The Study Commission on Doctrine (hereafter referred to as SCOD) has been pleased to serve the General Conference and the Free Methodist Church during the past four years. During this quadrennium, SCOD met in plenary session three times, for a total of six working days. The report that follows reflects SCOD’s de- liberations, conclusions, and recommendations on the various assignments it has received.
SCOD’s report divides into three sections. At the conclusion of sections one and two, we offer support papers that give background and context for the recom- mendations of SCOD to the General Conference.
Section Two, on Sanctification, developed from a joint effort between SCOD and the Canadian Interpret Study Team. We are appreciative of our brothers and sis- ters in the Canadian church for their work on this very important issue and their leadership in a process of revising Article XII of “The Articles of Religion.”
We, the members of SCOD, commend this report to the General Conference of 2003:
David Kendall, secretary
Leslie Krober, Chair
THE DIACONATE MINISTRY
During the 1995-1999 quadrennium, the SCOD reviewed ordination understand- ings and procedures within the Free Methodist Church. A desire to be biblically and theologically sound, combined with a concern that our procedures best serve the mission of the church, led SCOD to propose having but one order of itinerate clergy, “elder.” In addition, SCOD recommended the development of a Diaconate Ministry within the Free Methodist Church. The 1999 General Conference adopted these recommendations and assigned SCOD the task of designing a Diaconate Ministry for consideration by the General Conference of 2003.
In the language of the New Testament a “deacon” is a servant. Literally the Greek term once meant a table-waiter, a person who performed a particularly mundane and common form of service for others. Jesus seized this family of terms to de- scribe his mission in the world (Mark 10:45). Later, his followers understood their vocation in the world to be like the Master’s. In a sense, all Christians are called to be servants of God and people. The whole Christian community understood itself as a servant-community.
In the course of time, however, the early church recognized certain women and men as servants or “deacons” in a specialized sense. These were persons with graces and gifts to assist the church’s apostolic and pastoral leaders (elders) by organizing, leading, and implementing the servant-ministries of the congrega- tion. The “seven” men chosen in Acts 6 to oversee the food distribution to wid- ows are often cited as an early instance of diaconate ministry, though the seven are not called “deacons” in the text.
In later New Testament writings, particularly the Pastoral Epistles, it is clear that a diaconate had become a notable feature of the early church’s ministry. These were persons recognized and authorized within the local congregations for particular ministry functions that complemented and supported the work of the elders.
Throughout church history no consensus has developed on a deacon’s precise job description. Instead, the church has exercised great freedom in developing spe- cific diaconate ministries that best served its mission in the world. Thus, diaconate ministry has included such things as assistance in public worship, visit- ing the people of the congregation, especially during times of illness or crisis, care of the church’s property and resources, discipleship and hospitality, healing and reconciliation ministries, care for the poor, and encouragement of individual and congregational growth. The church’s varied forms of diaconate ministry through the centuries illustrate well that in essence the diaconate is a ministry of service for the sake of the church’s mission in the world. In continuity with this history, SCOD proposes a Free Methodist diaconate on the following rationale.
We summarize our rationale under traditional Wesleyan rubrics for authority. SCRIPTURE
The scriptures present Jesus as the “ultimate servant-deacon,” (see Mark 10:45, where this terminology is used, and other christological formula- tions where the servant character of Jesus’ mission is emphasized, e.g., Philippians 2:5ff.). Followers of Jesus are called not to be served but to serve, and even in the most humble of ways (e.g., John 13).
The ministry belongs to the whole people of God. Leadership must equip the Body for literally, “a work of ministry,” or “for working the ministry that belongs to the whole Body” (Ephesians 4:12).
According to the Acts, the early Jerusalem church affirmed the apostle’s primary responsibility for the Word and Prayer, and chose others to care for ministries of support in the growing church-body (Acts 6). This de- velopment of the church’s ministry set the precedent for a later diaconate ministry.
Later New Testament writings witness to a developing class of persons especially recognized and authorized for leading the church in ministry or service, diakonia (see 1 Timothy 3:8, 10; Philippians 1:1).
The practices of later apostolic community-life suggest that the apostles viewed a diaconate-like class or order of persons as a legitimate working out of their calling and gifting from the Lord.
The lack of clarity and of clear directives as to the diaconate in New Tes- tament times suggests freedom to design models that respond to the needs of present congregational life and ministry.
The long course of church history urges upon us the wisdom of a diaconate ministry. In particular, we note the central role of lay people in the rise and spread of early Methodism and Free Methodism.
Since ministry belongs to the people and not only to pastors, deacons best serve as models/practitioners of the ministry that belongs to the whole Body of Christ. They lead by example a life of service to which all believers are called.
Though part of the tradition of the ancient church led to a clergy-lay divi- sion with regard to Christian living and serving, a properly designed and authorized diaconate will encourage all the people of God to participate in ministry.
The ancient church saw the need for a diaconate. We see a similar need for
the following reasons.
To express better the servant character of the whole people of God and to provide worthy models for the people.
To become a church that multiplies at all levels. This requires encourag- ing and recognizing greater involvement in ministry.
To recapture the genius of earlier ministry roles, such as lay minister. We believe it wise to design a diaconate that is in continuity with ancient his- torical practice, and that also addresses the needs of our current ecclesial situation and mission.
To follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in increasing our effectiveness in ministry. A diaconate ministry seems to be a new breath within the church beyond our own denomination.
Common believing experience confirms that true joy, maturity, and full- ness of life come from participation in ministry. By helping persons iden- tify and use their spiritual gifts, some will be gifted to work in the sup- portive role of deacon.
The experience of our tradition as Wesleyans suggests that fulfilling our mandate of living a holy life and of spreading holiness across the land (“multiplying”) has happened most often through a vibrant movement of lay people who carry out ministry within the church. We hope and pray that a diaconate ministry will help to stimulate such a movement within the Free Methodist Church.
Therefore, we propose that a diaconate ministry be authorized and implemented by the following processes.
C. Features of the Diaconate Ministry
Deacons are members in good standing in the Free Methodist Church. They are persons of good reputation, full of wisdom and the Spirit, whose spiritual gifts from God have been confirmed by their local church. In response to God’s call on their lives, deacons offer servant-leadership in particular areas of congregational life, according to the gifts and graces God has given and they have developed. Complementing the work of elders, deacons serve the local church by assisting and leading the membership to carry out its ministries to one another and the world.
The specialized ministries of the diaconate include, but are not limited to, Minis- tries of:
Care and Mercy
Worship and Music Administration and Organization Spiritual Nurture and Direction Outreach and Service
D. Processes for the Diaconate Ministry
We envision the following process (see attached illustrative chart).
- Under the leadership of the pastor(s), local congregations will help people recognize, accept and use their gifts in ministry.
- In due course, God will call some to lead the Body in specialized minis- tries, assisting the pastor(s) in equipping the people for ministry and dedicating significant time to this work.
- Under the guidance of pastor(s) and the local Board of Administration
(LBOA), persons called to such ministry will be recognized, encouraged, mentored, trained, examined, and certified for the diaconate.
The newly developed Apollos model will serve as the paradigm (with modifications) for preparing persons for consecration as deacon. A new set of guidelines/expectations will be developed by a task force of practitioners in the various fields of worship, music, education, counsel- ing, teaching, administration, etc. to create the essential categories and their competency requirements. Since most deacons would tend to spe- cialize in one or two areas, particular foci would be determined for each candidate according to the gifting and calling of the individual. The LBOA will give due consideration to character, calling, gifting, training, and fruitfulness in ministry.
As with elders, divorce clearance will be required for deacons, ac- cording to denominational guidelines used by the bishops. The MEG Board will review and recommend to the BOA for final approval to in- clude the conference or stationed superintendent. The file will go to the conference office, so that if the deacon were later to proceed to elder’s orders, the bishops would have access to the previous endorsement.
- Upon meeting the requirements and completing the process of preparation, the LBOA approves the candidate for consecration as deacon within the local church. The conference superintendent consecrates the deacon with the help of the pastor(s) and other deacons, where possible (see Ap- pendix to this section for Ritual of Consecration).
- On an annual basis the LBOA reviews and approves deacons within their care as to their character and performance in ministry.
E. Notes and Implications
- Deacons remain members of the local Free Methodist Church with no official standing in the annual conference. Deacons may therefore serve as lay delegates to Annual Conference and General Conference.
- The deacon’s ministry role would be defined by their particular gifts, passions and calling from God, allowing for great diversity in the appli- cation or outworking of the role.
- Deacons may administer the sacraments only when authorized by an elder.
- The consecration of a deacon will be valid only in that local church but, upon application to and review by the pastor and BOA of a different Free Methodist Church, the person could be approved again for ministry in a new congregation without an additional consecration service.
- In extreme circumstances the LBOA may de-consecrate deacons.
- A composite record or list of deacons will be kept at the conference office and not listed in the denominational Yearbook. They would be clearly dis- tinguished from “located deacons,” who are listed in the Yearbook.
E L D E R
Ordained by Bishop @ conf.
Word Sacrament Order
General Confer- ence
Board of Bishops
Annual Confer- ence
D E A C O N
Conse- crated by Supt. @ local church
Specialized service and support
Annual Confer- ence
Local BOA/ Supt.
F. Local and Conference Lay Ministers
SCOD recommends to the General Conference that concurrent with the authorizing of the diaconate, the category of “lay minister” and “conference lay minister” (A/600-609) be discontinued.
- Local church ministries shall be staffed as they are currently with persons who are equipped and empowered to minister according to their gifts, passions, and personality.
- The temporary filling of a pulpit ministry and the temporary or interim leadership of a local church that has been provided through “conference lay ministers” may still be authorized by the Ministerial Appointments Committee using any lay person who demonstrates integrity and matu- rity.
- Lay ministers and conference lay ministers may transition to deacon sta- tus through LBOA approval.
SCOD Recommendations on the Diaconate
- That the Diaconate Ministry as described above be approved.
- That the “Features,” “Processes,” and “Notes and Implications” that are elaborated above be included in the 2003 Book of Discipline where appro- priate.
- Thatthecategoriesof“LayMinister”and“ConferenceLayMinister” (A/600-609) be discontinued.
- That the Board of Administration oversee the organization and work of the necessary Task Forces to modify the Apollos Model for use in the preparation of people for consecration as deacon. Such Task Forces will elaborate the qualifications and competencies that shall be required for each specialized ministry of the Diaconate.
- That the Consecration Ritual (see Appendix) be used in the consecration of Deacons.
The following papers proved especially helpful to SCOD in the course of its work. We include them as part of our report with gratitude to their authors and commend them to the General Conference.
Uses of diakonew (serve), diakonia (service, ministry; office), and diakonoV (servant) in the New Testament
New Testament Occurrences
Diakonew (verb, serve) occurs 37 times in the New Testament: 19 times in the Synoptics (the majority of which occurs in Jesus’ parables and sayings), 3 in John, twice in Acts, 8 times in the Pauline corpus1, twice in Hebrews2, and 3 times in 1 Peter.
Diakonia (noun, service, ministry; office) appears 33 times: once in the Gospels3, 8 times in Acts, 22 in Paul, once in Hebrews, and once in Revelation.
DiakonoV (noun, servant, or the one doing the action of diakonew) occurs 29 times: 5 times in the Synoptics, 3 in John and 21 in Paul.
Classical Greek Perceptions
The original concrete meaning of the diak stem in classical Greek was to serve or wait at table and occasionally the more specific meaning, to taste.4 From this sense, the wider meaning has been derived: care for one’s livelihood or to serve in general.5
The act of serving someone was considered demeaning and undignified from a Greek perspective. Self-actualization, or development of the self, was more highly valued than serving. Plato writes, “How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone?” Only when serving was done to advance the state was it con- sidered valuable. And even then, it never involved emptying of self or self-sacri- fice. These ideas would have been foreign to most Greek worldviews.
Judaism, on the other hand, valued serving, perhaps because of the funda- mental command in Leviticus 19:18 to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The LXX, however, does not use diakonew to translate the Hebrew equivalent. Rather, it prefers the doul stem words (most often translated slave or servant) which “ex- press a relationship of dependence and the subordination of the douloV to the kurioV. Diakonew and its cognates … express much more strongly the idea of ser- vice on behalf of someone.”6 Philo uses diakonein as to serve: Josephus as to wait at table, to obey and to render priestly service.7
Three influences in later Judaism obscured the Levitical injunction of service to neighbor: the separation between the righteous and unrighteous, the emer- gence of an attitude contrary to that of “The Good Samaritan,” and the idea that one must be worthy before he/she could serve.8
New Testament Perceptions
Jesus, as usual, shattered both Greek and Jewish perceptions of diakonew. He turned it all “upside down.”9 Redefining their distorted interpretations of serv- ing, Jesus embodied its very nature by taking demeaning tools, a towel and washbasin, and washing feet. His entire life and death were poignant pictures of the fundamental meaning of serving. Rather than upward mobility, Jesus chose downward mobility,10 associating with and giving value to society’s fringe ele- ment (widows, orphans, tax collectors, prostitutes, children). The Son of Man came to serve, not to be served. He preached that the poor, the last, and the weak were models for entrance into the Kingdom of God. He walked the Via Dolorosa all the way to Calvary. And he intended that all who followed him would them- selves walk that same way, even unto death. Bonhoeffer aptly asserts that Jesus bids us, “Come and die.”
Diakonew (verb, serve) is used in the New Testament in its original sense of to wait at table (see Luke 12:37, 17:8; John 12:2) or to supervise the meal as Martha did for her guests in Luke 10:40 (see also Matthew 1:31, 4:11; Acts 6:2; Mark 1:13).11 In its broader sense of being serviceable, Jesus includes not only activities of giving food and drink, but also giving shelter and clothes, and visiting the sick and pris- oners.12 Further, diakonew within the context of the community of faith includes many varied opportunities: service of word (preaching) and action (Acts 6), as- sisting (as Timothy and Erastus assist Paul in Acts 19:22), foretelling of the proph- ets (1 Peter 1:10-12), and the apostolic office (in 2 Corinthians 3:3, the Corinthian Church is described as epistolh Cristou diakonhqeisa uf hmwn, an epistle of Christ being served by us).13 More particularly, diakonew is used to refer to the gathering and distribution of the collection for the saints in Jerusalem in 2 Corinthians 8:19. And finally, diakonew in the Pastorals means to discharge the of- fice of a deacon (1 Timothy 3:10, 13).
Diakonia (noun, service, ministry; office) means the activity of diakonew. In the New Testament diakonia is translated to mean: waiting at table (see Luke 10:40 when Martha is over-busied about much service and Acts 6:1 when the Greek widows were overlooked in the daily service — common meals); any discharge of service in genuine love which included a variety of activities that edified the com- munity (Ephesians 4:11) and that, in so doing, served Christ; the discharge of cer- tain obligations in the community (the apostolic office is diakonia in Romans 11:13; 2
Corinthians 4:1, 6:3, 11:8, the office of evangelist is diakonia in 2 Timothy 4:5, and Mark’s missionary activities in 2 Timothy 4:11); and finally, as noted in the com- ments above regarding diakonew, diakonia can refer to the collection for Jerusa- lem which is a true act of love (Romans 10:30; 2 Corinthians 8:1-6, etc.).14
General uses of diakonoV (noun, servant or the one doing the action of diakonew) include the waiter at a meal (John 2:5, 9); the servant of a master (Mat- thew 22:13); the servant of a spiritual power (a figurative sense); the servant of God (1 Timothy 4:6, etc.); and servant of the Church (Colossians 1:25).15
A more particular use of this noun — and the use in which we are perhaps more interested — is that of the actual office of deacon which, according to many scholars,16 is mentioned for the first time in the New Testament in Philippians 1:1, “Paul and Timothy, slaves (douloi) of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers (episkopoiV) and servers/deacons (diakonoiV).” The deacons here are “linked with the bishops and mentioned after them.”17 Two groups of people working side by side within the Church context, without detailing the job description of either group.
However, from a purely grammatical standpoint, I don’t think the Greek words, episkopoiV and diakonoiV clearly support a “fixed designation for the bearer of a specific office.” The substantive uses of these stems don’t necessarily denote specific offices (Paul seems to interchange the noun and participle forms). The diaconate as an official office seems to be more apparent in I Timothy 3, how- ever, Philippians 1:1 is not conclusive (nor, in my opinion, is Romans 16:1 when it refers to Phoebe as diakonon of the church in Cenchreae).
What we can deduce from this verse and others (especially 1 Timothy 3) is that the diakonoi are always linked with the episkopoi and share many of the same requirements for service. In 3:8-12, those who serve are to be, in like man- ner with the elders, without blame (v. 10), not given to wine or greedy for money (v. 8), husband of one wife (v. 12), and able to “well-rule” their children and homes. Unique qualifications to the diakonoi are to be grave and not dilogouV (two-worded, deceitful in words or saying one thing and meaning another, v. 8), able to hold the mystery of the faith in good conscience (v. 9), and tested (examined, scru- tinized, proven, v. 10).18 Verse 11 reads, “Women,19 in like manner, [are to be] grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.”
Beyer says that, based primarily on the above Timothy passage, “the primary task of deacons was one of administration and practical service.”20 This can be deduced “from the use of the term for table waiters and. . .servants, from the qualities demanded of them, from their relationship to the bishop, and from what we read elsewhere in the NT … .”21
Some see the inception of the office of the diaconate as occurring in Acts 6:1-6 where a conflict arises because the Greek widows are being passed over in the daily distribution of food. (With money from property donations laid at their feet, the apostles daily gave food to those in need.) The apostles respond with, “It is not right that we should neglect (kataleiyantaV) the word of God in order to wait at tables (diakonein trapezaiV). So they had the Greeks appoint for them- selves seven men in good standing, full of the Spirit and wisdom, to care for the needy (and how much more needy could one be than to be a woman with little economic independence and an immigrant widow to boot!). Luke does not, how- ever, use the term diakonoV to refer to these Seven. They seem to be subordinate to the apostles, and their service is limited to the care of the poor and disadvan- taged. If this story does, in fact, depict the inception of the office of deacon, then it certainly is indirect. I see it simply as the Church responding to a need within its community, kind of like an ad hoc committee that is created for a specific pur- pose within a limited timeframe.
