aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

United Methodist Doctrinal Standards

General Conference has asked each Charge Conference, beginning next year, to say what steps it has taken to present and explain our UM Doctrinal Standards. This is a good thing. Many United Methodists are not aware that we even have doctrinal standards, or what they are.

I have just finished a six-week short course in an adult Sunday School class, explaining where United Methodist doctrine and practice comes from, and how our standards have evolved. Herewith are my teaching outlines from each of these classes, for the benefit of others who might be interested in doing something of the same sort.

One quirk of my approach: Rather than beginning with four (five) documents themselves -- the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Confession of Faith of the EUB Church, John Wesley's Standard Sermons, John Wesley's Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, and the General Rules of our United Societies -- and then giving the backstory on all of them, I chose to explain the English Church Tradition beginning from earliest times, then taking them through the Reformation and the beginnings of Methodism, so that we ended up with the standards we have.



The English Church was thoroughly orthodox, thoroughly catholic; however, it had certain characteristics that made it stand out (observed at the time by others).

1. Christianity had penetrated the English people completely. They were thoroughly converted and deeply spiritual.
a. Disappearance of Anglo-Saxon paganism almost without a trace
b. Monasticism very popular
c.Mysticism in both lay and clergy
* The Cloud of Unknowing
* Julian of Norwich (SHOW COPY)
* Margery Kempe
d. A tradition of devotional literature
* Sawles Warde, Ancrene Wisse, etc.
* English language prayer books
e. Carols and Drama
f. Lay involvement in parish life
2. At the same time as devotional life had spread both deep and broad, the English Church was immensely sophisticated – from the beginning, almost – and produced many leading thinkers and artists admired across Europe.
a. Bede (SHOW COPY)
b. Alcuin
d. Anselm (Yeah, I know he’s a Norman)
e. Early missionary impulse
f. Narrative poetry (The Dream of the Rood, Piers Plowman, Pearl) (SHOW COPY OF PEARL)
g. The question of the virtuous pagan
h. Oxford University
i. The music of the Chapel Royal
3. From the very beginning, the English people were greatly attached to the Bible, and wanted it in their own language.
a. Lindisfarne Gospels & the work of Alfred (SHOW COPY of LINDISFARNE GOSPELS)
b. Wycliffe’s Bible still circulating in ms form when the first Lutheran sympathizers began work in England
4. Even though the English reverenced the Church, they poured scorn and skepticism on the hypocrisies and greed of prelates (cardinals, bishops, abbots), and showed interest in renewal movements long before the Reformation.
a. Lollardy
b. Various peasant revolts (w/ utopian, visionary ideas of the Church)
c. Chaucer’s portraits of the clergy


The Reformation in England, in the wider sense, covers the reigns of Henry VIII through Queen Anne. (1509-1714), two tumultuous centuries.

1. Renewal and Reform
a. The Renaissance and Erasmus
b. Luther
* Indulgences
* German resentment of Rome
* 95 Theses (1517), Diet of Worms (1521), First German Bible
2. The Break with Rome
a. Henry as Defender of the Faith
b. The Divorce Question
c. The use of Parliament to enact separation
d. Catholicism without the Pope
e. The swing toward Lutheranism
f. The Great Bible
g. The Dissolution of the Monasteries
3. The Elizabethan Settlement
a. Edward VI’s reign and the Hot Gospelers
b. Bloody Mary’s failed reign
* The need for Parliamentary action
* No return of abbey lands
* Spanish alliance and burning of heretics
* Genevan exiles – contact w/ Calvinism
* Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (SHOW COPY)
c. Elizabeth comes to the throne
* Committed to Protestantism, but desirous of being as inclusive as possible
* Parliament approves compromise reformation
* 39 Articles
* Puritans think Settlement is first step; Elizabeth intends it to be final
* Jesuits and Popish plots threaten Elizabeth from one side, Puritans from the other
4. Note: Anglicanism is one of the few Protestant churches to bring its hierarchy into the new church.
a. Reason: Establishment by law in Parliament
b. Result: Less of a break with the past, less tendency to start with a blank sheet of paper
5. Puritanism
a. In common with other English Protestants, agreed that the Pope was NOT the Head of the English Church and the eucharist was NOT a re-sacrifice or transubstantiary
b. In contrast with the bishops, however, the Puritans were thorough-going Calvinists
* This especially meant Predestination and a very low view of the sacraments, but also a disdain for ceremony, hierarchy, vestments and ornaments, etc.
* Cambridge was the hotbed of Puritanism, Oxford of what would be eventually called “high church” and “Anglo-Catholicism”
c. Puritan agitation in Parliament
d. The Puritan Classical movement
e. Failure of Puritanism under Elizabeth

Session Three: The English Reformation, continued

6. The Wisest Fool in Christendom: James VI and I
a. James wanted to be an absolute monarch; he also had had his fill of Presbyterianism
* “No bishop, no king”
b. James considered himself an authority in religion
c. The origin of the KJV and Puritan resistance to it
d. Puritan interest in the New World
7. Charles I and the English Civil War
a. The attempt to rule without Parliament
b. French subsidy and the flirtation with Catholicism
c. Charles begins the War
* American Puritans fully engaged
d. The Puritans only begin winning under the New Model Army
e. The Radical Puritans take over; the Protectorate
8. Restoration and Revolution
a. Puritanism discredited
* Many Puritans become “low church” Anglicans
* Others turn into New England Congregationalists and English/American Baptists
b. Charles II continues to flirt with Catholicism, but stays within bounds
c. The challenge of the Duke of York’s Catholicism
d. James VII and II offends everybody
e. The Glorious Revolution
* Ancestor of American Revolution
* Catholic succession is outlawed
* William III not really Anglican
f. Queen Anne incarnates “Anglicanism”
* Wesley will be thoroughly Anglican in doctrine and practice
9. Methodism has some roots in Nonconformity and the Puritan tradition
a. Puritan-influenced devotional writing on holiness
* William Law
b. An interest in church history
* Wesley, while thoroughly supportive of the English Church’s authority, nevertheless was able to give himself permission to do some startling things, as when he ordained preachers and superintendents for America. He got the idea that he was a “scriptural episcopos” from Puritan biblical interpretation
c. Wesley’s parents had a disagreement over the right of William III to continue to reign after Mary II’s death; one thought that Anne should have succeeded her sister


