Sunday, June 26, 2011

Clergy Health

Professor Henry Rack is the editor of volume 10, and his introductions and commentaries provide a very helpful overview of the different types of Minutes that were published by Wesley.  The 1780 version of the 'Large' Minutes may be of most interest to United Methodists as this document was the basis of the first American Book of Discipline.

As Rack explains, the earliest edition of the 'Large' Minutes was the Disciplinary Minutes (the Doctrinal and Disciplinary Minutes were published as separate tracts in 1749).  The pamphlet on Methodist doctrine was not revised, unlike the one on discipline which was edited six different times during Wesley's lifetime (1753, 1763, 1770, 1772, 1780, and 1789).

Many of the sections found in earlier editions are retained in the 1780 discipline including a brief history of Methodism, policies on field preaching, rules on society membership, suggestions for class leaders, guidelines for home visitations, and a job description for preachers.

New sections on nervous disorders , fasting, guidelines on singing, polity related to preaching houses and the General Fund, and the dangers of Calvinism are added in 1780.

The section on nervous disorders reflects Wesley's interest in medicine.  It begins with a question. "What reasons can be assigned why so many of our preachers contract nervous disorders?"  Wesley then summarizes the opinion of the eighteenth-century British physician William Cadogan who concluded that the principle causes of nervous disorders were indolence and intemperance.  Wesley applied Cadogan's theory to the preachers and accused them of not getting enough exercise, eating too much, and sleeping too long.  As a cure Wesley's advised them to "(1) Take as little meat, drink, and sleep as nature will bear; and (2) Use full as much exercise daily as they did before they were preachers."

Two things jumps out at me in this section.  First, the assumption that physical health and mental well-being are inter-related and second, Wesley's silence on spiritual health and maturation as a necessary factor in maintaining a sound mental state.  (Maybe the need for spiritual exercises was so obvious to him that it didn't occur to Wesley that he needed to mention it?)

What would a disciplinary section on clergy health (physical, mental, and spiritual) look like today?  My guess-- it would be part of the standard used to declare a minister ineffective and unfit for appointment.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Doctrinal Minutes

With the publication of volume 10 of Wesley's Works, United Methodists now have access to a succinct summary of the doctrine that Wesley and his assistants agreed to teach in the Methodist preaching houses.  The theological principles discussed in the Doctrinal Minutes are the same as those set forth in the Doctrinal Standards (the first four volumes of Sermons on Several Occasions and the Notes on the New Testament), however at approximately 29 pages this statement of Methodist belief is a much quicker read than the others. 

The main doctrines covered in the Minutes are justification and sanctification with a very brief section on ecclesiology (pp. 783-785).  Various aspects of justification (e.g., what does salvation by faith mean?  what is assurance?) and of sanctification (e.g., how do we increase in holiness?  what is entire sanctification?) are dealt with in a question and answer format.  The answers are brief, at most a paragraph in length, and for that reason provide an introductory overview of Wesleyan theology. 

The Doctrinal Minutes are a summary of theological conversations Wesley had with his preachers at Conferences held from 1744 to 1747.  If United Methodist doctrine were to be discussed at your Annual Conference what doctrines would you want to cover?  How would the "official" United Methodist position on a particular doctrine be determined?  Is this something you would like to see happen at your Annual Conference?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Means of Grace

     The critical edition of Wesley's Conference Minutes was just released by Abingdon Press (Works, v. 10).  At 1046 pages this is more of a reference book than a reading book.  To facilitate use of this volume my blog posts will point out sections that I have found particularly helpful in the hopes that others will as well once they know where to look.
     Starting with the 1763 edition, the 'Large' Minutes contains Wesley's most complete* list of Instituted and Prudential Means of Grace. Several of his sermons discuss the Means of Grace, but for the full list you will want to refer to this new volume.  Unlike the sermons, the commentary on each Means is brief so reading the Minutes in conjunction with the sermons is advisable.
     I've outlined Wesley's Means of Grace below because I think it would be a helpful guide for Covenant Discipleship groups.  Each member of the group could pick one of the Means and practice it until the next meeting.  Then when the group meets again everyone could report on how often they used their Mean and discuss whether or not it was a means that conveyed God's grace to them.  This is an eighteenth-century document after all.  Wesley's list may need to be adapted for current contexts.  Did the spiritual exercise that you find the most beneficial make the list?