When we ask how the office of deacon came into existence, we can turn to the model of the Jewish synagogue where worship protocol was given to the arcisunagwgoV (president or moderating elder of a synagogue) and the uphrethV (at- tendant, assistant, servant). (DiakonoV is never used in Greek.) These offices were limited to worship only, and the oversight of the synagogue was left to the elder. The early Church was probably influenced by this Jewish model of church gover- nance as they began their own movement.22
In sum, the “when” of the office of deacon seems to be inconclusive (although traditional interpretation suggests that the office was functioning in Philippians 1:1, Romans 16:1 and 1 Timothy 3, I don’t think scriptural evidence demands an established office as the only interpretation of these passages). The “how” of the office of deacon is likewise arguable. It is safe to assume, however, that the major model for the “baby” Christian Church was its “parent,” the Jewish synagogue. The nature of the diakonia can never be divorced from its fundamental meaning — to serve, more specifically, to serve the poor and needy, as assistants to the episkopoi. Of course, this service is intrinsic to every follower of the Christ, for he is our ultimate model of what it means to be a deacon. In a very basic sense, then, all Christians are deacons. Nevertheless, Jesus’ life and teachings related to the idea of deacon are that it’s a way of life rather than a specific office. Whether a special office of deacon was operating in the early church is arguable. Just as the early church freely adapted and discarded established practices and offices and innovated new practices and offices to meet the needs of the emerging move- ment, so too, may churches in later generations, including the church of the cur- rent age.
- I’m including in this category those books often contested as Pauline, as well as those generally unquestioned.
- A. Weiser in Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament cites only one Hebrews occurrence, however, 6.10 clearly contains two uses, both participles (having served and still serving the saints).
- Luke 10:40
- H.W. Beyer, TDNT 2:82.
- Weiser, 302.
- Weiser, 302.
7 Beyer, 83.
9 Term taken from The Upside Down Kingdom
10 Term taken from Henri Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus.
11 Beyer, 84.
13 Ibid, 86.
14 This paragraph on diakonia is a summary of Beyer’s work in TDNT 2:87-88.
15 Ibid, 88-89.
16 Beyer in TDNT states, “Members of the community who are called deacons in virtue of their regular activity are first found in Philippians 1:1. . . in this phrase there emerges a decisive point for our understanding of the office. . .”
17 Beyer, 89.
18 The Epistles don’t tell us how they were tested.
19 It’s unclear whether these women (gunaikaV) are the wives of the male deacons mentioned in verses 8, 9, and 10, or whether this is a special group of qualifications for female deacons — probably the former. 20 Beyer, 90.
22 Paragraph summarized from TDNT 2: 91.
The Diaconate in the Patristic Era
Paul Livermore 2001
Part I. METHODOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
My assignment is to describe the diaconate in the patristic era. This task has special problems that need to be kept clearly in mind as we proceed.
First, during the patristic era there were no debates concerning the diaconate. There were canons (rules) about who were or who were not legitimate deacons but not whether there ought to be deacons or, especially, what deacons ought to do. This differs significantly from such topics as the nature of Christ, the Trinity, the nature of our sinfulness and its relation to salvation or the sacraments. For every page in patristic literature discussing deacons we can find thousands dis- cussing Christ’s nature. The fathers assumed that their readers were completely familiar with the customs and practices regarding the diaconate — an assump- tion that was, of course, safe for the original readers but hardly so for us. This ap- plies even to the great works that describe the ministerial work in general terms (Ambrose, Duties of the Clergy; Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration II, In Defense of His Flight to Pontus; John Chrysostom, On the Priesthood and Gregory the Great, Pasto- ral Rule).
Second, one source, though spotty at many points, are the documents that treat ministerial questions in a legal way — like our Book of Discipline. The earliest of these is the famous Didache (circa A.D. 60). Then come the remarkable though brief statements and liturgies found in the Apostolic Traditions of Hippolytus (died circa A.D. 236). To these we can add the canons of various councils, some only regional, such as that at Ancyra (A.D. 314), and others ecumenical (universal), such as that of Nicea 1 in A.D. 325. Finally, the Apostolic Constitutions of circa A.D. 350-358. This lengthy work has much valuable material.
Third, of the documents that offer statements on the diaconate only some are readily available for study. All of the items that I cite in the Appendix I have in my own library, and they can also be found in our denomination library (I sus- pect) and most college libraries and certainly in all seminary libraries. Other ma- terial, however, is not readily available (such as Theodore of Mopseustia’s com- mentaries on Paul’s letters), and some has never been translated out of Greek or Latin into English — or into any other modern language for that matter (such as Gregory of Nyssa’s Oration in diem luminum). The only place where these latter works can generally be found is in Migne’s famous Patrologia graeca and Patrologia latina, usually only located in research libraries.
Fourth, to offer really sound conclusions, one ought to study the material ex- haustively. This has been done for deaconesses in a massive study by Martimort entitled Deaconesses: An Historical Study. Virtually every reference to deaconesses in the historical church have been examined and analyzed, so the conclusions he reaches are much safer than is characteristic of many studies on such topics. For a surprisingly full discussion of our topic in a brief space, however, the article on the “Ministries” in The Encyclopedia of the Early Church (volume 1, pages 560-562) has much to offer, especially in noting the patristic references. A briefer version of the same material is also located in the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (pages 454f.). Obviously, I cannot do anything that even begins to approach such a thorough study here.
Keeping these problems in mind, I briefly outline the procedure I will follow in this paper. We will begin by giving a description of the diaconate as we can reconstruct it from the documents cited in the Appendix. Last, we will draw some conclusions from this description. In the text of the paper I will refer in brackets to the citations by the numbers assigned to them in the Appendix. The citations are at the heart of what I want to say.
Part II. FEATURES OF THE DIACONATE IN THE PATRISTIC ERA
The Formation of the Diaconate. Clement of Rome, who wrote quite early (flourished A.D. 96), would himself have known some of the apostles. One tradi- tion says he was the companion of Paul mentioned in Philippians 4:3. More cer- tain is the tradition that he was the second or more probably the third bishop of Rome, after Linus and Anacletus (Eusebius, Church History 3:4:10; 5:6:1-2). Since Eusebius’ report that Peter and Paul were both martyred in Rome during the per- secution of Nero (see Church History 2:23) is certainly correct; Clement, when he was a young man, would have known these two chief apostles in their last years and been in conversation with them on apostolic teaching regarding the ministry. (For a full discussion of Clement’s history see J.B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers2
part one, vol. 1, pages 14-103.) Clement’s statement  is the oldest subapostolic one treating the question of the formation of the diaconate and one that matches perfectly with Acts 6 — if Luke so intends his story, as seems likely. Clement tells us that Christ was sent forth by God and the apostles by Christ, and they estab- lished the diaconate as well as the episcopate to provide leadership and clerical ministry for those who would come later to believe within churches first estab- lished by the apostles.
A less complete though perfectly compatible picture is provided in the earli- est written document we are considering. The Didache  instructs local churches to “appoint bishops and deacons.” These bishops and deacons will do service otherwise offered by or in conjunction with “prophets and teachers” (see Didache 11-13). The prophets (apostles are similarly mentioned in chapter 11) that Didache has in mind travel from church to church (though not in an itin- erating circuit). The bishops and deacons, on the other hand, belong to particu- lar churches and give leadership there. They, by definition, do not travel but permanently remain in given locations. Thus, we are talking about an estab- lished clergy — a second generation of ministerial leadership, so to speak. Their work is not missionary and pioneer, reaching into new territories, but resident. It is intensive not extensive.
Irenaeus  articulates the view found in a number of patristic authors that identifies the report in Acts 6 of the selection of the Seven as the first appearance of the diaconate. Irenaeus states that Stephen was “chosen” by the apostles, which in a technical sense is not correct since the Seven were chosen by the com- munity and hands were laid on them by the apostles. Further, the Seven are not called deacons but those set apart for diakonia (see Acts 6:2-6). If, however, Irenaeus means that the apostles established the diaconate to complement their particular work, then there is considerable weight to his view — if we are pre- pared to take Luke’s report seriously.
The Relation of the Diaconate to the Other Orders. The passages we have cited do not mention presbyters and therefore do not reflect the historic tripartite ministry of bishop, presbyter and deacon. This is not surprising for the two older documents since we know that the clear distinction of the bishop from the pres- byter did not appear until just a little after Clement. The Didache, in fact, does not say anything about presbyters, nor does Clement in his letter to the Corinthians — whereas Irenaeus, who writes near the end of the second century, mentions them many times. Around the turn of the first century the church began to name and appoint one among the presbyters as the sole bishop of a local church, the so- called monarchical episcopacy. Ignatius of Antioch (died A.D. 107) clearly repre- sents this development.
However, we need to observe that the bishop and the presbyter still have es- sentially the same tasks (Word, sacrament and rule) with the one difference that the bishop has the presiding role [see 3a, 3b, 3c]. This feature explains several im- portant items that appear in considering the relationship between the various or- ders. First, there is a ranking from bishop to presbyter to deacon [9c]. (Of course, there are other orders, non-ordained, within the church that rank below the dea- con, but these are not within our present consideration.) Second, presbyters assist the bishop in the ordination of new presbyters (The Apostolic Tradition 8:1) but not in that of the deacon, since the deacon is not ordained to assume the role of the presbyter (called the priesthood in The Apostolic Tradition) but is to assist the bishop. Therefore only the bishop lays hands on the deacon [7b]. Third, the pres- byters in a given church form a presbytery, a council, so to speak, that assists the bishop in his rule [3b, 3c, 7c] — a council to which deacons by definition do not belong. Fourth, deacons are given stern warnings not to assume the prerogatives that belong uniquely to presbyters — especially that of officiating at the eucharist or of serving the bishop or the presbyter at the eucharist [7b, 8c].
There are other respects in which the presbyters and deacons are linked to- gether in distinction from the bishop. Both are to join in a full assembly of presby- ters and deacons on a daily basis for devotion before they begin their particular tasks [7d]. And both have clearly to answer to their own bishop for infractions of disciplines [10a, 10b, 10c]. The bishop, on the other hand, only answers to the synod [10a] made up entirely of bishops [10d].
More generally, however, the documents discuss the relation between the rela- tion of deacons to bishops without any mention of presbyters. This will appear particularly so in the assignment and fulfillment of the deacons’ tasks which we will examine below.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the beginning of Book 8 in the Apostolic Constitutions articulates rather eloquently the idea that the offices within the church correspond to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, freely distributed as the Spirit wills, and therefore offer no ground self-importance [11f].
The Tasks of the Deacon. In the most general sense the task of deacons is to assist their bishops [7b]. This view of the assignment corresponds to the need voiced by the apostles to offload some of their work (Acts 6:2). Deacons in this sense do not have a clearly defined role in distinction from that of bishops but rather in conjunction with it.
Apostolic Constitutions 2:4 [11c] wonderfully illustrates this principle. It begins by noting, in broad terms, the bishops’ duties. Then the passage goes on to articu- late how deacons fit into this picture of bishops: Deacons are to do what they can, receiving the authority to do so from the bishop, leaving the weighty matters to the judgment of the bishop. They are to be the bishop’s “ear, and eye, and mouth, and heart, and soul, that the bishop may not be distracted with many cares, but with such only as are more considerable” — as Jethro recommended to Moses. If we should turn to specific duties, the patristic authors assigned four to deacons: to assist the bishop in public worship, especially in preparing and distributing
the eucharist but also in such things as calling people to prayer; to visit the congregants, especially the sick; to evaluate letters of transfer and to assume some of the management of church’s property and resources.
First, deacons assist in the preparation of the eucharist and in its distribution once it has been consecrated. Ignatius states, in a general manner, that deacons are “[ministers] of the mysteries of Christ … not … of meat and drink,” thus to a role they play in the spiritual meal of the church [3b]. More commonly the pas- sages specifically define what deacons do in distinction from what bishops do when they consecrate the elements and serve other bishops and presbyters or what presbyters do when they serve other presbyters. In fact Canon 18 of Nicea 1, referred to above, [9c], specifically forbids deacons to offer (that is to recite the prayers of consecration) the elements, to touch the consecrated elements before the bishop or to distribute the consecrated elements to the bishop and presbyters. Instead, the task of deacons is to present the elements so that they may be conse- crated [5a, 7a, 7b] and then, after they have received them from the bishop, to dis- tribute the consecrated elements to lay members gathered or take them to the shut-ins [5b].
Deacons also play a role in other parts of the public worship, such as in the “prayers of the people.” Justin’s First Apology [5b] observes that there are two times of prayer. Immediately after the sermon given by the bishop the people “all rise together and pray.” Then the elements of the eucharist are brought forward and the bishop prays over them. The first are generally known as “the prayers of the people” and the second “the eucharistic prayers.” It is the first of these, the prayers of the people in which deacons play a large role. Though Justin does not mention this, it does appear in the Apostolic Constitituions 2:54 [11d]. We also have an example of what the deacon might say in the “bidding” prayer from the Lit- urgy of James  (see also [11d]).
Second, deacons were to make pastoral visits. In fact, the deacons were re- sponsible for overseeing pastoral visitation, reporting to the bishop if someone were sick and needed an visit from him [7d].
Third, Apostolic Constitutions 2:58 [11e] instructs that deacons are to evaluate letters of recommendation (largely equivalent to our “letters of transfer”) brought by lay persons. To do so they must be a perceptive judge of human nature and knowledgeable of doctrine. Similarly, deacons were to assist in the administration of ecclesiastical discipline to errant lay persons [11a].
Finally, deacons are to attend to the financial matters of the church. This re- sponsibility has two aspects: to oversee the distribution of charitable goods to the poor, as we might expect to be the case in view of Acts 6 [11b] and to take care of the property, rather like trustees [7b]. In both of these cases, of course, the bishop has ultimate responsibility, and deacons are to carry out the bishop’s directives; but the day to day management, which can be quite time consuming, is taken over by deacons.
Rules That Applied to the Diaconate. Deacons, as were bishops [7a], it ap- pears, were to be chosen by the people [3d, 7b, see 3b]. Hands were laid on them, as we have seen, only by the bishop [7b]. Even the bishops of the small country towns, the so-call “chorepiscopi,” were not authorized to ordain deacons on their own [8c]. The criteria for holding the office of deacon  remind us of Paul’s re- marks in 1 Timothy 3:8-13, upon which they were obviously modeled. Deacons, after their proper election and ordination, were to be honored as appointed by Christ himself [3a, 3c, 7b].
A fair number of rules treat questions concerning the relation between dea- cons and their bishops and their dioceses. Deacons (nor bishops nor presbyters, for that matter) were to transfer from city to city [9a]. Nor were other churches to receive transferring deacons [9b], nor were bishops to ordain deacons in a church other than their own [10e]. These rules attacked the practice of clergy advancing themselves by seeking larger parishes.
Similarly, deacons (nor presbyters) were not to escape ecclesiastical discipline by going to another city and serving under a bishop more to their liking; restora- tion could only come through their own bishops [10a]. Neither were they to set themselves up in independent churches where they would become, in effect, their own bishops [10b].
Deacons could be married, so long as they at least announced their intention to marry at the time of their ordination. Those, however, who had not announced their intention were to be defrocked for a violation of their vows [8b]. What is at stake here is the following: The bishop who proceeded to ordain deacons who were married or whom he knew would marry had a clear idea of how he could use them in his work. But marriage so changes the commitments of life (see 1 Corinthians 7:32-35) that deacons, whose future marriage was unknown at the time of ordination, compromised their usefulness to their bishops and thus could not serve as deacons.
Finally, there is a rule concerning deacons’ (and presbyters’) attendance at bi- annual, regional councils [10d]. Though, generally speaking, only bishops were voting members, these councils allowed those attending the opportunity (includ- ing the deacons) to voice their concerns to larger circle for consideration. (It is worth noting that Athanasius attended the Nicea 1 as a deacon. Though ineligible to vote, he had considerable influence on the outcome of the council.)
Part III. CONCLUSIONS AND CONSIDERATIONS
FOR THE FREE METHODIST CHURCH
Conclusions. From the passages we have considered we can draw some con- clusions about the diaconate in the patristic era.
The patristic authors viewed the diaconate as an order established by the apostles on the authority that our Lord conferred on them as leaders of the
church. In this manner, then, the diaconate is a divinely created institution.
The diaconate is one of the three ordained orders in the sense that hands are laid on candidates to set them apart for special ministry within the church. Two
things must be observed about this. First, it is correct to observe that the tripartite order of bishop-presbyters-deacons is subapostolic, that is post-New Testament. Within the New Testament period (such as in Philippians and in the Pastorals, we have a bipartite order: bishops/presbyters (apostles)-deacons. Thus, as far back as we can go in church history, from the first mention of the issue in Acts 6, there have been deacons, or at the least particular persons set apart for diakonia, in dis- tinction from the church leaders and in distinction from the lay persons. Second, deacons cannot return to the unordained status; ordination is indelible, and they cannot again become lay persons. Those who violate their vows may be deprived of the power to exercise their office, but that is another thing. If the ordinations were invalid (for example, done by bishops of other cities), those ordinations by definition are not considered valid; they never were deacons.
We do not know, however, the answer to an important question that falls out of the one we just made concerning the ordained character of the diaconate: Were deacons in all cases full-time employees of the church? Of course they were in the larger churches. But, as already mentioned, there were hundreds of smaller churches with bishops — who clearly needed assistance but may not have had full-time deacons working with them. The question is relevant; because in the smaller parishes at least, deacons, by definition, would have been committing themselves to a life of modest means if not poverty. On the other hand, if they could continue to receive income from another source, their commitment could have been less demanding — at least in that regard. We simply cannot answer this question.
Deacons work with their bishops in a different way than do presbyters. They assist bishops by lightening their loads, attending to many preparatory or routine tasks that consume time and drain energy if the bishops have to do them all. Therefore, deacons are ordained by bishops alone and work directly with them.
The tasks that deacons assume reflect this direct relationship with their bish- ops. They assist in worship by preparing the elements for eucharist, distributing them to the lay persons and taking them to shut-ins. They call people to prayer and lead them in prayer, and other such elements.
Deacons make pastoral calls and keep their bishops apprized of individual needs that surface within the congregation, especially of the sick. Deacons receive letters of recommendation of lay persons from another city and evaluate their merit; they also assist in the ecclesiastical disciplining of lay persons.
Deacons also attend to the financial matters of the church, seeing that the property is in order and distributing charitable gifts to the poor under the bish- ops’ direction.
Deacons are amenable to their bishops and no one else. They cannot appeal to bishops in others cities for grievances. Even marriage can be entered into in only a restricted sense, so that obedience to their bishops does not suffer. Considerations. In asking what all of this patristic information means for us in the Free Methodist Church, the following are a number of things we should con- sider.
First, the relationship of the diaconate to the other orders in the patristic era is, in many respects, different from what obtains in any Christian communion now. There are a couple of reasons for this. To begin with, in virtually all tripartite sys- tems, the diaconate exists as a transitory diaconate. Even the recent attempt of the United Methodist Church to provide for a permanent diaconate has not really succeeded to escape this, since it has done little more than establish deacons as pastors stuck in a second-tier status. Also, virtually every village as well as every city in the patristic world had a bishop. Therefore, there were hundreds of bish- ops, far more than we have now, and the opportunity for there to be many dea- cons would naturally arise.
