but think the covenant membership requirements are too much right then. If we "upgrade" the community members to have to live by the same principles as a covenant member we are completely shutting membership to our church off to anyone who isn't ready to commit to Sunday School attendance, not drinking, or not smoking, etc. Will that help us disciple them better?? I don't think so. They instead would decide that being a member in any capacity is too hard, and just attend the church (or worse leave thinking they aren't good enough for church...any church).

I think there should be two levels of membership commitments. One that is for those who aren't ready to live by the strict "rules" of covenant membership. One for those who are striving in every way to live a holy life.

As to the us accepting divorce and remarriage, that does seem to be an issue. The ideal is for marriage to be a life-time commitment. However, in today's society, to enforce it would rid most churches of its members. My home church for instance has several people on the board and in other leadership positions that are married to someone that wasn't their first spouse. Some through death, but most through divorce. Yet to find someone in our church that isn't in that boat would be nigh impossible--members and non-members.

I had noticed that in 1968 we took the stance against divorce and said that we would kick them out of our church if they did get a divorce. Then in 2004, we take our stance, but don't say what we should do if someone breaks that commitment. What if someone gets a divorce not because of unfaithfulness, but for abuse? If the Wesleyan church can say that God was working toward gender equality, calling both men and women (even though the Bible doesn't discuss it as such), then you would think they would note the purpose for Jesus' statement about divorce only when adultery is in the picture and they might make some changes to allow for getting out of abusive relationships. Side note, there are guidelines for remarriage in the Bible.

Next, on drinking...One of the reasons we took a stance against drinking was because of the negative social ramifications. Where drinking has become more acceptable in society, it still causes negative things to happen. When people drink, they still can say or do things that hurt other people (therefore, they don't love perfectly.). Not to mention, how can one enforce the rule of you can drink in moderation, but don't get drunk? Each person is different, not to mention situations--like have they eaten. I would say it is impossible to regulate that.

Now, one brought up an interesting point about being overweight affecting one's health negatively, yet it isn't mentioned in the "rules". And I thought it interesting that Dr. Drury said, "my guess is if we were writing a list from blank paper today we would include porn and maybe obesity in the rules not the admonitions...." when he would say, "I think the whole list needs to be revisited every decade or two so that it always represents the current collective convictions of the church". Is there a current collective conviction of the church against obesity? It might be unhealthy, it might be "gross" to some people, it might be gluttonous, but I would think a minority of people in TWC actually have a conviction about it. Just look around...the American church is full of obese people, and they don't think it is a sin.

There might be problems with our discipline, but I'm glad we have one. Where the local Wesleyan churches are different in some areas, it is nice that they make sure they are the same in certain areas. Plus, it gives us all something to discuss and complain about. :o)

Oh, just in case one wonders, a "young" person of the Wesleyan church has just spoken.

Keith Drury said...

Just a little clarification... those suggesting "upgrading community membership rights" are not proposing upgrading community membership "rules" but extending the "rights" to Community members... so they can do more... more voting etc....

Kristen said...

Well, that makes a difference. :o)