Large Minutes (1763), pp. 855-858, [§40.1-7]
I. Instituted Means
A. Prayer
B. Searching the Scripture
C. The Lord’s Supper
D. Fasting
E. Christian Conference: (i.e., holy conversations--  “Is it always in Grace?  Seasoned with Salt?  Meet to minister Grace to the Hearers?”)
II. Prudential Means
  1. Common Christian Means: rules for avoiding evil, doing good, growing in grace, arts of holy living
  2. Methodist Means: society, class, band meetings
  3. Preacher Means: meet with society, leaders, bands, visit the sick and well, instructing in homes, relative duties
  4. Assistant Means: regulate the societies, bands, and books. hold watch-nights, love feasts, and quarterly examinations. Send Wesley account of preachers’ defects
  5. Fruitful Means: watching, self-denial, taking up our Cross, exercise the presence of God
These instructions remain the same in the 1770-1772 editions of the Large Minutes ([§44.1-7]) and are slightly revised in the 1780-1789 editions ([§48.1-7]).

*The only category missing from this list is Works of Mercy.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Worldwide Book of Discipline

The Study Committee on The Worldwide Nature Of The Church has posted a proposed General Conference petition on their website.  The accompanying press release explains that the intention of the petition is to streamline The Book of Discipline by identifying the sections that apply to the entire denomination and the sections that can be adapted to better fit regional contexts.

Reading about the committee's work has motivated me to get to work on an article idea I've been contemplating for more than a year.  I read The Book of Discipline through an interpretive framework I call the Six P's of United Methodist Polity.  Every paragraph of the BOD can fit into at least one of these six categories:
  1. Principles-- Many sections of the BOD begin with a statement on UM theology or principles.  For example, ¶701 is a statement on the principle of connectionalism.  Of course all of Part II and Part IV could be included in this category.  Every paragraph that reflects on UM theology should be retained in the worldwide BOD.  Paragraphs on social principles could be adapted by regions.
  2. Plan-- The Organizational Plan of the UMC at the General, Central, Jurisdictional, Annual, District, and Local levels is set out in the BOD.  The paragraphs in the Constitution should apply to the whole denomination.  Regions should be able to design an organizational structure that enhances ministry in their unique settings.
  3. Purpose-- Part III begins with a statement of purpose, ¶120 "The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."  The purpose served by local church committees and General Agencies is also detailed in the BOD.  As long as a purpose statement is consistent with the general mission of the UMC, regions should be able to edit paragraphs related to the purpose of the various parts of their organizational structure.
  4. Personnel-- The make-up of the different committees of the church is stipulated in the BOD.  These paragraphs identify who should be on the committees, the ratio of men and women, young adults, and youth that should constitute the membership of a committee.  A general statement on the principle of inclusive personnel should apply to the entire denomination.
  5. Powers-- After identifying an organizational entity of the church, its purpose and personnel, paragraphs then follow that explain the group's authority, for example ¶1303 explains the objectives of the General Board of Global Ministries.  Similar to the paragraphs on Plan, each region should write its own paragraphs on the powers of the committees that constitute the organizational plan at the regional through local level.
  6. Procedure-- My impression is that most of the paragraphs in the BOD deal with the procedures a group is to follow in order to fulfill its responsibilities, however I have not counted to what percentage of the paragraphs would be a part of this category.  I find the Procedures paragraphs to be the most contingent.  Perhaps a general statement on the principle of transparency could apply to every level of the church.  A detailed, step-by-step set of instructions that tells a group how it is to carry out its work is impractical and can hinder rather than help ministry initiatives.
When I write my article (!) I will focus on the Procedure paragraphs, discuss their purpose and function in the BOD, and recommend ways to shorten these sections and thus reduce the size of the Book of Discipline.