Second, however, I can see some similarities between the ancient situation and the contemporary one, even though they are separated by centuries. The work- loads of ancient bishops and deacons compares remarkably to senior pastors and assistants in multiple-staffed churches. If pastors in large churches are to keep themselves focused on their primary tasks, they must have this assistance. In some of our larger churches those who assist come from lay ranks (music direc- tors, business managers, and so on). They often do this work with enormous skill and great devotion to the church. In the ancient church, they would have been ordained as deacons; now, generally, that does not occur. There are some obvious reasons why we have not ordained these persons, such as: The modern ordina- tion vows for the diaconate are so much like those for the presbyterate that per- sons who do not feel called to the Word and sacrament cannot, in good con- science, take them. This, of course, arose from our long history of using the diaconate as transitory. Also, while such assistants in the contemporary church may want to work for the church, they may not believe that they should take vows that commit them to this work for their lifetime. Nevertheless, I am rather struck with the clear similarities between our situation and their situation. Similar needs drive us to similar solutions.
Third, all of this forces upon us the need to answer a few hard questions. Is the diaconate an apostolic institution, and do we consider it divinely established; that is, is the diaconate an ordained order in that we set apart certain persons for a life of service within the church? This does not answer the question whether deacons must be full-time employees of the church, but it does answer the question whether we can place certain responsibilities in the hands of persons that have not been set apart.
Lastly, if we should take patristic practice as a guide, I think the task of flesh- ing out the tasks of the diaconate might not be that hard. The tasks that were his- torically assigned to deacons will be done — they have to be done for the church
to go on. And, generally speaking, they will not be done by the pastor. The fact, for example, that key employees of a local Free Methodist Church are to be inter- viewed by MEG Boards already suggests that we are part of the way towards or- daining. The question remains, however, whether we want to establish an or- dained order to set apart particular persons to do these tasks.
The Role of Deacons in the Church and in Free Methodism
Howard A. Snyder Asbury Theological Seminary
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services [diakoniw?n], but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, NRSV).
Friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task [serving (diakoneivn) food, vs. 2], while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving [diakoni÷a ] the word (Acts 6:3-4, NRSV).
Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, use whatever gift [cha- risma] you have received serving [diakonouvnteß] others. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God. Whoever serves [diakoneiv] must do so with the strength God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 4:10-11).
In essence, the question underlying any discussion of deacons is this: How can the above Scriptures be linked and applied in practical and mutually reinforcing ways in the life of the church?
As heir to the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions, the Free Methodist Church since its beginning has recognized both deacons and elders, but with dea- con always being understood as preparatory to becoming an elder (both at the “traveling” and “local” levels). This structure is an inheritance not from the New
Testament but from the tripartite hierarchy of bishop/presbyter/deacon that de- veloped in the early centuries of church history.
As part of the theological and ecclesiological rethinking that went into the 1999 FM General Conference action, the sequential link between deacons and el- ders was severed and a one-step ordination process was adopted. Similar steps have been taken in other denominations. In some ways the severing of the se- quential connection between deacons and elders is a helpful step back toward earliest church usage.
Given the 1999 change, the natural question is: What should become of dea- cons (or the diaconate23) in the Free Methodist Church? The main options would seem to be (1) discontinue the office and terminology of “deacon” altogether (per- haps accentuating the nearly synonymous term “servanthood” instead, and/or leaving the whole question of “deacons” up to local churches or to conferences), or (2) continue the diaconate, redefining its nature and giving it a practical func- tion within the denominational structure.
Since I was asked to offer an opinion paper, what follows is a brief reflection on the question of deacons based for the most part on my prior biblical, theologi- cal, and ecclesiological work. I am assuming that the Study Commission on Doc- trine has reviewed or will review both the relevant biblical material on deacons and diakonia and the tradition of deacons throughout church history, so I will not deal in great depth with either Scripture or history. I respond briefly to the fol- lowing three questions:
- What is a deacon?
- What should be the role of deacons within the Free Methodist Church?
- By what process should deacons be chosen, recognized, trained, and held accountable?
I. What is a Deacon?
Fundamentally, a “deacon” is any Christian believer who serves or ministers. “[E]arly Christianity learned to regard and describe as diakonia all significant activity for the edification of the community (Ephesians 4:11 ff)” (TDNT 2:87). In English editions of the NT diakonia is generally translated “service” or “minis- try”; diakonos, as “servant” or “minister.”
The decisive thing, however, is that Jesus Christ defines the nature of service or servanthood. Jesus came “not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45). “The astonishing act of Jesus … is to reverse … the relation between serv- ing and being served” (TDNT 2:84). “Jesus comprises under the term diakoneivn many different activities such as giving food and drink, extending shelter, provid- ing clothes and visiting the sick and prisoners. The term thus comes to have the full sense of active Christian love for the neighbour and as such it is a mark of true discipleship of Jesus” (TDNT 2:85).
In this sense, every Christian disciple is a deacon, a server, in one way or another. This is another way of saying that all believers are called to Christian ministry. Every believer is gifted for ministry, though not in the same way. Clearly, any contemporary understanding of deacons or diaconate must be consistent with this. A re-emphasis on “deacons” must not reinforce a clergy/laity distinction but rather help foster the sense and reality of universal ministry.
Is it legitimate, then, to identify some within the Christian community more specifically as “deacons”? Interestingly, Acts 6 does not do this. That is, the seven were chosen for a specific task, but not (according to Acts 6) designated as “dea- cons.” In fact there is no biblical evidence that Acts 6 is “the institution of the of- fice of deacon,” or that the seven held, or were intended to constitute, an ongoing office.
Other NT passages, however (especially 1 Timothy 3:8-12) make it clear that recognized “deacons” soon were functioning within the church. Presumably this happened pragmatically, through normal social dynamics. That is, no NT church council ever established the office of deacon. Rather, the Spirit-led charismatic process of community development, ministry development, and leadership de- velopment quite naturally led to the recognition of specific people within the Christian community who were, in authority and function, something less than apostles, elders, or pastors (in terms of range of responsibility) but something more than the larger body of disciples. The context here is clearly charismatic (gift-related), as Romans 12:6-8 (for instance) makes clear: “We have gifts that differ … prophesying … serving … teaching … encouraging,” etc. –– no doubt some- what fluid distinctions that in practice overlapped.
It thus seems legitimate biblically and theologically to recognize “deacons” in the church provided this does not (in fact or in tendency) either undercut the sense of universal Christian ministry or prioritize some spiritual gifts to the de- moting of others.
There is not and never has been consensus in the church as to just what a “deacon” is –– reflecting, no doubt, the imprecise range of meanings that “ser- vice” can have. Opinions have differed as to whether deacons should be “or- dained,” or whether there should be such an office as “the diaconate.” Conse- quently, actual practices and understandings have varied widely within the vari- ous church traditions. Yet the foundational idea has always been service. Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna, writing to the Philippian Church about 100 AD, taught that deacons should “be blameless before the face of [God’s] righteousness, as being the servants of God and Christ, and not of men, … compassionate, industrious, walking according to the truth of the Lord [Jesus], who was the servant of all” (Ad Phil. 5). The Second Vatican Council said deacons are “dedicated to works of charity and functions of administration”; they are “dedicated to the People of God, in conjunction with the bishop and his body of priests, in the service of the liturgy, of the Gospel and of works of charity” (Lumen Gentium 3.29).
One difficulty in defining a diaconate is determining what forms of ministry to include or exclude. Among Christian disciples who are gifted and wish to min- ister in some way, who should be deacons and who should not be? There seem to be no clear once-for-all biblical or theological criteria here. For this reason, it seems to me that the denomination is free to make pragmatic judgments based on its own sense of mission and the recognized needs it seeks to respond to.
If there is one point of consensus about diaconal service, however, it is that it is to be distinguished from teaching and preaching (or at least from a particular call to preach or teach). This distinction seems to have some NT basis. It may be implied in Acts 6 (the ministry of food / the ministry of the Word) and seems ex- plicit in 1 Peter 4:11 (“whoever speaks” / “whoever serves”).24 The Church of the Nazarene in establishing the order of deacons based it on this distinction: “A dea- con is a minister whose call of God to Christian ministry, gifts, and usefulness have been demonstrated and enhanced by proper training and experience” but who “does not witness to a specific call to preach” (Manual, Church of the Nazarene , ¶ 404).
It must be concluded from both the NT and church history, however, that there is no one precise or “correct” understanding of the nature and role(s) of deacons. This seems to have been John Wesley’s conclusion. He suggested in 1747 that though “the three orders of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons” were plainly evi- dent in the New Testament, they were not prescribed for all ages. Rather, there must be “numberless accidental varieties in the government of various churches” in different times and places. “As God variously dispenses His gifts of nature, providence, and grace, both the offices themselves and the officers in each ought to be varied from time to time.” Thus Scripture prescribes “no determinate plan of church-government,” and there would never have been “any thought of uni- formity in the government of all churches” had church leaders “consulted the word of God only” (Minutes of the Conference of 1747).
Still, from the beginning and throughout history deacons have been associated especially with the distribution of food to people who are needy and, more gen- erally, ministry to the poor and various forms of service to people in need (espe- cially physical or material need). Thus Wesley says of deacons, “their proper of- fice was to take care of the poor,” though “deacons of both sexes” properly em- ployed “whatever time they had to spare from this … in works of spiritual mercy” (ENNT, Acts 6:2). This aspect should be reflected in any contemporary discussion of deacons.
Incidentally, here the functions of “deacon” and “steward” (based on the NT word oikonomos) may overlap. This raises the question whether the definition and function of “stewards” should be re-examined as part of the “deacon” dis- cussion. Stewards, as defined in the 1999 FM Book of Discipline (¶ A/404.6), look something like deacons in the earliest sense.
Wesley might well have used the term “deacons” in early Methodism if the term had not already been in use for ordained ministry in the Church of England.
In “A Plain Account of the People called Methodists” Wesley tells how he came to appoint “visitors of the sick.” It was impossible, he says, “for the Stewards to at- tend all that were sick in all parts of the town.” Wesley called for volunteers, and from the volunteers appointed 46, two for each section of London. He writes,
4. It is the business of a Visitor of the sick:
To see every sick person within his district thrice a week;
To inquire into the state of their souls, and advise them, as occasion may require;
To relieve them, if they are in want;
To do anything for them which he (or she) can do;
To bring in all accounts weekly to the Stewards.
Upon reflection I saw how exactly in this, also, we had copied after the primitive church. What were the ancient deacons? What was Phebe the dea- coness, but such a visitor of the sick?
5. I did not think it needful to give them any particular rules, beside these that follow:
(1). Be plain and open in dealing with souls. (2). Be mild, tender, patient.
(3). Be cleanly in all you do for the sick.
(4). Be not nice [i.e., overly fastidious].
6. We have ever since had great reason to praise God for his continued blessing on this undertaking. Many lives have been saved, many sicknesses healed, much pain and want prevented or removed. Many heavy hearts have been made glad, many mourners comforted. And the visitors have found from him whom they serve a present reward for all their labour (Wesley, Works [Abingdon Ed.] 9:274f).
Three things are especially noteworthy here: (1) Wesley saw the visitors of the sick as, functionally, deacons, though without using the term; (2) he designed a simple, workable structure; and (3) this arrangement was effective and redemp- tive in people’s lives. The specific duties and rules Wesley lists are worth consid- ering as the Free Methodist Church seeks to define the diaconate.
It would be better not to have deacons (so called) if this unjustifiably priori- tizes some forms of ministry over others. Better for churches simply to commis- sion varieties of forms of ministries without attaching ecclesiastical terms to them than to create new distinctions or (potentially) new hierarchies. On the other hand, it is justifiable and pragmatically useful for the church to designate people for specific tasks as needs arise (as we see in Acts 6).
To summarize: A deacon is (1) one whom God has gifted for varieties of ser- vice or servant-ministries in the church or to the larger community, but not spe- cifically for preaching or teaching, and (2) whose gifts and calling for such minis- try are recognized and affirmed by the church through appropriate processes of commissioning and accountability.
II. What should be the role of deacons in the Free Methodist
If we take our cues from the NT church and from early Methodism, the FMC should always be seeking ways to multiply options and possibilities for Christian ministry. As Wesley appointed stewards, visitors of the sick, class and band lead- ers, etc., both to meet particular needs and to involve a growing number of early Methodists in practical redemptive ministry, so the FMC should seek functionally to act in similar ways.
The implication of Scripture and the Christian tradition is that the Free Meth- odist Church is free to define the roles and functions of deacons in whatever way it feels is most consistent with its understanding of the Gospel, its historic mis- sion, and contemporary needs –– but that the essential component is one of ser- vice to people in need.
In defining the role of deacons in the Free Methodist Church, the following points should be taken into consideration:
1. The primary meaning of service should be central, though “service” should be understood rather broadly.
2. The recognition of deacons provides an avenue for extending the church’s recognized ministry, including ministry to the poor. The diaconate should be de- fined in such a way that it tends to expand the church’s understanding of, and options for, Christian ministry, rather than creating the impression that only those who are deacons and elders are really ministers. (This is why there should be multiple options for ministry in the church, not just deacons and elders.) Deacons should be examples of servanthood in the church who whet the appetite of other believers to want to be in ministry in one way or another, according to their gifts and graces.
3. Given the NT precedents, the role of deacons should not be primarily litur- gical, though it need not exclude liturgical functions under the guidance of ap- pointed pastors.
4. The diaconal role (biblically, historically, or theologically considered) is not one of teaching. Deacons are not primarily teachers, even though they may at times teach. Therefore professors in theological faculties should continue to be ordained as elders, not as deacons. In the NT, teaching and preaching are closely linked (e.g., Ephesians 4:12), and it would be a mistake to separate them.
5. Though the diaconate should not be considered a step toward ordination as elder, neither should it preclude that possibility. Functionally, and quite appro- priately within a local congregation, a person’s gifts, growth, and heart for minis- try might lead to her or his designation as a deacon. But the proving of his/her gifts in that role might well be the means of recognizing gifts for pastoral of other ministry. (So Philip the food-server became Philip the Evangelist [Acts 6:5, 8:5].) The Church of the Nazarene provides for this as follows: “If in the pursuance of his or her ministry, the ordained deacon feels called to the preaching ministry, he
or she may be ordained elder upon completion of the requirements for that cre- dential and the return of the deacon credential” (Manual , ¶ 404.4). (Obvi- ously any such change in call should be based on giftedness and fruitful ministry, not just feeling.)
6. Care should be taken that deacons are actually involved in significant ser- vant ministries so that “deacon” does not become over time an honorary position divorced from actual service, as has happened more than once in church history.
Since the Free Methodist Church from the beginning has said that its mission involves ministry to the poor, one wonders whether a new emphasis on “dea- cons” could help the denomination recapture its early sense of ministry to and with the poor. Diakonia to/with the poor in the spirit of Jesus is virtually a syn- opsis of Free Methodism’s historic mission. In this regard a comment by Prof. Joe
Culumber of Greenville College is pertinent:
Many people contemplating ministry or the ordination track in particular haven’t grasped
the servanthood implications of their decision. Since “deacon” and “diakonia” are both grounded in the NT concept of serving/servanthood, could we use the category of “deacon” as a kind of basic commitment to, and exploration of, servanthood? — perhaps tying to it some concrete opportunities for serving even in a menial way, so that the whole ordination process is rooted in servanthood. Maybe the initial work of a deacon could be tied to some specific kind of truly “diaconal” ministries to the poor, elderly, homeless, aliens, etc. (Email, 10/3/01).
III. How should deacons be chosen, recognized, trained, and held accountable?
Whatever process is adopted, the following guidelines should be considered. The structure should:
1. Be consistent with and part of the process of discipling and gift-affirmation within the local congregation.
2. Include ordination specifically to diaconal ministry. Though one might want to avoid the theologically weighty terms “consecration” and “ordination” and use the more functional term “commission” in recognizing deacons, this would inevitably create the impression that deacons are less fully “ministers” than are ordained elders. Because of this, ordination to the diaconate should be essentially the same as ordination as elder, but with a specifically diaconal focus. This would have the effect, one would hope, of elevating the call to and practice of servanthood in the denomination.
3. The qualifications for deacons should be consistent with Acts 6:3 (“of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom”) and 1 Timothy 3:8-13 (though not re- stricted to men; see the NRSV).
4. The diaconate should first of all be a form of ministry in the local congrega- tion. But it could legitimately be expanded to the conference and denominational level (with accountability to the annual conference). One can even envision an Order (Brotherhood/ Sisterhood) of Deacons within the FMC with its own orga- nization, its members involved in a range of servant ministries around the world.
There are a number of precedents for this within Protestantism.
5. The process should involve some form on ongoing accountability so that deacons continue truly to be servants in the spirit of Christ and to be actually en- gaged in ministry. Presumably this should involve accountability both at the local and (in some sense) the conference levels.
6. The institution of a functional diaconate in the church should be accompa- nied by a concerted effort (in pastoral training, in membership training in the lo- cal church, and at all levels) to teach our people that all Christians are called to ministry and all have responsibility to use their gifts in ministry. The recognition of deacons should be understood within that context. In fact, it should be a vis- ible stimulus within the church toward everyone’s being involved in ministry of some sort, consistent with the vision of Ephesians 4:15-16.
23 In this paper I use the more common “diaconate” rather than “deaconate” or “diakonate.” 24 Acts 6:1-6 and 1 Peter 4:10-11 can profitably be studied in tandem.
A Case for Ordaining Deacons for Permanent Support Ministry
The issue before us is whether persons with support gifting rather than lead- ership gifting, deacon rather than elder,25 should have an ordained ecclesiastical recognition. Though tradition supports the ordaining of deacons from the begin- ning of the church in the first millennium,26 the question has been raised whether this is still appropriate for the beginning of the third millennium. It is the position of this author that ordained ministry in the Free Methodist Church should have two permanent ordinations: Elder and Deacon. (Though I would also argue for the ordination of Bishop as a third permanent ordination, that is a different topic for a different year.)
At the 1999 General Conference, the Free Methodist Church removed the Dea- con step toward Elder’s Orders. That decision to no longer make Deaconate ordi- nation a half-way step to Elder’s Orders was made, in part, to open the door for consideration of an ordination of persons who do not have God’s call to be the Elder-leader of a congregation, but rather to support such a leader in some specific ministry within the church. Having experienced a similar call on their life for full-time service to Christ and the church, such persons would have an appropri- ate process of candidacy, preparation and affirmation to fill their unique support position. These support ministries could include such areas as: Worship, Chris- tian Education, Church Administration, Counseling, School Administration, etc.
