Taking a razor to the Book of Discipline

Tom Lambrecht has written a series of posts in response to the resolution of the complaint against retired bishop Melvin Talbert. Here are links to Lambrecht’s posts: 1, 2, 3.

Near the end of the third post, he writes this:

The supreme law of the church is no longer the Discipline or General Conference; it is individual conscience. Personal judgment is now the ultimate arbiter of our faith and practice. We are no longer a connectional church, nor even a congregational one, but an individualistic one. Every person is now clamoring to do “what is right in his/her own eyes.”

I wonder what would happen if the Council of Bishops got together like a group of Thomas Jeffersons with razor blades and cut out of the Book of Discipline every line and paragraph that they would be unwilling to enforce or insist upon.

I wonder what the resulting book would look like.

I wonder if it would not be a more honest and more effective book than the one we have.

Education for our mission

Our Book of Discipline outlines the process of carrying our our mission in ¶122.

  • proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome, and gather persons into the body of Christ
  • lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ
  • nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace such as Wesley’s Christian conferencing
  • send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel
  • continue the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ

I was reviewing this list as I was working on plans for adult Christian education for the two little churches I serve. What I notice is how little these steps explicitly include knowledge acquisition. You can see some need for learning in order to nurture people in Christian living, but by and large the mission here is not transmitting a lot of knowledge.

Of course, this is not the only paragraph in the Book of Discipline, but I am struck by the paragraph that is self-consciously explaining how to accomplish our mission how little images of traditional Sunday School or Bible Study come to my mind.

It has me thinking about what kind of Christian education is necessary to support this process, and how I might offer that.

Does this sound familiar to us?

collins.bookcoverJim Collins’ newest book looks like a must-read for all of us in the UMC or local churches that struggle with decline.

I have not read it yet, but his previous book, Good to Great, is brilliant and well-grounded, so I expect no less from this one.

Here’s a summary of the five-step process of decline that is included in the Amazon.com page for the book:

Stage 1: Hubris Born of Success

Stage 2: Undisciplined Pursuit of More

Stage 3: Denial of Risk and Peril

Stage 4: Grasping for Salvation

Stage 5: Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death

Can long-time UMC folks see these steps playing out over the last 40+ years? Where are we now?