1. Early influences on John and Charles Wesley (SHOW COPY JW’S JOURNAL)
a. The influence of Samuel and Susannah Wesley
b. “A brand plucked from the burning”
c. Oxford, the Holy Club
d. John’s doubts and the failed venture in America
e. The influence of the Moravians
* Peter Boehler: “Preach faith till you have it; then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
f. Aldersgate
g. The churches bar Wesley from preaching
h. The beginnings of field preaching
i. The Class Meeting and the Societies
* Attending a Methodist preaching service wasn’t what made you a Methodist, the Class meeting did
* The Ticket system
* Classes, Bands, Select Societies
j. The United Societies were, in effect, a para-church org, a renewal movement
* Methodists were expected to maintain their membership in the established Church
* However, many Methodists didn’t feel welcome there; plus, you didn’t have to start out Anglican to be a Methodist – it was ecumenical, in effect
* The result was a strong desire – especially later, in America – for Methodist preachers to be able to offer the sacraments to the people in their charge
2. Wesley’s view of Scripture
a. Homo unius libri
b. Outler’s Quadrilateral
* Scripture has to be primary
* The role of Tradition in interpreting Scripture in Anglicanism and Methodism
* The role of Experience in interpreting Scripture in Methodism
* The role of Reason in interpreting Scripture: Religion and the Enlightenment
3. The General Rules: the Oldest of our Doctrinal Standards (SHOW COPY)
a. More orthopraxy than orthodoxy
b. First, do no harm
c. Second, do no evil
d. Third, be faithful in attendance upon all the ordinances of God
* NOT, “stay in love with God”


1. Anglican, with a high view of the sacraments
2. Greatly influenced by German Pietism
3. Experiential (“experimental”)
4. Arminian
a. Calvinism defined by its five points
b. On the other hand, “free will” = Pelagianism
* The Anglican Church at the time was Semi-pelagian
* Semi-pelagianism is where respectability takes the place of righteousness
c. Jakob Arminius’ take on the TULIP
d. Wesley begins The Arminian magazine as the first vehicle to convey Methodist theology
5. View of grace
a. Prevenient grace
b. Justifying grace
c. Sanctification and Christian Perfection
6. Other distinctives
a. Assurance
* Everyone CAN be saved; Everyone can KNOW one is saved; Everyone can be saved to the uttermost.
b. The Efficacy of Baptism
c. The Real Presence in Communion
* “A converting ordinance” – the origin of “open communion”
* Wesley’s own practice and recommendations
7. Wesley’s Standard Sermons, the Next of Our Doctrinal Standards (SHOW COPY)
a. Intended to explicate Wesley’s theology – published
b. Given to Methodist preachers as both model and doctrinal approach
c. The Model Deed made reference to Mr. Wesley’s teaching
8. Wesley’s Notes Upon the New Testament – another of our Doctrinal Standards (SHOW COPY)
a. Published to guide Methodist preachers in their interpretation of the Bible
b. Hard to get these days
9. While it is not listed as one of our Doctrinal Standards in the Book of Discipline, the Methodist Hymnal, with up to 6,000 hymns written by Charles Wesley, was certainly considered doctrinally formative in its day: John referred to it as a “handbook of practical divinity”
a. Methodist singing is proverbial
b.The Wesleys wanted people to sing doctrine, not just feelings (SHOW COPY, OLD HYMNAL)
c. Read Instructions on Singing from current Hymnal


1. Origins of Methodism in America
2. The crisis of the Revolution
3. The need for leadership
a. Wesley consecrates Coke and authorizes him to consecrate Asbury
* The Christmas Conference 1784
* “Bishops” rather than merely “General Superintendents”
b. Wesley attempts to equip the new church
* The Sunday Service (based on Anglican Morning Prayer, itself one of the last remnants of the canonical hours observed in medieval monasteries)
* Wesley apparently thought the Methodist preaching service would gravitate toward a full “church” service; he couldn’t have foreseen the impact of the Second Great Awakening and the beginnings of revivalism
* The Articles of Religion!
4. The Articles of Religion: the fourth of our Doctrinal Standards (SHOW COPY)
a. An abridgement of the 39 Articles
* Thought necessary because the American church was no longer to be part of the C of E
* The “missing” articles referred to the authority of the C of E within England
b. Defines God, the Sacraments, etc.
* Brings over from C of E language about certain historical controversies (e.g., Pelagianism), and also what distinguished Protestant from Catholic in those days
5. In 1808, the Growth of the ME Church required splitting the Conference into various Annual Conferences, with a representative General Conference meeting every four years
a. The Restrictive Rules were adopted to prevent a well-connected minority from changing the core of Methodism
b. Meanwhile, there are certain Articles that were not part of those originally placed under the Restrictive Rules. Just how authoritative they are remains an open question.
6. Meanwhile, various German-speaking “Dutch Methodists” were also active in the new USA.
a. Origins and antecedents of the EUB Church
* The United Brethren
* The Evangelical Church
b. The EUB Confession of Faith served the same purpose as the Articles of Religion (SHOW COPY)
* In 1968, it was accepted as equally authoritative with the Articles of Religion as a condition of merger to create The United Methodist Church, and placed under the Restrictive Rules

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