Though it could be argued that such supportive ministers could be licensed in order to provide quality control and professional status, the emphasis on the uniqueness of Christian ministry could be lost. The difference in status and ex- pectation of a licensed person and an ordained person is clearly seen in the lan- guage itself. A license27 is used to refer to the permission, authority, or chance to do something. However the word can also be used of people who take license to go beyond propriety or normal behavior. A licensed person therefore is one who has accountability to a human authority or who is being given a chance by some- one in authority. Rather than acknowledging the call of God and the ultimate ac- countability, gifting and responsibility, it uses language which inadequately ex- presses the transcendent situation. In the slang meanings, it even implies a per- son acting in a way which is inappropriate, an inference we would not want to encourage.
Ordination,28 on the other hand, is used to describe the unique consecration of a Christian priest, minister, or Jewish Rabbi. As such it implies an official acknowledgement of a larger calling on a person by God. Though the word is also used in a mathematical sense,29 it is seldom used in vernacular language ex- cept to refer to a person on whose life God has placed His authority and account- ability. Though we appropriately recognize that ordination requires the affirma- tion of and accountability to the larger church, the sense of the relationship is one of recognizing what God has ordained rather than permitting what the license allows.
Though language is an important part of this decision, language is transitory and the words license and ordination could eventually have very different ver- nacular implications. Thus, the observation of C.S. Lewis that “All that is not eter- nal is eternally out of date” reminds us that such temporal nuances of language cannot be the basis on which such an eternal decision as church leadership is based. We therefore turn to the study of Scripture, tradition, reason and experi- ence to help us discern the truth of this matter.
Scripture and Tradition
In the 1995 report of SCOD in which the ordination process was modified to a single step for Elders, Dr. Paul Livermore presented a thorough study of Scrip- ture and Tradition. At the conclusion of this work, Dr. Livermore made observa- tions which give a clear answer to the guidance of both Scripture and Tradition.
Throughout history, Israel and the church have always had a representative ministry, and both ordained ministerial leaders. Those in this ministry were called or appointed by God. That is, both Israel and the church recognized the divine origin of the representative ministry….
The ordination of leaders in the church is more complicated. The story begins with Jesus. He combined in Himself the tasks of priest, prophet and rabbi, but He was also the incarnate Son of God whose ministry went beyond Old Testament and Jewish categories.
Jesus then chose the Twelve to extend His ministry. The Twelve, together with Paul (whose unique call did not set a precedent) became the apostles. The apostles were the undisputed leaders of the church in worship, in teaching and in appointing successive leaders.
The apostolic ministry, with the Spirit’s gifting, established the pattern of leadership. By the time Paul wrote his Pastoral Letters, bishops, presbyters [elders] and deacons had emerged as the ordained and representative ministry. Throughout church history this tripartite ministry, derived from apostolic times, persisted as the norm.
Bishops had the pastoral role of teaching and administering the sacraments and governing the church — particularly in the key role they played in ordination. Through these tasks, they were to protect the church from doctrinal error and dangerous leaders.
Presbyters [elders] had the pastoral role of the ministry of the Word and the sacrament, by which they guided the faithful through the course of life.
Deacons assisted with the sacrament and had other specialized ministries, especially the needs of the poor. In the West, the transitory diaconate replaced the permanent diaconate so that deacons were those who had reached the first station on the way to the presbyterate.
The churches of the Reformation departed from the tripartite pattern in various ways. Many Protestant churches changed it by dropping the episcopate altogether and ordained both pastors and lay leaders. However, the Anglican tradition, including those in the Methodist family, kept the tripartite pattern.
The Free Methodist Church has maintained the tripartite ministry, though the church from its beginning modified the pattern and over recent years has introduced even more changes. At the present [in 1995 before ending Deaconate ordination as a transitory step toward Elder] the Free Methodist Church: (1) elects but does not ordain bishops to the ministry of Word, sacra- ment and orders; (2) ordains elders to the pastoral ministry of Word and sacrament; (3) ordains deacons to the pastoral ministry of Word and sacrament when appointed to specific charges, and (4) authorizes any pastor, whether ordained or not, to administer the sacrament in the church to which she or he is appointed. In addition, pastors may also use lay persons to assist them to distribute the sacrament.
Thus, recent policy in the Free Methodist Church has diminished the unique- ness of elders’ orders. The Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican tradition (from which we came) and Protestant and free-church traditions (by which we have been strongly influenced) all reserved full pastoral ministry and authority for presbyters (and bishops) … .30
The obvious implication for this study is that the tripartite ministry is func- tioning within the Free Methodist Church (Bishop, Elder, Deacon) and yet we have either inadvertently or deliberately stopped the process of ordaining Bish- ops and are now considering whether to do the same to those who are serving in the traditionally supportive roles who were called Deacons. In the last General Conference, the church appropriately chose to return to the early tradition of making a clear distinction between Elders (presbyters) and Deacons. Supported by the distinctions noted in Scripture, this provides us with the opportunity to appropriately acknowledge the unique ministries of those called to support the Elder in a staff position in a local church.31 The clear support of the guidance given through Scripture and Tradition is for the ordaining of Permanent Deacons in the ministry of the local church. (see #3 above).
The expectation of reasonable and wise administration of the Church requires the study of organizational life. Though we are in a day when organizational leadership is being dramatically redefined,32 the underlying question of authority in leadership is a primary issue of ordained leadership. If we only rely on the study of human organizations, void of the larger purposes of spiritual life or the unique nature of a supernaturally birthed ecclesiastical community, then such separation has a devastating consequence of undermining the nature of the coun- sel given. Human reason must think in the broader categories of the nature of leadership and authority within God’s people.
Lovett H. Weems, professor of church leadership at St. Paul’s33 School of The- ology helps us combine both sacred and secular as he makes an argument for three sources of authority for those in ministry: the authority of our calling from God, our calling from the church and our calling from the context. Professor
The first source of authority is our calling from God…Christian leaders must see all leader-
ship rooted in what God has called them to do … But Christian leaders always function within a community of faith that must confirm God’s call. [So,] The second source of authority is our calling from the church. Jackson Carroll speaks of authority as ‘legitimate power.’ A key part of that legitimizing comes from the larger community of faith that calls us to various roles of leadership. These ‘assignments’ as Jurgen Moltmann refers to them, are to be fulfilled on behalf of the whole church. The leadership roles never become private possessions to be guarded and protected. Leadership is about service, not prerogative … . The third source of a leader’s authority comes from the calling of the context. Leadership is finally about actual people in actual circumstances … . People may give us a leadership position, but the authority needed to lead must be worked out among the people with whom we serve. It is from a leader’s credibil- ity with those with whom the leader works most closely that a leader is able to gain an essen- tial element of authority. To summarize, one might think of the sources of authority as the theological, ecclesial and contextual.
If the contextual authority requires theological and ecclesial participation, then it is reasonable to affirm that a church leader — whose calling began with God is affirmed by the Church and is effective within the context of a local church — would be operating not only as licensed by the church, but as a per- son “ordained” to fulfill their ministry. This support rests not only in the nature of organizational life where their leadership is proven within an actual context, but also in the nature of God at work in the church who unites with us in fulfill- ing His great Co-mission.
The final argument to be made for the ordination of Deacons comes from expe- rience. Experience, by its nature, is subjective. But Wesley’s concept of this subjec- tive experience is that it can be both corporately tested and personally trusted. Ex- perience, over time, in the vast majority of persons’ lives, converges in an affirma- tion of what is true. In this instance, the experience of those who have been or- dained in their explanation of that experience use that non-translatable description that “something special” occurs when one is ordained. Though it is not a sacrament within our tradition, it is a special moment in which a person’s entire life is dedicated to God in a way that accepting a specific position on a church staff does not even begin to express. It is an accepting of a mantle of responsibility that affirms the life-direction of the person and is not limited to any specific time or place.
Though it could be argued that a person could experience such a moment without the affirmation of the church, the sacred nature of the church laying hands on an ordinand is something that has been expressed throughout the life of the church as a uniquely sacred event.
The advantage to the ministry of the church to have fully consecrated and or- dained persons leading our churches is clearly seen when the ordination of an Elder is being considered. But the existence of life-long, consecrated, called, gifted and dedicated persons who have chosen to give their lives to supporting the ministry of our churches is just as obvious. Full-time ministry is not a voca- tional choice or a temporary experience, it is a calling God places on a person’s life and enriches the ministry of any church privileged enough to have such a person among them. The evidence given in this paper creates a compelling argu- ment to this author for the necessity of restoring the second of the three ordina- tions practiced throughout most of the history of the Church, the ordination of the Deacon as a permanent support minister within the local church.
25 Diakonos is one who executes the commands of another, esp., or a master, a servant attendant, minister: a. the servant of a king; b. a deacon, one who, by virtue of the office assigned to him by the church cares for the poor and has charge of and distributes the money collected for their use; c. a waiter, one who serves food and drink. [The New Testament Greek lexicon based on Thayer’s and Smith’s Bible Dictionary plus others; this is keyed to the large Kittel and the “Theological Dictionary of the New Testament.”]
26 In the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus.8, it states: “And when a deacon is ordained, let him be chosen according to what was said above, the bishop alone laying on hands, in the same way as we also directed above [elder’s ordi- nation]. In the ordination of a deacon, the bishop alone shall lay on hands, because he is not being ordained to the priesthood, but to the service of the bishop, to do what is ordered by him. For he does not share in the counsel of the clergy, but administers and informs the bishop of what is fitting; he does not receive the common spirit of se- niority in which the presbyters [elders] share, but that which is entrusted to him under the bishop’s authority.”
27 li·cense [l ss’ns ] noun (plural li·cens·es) 1. permit: a printed document that gives official permission to a specific person or group to own something or do something. U.K. term licence n.1 2. LAW legal authorization: official permission to do something, either from a government or under a law or regulation. U.K. term licence n.2 3. chance to do something: the opportunity to do something, especially when this goes beyond normal limits ! a license to print money. U.K. term licence n.34. permission to bend truth: the freedom of a writer or artist to rear- range the facts of ordinary life in order to make a more striking effect ! artistic license. U.K. term licence n.4 5.
lack of restraint: freedom in behavior or speech that exceeds what is considered appropriate. U.K. term licence n.5 transitive verb (past li·censed, past participle li·censed, present participle li·cens·ing, 3rd person present singular li·cens·es) formally allow: to give official permission for somebody to do something or for an activity to take place (often passive) ! He was licensed to practice medicine in the United States. [14th century. Via French from
Latin licentia “freedom,” later “authority, permission,” from licere “to be allowed.”] 28 or·di·na·tion [àwrd’n áysh’n ] (plural or·di·na·tions) noun consecration as Christian minister or rabbi: an official
investiture as a Christian priest or minister, or as a rabbi, or a ceremony during which somebody is consecrated as
a priest, minister, or rabbi [15th century. Directly or via French from the Latin stem ordination- , from ordinare
29 or·di·nate [áwrd’n t ] (plural or·di·nates) noun MATHEMATICS vertical coordinate of point: the vertical or y coordi-
nate of a point on a two-dimensional graph or diagram in which pairs of numbers denote distances along fixed horizontal and vertical axes.
30 Dr. Paul Livermore in the 1995 SCOD report, “Concluding Remarks.”
31 Though this study is not focused on the ordination of Bishops, this may be a desire of the church in the future as
we attempt to align ourselves with the wisdom of both Scripture and early church tradition.
32 Self-Renewal Group — Organizational psychologists based in Herefordshire, United Kingdom explain that we are
in the midst of evolving a new style of leader. They explain that:
- Attaining power over others was once a mere matter of physical strength.
- Then, we created institutionalized authority.
- For centuries, we have been moving from power based on formal authority to the power of knowledge.
- The ability to innovate or create/apply new knowledge is not the monopoly of people at the top of organizations
— it occurs at all levels and especially at the front line.
This is a new form of leadership that, as yet, is not widely acknowledged or fostered. (www.leadersdirect.com)
33 Professor Weems writes at length on this subject: http://www.spst.edu/Leadership/ leadership%20winter%202000.htm
CONSECRATION RITUAL FOR DEACONS
2. CONSECRATION OF DEACONS: The service may be either a special ser- vice with appropriate music and preparation, or as a part of a Sunday worship service.
¶ A/941. The senior pastor shall present to the superintendent the one who is ( those who are) to be consecrated, saying:
Superintendent ________ (name), I present to you _____________________(name or names) to be consecrated deacon in the _______________ (name of church), a Free Methodist congregation.
The superintendent shall say to the pastor:
Have you diligently examined this person (these persons), whom you present to us, to be capable and qualified? Has he (she)(Have they) prepared himself (herself)(themselves) educationally and spiritually, so that his (her)(their) life and ministry will bring honor to God and edify His church?
The senior pastor shall respond:
He has (She has) (They have) been so examined and we believe him (her)(them) to be a person (persons) God has called to be a consecrated deacon (consecrated deacons) in this church.
The superintendent shall say to the congregation:
Dear Friends in Christ: We purpose, God willing, to consecrate as a deacon this person (these persons) who stands (stand) before you. He has (She has)(They have) been examined and has (have) been found to be a person (persons) called by God to this ministry and suited for the same. We ask you, people of God, to declare your assent to the consecration of this person (these persons).
Do you trust that he is (she is)(they are) worthy, by God’s grace, to be conse- crated?
People: We do! Thanks be to God!
Superintendent: Will you uphold him (her)(them) in his (her)(their) ministry?
People: With God’s help, we will!
Superintendent: Let us stand together as we pray in unison the prayer our Lord taught us to pray:
People: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Superintendent: You may be seated.
Superintendent continues in prayer with The Collect:
Let us pray: Almighty God, who appointed ministers in Your church and inspired Your apostles to consecrate as deacon Your first martyr, Stephen, with others; look with mercy upon this, Your servant (these, Your servants), whom You have called to the same order and administration; may he (she) (they) be replenished with the truth of Your doctrine and adorned with blamelessness of life, so that both by word and good example, he (she) (they) may serve You faithfully; so may
Your name be glorified and Your church built up, through the merits of our Sav- ior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, now and for- ever. Amen.
The superintendent may assign readers:
42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.
43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,
44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (NRSV)
1 Timothy 3:8-13
8 Deacons likewise must be serious, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not greedy for money; 9 they must hold fast to the mystery of faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them first be tested; then, if they prove themselves blameless, let them serve as deacons. 11 Women like- wise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons be married only once, and let them manage their children and their households well; 13 for those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (NRSV)
1 Peter 4:10-11
10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If you speak, you should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If you serve, you should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (TNIV)
The superintendent shall then say to the candidate(s):
My brother (My sister) (My brothers and sisters) you are to be consecrated to the ministry of deacon in this church.
God has called you to represent to the church the ministry of servanthood in the world, a ministry to which all Christians are called in baptism, but to which you are called in a special way. You are to be a coworker with your pastor (pastors)
(and other deacons), serving this congregation in the area of your gifting and call- ing. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. You are to interpret to the church the needs, con- cerns, and hopes of the world. At all times, by your life and teaching you are to show Christ’s people that in serving the helpless they are serving Christ.
So that we may know that you believe yourself (yourselves) to be called by God and that you profess the Christian faith, we ask you:
EXAMINATION OF CANDIDATES
1. Do you believe you are inwardly moved by the Holy Spirit to take upon you the ministry of a deacon in this church, to serve God, promoting His glory and edifying His people?
Answer: I so believe.
2. Are you persuaded that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ
and are the inspired and authoritative standard for the Church’s faith and life? Answer: I do so believe and am persuaded.
3. Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and do you accept the be- liefs and teachings of the Christian faith?
Answer: I do so confess and accept, by the grace of God.
4. Will you be faithful in prayer, in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, continually rekindle the gift of God that is in you?
Answer: I will, with the help of God.
5. Will you apply all diligence to regulate and fashion your own life (and the lives of your family) according to the doctrine of Christ; and to make (both) yourself (and them), as far as you are able, wholesome example(s) of the flock of Christ?
Answer: I will do so, the Lord being my helper.
6. Deacons express their ministry under the guidance and authority of an elder, being faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ at they participate in the life and work of the church. Will you do this gladly and willingly?
Answer: I will do so, the Lord being my helper.
7. Will you be loyal to The Free Methodist Church, accepting its polity, doctrine, and discipline?
Answer: I will, with the help of God.
May God, who has given you the will to do these things, give you grace to per- form them that the work begun in you may be brought to completion. Amen.
LAYING ON OF HANDS AND PRAYER
The superintendent says to the congregation:
As this person (these persons) is (are) consecrated by God and the church for the ministry of deacon, to which we believe he (she)(they) have been called by the Holy Spirit, let us silently pray for him (her)(them) as he (she) (they) kneel(s) before God.
The candidates kneel.
The people pray for them in silence.
The superintendent addresses the candidate(s):
My brother (sister)(brothers and sisters), from the time of the apostles persons with suitable gifts and graces have been set apart by the laying on of hands and prayer for a ministry of service in the Church of Jesus Christ our Lord. We trust that the Spirit of God has called you to the ministry of deacon. As earnest prayer is made for the fulfillment of the Spirit’s gift in you, your church now calls you to receive the laying on of hands as the seal of your vocation by the Spirit.
The superintendent (and other elders, as well as consecrated deacons who may be present), laying hands upon the head of each candidate in turn, shall say:
Take authority to execute the office of a deacon in this congregation, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
After all have received the laying on of hands, the superintendent facing the candidates, with both hands extended over them, says:
Let us pray.
We give thanks to You, Lord God, that in Your great love You sent Jesus Christ, Your only begotten Son, to take the form of a servant for the sake of us all, be- coming obedient even to death on the cross. We praise You that You have highly exalted Jesus Christ Your servant whom You have made to be Lord of all, and that You have taught us, by His word and example, that whoever would be great among us must be servant of all. Increase within the lives of these Your servants the gift of the Holy Spirit, through Jesus Christ Your Son, for the ministry of a deacon in Your church. Give them grace to be faithful to their promises, constant in their discipleship, and always ready for the works of loving service. Make them modest and humble, gentle and strong, that, having the assurance of faith and rejoicing in hope, they may be rooted and grounded in love. Give them a share in the ministry of Jesus Christ, who came not to be served but to serve; who now lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
A Bible or other gift may be given to each deacon.
