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First Things First: Part One of the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline

By Walter B. Fenton

Global Methodist laity and clergy gather in Lexington, South Carolina, this past week to worship God, celebrate their new connection, and to learn about the GM Church and all it stands for.

In just 16 pages, near the very front of its Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline, the Global Methodist Church states those things that are of first order to its very being. GM Church members and friends will find there what the Church considers are its core confessions and its distinctive Wesleyan expression of the Christian faith. These are matters all members should read, study, and regularly discuss with their sisters and brothers in the faith. They are intended to teach us who we are as God’s people, and shape the way we live and bear witness to the transforming power of God’s grace and love in our lives. It is no exaggeration to state that the health and vitality of the GM Church, indeed its very existence, depends on its people knowing and proclaiming what is contained in Part One of the Book of Doctrines and Discipline.

Today, we live in a world with thousands of Christian denominations; Global Methodists must know the basics of their history and be able to winsomely articulate it to others. In less than 750 words, the Book of Doctrines and Discipline succinctly summarizes our history in a section entitled “Our Heritage of Faith.” It clarifies our rootedness in the New Testament Church’s claim that Jesus Christ is the Son of the God who is revealed in the Old Testament, and that Jesus is our Savior, and is the one Lord of the Church universal. The section teaches that we confess the Christian faith stated in the great creeds of the church catholic (or universal), the confessions Christians have proclaimed for nearly 2,000 years. From there, the opening section closes with a summation of Christian history and our place in it.

Since its founding, the Methodist movement emphasized that the gift of God’s grace is available to all people. And the movement’s founders, John and Charles Wesley, clarified how God’s grace works in our lives. So moved by God’s grace, the former preached thousands of sermons, and the latter penned as many hymns testifying to the unfolding of that grace in a Christian’s life. Their profound exposition of grace is commonly called the “Wesleyan Way of Salvation.” A brief section warmly captures this essential teaching of our faith.

Under the heading, “Principles of Our Life Together,” Part One also sets forth eight markers of what it means to be the Church in the world. Among other things, we are to be “rooted and grounded in the scriptures and the historic teachings of the Christian faith,” be “committed to carry out the Great Commission . . . to make disciples of Christ teaching and baptizing in His name,” to “model the love of God . . . with our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves,” and to “display a ‘catholic spirit’ to the church universal, cherishing our place within the greater Body of Christ.” Knowing ourselves as sinners in need of God’s redeeming, we live out our faith together, guided by these and other principles.

And to remind us of the source of these principles, the Doctrines and Discipline dedicates a section of Part One to “Holy Scripture.” It clearly states that the Bible is “the primary rule and authority for faith, morals, and service, against which all other authorities must be measured.” This short section makes clear the Global Methodist Church’s high regard for God’s word.

Following on its strong statement about Scripture, Part One includes three “Foundational Documents for Our Doctrinal Standards.” The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and the Definition of Chalcedon are printed so it is clear the Global Methodist Church is rooted in the classical confessions of Christian orthodoxy. Its members are to regularly affirm the faith that Christ followers have proclaimed down through ages.

With other Christian denominations the Methodist movement traces its theological heritage all the way back to the New Testament. In a section called “Constitutive Standards,” the Book of Doctrines and Discipline includes the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church and the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, expressions of our theological heritage as Methodists. These documents clarify those teachings the Global Methodist Church shares with all orthodox Christians, and includes beliefs that demonstrate its close association with the Church of England of the 1700s, the communion in which Methodism had its origins.

Sections seven and eight of Part One are uniquely Methodist. The former is entitled “Normative Wesleyan Standards” citing key sermons by John Wesley, and the latter is named the “General Rules of the United Societies,” a key document Wesley first created in 1738, and that was “subsequently adopted by the Methodist Episcopal Church [in America] in 1785,” one year after the Church’s founding. These sections of Part One are historical documents and rich in wisdom and direction for the people called Methodists.

Finally, Part One closes with the short, but all important “Restrictive Rule.” This rule states that “the governing body of the Global Methodist Church shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or Confession of Faith, or establish any new standards of rules and doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine.” The rule essentially fences off Scripture, the great teachings of the Church universal, and our Wesleyan expression of the Christian faith from any changes or modifications.

Part One of the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline makes for a good companion to the Global Methodist Church’s “A Catechism of the Christian Faith and Doctrine in the Wesleyan Tradition.” The Catechism can be ordered from Seedbed Publishing here or by downloading it as a PDF here.

To read and search the online version of the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline or to download a copy of it, click here.

You can learn more about the Global Methodist Church by exploring its website.

The Rev. Walter Fenton is the Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connectional Officer.

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