Violating the Discipline to Show that Violating the Discipline is Wrong

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To What Do We Owe Obedience?

Jeremy's article lifts up an important question: do we owe obedience to our church law (Book of Discipline)? John Wesley thought so---check out the historical Wesley questions every new member in Full Connection is required to answer before becoming ordained as an Elder.
Or, do we owe our obedience to the Bible? After all, it is ostensibly the source of our faith, the first and primary side of the "Wesley Quadrilateral" which we use to describe our theology?
Or do we owe obedience to both? I suspect it is to both, unless we have a literalist understanding of the Scriptures.
The Progressive theological wing of the UMC sees the Bible as a source of Principles that help us understand, in general terms, what God is calling us to do and to be. The specifics in the Bible may be overlooked because (in the second side of the Wesley Quadrilateral!) we are also to pay attention to history, i.e., what has been learned since the Old and New Testaments were canonized in the early fourth century, C.E. Most of us regularly wear clothing made of mixed fibers, eat the occasional pork chop or shrimp cocktail, marry only one person, and sometimes wonder who this Caesar is to whom we are to render what is Caesar's, etc. The more traditional theological faction of the church, at least to my observation, all do the same thing but still lift up some of the specifics in the Bible as mandatory on all Christians. All factions will tell you that the Scriptures are important because they are inspired by God.
The Book of Discipline is an entirely different animal: it is a book of Church law. At the same time, at least from what I've seen at General Conference, it's inspiration by God is at least questionable. The old saw that "If you like to eat sausage, never watch it being made" is applicable here. While much in the Book of Discipline has a long heritage (I've found one paragraph in the Book of Discipline that has remained unchanged since the 1864 Book of Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church!), most of it periodically changes following the best wisdom of those who are elected to be voting members of the General Conference, primarily after reading the best of the wishes and desires of those who are on the Boards of the General Church Boards, Agencies and Commissions!
The neat trick is to find the appropriate balance between obedience to the Bible and obedience to the Book of Discipline.
I come from the more Progressive theological wing of the church. I like the idea of following Biblical principles, while remembering that the words in the Bible were discerned and then written down by people who were using the best knowledge, technology, and scientific explanations of their own time. I also like following the Book of Discipline so the institution can keep functioning at least semi-well.
I lift this as a suggestion for all UM's: use the Bible for its timeless principles, and let that guide your understanding of church law & functionality.

Tom Griffith more than 6 years ago

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