The superintendent addresses the deacon:
We now welcome you to your ministry as deacon. You have given assurance of your faith and Christian experience. You have confirmed the vows of your conse- cration and committed yourself (yourselves) to uphold faithfully the Free Meth- odist Church. We rejoice that you have been called to serve among us, and pray that the Spirit of God may guide your ministry.
Presenting each deacon with his or her credentials, the superintendent says:
_________________ (name), We now recognize you as a deacon in the __________________________ (name of church), a Free Methodist congregation.
If the service is concluded and dismissal is appropriate, the (a) newly consecrated deacon shall turn to the congregation and say:
As my first act as a deacon in our church, it is my honor to bless you with the benedictory blessing of our mutual faith:
As my first act as a deacon in our church, it is my honor to give you the benedic- tion blessing of our mutual faith:
Holding one or both hands up, palms toward the congregation:
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. And the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost be among you and remain with you always. Amen.
SECTION TWO ON ARTICLE TWELVE AND SANCTIFICATION
In the fall of 2001 the Free Methodist Church in Canada apprised the U.S. Board of Bishops of its desire to reformulate the Article of Religion on Entire Sanctifica- tion (A/119, The Book of Discipline). The Canadian church hoped that the U.S. church would partner with them in revising the church’s articulation of the sanc- tifying work of God.
Accompanying this first communication from the Canadian church was a draft proposal, with explanatory comments. That original proposal follows:
As believers rejoice in the truth and reality of their new standing with God (justification), their new life from God (regeneration), and their new relationship with God (adoption), the immensity of God’s holy love for them subsequently acquaints them with the self-interest and self-preoccupation that characterize the sin remaining in them. Consecrating themselves afresh to God they are being transformed in a holy love for God and their neighbors.
In response to their single-minded dedication to this twofold pur- suit, by his grace the Holy Spirit continues to fill and transform believ- ers’ hearts. This deepening relationship of sanctification remedies the divided heart, undoes sin’s allure, and breaks sin’s power. No limit can be set to the scope of the Holy Spirit’s work in this life with respect to a human’s will being ruled entirely by the love of God which is shed abroad in believers’ hearts.
As greater intimacy with God yields greater awareness of God’s will for them and greater awareness of the needs of God’s world, they aspire to serve God’s holy purposes everywhere.
Sustained by clinging in grace-wrought faith to the crucified, by exalting the glory and honour of God, by attending to spiritual vigi- lance and the fellowship of God’s people, they rejoice in their journey along that Way which is assured as “… he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV). (See Appendix A for the text of the proposal with explanatory comments.)
During its fall 2001 meeting, the Study Commission on Doctrine (SCOD) began its consideration of the Canadian proposal. The Commission affirmed the impor- tance of making our heritage and its distinctive features more comprehensible and useful for the church and its mission in the 21st century. Accordingly, the SCOD agreed to join with the Free Methodist Church in Canada, and as many other General Conferences as possible, in a process of examining and revising Article XII.
As a first step in that process, representatives from the SCOD met with represen- tatives from the Canadian Interpret Study Team (IST) in May of 2002. During this meeting the two representative groups sought to identify clearly the reasons for reformulating Article XII, to design a process for drawing upon the wisdom of the world-wide Free Methodist fellowship, and to work together on the Canadian proposal.
The SCOD and IST representatives agreed on the following grounds for a revi- sion of Article XII.
The Free Methodist Church in the U.S. and Canada has been moving to- ward greater clarity on the doctrine of holiness over recent decades. (e.g., see the 1999 General Conference SCOD Report). It seems that the time has now come for reformulating our article on holy living.
A number of misinterpretations of sanctification have become common among us, which our present article does not help us to address. Among these errors are:
- That sanctification is a sectarian distinctive rather than God’s grand design for every Christian.
- That sanctification is a state of religious achievement rather than a dynamic, living relationship with God through Christ by the aid of the Holy Spirit.
- That experiencing sanctification is an end in itself rather than a means to a greater end, namely an ongoing, holy walk with God.
- That sanctification is primarily a single dramatic emotional event rather than a continuing relationship with God.
- That sanctification has most to do with rules rather than heart attitudes (love, faith, joy and obedience).
- That sanctification is a private experience or blessing with little connection to the body of believers or the non-Christian world.
These all too common misunderstandings likely rise from the narrow and absolute focus of the present form of Article XII. For example, the word “entire” modifies “sanctification” only once in the New Testament (1 Thessalonians 5:23), but becomes the primary adjective in the present article. The use of “entire” in this way, along with the stress on cleansing from “all inward sin” “in that moment,” suggests an absoluteness and perfectionism that confuses many, and gives tacit support to many of the misinterpretations listed above.
Such considerations suggest that the present Article does not adequately express what the Scriptures and the Wesleyan tradition teach about sanctification. Per- haps not surprisingly, then, recent generations of Free Methodists have been slow to embrace a doctrine of holiness when expressed in such terms. Therefore, we sense a need for a fresh articulation of Article XII that will be faithful to our heri- tage and that earnest Christians will find credible and engaging.
The Canadian and U.S. representatives also identified nine theological affirmations that must inform Free Methodist teaching on sanctification. They are:
- That the Creator’s grand design for the human person is for us to enjoy fellowship with God and to be like God.
- That through the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Word of God sanctified human nature so that it can reach this divine intention.
- That the Holy Spirit works in our lives to restore us to a living fellowship with God and to transform us into Christ’s likeness — the true Image of God.
- That the chief interference with our transformation is our sin that evi- dences itself as disobedience, pride, and unbelief.
- That we must respond to the Spirit’s work with humility, trust, and obe- dience.
- That love for God and neighbor is the defining mark of Christlikeness.
- That love evidences itself in servanthood and mission.
- That God uses community and relationships to shape holy people.
- That the Holy Spirit works this transformation into Christlikeness by a process of growth and moments of decision.
The representative members of the SCOD and the IST then worked together on the text of the article as first proposed by the IST. Their discussion led to the fol- lowing substantial changes:
Sanctification is that work of God whereby the Holy Spirit recre- ates His people after the likeness of God (Ephesians 4:24), changing them from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthans 3:18), and con- forming them to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).
God sanctifies His people through both a process of growth and moments of consecration. This deepening relationship of sanctifica- tion remedies the divided mind, redirects the heart’s affections to the love of God, and empowers believers to please God in their daily lives.
God works through the varied circumstances and relationships of believers’ lives so that His holy love reigns supreme in the hearts of His people.
This revision expressed the joint committee’s sense that an Article of Religion should be brief and well-written, reflecting in summary form the most impor- tant aspects of its subject. Furthermore, the revised proposal assumes the same form as the Articles that immediately precede Article XII, dealing with other dimensions of God’s saving work (see A/116-118, Justification is … ; Regenera- tion is … ; Adoption is … ).
Before concluding their session, the SCOD and IST representatives agreed that the IST would recommend that the Free Methodist Church in Canada approve this proposal in principle, and then continue to work with SCOD to present a draft of the proposal to the U.S. General Conference for adoption in principle as well. The recommendations for adoption in principle would allow other General Conferences to contribute to the process before composing a final draft of the proposal.
In June of 2002, the Free Methodist Church in Canada convened its General Con- ference, at which time the Conference approved the draft proposed by the joint committee of IST and SCOD members. The Conference also affirmed an ongoing process to fashion an improved and more helpful expression of our core concern for holiness of heart and life. (See Appendix B for two papers helpful to the pro- cess to this point.)
In September of 2002, the Board of Bishops circulated a copy of the Canadian pro- posal to the superintendents of the church for brief discussion and dialogue. Sev- eral observations from the superintendents added insight to the continuing dis- cussion.
In October of 2002, the SCOD gave considerable time to the issue of Sanctification in general and the proposed Article in particular. During that meeting and subse- quent dialogue among members, the SCOD amended the proposal. SCOD af- firms the wisdom of reformulating Article XII on Sanctification and offers this proposal to the General Conference. In support of this proposal SCOD com- mends a paper by Dr. Paul Livermore (immediately following summary of rec- ommendations) for the careful consideration of Conference delegates.
Each committee of the General Conference consider the proposal (see below) and offer suggestions and concerns to the Board of Bishops.
The General Conference approve the proposal in principle. We recom- mend approval in principle to allow for participation from the world- wide Free Methodist Church.
The Board of Bishops appoint a task force from SCOD to confer with members of the Canadian SCOD in light of the input from the U.S. Gen- eral Conference, and make any appropriate amendments to the proposal.
The amended (or unamended) draft proceed to the World Conference in November of 2003 for information, discussion, and suggestions.
The World Conference discusses the proposal, which will have been dis- tributed to World Conference delegates shortly after FMCNA General Conference.
a). If there is consensus at the World Conference they could vote to put the proposal to referendum directly as prescribed in the World Confer- ence constitution.
b). If there is no consensus, the World Conference input will come once again to the Canadian and FMCNA SCODs for review/amendment. That proposal will go to the FMCiC for action at their 2005 General Con- ference. If adopted it would proceed to worldwide referendum.
SCOD Recommendations on Article XII
A SUMMARY PROPOSED DRAFT
Sanctification is that work of God whereby the Holy Spirit recreates His people after the likeness of God, changing them from one degree of glory to another, and conforming them to the image of Christ. As believers surrender to God and die to self, the Spirit fills them with love and purifies them from sin, through both moments of consecration and a process of growth.
This sanctifying relationship with God remedies the divided mind, redirects the heart’s affections to the love of God, and empowers believers to please God in their daily lives. Thus, God sets His people free to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love their neighbors as themselves.
We further recommend that Paragraphs A/300 through A/309 be re- ferred to SCOD for review and possible amendment, as part of its report to the General Conference of 2007.
A Comparison of the Historical Forms of
The Article of Religion
On Entire Sanctification
The Study Commission on Doctrine is offering to the General Conference of 2003 a proposed revision of Article XII, on Entire Sanctification, for discussion and response. The initiative for this came from the Study Commission on Doc- trine in our sister General Conference in Canada. The commission rightly sensed that this may be a good time to undertake this delicate task.
Some might consider this an unnecessary thing to do, believing the present statement is adequate. On the other hand, a number of reasons may be given why performing this arduous task now is necessary and even urgent. Some of them are identified in the paper from the Canadian SCOD and General Conference.
The Issues at Stake
The remarks I want to make respond to a large question asked of an earlier form of the Proposal that a committee of Canadians and Americans drafted: Are we surrendering or at the least compromising theological values central to the holiness tradition out of which the Free Methodist Church was given birth?
This question — an important one — should be expanded, however, to in- clude an investigation not only of the proposal but also of the current form of the Article. It assumes that the current form explicates precisely, though perhaps in archaic language, what we believe about this important teaching — a theological treasure we inherited from John Wesley. Is this assumption accurate?
This query discloses a series of questions I will explore in this brief paper. They are the following:
Whether the Proposal surrenders central values from the holiness tradi- tion
Whether the holiness tradition faithfully represents the Wesleyan heri- tage
Whether “inward sin” is a “substance” that can be removed
Whether inward sin must be removed before we can love God or love must enter into our lives before the problem of inward sin is resolved Whether the Proposal teaches that within this life believers can enjoy Christian Perfection
We will begin with a comparison of the language of the various forms of the Article. Actually, the Article has gone through two basic forms to the present, and the Proposal to the General Conference of 2003 represents a third form. The first step, then, should be to get the precise language of the various forms in front of us. Then, we can analyze them to identify what they teach. After we have done this, we can finally ask whether the present, or the proposed, form of the Article of religion says more accurately what we want to say.
Part I. HISTORICAL FORMS OF THE ARTICLE
The Discipline of 1860
Merely justified persons, while they do not outwardly commit sin, are nevertheless conscious of sin still remaining in their heart. They feel a natural tendency to evil, a proneness to depart from God, and cleave to the things of earth. Those that are sanctified wholly are saved from all inward sin — from evil thoughts, and evil tempers. No wrong temper, none contrary to love remains in the soul. All the thoughts, words and actions are governed by pure love.
Entire sanctification takes place subsequently to justification, and is the work of God wrought instantaneously upon the consecrated, believ- ing soul. After a soul is cleansed from all sin, it is then fully prepared to grow in grace.
The form of the Article was exactly the same from 1860-1960 except for two small changes, both of which were present by 1870:
“Merely justified persons …” was changed to “Justified persons …”
“All the thoughts, words …” was changed to “All their thoughts, words …” On the first change, Bishop Marston commented that it was made because the original form tended “to ascribe too low a status to the first work of justifying grace.”1 The second change appears to be editorial.
The Discipline of 1960
Entire sanctification is that work of the Holy Spirit, subsequent to regen- eration, by which the fully consecrated believer, upon exercise of faith in the atoning blood of Christ, is cleansed in that moment from all inward sin and empowered for service. The resulting relationship is attested by the witness of the Holy Spirit and is maintained by obedience and faith. Entire sanctification enables the believer to love God with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, and his neighbor as himself, and prepares him for greater growth in grace.
Bishop Bastian says that the Article was rewritten in 1960 “not to change the doctrine but to give it greater clarity.”2 This is the form we presently have in the Discipline.
The Proposal for the General Conference of 2003
Sanctification is that work of God whereby the Holy Spirit recreates His people after the likeness of God, changing them from one degree of glory to another, and conforming them to the image of Christ. As believ- ers surrender to God and die to self, the Spirit fills them with love and purifies them from sin, through both moments of consecration and a pro- cess of growth.
This sanctifying relationship with God remedies the divided mind, redirects the heart’s affections to the love of God, and empowers believ- ers to please God in their daily lives. Thus, God sets His people free to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and to love their neighbors as themselves.
Part II. AN ANALYSIS OF THE VARIOUS FORMS OF THE ARTICLE
This part of the paper will analyze the theological ideas in the various forms of the Article. We identify those concepts that are specifically named in thirteen categories and compare them in parallel columns.
Discipline of 1860
Discipline of 1960
Proposal for 2003
Sanctification in its entirety
The work of God
3. Purpose (see #10)
” To recreate His people after His likeness
4. Candidates for
Justified persons who do not outwardly commit sins
” His people ” Believers
5. Relation to justification
6. Primary problems it addresses
Inward sin defined as:
Sin defined as:
7. Conditions for receiving
” Consecration ” Faith
” Consecration ” Faith
8. Time of receiving
” In moments of consecration
9. Central features of
Cleansing from all sin
” Cleansing from all
” Filling with Love
” The redirection of affections
10. Central results made
All thoughts, words and governed by pure love
” Enablement toplease God in daily life
Witnessed to by Holy Spirit
12. Mode of Maintenance
” Obedience ” Faith
13. Future growth in grace
Change from one degree of glory to another
A couple of notes should be made about the comparison:
First, because something does not appear specifically in one form of the Disci- pline, one cannot necessarily conclude that the authors do not accept it. For ex- ample only the 1960 Discipline refers to the mode of maintenance (#12), but it would be wrong to assume that either of the other forms think that lapsing into disobedience or unbelief is of small consequence.
On the other hand, an omission or a change may signal a significant differ- ence. For example, the Proposal for 2003 intentionally looks at the larger topic, sanctification, rather than the subtopic within that subject, entire sanctification (#1). This change has wide implications on the way the article is crafted.
Those who want to interpret the results of the analysis properly, therefore, must weigh all the evidence, including the implied as well as the explicit affirmations.
Part III. HISTORICAL CONSIDERATIONS
The Absence of an Article on Entire Sanctification in the Methodist Discipline The 1856 Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church provided the model from which the original Discipline of the Free Methodist Church (1860) was taken.
However, it contained no Article on entire sanctification. A few remarks on this should be made.
The Methodist Articles of Religion first appeared in The Sunday Service written in 1784. Wesley actually drafted this document by editing The Book of Common Prayer that included the 39 Articles of the Church of England. Wesley took the 39 Articles and reduced them to 24. When the Methodist Episcopal Church was cre- ated at the Christmas Conference of 1784, its founders adopted The Sunday Service as one of its two governing documents. The other was the first Book of Discipline that they made by adapting to the American scene Wesley’s Large Minutes. In the 1876 edition of The Sunday Service the American Methodists added a 25th Article, “On the Rulers of the United States of America,” that corresponds to the 37th of The Book of Common Prayer.”3 However, very soon The Sunday Service fell out of use and was no longer reprinted, and from it different sections were placed in the Discipline, among these the Articles of Religion. In 1808, when the First Restric- tive Rule was adopted, the 25 Articles of Religion became, to use Oden’s lan- guage, virtually “unamendable.”4
Wesley’s Authorship of Books, Sermons and Tracts on Christian Perfection
What we have just observed about the absence of an article on entire sanctifi- cation in the MEC, however, does not tell the entire story. Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury (but mostly Asbury) published in 1798 a special edition of the MEC Discipline with “explanatory notes” attached. In this work they described what they believed the function of the articles is. They represent, according to the first bishops of American Methodism, the doctrines “maintained, more or less, in part or in the whole, by every reformed [that is, Protestant] church in the world.”5 On the other hand, teachings that were uniquely held by Methodists or were held by other Protestants but rejected by Methodists were discussed in separate brief statements in the Discipline. Among these was one on “Christian Perfection.”6 This statement is also taken almost entirely from The Large Minutes written by Wesley. In the years between 1784 and 1856, however, the statement on Christian Perfection dropped out of the Discipline of the MEC; in fact, it was gone by 1848, the year that B.T. Roberts began his ministry in that church.
Wesley never wrote an Article of Religion on entire sanctification. In fact, he never wrote a book, sermon or tract that he named with that term. On the other hand, one of his more famous works carries the other term, A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.
Sources for the Article on Entire Sanctification in the Free Methodist Church
When the Free Methodist founders developed their Articles of Religion, they took the MEC’s 25, reduced them by four and added two, one of those added be- ing that on entire sanctification. They felt that the absence of such an article in the Discipline of the MEC represented the decline of the mother church from genuine Methodism. There is no evidence that Roberts knew earlier editions of the MEC Discipline had a section on Christian Perfection.
On the other hand, it is clear that the founders of the Free Methodist Church did use Wesley as their primary source. Different parts of the article as given in the FMC Discipline of 1860, however, use Wesley in different ways.
First, the article cites, or nearly cites, Wesley, word for word. Two sentences (“No wrong temper … governed by pure love”) quote, almost verbatim, from Plain Account.7 This constitutes one of Wesley’s definitions of Christian Perfection.
Second, several sentences summarize Wesley’s arguments that are spread over several pages. The first clause (“Justified persons … do not outwardly commit sins”) echoes Wesley’s argument in Plain Account against the claim that Chris- tians, so long as they live, must sin in thought, word and deed every day.8 Simi- larly we can speak of the clause discussing inward sin remaining in the heart of the justified (“nevertheless conscious … in their heart)9 and the description of de- liverance from inward sin (“Those that are sanctified wholly … evil tempers”).10
Third, the final paragraph of the 1860 form reflects themes of Wesley as they had been filtered through the holiness movement. This idea we must explore at more length.
