After a brief hiatus, we’re back with season 2 of the podcast. During the Merging the Streams conference at United (a celebration of 50 years of the UMC), we had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Ted Campbell of Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. The result was a conversation that I think all you Methodnerds out there will find very interesting.
After we listened to the podcast, Dr. Campbell wanted to make one correction to a comment he made:
I made an incorrect statement in our podcast discussion about Methodist doctrinal standards when I said that the language about doctrinal standards not being “legally enforceable” by church authorities only applied to the statement of the quadrilateral relating to contemporary issues but not to historic doctrinal statements. I should have said that that language was in fact made about the historic doctrinal standards although it was not made within the statement of “Our Theological Task” that defined the quadrilateral. And it’s very important to know that these claims were very significantly and responsibly altered in the 1988 revision of the preface to the doctrinal standards in the Discipline.
In fact, the 1972 Discipline of the UMC that adopted the well-known statement of the United Methodist quadrilateral of authorities in its contemporary statement of “Our Theological Task” also inserted a preface to the historic doctrinal statements that claimed that “the pioneers” of the Methodist and EUB traditions “declined to adopt any of the classical forms of the ‘confessional’ principle’—the claim that the essence of Christian truth can, and out to be, stated in precisely defined propositions, legally enforceable by ecclesiastical authority (1972 Discipline, ¶ 68, p. 40). It went on to state that “the Articles and Confession are not to be regarded as positive juridical norms for doctrine, demanding unqualified assent on pain of excommunication” (¶ 68, p. 48).
There is a grain of truth but also serious problems in each of these claims: in the first instance, it’s basically true that the Methodist Episcopal Church “declined to adopt any of the classical forms of the ‘confessional’ principle’” because they had adopted a revised form of the Articles of Religion. But the ME Church also consistently tried ministers for dissemination of doctrine contrary to the Articles of Religion and the provision that clergy and even lay members of congregations can be removed for “dissemination of doctrine contrary to our present and existing standards of doctrine” remains in place in the UMC. In the second instance, only the last phrase, “demanding unqualified assent on pain of excommunication,” was historically accurate, since Methodists had not required “unqualified assent” to the Articles for church membership. But then again, despite some uninformed Methodist claims to the contrary, neither did Lutheran or Reformed churches require “unqualified assent” to their doctrinal statements on the part of laity, even when laity were taught the contents of traditional catechisms. What they confessed at their confirmations was the faith of the Apostles’ Creed, not the teachings of the Luther Small Catechism or the Westminster Shorter Catechism.
For these reasons, the language of the 1972 preface to the doctrinal statements was very significantly revised in 1988, acknowledging that clergy had been held “accountable (under threat of trial) for keeping their proclamation of the gospel within the boundaries outlined” in the Articles of Religion (1988 Discipline, ¶ 67, p. 54). That’s a much more responsible claim.
Ted, thanks for sharing your time and wisdom with us. If you’re ever back in the Dayton area, we’d love to have you on again!
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