Living up to the General Rules

At the end of his explanation of the General Rules of the United Societies — rules which we still hold as binding on ourselves — John Wesley wrote this:

These are the General Rules of our societies; all which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written word, the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these, we know, his Spirit writes on every truly awakened heart. If there be any among us who habitually break any of them, let it be made known unto them who watch over that soul as they that must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways; we will bear with him for a season: But then if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.

I notice several things here.

First, Wesley takes very seriously the notion that pastors and lay leaders are on the hook if they do not actively look to the salvation and preservation of souls. I was in a class once in which another pastor told me that his job was not to be anyone’s sin police. That got a lot of nods of agreement, and I was right there with the others. But Wesley would not have agreed. He would not have used the phrase “sin police,” not least of which because it is cute rather than instructive, but he would have reminded us that those who watch over the souls of others will be held to account by Jesus for what we do and what we fail to do.

Second, I notice again the rock solid commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture to guide our faith and practice. Such an idea would not get even a moment of indulgence from many pastors and most seminary professors today.

Finally, just imagine that last portion being read at Annual Conference. Indeed, I wonder what would happen at General Conference if the text of the General Rules were up for a vote. Perhaps that is why it wise that the General Rules are protected by our Constitution.

As a church that protects and preserves these rules, though, I wonder how we live them. How do we — within local congregational settings — get to the point where such a text could be read and embraced? How do we be the church in light of what we hold as our general rules?

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10 thoughts on “Living up to the General Rules

  1. Sadly we have reduced accountability to “Dashboards”. It will take a real movement of the Holy Spirit to truly restore an authentic sense of Wesleyan accountability at this point.

    1. Happily though, each pastor gets an opportunity every day to decide to follow this path. May it be that, through a movement of the Holy Spirit, we may do as you suggest.

      Keep the faith, stay hopeful!

      1. I once asked a volunteer youth leader who was living with her boyfriend to step out of our youth ministry. Even though I asked her privately, she did not keep the issue private. Her mother was a member of the SPR and it became an issue about MY pastoral leadership. This was actually the last straw in my effective ministry. I retired early after 24 years of service.

        This issue hits home.

  2. Scripture as the sufficient rule of faith and practice is preserved in the Articles and Confession of Faith, also. I do think that this kind of pastoral oversight becomes more difficult the larger the group in question. This kind of accountability, which we should still practice today, is best done in covenant discipleship groups and the like. We hardly hold pastors accountable for anything except stealing money and illicit sex – and if pastors won’t be held accountable, how can we hold those we guide accountable? What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

    1. By the way, thanks for sticking up for Richard Hayes in the Herald-Sun forum. We live in rude, fissiparous times, when pigs trample pearls on the Internet. You showed courage..

      1. Thanks, Gary. I know some people at Duke now and I’m just inferring from what I am hearing. I don’t want to see Duke go the direction of some other seminaries.

  3. John Meunier scores again with our dirty laundry. Actually, John is nibbling here at historical mandates and current quandaries that Billy Abraham fleshes out in provocative fashion in Dialogues (fast reading from Amazon). Follow the bouncing ball…

  4. Who is the “we” in your question? If it’s just pastors, then I think there’s little chance for success–pastors aren’t (or shouldn’t be!) the church. Pastors need to help build/nurture a church community where this can happen–where the whole community cares for each other as well as holds each other accountable to discipleship. So, what does that local congregation look like? I agree that covenant discipleship groups can do that pretty well within each group, but I’m not sure how successful they are at spreading that accountability beyond the group.

    1. I meant “the church” when I wrote “we.” It may be too much to hope that an entire congregation would embrace the rules. I’ve had people argue that to even desire that is to misunderstand the nature of congregations.

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