In his discussion in Plain Account Wesley articulates various methods and con- ditions for reaching Christian Perfection. The methods and conditions are fluid, responding differently to different persons or different situations.
What happened in the holiness movement, however, was to take one pattern as an explanation for all cases. Full consecration and complete faith were seen as the two fundamental steps. Though there were others, Phoebe Palmer’s influence along this line of thinking was significant.11 This mid-nineteenth century “mother of the holiness movement” taught that there was no need to delay. Linking “altar theology” (her term for full consecration) to faith in the atoning sacrifice of Christ to remove our sinfulness, she urged people in her Tuesday meetings for the Pro- motion of Holiness “to claim the blessing.”12
Interestingly, Roberts was critical of the methods of the “shorter way.”13 Rob- erts emphasized various areas that reflect our sinfulness (pride, selfishness, un- controlled appetites, partiality) and the necessity of dealing with these vices be- fore we “claim holiness.” He sharply rebuked those who “claim” to have received holiness and still harbor these sinful attitudes that result in sinful actions (such as building extravagant church edifices, wearing showy clothing, eating delicate foods, holding slaves, and so on). That is, we cannot simply claim that we have laid it all on the altar without specifically dealing with these issues.14
Likewise, the “class meeting” (which we will look at below in relation to Wesley’s thought) with all of its disciplines and self-examination was very much a part of early Free Methodism. This “setting” for the application of the “full con- secration and faith” in 1860 was quite different from that of a century later.
Finally, the 1860 form of the article reflects a tension between the method of receiving (paragraph 2) and the evidence of having reached entire sanctification (paragraph 1). Only when there are no evil thoughts, evil tempers, and love alone remains in the heart can we legitimately make such a claim. This tension, how- ever, is gone from the 1960 form of the article that reflects more unambiguously the language and thought forms of the holiness movement.
Part IV. THEOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
What I want to do over the next few paragraphs is offer a series of thoughts on the topic under discussion. They are not given in order of importance. Nor do they aim to lead to the conclusion that the Proposal be adopted without serious and extended examination by the entire church. The Proposal is more compre- hensive than the previous forms of the article and in that sense alone a clear im- provement. However, this issue is of such importance that we need to give more time to reflect patiently on whether it says exactly what we want to say.
Whether Inward Sin Is a Substance
The Understanding of Inward Sin As a Substance. Both the 1860 and the 1960 forms of the article on entire sanctification presuppose that inward sin is fundamentally a substance, a “thing,” that adheres to human nature. The reason we sin, then, is first because this “thing” attached to us causes us to sin. This view of sin underlies the “eradication” theory that has dogged us for so long. The model would look like the following:
We are born with a sinful substance attached to our nature that makes us sin
As long as this sinful nature is there, we cannot love God and neighbor as we ought
Once this sinful substance is removed, we will or we can love and obey
The Historical Development of Understanding Sin As a Substance. The first two
components in the model just given were not the creation of the Methodist tradi- tion. Rather, they are a heritage from the Augustinian understanding of “original sin.” It was developed in Augustine’s famous debate with Pelagius in the late fourth and early fifth centuries. At the Second Council of Orange in A.D. 529 it was made the official teaching of the Catholic Church. All major Protestant churches adopted the Augustinian model as the point of departure for their un- derstandings of original sin.
Catholics: We struggle, as long as we live, with “concupiscence” — the short-hand term Catholics give to the tinder (fomes) of “original sin” that incites us to commit actual sins. Though we can suppress this fomes so that we will not yield ourselves to overt sins, particularly “mortal” sins, only a very few completely resist it and qualify as saints. The over- whelming majority of Christians yield at this or that point to “venial” sins, and this “entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purga- tory.”15
Protestants: “Original sin” corrupts the good nature of human beings that God originally created, so it is now intrinsically sinful. Thus, “origi- nal sin,” though distinguishable from human nature, is inseparably joined to it in, according to popular American parlance, our “sinful na- ture.” The NIV so translates sarx (“flesh”) in Romans 7. Most Protestants, including most Evangelicals, teach that this chapter, or at least 7:14ff., describes the present life of the regenerate. Thus, even Christians inevita- bly sin in thought, word and deed every day. Only at death will we be delivered from the “sinful nature.” To distinguish their view from Catho- lic teaching on purgatory (that makes the post-death cleansing process gradual), Protestants have generally taught that deliverance from inward sin at death is instantaneous.16
The Eastern Understanding of Inward Sin
Another understanding of inward sin has predominated in Eastern Christianity. It is represented in some of the earliest teachers of the church (Irenaeus, circa 130- 200) and also by some of the great teachers who came from the “Golden Age of Patristics,” for example, Athansius (circa 296-373), Ephraem Syrus (circa 306-373), Basil the Great (circa 330-379) and his brother, Gregory of Nyssa (circa 330-395), Pseudo-Macarius (4th-5th century) and Maximus the Confessor (circa 580-662).
We can make a brief comparison of the Eastern and Western view by observing a predominant theme that appears in the two. The root cause of our sinful conduct
In Eastern Christianity is our deprivation and
In Western Christianity our depravity
We are deprived, according to the Eastern view, because when Adam and Eve
sinned, the vital and life-giving relationship they had with God broke down. Love and trust were replaced with envy and suspicion. All natural, human needs and desires were thrown into disarray because the relationship with God that was the center and source of their health and joy fell apart, and this led to a weakening of the will and a corruption of desires. This disarray, this ill-health, this broken relationship with God has been transmitted to their descendents.17
Salvation, in this view, is restoration to a fully developed relationship with God. It begins with reconciliation and matures into love for God. It heals our in- ner being and this restores us to a healthful form, a form that is God-like. Obviously we still live in a body that has been damaged by sin so our ultimate hope is the resurrection. Still, the purpose of this life is to become God-like.
Wesley was deeply influenced by some of the early Eastern teachers, particu- larly Ephraem Syrus and Pseudo-Macarius who spoke of Christian Perfection.18 It should not be inferred that Western Christianity lacked representation of this way of looking at salvation. There are streams of this thought in Augustine himself19 and also in Thomas Aquinas.20 Wesley was profoundly influenced by Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471), Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667), and William Law (1686-1761), all Western Christians who often talked in these terms.
Whether Wesleyanism Understands Inward Sin Essentially As a Substance
Wesley, in his writings, can describe inward sin in a form that looks like the “substantial,” Augustinian form. This has been amply shown by Harald Lindström. He repeatedly observes that Wesley, on original sin, is “orthodox,” meaning by that, he agrees with the major Protestant reformers and is not Pelagian.21
But more frequently Wesley describes our sinfulness in terms that are medical or relational and remind us of Eastern Christianity.
In the medical notion we understand human nature to be “diseased” or “cor- rupted.” Sanctification is thus a healing of the soul (therapeia psyches) or the resto- ration of human nature to full health. Lindström, whom I have just referred to as underscoring Wesley’s Protestant orthodoxy, states that this is Wesley’s predomi- nant view of inward sin.22
Many have also argued that Wesley emphasizes the relational element. The fundamental component in our sinfulness is a self-centeredness that distorts or misdirects our desires, passions and impulses. Sanctification, in this sense, reori- ents us to a God-centered and God-loving life and to love for others. Sin is not a “thing” that attaches itself to our nature and can be removed by spiritual surgery so much as self-centeredness that is resolved by submission to God and love for God and neighbor. In so far as we love God, we are to that degree sanctified. In- sofar as we do not love God supremely, we are to that degree not sanctified.23
This relational understanding of the issue is quite clear in the nineteenth cen- tury British Methodist, William Pope, and another British Methodist of the last century, William Sangster. It is also the burden of the ground-breaking book by the Nazarene Mildred Bangs Wynkoop and is even consistent with some conclu- sions that the Free Methodist George Turner reached. And those who listened to Lloyd Knox talk on this subject know how deeply he felt about it.24
Whether Love Must Fill Our Lives Before the Problem of Inward Sin Is Resolved
One trend within the holiness tradition is the view that the removal of sin is the necessary prerequisite for love. There is a cause-and-effect relationship: Only after inward sin has been removed can we love God. The doctrinal reformulation then defines the moment when inward sin is removed as the moment of entire sanctification.
This trend in the holiness tradition is easily demonstrable from the hundreds of articles and books written on this topic. However, I only need to point to our present Article (1960). Removal of inward sin is that cause that can result in the effect of love for God and neighbor. Note the last sentence in the article: “Entire sanctification enables the believer to love God with all … .”
Though Wesley can talk like this; it is probable that the cause-and-effect rela- tionship, for him, is the reverse: When love fills the life, then, inward sin has been re- moved. This is clearly visible in the first few pages of Plain Account where he summarizes the essence of his teaching. I quote only one passage:
For he is “pure in heart.” Love has purified his heart from envy, malice, wrath, and every unkind temper. It has cleansed him from pride, whereof “only cometh contention”; and he hath now “put on bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering.” And indeed all possible ground for contention, on his part, is cut off … .25
For Wesley, Christian Perfection is the love of God and neighbor; those who do not so love are not entirely sanctified — by definition; those who do so love are entirely sanctified — by definition.26
Whether We Receive Christian Perfection Instantaneously
Both the 1860 and the 1960 forms of the article specifically mention that we receive entire sanctification instantaneously. The proposed form omits this. It does refer to “a process of growth and moments of consecration,” which some may interpret as going completely over to the other side of the old debate be- tween “process and crisis.”
This debate surfaced even at the formation of the Free Methodist Church. Loren Stiles, at the founding convention in 1860, moved to insert a clause in the article “favouring the gradualistic as well as the instantaneous view of entire sanctification.” J.W. Redfield argued for the other side: “The gradualistic theory [he said] is what has made so much mischief [in the Methodist Episcopal Church]. We are John Wesleyan Methodists.” Stiles’ motion lost.27
Reasons Wesley Gave For Insisting on the Instantaneousness of Christian Perfection.
Wesley argues for, even insists on instantaneousness, but many have gone on to wrongly suggest that in the process-or-crisis debate, Wesley is clearly in the crisis camp. It is not that simple.28
First, in one clear instance of Wesley comparing the instantaneous in relation to the gradual he argues that the instantaneous element is “forgiveness” (justifi- cation) and the sanctification element is the gradual.29 Second, crisis and instanta- neousness often are seen as simple synonyms, though they are not. “Crisis” not only suggests but virtually requires that we see the moment of entire sanctifica- tion as a single event in which there is a high level of consciousness that every- thing is coming to a head. Third, when Wesley insisted that Christian Perfection is granted instantaneously, he virtually always explained the instantaneousness as the culmination of the gradual. One of his favorite metaphors was that of natural death. Here are his own words:
Q. Is this death to sin, and renewal in love, gradual or instantaneous?
A. A man may be dying for some time; yet he does not, properly speaking, die, till the instant the soul is separated from the body; and in that instant he lives the life of eternity. In like manner, he may be dying to sin for some time; yet he is not dead to sin, till sin is separated from his soul; and in that instant he lives the full life of love.30
Wesley offered two essential reasons for adopting this delicate balance be- tween the instantaneous and the gradual:
He rejected the Calvinistic prolonging of the process over the whole life that in effect denied that we can reach a point of Christian Perfection within this life
Those in the Methodist camp needed to be pressed forward or their hun- ger for being filled with love would pale and they would become lax in their discipline
The first reason is more theoretical, the second more pastoral.31
Christian Perfection Is Attainable During This Life. First, Wesley actually did be- lieve that within the course of a natural life persons could be so filled with love that it dominated their very being and, hence, excluded selfishness, anger, lust and so on from governing their values, desires, actions. He was more optimistic than were the Calvinists of the gains that grace could make during this life: We can become like our Lord. Wesley was constantly responding to arguments of Calvinists that they claimed overturned his teaching. For example, they set the standard for Christian Perfection too high, namely that it should exclude “all in- firmities, ignorance and mistake.”32 He said in response that we should keep the standard “as high as Scripture does … nothing higher or nothing lower than this, — the pure love of God and man.”33 They said those who possessed perfect love would feel no “necessity of a Mediator.” He said, no one feels this necessity more than such persons.34 If all of this is the case, then there must be a point at which this pure love for God and this deep dependence on the Savior really begins to govern the soul. That is a particular moment within this life and can happen years before death just as well as immediately before death.35
The Conditions for Receiving Christian Perfection. Second, Wesley’s whole system as a pastor emphasized the disciplines of the Christian life. Even to belong to a Methodist Society, persons had to participate in classes that followed The General Rules. As those who had a “desire ‘to flee from the wrath to come and to be saved from their sins’,” they were to (1) abstain from common vices, (2) do all the good they could and (3) attend to the means of grace. Wesley earlier had created the Band Societies for those pursuing Christian Perfection. These Bands included weekly meetings at which persons inquired about one another’s spiritual well- being, the temptations they met with and their possible lapses into known sins.
This system, this method of nurture through small group discipline, presup- poses Wesley’s understanding of human nature and the way God takes persons from being sinful to saintly. His famous controversy with the Moravians of the Fetter Lane Society in London over “quietism” (the belief that we make spiritual progress only as we have “pure faith”) clearly illustrates his view.36 According to Wesley we only make spiritual progress as we methodically follow these disci- plines under the guidance and mutual care of fellow Christians. We do not, through this, merit God’s favor or grace — we could never do that — but this is how we properly respond to grace as it does its work in transforming us. We press toward the goal: to become the persons God created us to be. Only as we are doing this can God fill us with His love and purify us from our sin.
Therefore, we must attend to the means of grace (public and private worship, holy communion, study of the Scriptures), give to the poor, visit the sick, conse- crate our lives to God, trust Him in big things and small and turn from evil thoughts and selfishness. If we do these things with humility and a sense of ur- gency, God will guide us in His path and transform us into the image of His Son. At some point, because God has so promised and this is His gracious provision, His pure love will come to reign completely in our hearts and govern our lives and so purify our inner beings.37
Whether the Proposal Teaches That Within This Life We Can Enjoy Christian Perfection
Our final consideration must be given to the question whether the Proposal teaches that within this life we can enjoy Christian Perfection. This question, in many respects, is the question behind all other questions. What we will do at this point is restate, as clearly as we can, what the Proposal itself teaches on that topic.
Conformed to the Image of Christ. The purpose of sanctification, according to the Proposal, is to take people from being sinful to saintly. In one sense we cannot restrict the divine workings to reach this goal to sanctification. The statement does not intend to do that. But sanctification does focus on the transformation or the re-creation of people.
The Proposal begins by setting forth the precise goal: the likeness of God, the image of Christ. These two overlapping patterns have strong biblical sup- port. The well-known command of the Old Testament echoed in the New is that we are to be holy as God is (Leviticus 19:2; 1 Peter 1:17; see Matthew 5:48). Within the apostolic church, the person of Jesus of Nazareth brought into sharp focus how we are to be like God. This is said in many different ways and ap- plied to many different situations. Every conceivable decision we make about what we will be, think, say or do finds its pattern in our Lord: We are to imitate Christ. We list only a few passages: Matthew 16:24; Mark 1:17; Luke 22:27; John 13:13-14; 15:12; 2 Corinthians 8:8-9; Galatians 2:19-20; Philippians 2:1-8; He- brews 12:1-4; 1 Peter 4:1-2, 12-13; 1 John 2:5-6; 3:2-3.38
The Sanctifying Relationship With God. The Proposal explicitly teaches that sanc- tification occurs within a particular kind of relationship that is established be- tween God and Christians. Only within this context, this spiritual environment, can it take place.
Both human actions and divine workings share in this work. The initial point, the divine “awakening” to our need is not explicitly mentioned but clearly im- plied. God in some way “awakens” us to our profound need — through the strength of an old temptation that constantly foiled us, through a passage of Scripture or spoken word that opens new truth to us or through some other means. This self-discovery, really a divine disclosure, of our weakness and fragileness sends us back to God.
With this new self-discovery we now face a choice of how we are going to re- spond. The “sanctifying relationship” is one in which we surrender ourselves to God and die to self-centeredness and the Spirit fills us with love and purifies us from sin.
The time element in the Proposal is carefully worded, for it emphasizes both crucial moments and the ongoing process. The initial plunge into this relationship generally, though not necessarily, occurs in some decisive moment, what the statement refers to in the term “moments of consecration.” The occasion for this is not so critical as the fact of its occurrence. Therefore, it may be in a public wor- ship service, in a small group meeting, alone in private devotion, after an unex- pected and radical event, after a lapse before a strong temptation or whenever the believer comes face to face with the weakness of the will, the selfishness of the heart and the claims of God. On that occasion, the moment of consecration, she or he turns to God in surrender and self-mortification, and the Spirit fills with love and purifies from sin.
But what if that moment is followed by a new self-discovery of a divided heart and misdirected affection? Then, this new awakening must be followed with renewed surrender and self-mortification.
In fact, this is always an ongoing experience: The believer surrenders and con- tinues to surrender, dies to self and continues to die. Equally: The Spirit fills with love and continues to fill, purifies and continues to purify. There must be a con- stant humbleness before God and others, an urgent hunger to be filled with di- vine love, a never-hesitant eagerness to obey and please the Lord, an ever-expect- ant trust in the Savior, an always-faithful attendance to the means of grace. Equally: the Spirit of God guides and directs, warns and rebukes, comforts and assures, fills and empowers, heals and cleanses. This is not a single event but a journey that matures in a growing relationship that presses forward to Christlikeness.39
Empowered To Please God In Our Daily Lives. But does this process ever reach a point where we can say that we are entirely sanctified? The wording of the Pro- posal is very careful here. It intends, on the one hand, to avoid claiming a “state” and, on the other hand, to make a bold claim about the power of the “sanctifying relationship with God.” Clearly Wesley believed that such can occur. Love can govern the life. But he insisted equally that this cannot be proved by pointing to a particular “event.” At the end of the day, what “proves,” if we want to use that language, that we enjoy Christian Perfection is pure love for God and neighbors. The sanctifying relationship “empowers us to please God in our daily lives” and frees us “to love God with all [our] heart, soul, mind and strength and to love [our] neighbors as [ourselves].”40
If this is what entire sanctification means, as we believe it does, then the Pro- posal clearly teaches that within this life we can enjoy Christian Perfection.
- Marston, p. 258.
- Bastian, p. 61.
- See Wheeler, pp. 365f.
- Oden, Doctrinal Standards, pp. 53ff.
- MEC Discipline of 1798, p. iv. Special reprint edition, edited by Frederick A. Norwood (Rutland: Academy, 1979).
