Have you studied our form of church discipline and polity?
After I became a disciple of Jesus Christ and joined the local United Methodist Church, I was enrolled in confirmation class. I was the oldest one in the class by a couple of years, but the way I saw it I needed to absorb as much as I possibly could about the faith I knew I was called to preach. Three local churches combined their confirmation classes to give us the best experience possible. One Sunday afternoon, in the basement of Benld United Methodist Church, we had a guest teacher. He was the student pastor at Staunton UMC. He genuinely seemed excited to be talking to us about “discipline”. That’s when it happened. He pulled out a thick, hard bound book…The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. I started flipping through its pages. Quite frankly, I was overwhelmed by the complexity of what I was reading; but I was so interested. In my hands was the book that governed our lives together as United Methodist Christians. When I got home, I asked my parents to order me my own copy. I laugh now to think of the nerdiness, or methonerdiness, of a 15 year old kid who read the Discipline from cover to cover. Through the years I’ve even acquired some old Disciplines, such as the last one from the Methodist Episcopal Church and the first one of The United Methodist Church (I’m a geek, I know).
I have studied it. I’ve absorbed it. I feel that I have a pretty good handle on our form of discipline and polity. I probably don’t have the grasp of say…Chris Ritter (seriously, I don’t know how he finds the time to know the Discipline as well as he does….check out his webpage), but I can hold my own.
There are two separate things we’re talking about when answering this question. First is discipline. What a scary word to so many people. The discipline that makes up our Church really is about covenant. These are the policies by which we agree to be in covenant with one another as a connectional church. What is at stake with Church discipline is accountability. We’ve agreed as United Methodists, clergy and laity alike, to be accountable to one another when it comes to this discipline. Our discipline spells out how we agree to be accountable to conducting ourselves in the Church…through evangelism, administration, worship, mission and more.
Second is polity. Polity is the way the Church is organized and governed. We certainly have a strange system of Church government….but I still love it. We are an episcopal Church where Bishops provide supervision and oversight and have the power to deploy pastoral leadership through the appointment process. General Conference is the only body that speaks for the whole Church…and when it gathers every four years, the Bishops have no vote. So in that way we’re kind of strange for an episcopal body. We have a judicial council which functions as our supreme court. We have general boards and agencies which carry out the initiatives of the denomination. We’ve got jurisdictions, central conferences, annual conferences, districts and at the foundation of it all is the local church where the real action happens. All of these structures are spelled out in the Book of Discipline in our Church polity. I could go on and on but it’s getting late and not everyone loves the Book of Discipline as much as I do.
It’s clear to me from studying the discipline and polity of our Church that we have tried very methodically to organize ourselves in such a way that makes us an effective tool in God’s hands to fulfill our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Could we do a better job? No doubt. But our polity and disciple bind us together as ONE Church. This is the United Methodist Way that I agree to be accountable to.
Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity? I have.