‘Openly break rights and ceremonies’

A recent conversation got me to look up Article XXII of the United Methodist Articles of Religion:

It is not necessary that rites and ceremonies should in all places be the same, or exactly alike; for they have been always different, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely doth openly break the rites and ceremonies of the church to which he belongs, which are not repugnant to the Word of God, and are ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, that others may fear to do the like, as one that offendeth against the common order of the church, and woundeth the consciences of weak brethren.

Every particular church may ordain, change, or abolish rites and ceremonies, so that all things may be done to edification.

I had not really dwelt upon this before. The big “out clause,” of course, is the “not repugnant to the Word of God” bit. Pastors are nothing if not capable of explaining how the Word supports what they want to do.

But setting that aside, reading that Article does get me thinking about a wide range of questions around United Methodist liturgy.

We have an approved set of liturgical materials in our hymnal and Book of Worship. We have clearly adopted statements regarding theology and practice of the sacraments.

Does a United Methodist pastor who rejects these materials stand in need of rebuke? By whom? And what exactly does it mean to “openly break the rites and ceremonies” of the UMC?

This is not a trivial matter. The Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith are foundational to the doctrine and practice of the UMC.

To make this about me. The church I serve still uses the 1964 Methodist Hymnal and an even older hymn book that is not Methodist. It strikes me that conformity with Article XXII means I need to reproduce our Service of Word and Table for the church to use on Communion Sundays.

We will be taking in some new members in the coming months, perhaps some by baptism. Article XXII makes me think that I should get some copies of the latest UMH baptismal liturgy printed up for this as well.


8 thoughts on “‘Openly break rights and ceremonies’

  1. we are bound and accountable as pastors for the liturgy/rites we use to lead our congregations in worship…there are as you note authorized liturgies/rites…if we do not use them we do not merely open a can of worms but we cannot claim that the purpose of the liturgy or rite has been met. case in point, baptism rite III as no longer being within authorized use, meaning we are not to use it…likewise, when current authorization approves later liturgies and rites the former ones are automatically rendered as unauthorized. basically, we are able to be brought up on charges and our ordination/license revoked for not using only authorized liturgies/rites…and it would be the people in the congregation, the DS, the BOM, the bishop or another pastor who would be able to initiate charges.

    1. I don’t think I got the memo on Baptismal Covenant III — not that I have ever used it. When did it get declared unauthorized?

  2. It isn’t much of an “out clause.” The clause ” which not repugnant to the Word of God” refer to the normative liturgy. A pastor can only break the rites of the church when she believes that those rites are at significant variance with scripture. That a person think they can do something better, more scriptural, or more relevant to their congregation doesn’t cut it. I’m not sure what business you have being a United Methodist if you believe our liturgy to be unscriptural. Our various orders of Word and Table offer remarkable latitude, for Holy Communion in particular. What is astounding to me is when people move even outside of that.

    I do believe that our elders should be calling each other to account for Holy Communion, baptism, and confirmation/profession-of-faith inadequately celebrated.

  3. I attended the most recent marriage of a clergy colleague a couple years ago (another issue I’m not going to touch). It was a small ceremony for family and friends of the couple plus a short invited list that included his small parish. His District Superintendent presided.

    What struck me was that the DS included Holy Communion as part of the liturgy of the wedding service neither communed with the couple nor invited those in attendance to come forward. Only the two who became one (for a second time) participated in the sacrament.

    I know this was in clear violation of all sorts of rubrics including the invitation to all so clearly outlined in the hymnal, much less the Book of Worship and The Discipline. There were other clergy who thought it not only odd, but knew it was counter to our Methodist practice of open Communion too.

    To whom would we have filed a compliant? What good would it have done? To challenge the Cabinet and Bishop might compromise a person’s future appointments too.

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