- MEC Discipline of 1798, pp. 184ff.
- Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:394.
- Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:374f.
- Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:376f.
10 Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:376f., 388f.
11 See White.
12 See Palmer, The Way of Holiness, and excerpts from her work “Faith and Its Effects” in Dieter, The 19th-Century Holiness Movement, pp. 133ff.
13 See Roberts, Fishers of Men, pp. 98-100, and Cullum, pp. 24-26.
14 See Roberts, Holiness Teachings.
15 See the Council of Orange II, Denziger, 173bff. (pp. 75ff.); the Council of Trent, “Decree on Original Sin” (June 17, 1546), Denzinger, 787ff. (pp. 246ff.) and CC, 2:83ff.; “Original Sin” and “The Last Things For Individual Men,” Denzinger, Systematic Index,” VIIc (p. 21) and XIVa (pp. 48f.); Thomas Aquinas, ST, First Part of the Second Part, Questions 81-84 (2:951ff.); Catechism of the Catholic Church, 385ff, (pp. 97ff.). The citation is from the Catechism, 1472 (p. 370).
16 See Luther, Commentary on Romans, pp. 91ff.; Melancthon, pp. 31ff.; Calvin, Commentary on Romans, pp. 146ff.; Formula of Concord, article 1 (published in 1577), CC, 2:97ff.; Westminster Confession, chapter 6 (published 1646), CC 2:615f.; Erickson, pp. 631ff. For a variety of current views on this see Dieter, Five Views. They are: Melvin Dieter, the Wesleyan view; Stanley Horton, the Pentecostal view, Anthony Koekema, the Reformed view; Robertson McQuilkin, the Keswick view; and John Walvoord, the Augustinian-Dispensational (Baptist) view.
17 See Question 15 for June 25, 1744 in The Doctrinal Minutes, WJW, 8:277. 18 See Outler, John Wesley, pp. 9f., note 26 and Scott Jones, pp. 81ff.
19 See Flew, pp. 193ff.
20 See Flew, pp. 225ff.
21 Lindström, pp. 19ff.
22 Lindström, pp. 40ff.; see Maddox, Responsible Grace, pp. 73ff., 143ff.
23 See Fletcher, “An Address to Perfect Christian Pharisees,” pp. 611ff.
24 See also the article by Dieter in Five Views and Laurence Wood.
25 Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:366ff.
26 See Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:387.
27 Benson H. Roberts, pp. 232f.
28 Even Grider—who is strongly argues that “instantaneousness” is one of the hallmarks of entire sanctification, admits this. In fact, he goes so far as to say that the Holiness movement in this regard improved on Wesley, see p. 15 and pp. 367ff. See also Maddox, “Reconnecting,” pp. 44ff.
29 See Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11: 380f.
30 Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:402; see p. 442
31 See Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:387 and the entry for June 17, 1747 in The Doctrinal Minutes, WJW 8:291ff. 32 Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:394f.
33 Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:397.
34 Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:395f.
35 Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:387; “Brief Thoughts,” WJW, 11:446; Collins, pp. 141f.
36 See Wesley’s Journal for November 1, 1739 and following, WJW, 1:243ff.
37 See Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:387 and “The Scripture Way of Salvation,” WJW, 6:49ff.
38 See Kendall.
39 See Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:395.
40 See Wesley, Plain Account, WJW, 11:372f, 402ff. and Question 5 for June 26, 1745 in The Doctrinal Minutes, WJW
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The first proposal from the Canadian Interpret Study Team with explanatory comments.
As believers rejoice in the truth and reality of their new standing with God (justification), their new life from God (regeneration), and their new relationship with God (adoption), the immensity of God’s holy love for them subsequently acquaints them with the self-interest and self-preoccupation that characterize the sin remaining in them.
Consecrating themselves afresh to God they are being transformed in a holy love for God and their neighbors.
In response to their single-minded dedication to this twofold pursuit, by his grace the Holy Spirit continues to fill and transform believers’ hearts. This deep- ening relationship of sanctification remedies the divided heart, undoes sin’s al- lure, and breaks sin’s power. No limit can be set to the scope of the Holy Spirit’s work in this life with respect to a human’s will being ruled entirely by the love of God which is shed abroad in believers’ hearts.
As greater intimacy with God yields greater awareness of God’s will for them and greater awareness of the needs of God’s world, they aspire to serve God’s holy purposes everywhere.
Sustained by clinging in grace-wrought faith to the crucified, by exalting the glory and honour of God, by attending to spiritual vigilance and the fellowship of God’s people, they rejoice in their journey along that Way which is assured as “… he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).
131 SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES 4. SALVATION
Matthew 25:31-46; Mark 12:28-34; Acts 2:42; Romans 5:3-5;
Romans 6:12-19; Galatians 5:22-25; Ephesians 4:17-24; Philippians 2:3-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24; 1 John 4:7-21.
As believers rejoice in the truth and reality of their new standing with God
(justification), their new birth from God (regeneration), and their new relation- ship with God (adoption), the immensity of God’s holy love for them subse- quently acquaints them with the self-interest and self-preoccupation that characterize the sin remaining in them.
In this paragraph we are trying to make the following points:
- No understanding of sanctification/holiness should fail to recognize the place of justification and regeneration by grace through faith.
- It is God’s love that lays bare the residual sin in us.
- The more deeply we are immersed in God’s own life, the starker is the contrast between his holiness and the arrears of sin in us.
- The condition of being bent in on ourselves so that we can never will ourselves out of our depraved condition is the essence of the sin that continues to haunt us.
Consecrating themselves afresh to God they are being transformed in a holy love for God and their neighbors.
1] Consecration is not a one-time event. We reconsecrate ourselves to him as of- ten as he puts his finger on anything that he directs us to renounce or to pursue.
2] Martin Luther said that our condition of being bent in on ourselves is dealt with as we cease to live in ourselves. We live in two “others”: Christ and the neighbor. We live in Christ by faith and in the neighbor by love. Specifically we live in the neighbor by sharing their need, their suf- fering, and their disgrace.
In response to their single-minded dedication to this twofold pursuit, by his grace the Holy Spirit continues to fill and transform believers’ hearts. This deepening relationship of sanctification remedies the divided heart, undoes sin’s allure, and breaks sin’s power. No limit can be set to the scope of the Holy Spirit’s work in this life with respect to a human’s will being ruled entirely by the love of God which is shed abroad in believers’ hearts.
- Single-mindedness is the core of sanctification from our perspective. (We cannot cleanse our own hearts, or deliver ourselves in any way. We can only, by God’s grace, pledge ourselves unreservedly to him as much as our grace-wrought self-dedication permits “unreservedly” at this mo- ment.)
- This is not to suggest that single-mindedness occurs once only following our conversion, but again that it has to be reaffirmed as often as God shows us that what we thought to be single-mindedness isn’t as “single” as we thought.
- Neither does this suggest that the heart defects mentioned in this third paragraph are remedied once only following conversion because they are now remedied conclusively. The divided heart is in the process of becom- ing single, as sin’s allure is in the process of being less alluring. Thus, it needs to be understood as an ongoing, continuing work of filling and transformation. At the same time the work of sanctification needs to be understood as an ever-deepening relationship with God wherein we are being changed into his likeness.
4] Although John Wesley’s mature view of Christian perfection was an im- provement on his earlier excesses, and although it is preferable to many subsequent articulations in the holiness tradition, it is still quite defi- nitely a view that there is a mature experience of Christian sanctification, where the will is entirely ruled by the love of God which has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
As greater intimacy with God yields greater awareness of God’s will for them and greater awareness of the needs of God’s world, they aspire to serve God’s holy purposes everywhere.
1] The world is the sphere of God’s action, ultimately, and not the isolated in- dividual. Therefore, the world is the sphere too of our service. John Wesley served tirelessly with all that he did concerning pharmacies, schools, small banks, etc. “There is no holiness but social holiness.”
Sustained by clinging in grace-wrought faith to the crucified, by exalting the glory and honour of God, and by attending to spiritual vigilance and the fellowship of Christ’s people, they rejoice in their journey along that Way which is assured as “… he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).
- 1] We must always cling to Christ. We always need to plead the atonement. We are never lifted into a spiritual state where we can stop confessing that we are sinners.
- 2] The proper order for moving more deeply into sanctification starts with the glory of God before anything else, then our own spiritual vigilance in the company of Christ’s people who “will tell us all our faults, and that’s plain and simple” (Wesley’s Rules for the Methodist Bands and Societ- ies). We need the honesty of fellow-believers who will make us aware of our need to continue to grow in grace.
- 3] The way of sanctification is just that: a way. We are on a journey. No one has yet “arrived.” Still, arrival at the destination is guaranteed as long as we remain, by faith, on the Way.
Two papers were especially helpful in the redrafting of the original IST pro- posal and in its presentation to the Canadian General Conference.
Claiming Our Wesleyan Heritage
David W. Kendall
In claiming our heritage we must revisit our soteriology, our doctrine of salvation. Our understanding of salvation envisions a whole gospel of grace from the whole witness of Scripture. To the question, what does God offer in “salva- tion?” We answer a realization of God’s intention from the very beginning, namely, union, fellowship, participation in the life and communion of the Triune God. To live with God at the center, rather than self, to know and love the only true God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — this is the point of God’s saving work. Thus, at the center of Christian aspiration and joy is seeking God, all of God, the fullness of God, and trusting God to give us all the divine presence we can handle, and even more.
A Wesleyan’s view differs radically from contemporary, pop theology. For that theology, rooted rather superficially in the Protestant Reformation, the chief concern of salvation is justification by faith, popularly diluted to a formula for getting into heaven. It is not concerned with how to be so in tune with God that we are like God.
The ethical and spiritual impoverishment of that view of salvation haunts modern conservative evangelicalism. Thus, everywhere, people are sensing the need for holiness, and endeavoring to speak to that need. But an inherent prob- lem threatens to sabotage all such endeavors. As long as the basic question is, how can I stand before a Holy God and claim entrance into His heaven, there is no basis, no root system for holiness of life. Holiness becomes an add-on, an af- ter-thought, rather than a deepening of what God began in the human heart in conversion.
In claiming our heritage we affirm that “salvation” envisions a holy life, because of participation in divine community and nature, from the sinner’s prayer onward. From day one of new life in Christ, we would cultivate a different kind of human being and living.
Consequently, in order to claim our heritage we must first correct our un- derstanding of it. We have bought in to the pop evangelical soteriology, and have tried to do what other groups have done, namely, add on a holiness component, either through renewed teaching on a second work of grace, promoted as quite different from the first work — a spiritual zap or jolt, or through the practice of spiritual disciplines, often promoted as tools or devices to make us holy, which sometimes sounds like a form of works righteousness. But, again, as long as the basic problem is how one gets to heaven, to which conversion is the solution, there is no basis for holiness of life, and often no incentive. Theologically and ex- perientially we are trying to attach oranges to an apple tree, which may look good for a while, but inevitably comes to look and smell very bad.
We must understand our heritage before we can claim it. We must envision the deeper and broader reality of union with God and participation in his mighty kingdom from the very beginning of believing life. We must talk about the gospel and grace in a way that anticipates the utter transformation of the human person.
We must get beyond the crisis/process impasse, which leaves us with ei- ther crisis or process, or either more one than the other. There is no Biblical sup- port for a sharp either/or. There is no Biblical evidence for supposing that one crisis event could ever bear the entire weight of God’s work within the human person, nor is there evidence for supposing that people just endlessly grow better and better without confrontation and crisis.
More and more I am concluding that the full appropriation of God’s grace calls for both but in partnership with each other, a process of continuing and deepening crisis, where through the Spirit’s faithful and gracious work in us and on us, and through our responses to the circumstances and people in our lives, and through the new light God shows us, God becomes more and more the ac- tual center and source of our daily living.
I am thinking of a process — God isn’t through with us. Paul said, “not that I have already arrived,” (Philippians 3:12-13). A process that is always ongoing, growing, as we continue the journey. Yet, in the nature of the case, the closer we draw near to God, the more apparent our need for God, the more evident the difference between a holy God and even the most holy human being. Therefore, our journey brings continuing and deepening crisis. Whenever we become aware of a conflict of will, or a disparity of who we are and who God is, an awareness of being off-center with respect to God’s best as we understand it, a crisis ensues — a point or occasion of decision. This happens repeatedly and ever more profoundly throughout life for the person who walks in the light as He is in the light (1 John 1:7).
Perhaps what we have called “entire” sanctification might be that occasion in our lives when we can say that the “default-setting” of our heart is now set to- ward immediate and unqualified affirmation of God’s way, as opposed to our way, as the continuing and deepening crisis occurs. That is, we note with deep thanks that God has drawn us so near that our deepest desire is to say “yes, your will be done” whenever God shows us how we are at variance with His way in a given situation or relationship. That this is a “default-setting” does not imply au- tomatic conformity with God’s best, since defaults can always be over-ridden. It does imply a total pursuing of God’s way that permeates the whole of life and redefines our sense of pleasure and pain — so that pleasure is whatever brings us into line with God for His glory and pain is whatever diminishes His presence and preeminence in our lives.
From the beginning, then, we tell the whole truth about what God is up to in Jesus Christ and the gift of the Spirit, that there is an absolute opposition between our way and God’s way, so that repentance is complete and total, and yet ongo- ing. We are sorry not only for what we have done, but also for what we have be- come, and we turn not only from deeds past, but also from our own way. The fact is, we don’t know our needs fully. Our guilt, conviction, and pain are symptoms of a malady far deeper than we knew at conversion. We need God, not just His forgiveness. We need life in God, not just life from God. We need to learn how to do everything all over again, for the first time aright. We must understand that our perceptions of, and orientation for, life are totally skewed, upside down, a polar opposite to God and to Life. We must learn to live in God, to draw re- sources from His grace and love, to walk with Him toward a full life. Up front we must communicate these fundamental facts of believing life. The whole point is God, not us. Knowing God, loving God, being part of what God is all about and is doing. That is the way of life.
Because this life in God is about God, and not us, it is also about others. It re- quires connection with community. We cannot become who God wants, all God wants, apart from community. Our heritage has much to say about this, the role of small groups, interaction with others who pursue the way of life as we do. Wesley’s famous statement, there is no holiness but social holiness, had this com- munity connection primarily in mind.
Because this life in God is about God, and not us, we exercise for godliness. We take advantage of what we can do or practice with God’s help so that we de- velop the character that consistently responds to life’s circumstances in God-like ways. Along the way, we understand that our experiences of hardship and diffi- culty become primary means of shattering our idolatrous notions of the good, so that we are open to the best that God is eager to give.
Because this life in God is about God, and not us, we are gathered up into God’s mission to and for the world. If we are going with God and participating in what God is doing, and if that is truly our passion and delight in life, we will find our selves in the middle of ministry. Like Jesus we will have come not to be served, but to serve.
As for the matter of commending our Wesleyan heritage to others, we worry about passing it on to our children, about whether our kids and grandkids will understand and embrace holiness. Perhaps, however, God is graciously sparing our children the consequences of erroneous doctrine and its influence on future generations. The best way to commend heritage is to understand it well, to live it faithfully, and leave it to God. With respect to our children and future genera- tions, what Jesus said to his disciples rings true, those who wish to save them- selves will lose out. The most powerful thing we can do to commend our heritage is to practice it.
What Can Followers of Jesus Expect and Hope for? or
“Where did This Concern for Sanctification Come From?
Presented to Free Methodist Church in Canada General Conference June 3, 2002
John W. Vlainic
“What can we expect?” These days I do my pastoral work in a health care set- ting (much of it with palliative — actively dying — patients). Often patients and families ask, “What can we expect? … How much can we hope for?”
With regard to the brokenness of human hearts and lives (one of the biblical terms is “sin”), we also want to know: “How much cure can we expect?” That question has been asked in various ways for a very long time. You won’t be sur- prised when I say that more than one answer is often given. Let’s now try to get a better handle on this.
Martin Luther once said that human nature is like a drunkard trying to ride a horse. He gets on and falls off on the left side. He resolves not to make that mis- take again, so he remounts, careful to avoid falling off on the left, and promptly falls off on the right!
With regard to what extent we can expect to “beat” the cancer of sin, followers of Jesus have sometimes fallen off the horse. People in one part of Christendom have often seen salvation as basically forgiveness, something that involves prima- rily (or exclusively) what happens “out there” in the courts of the universe when God wipes clean our bad record because of what Jesus did for us. Many go on to say that the best that can be expected is the kind of losing battle with sin por- trayed in Romans 7:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate … . I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.
For many, this is the best that can be had, though it is said that we can make progress through the development of the spiritual disciplines, but still the stress is on how sinful we are. One of my favourite authors calls this “Miserable Sinner Christianity!”
Other Christians throughout history have fallen off the horse on the other side, claiming they have become so holy they no longer sin. Sometimes this view is referred to as “sinless perfection.”
What we’ve said so far calls for some clarification. First there are several di- mensions to the human problem we normally call “sin.” Knowing that the word is used differently can help us to at least ask the right questions when we hear someone speak about how free of sin they think Christians can be!
First there’s a use of the word “sin” in Romans 6. There, “Sin” is an enslaving tyrant in the universe which held us captive — and dead — before we were raised to newness of life in Jesus! In such passages, substituting the words “The Devil” or “Satan” would not change the meaning. For example, Paul says: “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification.” Here is “Sin” as supernatural slave-master – from whom we have been liberated so that we can enslave ourselves to Jesus.
So, from this perspective on “Sin”, the biblical answer to our question of what to expect is one of those both/and’s. A supernatural Enemy does exist and still, like a roaring lion, prowls around, looking for someone to devour. And God has already rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son! Can you feel that both/and tension?
But there are two more dimensions of the darker side of reality, illustrated through two more traditional “definitions” of the word “sin.”
- Sin is anything that falls short of the perfect will of God. (Under this definition, the finest Christians sin daily, and appropriately confess it.)
- Sin is rebellion, wilful transgression of the known law of God. Do we have to keep sinning by this definition? That’s another “take” on the question we started with.
Here’s yet another “angle” on this. This supernatural power’s stranglehold on us results in an inner condition of twistedness — sinfulness. And then there are “sins,” twisted actions, attitudes and thoughts that result from our inner twistedness. The important thing here is to be aware of the fact that “sin” termi- nology can be used in at least these three ways — in the Bible and by people. To say, “I’m still dealing with sin in my life” really tells us nothing unless we know which usage is being employed!
So we come to a couple of somewhat different approaches to Christian life. In your basic Bible believing church salvation often involves:
- Forgiveness (justification), which takes care of the guilt of our “sins” [This makes us “safe” — we know we’re not going to hell].
