One of my professors from seminary is now blogging…which scares me because I was completely disrespectful in his class and he may still want to tell the world about it. Anyway, his post today is a doozy: let’s break up the Discipline into more palatable parts for lay and clergy alike.
The United Methodist Discipline has grown from a small paperback to the 1.5 inch thick mind-numbing document that it is today…and yes, a substantial portion of it is important! We have a large free-wheeling church and it is important that our diversity be exhibited. But given the book’s size, it does not tend itself to light reading and thus it has become less and less a part of the average UM lifestyle. To Wesleyan purists, this is a problem.
Boston University’s Dr. Glen Messer rejects the notion that it is good to have a large tent book that people of most every persuasion can find themselves in its various and contradictory doctrines.
The Discipline began as a document about the essentials of how to be and live like a Methodist. I reject the notion that it should be the church equivalent of a fraternity house ‘garbage can drink’ into which we can pour whatever each of us brings to the party and then we all partake of the unpalatable (and spiritually toxic) concoction.
To Messer, the Discipline is not an encyclopedia to turn to and see yourself. Rather, it is a tool for daily discipleship…and by tool, he doesn’t mean a replacement leg to keep your bible bookshelf steady! Its current incarnation is prohibitive to it being a part of our daily rhythm.
To push back against big-tent Methodism with a hands-off approach to the Discipline, Messer suggests we split it up into three different books:
Let us consider doing the following:
- Take the core historic doctrines and teachings of The United Methodist Church, a modernized (and doctrinally faithful) version of The General Rules, and a skeletal description of the basic ecclesiology of the denomination and collect them into a small volume to be renamed The Doctrines and Discipline of the United Methodist Church;
- Take the necessary extrapolations upon The Discipline, those that are more organic and subject to necessary, more frequent change, and gather those together with the assorted rules and procedures for the administrative and property concerns of the denomination. That book we can call The Order of The United Methodist Church, and;
- Take the miscellaneous teachings and declarations of the church (not included in the two other volumes) that are responses to contemporary issues and concerns and gather them together in a volume entitled The Teachings of the United Methodist Church.[snip] Thus, we would build a written understanding of who we are as a church by providing a foundation, a frame, and then an outer structure.
Read his whole post…it is informative as well as evocative in its imagery (particularly how being UM these days is like Twister where we theologically twist ourselves around to stay in the game…ha!).
What do you think?
- Ought we prioritize what it means to be United Methodist, clarify by different books what our essentials are and our contradictory non-essentials are and do serious soul searching…and buy a slimline copy of the Discipline for every church member to support Cokebury?
- Or is this another drift towards United Methodism that is more doctrinal than missional, one that places Doctrine as the essential part of the church (his proposed book one), rather than the heart for ministry exposed in different contemporary contexts (proposed book three)?