- And, being “born again” (regeneration), that is, changed inside so that we have a new spiritual nature capable of following Jesus.
[This begins to deal with the problem of inner sin.]
However, all Christians agree that being born again does not fully deal with that problem. Many say you have to wait for either death or purgatory for a fuller remedy.
Then, following this conversion experience, what remains is growing in Christ through developing the spiritual disciplines, discovering your spiritual gifts and using them in ministry to Christians and to the lost.
The result is that you’re somewhat “sound”, but that is not the stress, and in many circles the stress is always on how sinful we remain. [Let’s not forget that there is some measure of truth in that!]
But there is a family of believers within Christendom who say, “What you say happens when a person becomes a Christian is true, but it isn’t the whole story. Yes, salvation starts with:
- Forgiveness (justification) — which makes you “safe”
- Being born again (regeneration).
And Christians do grow through development of the spiritual disciplines, and through gift discovery and deployment in ministry.
But, the deep inner twistedness that still incessantly bends you toward sinning — even after you have been born again and walking with Jesus, can be dealt with in this life. You can be really “safe” and really “sound” too!
One thing I need to stress here — especially for those of you who, like me, want to be able to analyse and calibrate everything with precision (….because we crave comfort!!!) — is that we are talking about an immense miracle, something that fallen mortals with puny brains cannot come near grasping with precision! We’re talking about Almighty God, Maker of Heaven and Earth transforming a human being — who is both fearfully and wonderfully made in the divine image and also dreadfully distorted, bent toward self-absorption and self-deceit, with the result that we come to share more and more the likeness of God’s Son Jesus!
Can anyone even imagine language and categories and explanations that come anywhere near fully grasping this great truth?! Yes, there are times when we can and should say, “We can do better than that,” but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that we’re ever going to find human language that is anywhere near to- tally adequate for describing a miracle of this magnitude!
But we do need to try at least to point in the right direction. One way to get a handle on what this deep transformation into Christlikeness looks like is to look at three themes Christian teaching often uses: purity, power and love.
First, Christians can come to a place of deep singleness of devotion to Christ (instead of unending inner conflict). Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters.”
This healing of our inner lives requires two things:
Our (grace-enabled) part: — deep consecration (which God freed us to do when we were born again — see Romans 6)
God’s part: – deep cleansing (radical untwisting), which only the Holy Spirit can do (see Romans 6 as well)
The result is that whereas before, even after being born again, sin was still an inside job, now, because Christ can deeply heal our inner being, sin is, as it were, on the outside, clamouring to get back in. Christ wants to give us a profound in- ner oneness (or integrity), through the work of his Spirit.
Let me point out here that struggle with Sin (capital “S”)does not cease — even Jesus knew the terrible strain of pressure from Satan, but not from inside! He wants that for us. From inside twisting and dividing to outside taunting and se- ducing. There’s a big difference — between the former in Romans 7 and the latter in Galatians 5, but there’s pressure and stress and danger in both cases. But the former is a “wretched” losing struggle, while the latter can be a victory through Christ’s Spirit.
This brings us to another dimension of this transformation: power, power for worshipping, witnessing, suffering and serving. I think it was John White who said this. Fallen humans don’t want to worship. We can be entertained, but we need a radically transformed inner life if we are to worship.
I think many of us know what an ordeal witnessing can be without the wind of the Spirit blowing in our sails!
And it isn’t hard to see that we live in a culture that will go to unbelievable lengths to avoid our suffering and to escape really having to serve. You and I must have a radical new power to be people who, like Jesus, worship, witness, suffer and serve.
The other dimension is love. Here the biblical language about “perfect love” is employed. One thing we need to remember is that the English word “perfect” carries freight that the biblical word group does not. When we hear “perfect” we think of “absolute” perfection. But the Greek word group used in the New Testa- ment carries the freight of “that which achieves its end, or purpose.” My ancient lemon of a Chevy which faithfully gets me back and forth to work every day is “perfect” if the reason for having a car is getting back and forth to work reliably. But that piece of junk is far from perfect — the way the word is used today!
Here’s a picture which may help. Suppose your little child, Chris, is playing intently with Lego blocks on the floor, and at the end of an exhausting day in the back yard, in agony, you collapse into your favourite chair.
Immediately, the child’s heart reaches out to you. There is no other agenda, not “I could help out, but I’m tired too,” not “last night you wouldn’t let me stay up as late as I wanted to, so I’m not sure I want to help;” not “I’m enjoying what I’m doing too much,” not “I’m still upset because of the discipline I re- ceived last week,” not “maybe if I get a glass of water I’ll end up with an ice cream cone.” No. Chris’ heart is filled with love alone.
Running over to the sink, your child grabs the nearest glass (it has a milk film in it), shoves it under the tap and fills it quickly (so that the water isn’t even cool, and tastes like Lake Ontario — it’s not the purified water from the filter). Then Chris rushes over (spilling half of it all over you), and says, “Here. I love you. This will make you feel better.”
Does Chris love you perfectly?
Everyone I ask says, when they think about it, “Yes!” The intention is perfect. The motive is pure. There’s nothing else in that child’s heart but love for a parent in need.
The actions were lousy. The performance stunk. In time, with the acquisition of knowledge and experience, Chris will love more intelligently, and with greater capacity. But Chris will never love more purely, more singly. That’s what Method- ists mean by “perfect love.” Christians don’t have to keep on deliberately dis- obeying (definition # 2 above).
Thus we find that in Methodism, salvation starts with forgiveness and new birth (as in the rest of evangelicalism), but we go on to focus on the goal of the Christian life, the reason we were born again: so that we could deeply become like Jesus. This process and goal the Bible calls “sanctification.”
Now where do we get this teaching? Glad you asked!! No one passage of scripture teaches the whole doctrine of sanctification in this life (just as no one passage of scripture teaches the full-blown doctrine of the divine and human na- tures of Christ), but the whole momentum of scripture calls for it. Where does the teaching come from?
a) It starts with the Old Testament teaching on the holiness of God, and the fact that God’s people must be like him.
b) We get it from the teaching of Jesus; e.g. Matthew 5:48 — “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Context clarifies that this perfection is in love.)
c) The teaching of John; e.g. the reference to the love of God reaching com- pleteness in people in this life (1 John 2:5)
d) The call of the Book of Hebrews to go on toward perfection (6:1)
e) Paul’s prayer that his readers will be sanctified entirely — or through and through — in every part of their lives — (1 Thessalonians 5:23), and his call in Romans 6 to Christians who have already been raised to new life to use the liberty they now have in Jesus to make themselves Christ’s love-slaves, as deeply bound to him as they used to be to sin (completely)… and many other calls in scripture. Here are a few of them.
Clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:24
Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from ev- ery defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God. 2 Corinthians 7:1
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. 1 Thessalonians 3:12
And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. 1 Thessalonians 3:13
God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. 1 Thessalonians 4:7
he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. Hebrews 12:10b
Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14
The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed. Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness. 2 Peter 3:10-11
The whole Bible calls for this passionate pursuit of Christ likeness!
But there’s more data. Throughout church history groups of people keep popping up who have especially felt God’s call to urge people to make a Christ-like, holy life a priority. To put it in Richard Foster’s language, one of the great streams of living water in the Christian river is this holiness tradition which goes way back through church history.
Then there is also data from the experience of earnest Christians. Countless Christians from all traditions who have ardently pursued the deep things of God tell of a quantum leap experience or of a breakthrough event or group of events when this problem of inner twistedness was deeply dealt with.
So using our capacity to reason, we note: Hmmm. 1) The Bible clearly calls for something much more profound than forgiveness, marvellous as that is. 2) On top of that, again and again we discover a flowing a stream within the larger river of Christendom which stresses this deeper quest. 3) And the experience of earnest Christians of various times points to breakthroughs into a real soundness of character … Hmmmm … This must be something God wants us to make a pri- ority in our lives and ministry!
So it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a family within the Christian tribe which feels a special call to help people pursue this deeper, fuller dimension of salvation — would it?!
Here’s where it gets interesting. As I have stressed already, this transforming work of Christ is greater than any neat formula. For this reason, there are some areas of creative diversity among those who have grasped this truth. There has long been diversity regarding whether this great breakthrough is something that happens gradually or in a specific crisis experience.
John Wesley, the eighteenth century renewal leader who highlighted this teaching, and historic Methodism tended to balance the two. Wesley, especially the earlier Wesley, tended to stress the two experience model. And while he never gave up the “twice-born” model entirely, the longer he lived, and the more people he worked with, the more nuanced his categories became. He seems to come to view progress in the spiritual life in more gradual, incremental terms. I love the pastoral sensitivity in this advice to Mary Cooke, a woman who had questions about her conversion. He said:
“There is an irreconcilable variability in the operations of the Holy Spirit on [human] souls, more especially as to the manner of justifica- tion. Many find Him rushing in upon them like a torrent, while they experience “The o’erwhelming power of saving grace.” … But in others he works in a very different way: “He deigns His influence to infuse; Sweet, refreshing, as the silent dews.” It has pleased Him to work the latter way in you from the beginning … in a gentle and almost insen- sible manner.
How does this “going much deeper beyond conversion” happen? Pastor Wesley went on to say, “Let Him take His own way: He is wiser than you; He will do all things well.” While this specific advice deals with justification, simi- lar comments can be found regarding entire sanctification.1
So if we’re going to diagram Wesley and historic Methodism on this question, we show process and crisis somewhat balanced. But through a number of influ- ences during the latter part of the last century and the early part of this one, this balance changed so that the crisis, the one-time experience, came to be empha- sized over the progressive elements. One specific crisis experience tended to be stressed more and more.
What shall we say about this? First, scripture does not specify the details regard- ing timing. But when it comes to input from the experience of serious Christians, the more people I talk to and read about regarding their spiritual pilgrimage, the more I find that there is no one neat pattern in the lives of those who have pas- sionately sought this greater fullness.
And the reason for all this variability, I suspect, is because love and wholeness of this order require deep awareness. We do not all come to know ourselves or Christ’s transforming grace that deeply by any one predictable pattern of events and experiences.
Let’s try to sum up what the heart of the matter is.
We humans are sick. The presenting symptoms are usually the things we call “sins.” But the further we investigate, we discover that there is a disease causing these symptoms — a sinfulness, a basic twistedness away from God and toward ourselves. And when we think about it even more, we sense that there is an evil power at work in our universe. Our struggle is not merely with flesh and blood.
But we are a people of the cure! For our sins, God gives us pardon. For our sinfulness God give us his likeness, breaking the impact of the power that twists us. But will we ever be totally free from the impact of this mortally wounded en- emy who prowls our world and our lives? Yes! We have the promise of heaven, where sin will no longer even be present!!
“What should we therefore expect? How much can we hope for?” we ask again. Maybe someone asked the author of 1 John those questions. Listen to his answer:
Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him pu- rify themselves, just as he is pure.
John understands the immensity of the salvation journey — gloriously begun, wondrously continued, and marvelously to be completed.
… So how shall we respond today? John says, “all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
Here again is a way of seeing John’s understanding of the Christian journey:
In the liberty of what Jesus has already done (salvation begun), all who hope for what he will do on the final day (salvation finally made complete), passion- ately pursue becoming more and more like Jesus.
Can you feel the power of that vision? We’re talking about something near the centre of our very nature and destiny as human beings! And we’re talking about something that God has placed near the heart of our movement and our denomi- nation.
Don’t you feel cries coming up out of your heart to God for more of this mar- velous work we’ve been trying to see a little better — this quest for more and more “soundness” — more and more Christlikeness?
Let’s now take some time to be still before the Lord, and then to pour out our hearts to him. As Paul said, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”
1Randy Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Abingdon, 1994, p. 156.)
The Elder’s Ordination Ritual
Prior to the 1999 General Conference, the Board of Bishops revised the ordina- tion ritual for elders and began using the revised ritual across the church. Within this revised ritual, the questions asked of ordinands corresponded to the denomination’s “expected outcomes” (see Book of Discipline, par. A/404.3). The reformulation of the ordination questions generated several resolutions to the 1999 General Conference. For its part, the Board of Bishops proposed the adop- tion of the revised ritual and questions. In response to these proposals, the Gen- eral Conference referred the matter to the SCOD.
The SCOD gave careful consideration to the revised ritual and its traditional precursor. As part of that consideration, SCOD member Denny Wayman investi- gated the history of the ordination questions as they appear in our traditional ritual. Wayman concluded that, “though the language has been modified as the English language has changed, the essential commitment that elders have made to Christ and His church have remained unchanged for the last 450 years of church life within our tradition.” The chart below demonstrates this remarkable continuity.
1549 Book of Common Prayer
1. The Bisshoppe. Doe you thynke in your heart, that you be truly called accordyng to the will of our Lorde Jesus Chyrste, and the ordre of this Churche of Englande, to the ministerie of Priesthode?
Aunswere. I thinke it.
2. The Bisshoppe. Be you perswaded that the holy Scriptures contein suffi- ciently al doctrine required of necessitie for eternal salvacion, throughe faith in Jesu Christe? And are you determined with the saied scriptures, to enstructe the people committed to your charge, and to teache nothyng, as required of necessitie, to eternal salvacion, but that you shalbe perswaded may be concluded, and proved by the scripture?
Free Methodist 1995 Discipline
1. The Bishop: Do you confidently believe that you are called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, to serve His church as an elder?
Answer: I so believe.
2. The Bishop: Are you persuaded that the Holy Scriptures contain all doctrine necessary for eternal salvation; and out of these Scriptures are you determined to instruct the people committed to your care, teaching nothing as necessary to sal- vation except what can be concluded from or proved by the Scriptures?
Answer: I am.
Aunswere. I am so perswaded, and have so determyned by Gods grace.
3. The Bisshoppe. Will you then geve your faythfull dylygence alwayes, so to mynister the doctryne and Sacramentes, and the discipline of Christ, as the lord hath commaunded, and as thys realme hath received the same, accordyng to the commaunde mentes of God, so that you may teache the people committed to youre cure and charge, with al diligence to kepe and observe the same?
Aunswere. I wil so doe, by the helpe of the Lord.
4. The Bisshoppe. Wil you be ready with al faithful diligence, to banishe and drive away al erronious and straunge doc- trines, contrarye to gods worde, and to use both publyke and private monycyons [=warnings] and exhortacyons, as well to the sicke as to the whole, within youre cures, as nede shall require and occasion be geven?
Aunswere. I wyll, the Lorde beyng my helper.
5. The Bisshoppe. Wil you be diligent in praiers, and in reading of the holy scrip- tures, and in such studies as help to the knowledge of the same, laying aside the study of the world and the fleshe?
Aunswere. I wyll endevour myself so to doe, the Lord beyng my helper.
6. The Bisshoppe. Wil you be diligent to frame and fashion youre own selves, and your families, according to the doc- trine of Christe, and to make bothe youreselves and them (as muche as in you lieth) wholsome examples and spectacles to the flocke of Chryst?
Aunswere. I wyll so apply myselfe, the lorde beyng my helper.
3. The Bishop: Will you then faithfully give diligence always so to minister the doctrines and sacraments and discipline of Christ, as the Lord has commanded?
Answer: I will do so by the help of the Lord.
4. The Bishop: Will you be ready with faithful diligence, to banish all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s Word; and will you use both public and private warnings and exhortations both to the converted and unconverted as need shall require and occasion be given?
Answer: I will, the Lord being my helper.
5. The Bishop: Will you be diligent in prayers, the reading of the Holy Scriptures and whatever study shall enrich your knowledge of the same?
Answer: I will do so, the Lord being my helper.
6. The Bishop: Will you diligently regulate and pattern your life (and that of your family) according to the doctrine of Christ so as to make (both) yourself (and them), as far as you are able, wholesome example(s) and pattern(s) for the flock of Christ?
Answer: I will be diligent to do so, the Lord being my helper.
7. The Bisshoppe. Wil you maintein and set forwardes (as much as lieth in you) quietnes, peace, and love emonges al christian people, and specially emong them that are, or sha be committed to your charge?
Aunswere. I will so do, the Lorde being my helper.
8. The Bisshoppe. Will you reverentlye obeye your Ordinarie, and other chiefe ministers, unto whom the governement and charge is commytted over you, folowing with a glad mynde and will, their godly admonicion, and submyttyng youreselves to theyr godlye judgementes?
Aunswere. I wyll so doe, the Lorde beyng my helper.
7. The Bishop: Will you practice and encourage, so far as you are able, quiet- ness, peace and love among all Christian people and especially among those who are committed to your care?
Answer: I will do so, the Lord being my helper.
8. The Bishop: As an elder of the Free Methodist Church, and in keeping with the Holy Scriptures, will you respect and be guided by those in authority over you?
Answer: I will do so, the Lord being my helper.
In view of this historic continuity, the SCOD believes it wise to retain the tradi- tional questions within the ordination ritual.
SCOD gave due consideration to the primary concern that lay behind the proposed revision of the ordination ritual by the Bishops of the church, namely, to express more clearly the responsibilities of elders to lead the church in accomplishing Christ’s mission. In order to address this concern, the Commission proposed a revised preamble to the ritual that highlights the contemporary, missional responsibilities of elders. This revised preamble was subsequently ap- proved by the denominational Board of Administration. The SCOD includes the preamble for information purposes.
Replacement paragraph for Preamble of A/940 (first paragraph only).
Dear friends in Christ. All persons who belong to Jesus Christ are called to minis- ter His reconciling work through the church. But to lead the church, our Lord calls particular believers to shepherd the people, teach doctrine, administer the sacraments and keep order. Each person who stands before you testifies to such an inward call of the Holy Spirit to the work of an elder.
God calls men and women, but the church examines them so as to confirm the presence of spiritual gifts and personal graces. These persons who stand before you have been so examined and affirmed by conference leaders for ordination.
When people are set apart for this leadership responsibility, they are ordained by the laying on of hands. Paul remembered this moment in his counsel to Timothy when he said: “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).
Whether elders serve as pastors, teachers, missionaries, chaplains, or in unique combinations of these vocations, they provide Spirit-filled leadership. In fulfilling the Great Commandment to love the Lord our God and to love others, and in ful- filling the Great Commission to go into all the world to make disciples, elders are God’s gift to the church.
Pastoral leadership focuses on developing healthy biblical communities of holy people. These communities multiply disciples, mentor leaders, create new groups, and plant new churches. Such Spirit-filled leadership requires vision and courage to move people to obey the Word of God and increase His church.
Rooted in a deep love for Christ and sharing His compassion for people, Free Methodist elders help create congregations that are fervent in prayer, enthusiastic in worship, holy in lifestyle, insistent for justice, caring for the poor, and reaching out locally and globally to bring all people into relationship with Jesus Christ.