The decision of the Eastern Pennsylvania Board of Ordained Ministry today to “deem the clergy credentials of Rev. Frank Schaeffer to be surrendered” was based on a previous challenge the Board gave Rev. Schaeffer to indicate to them within 30 days that he could “affirm the UM Book of Discipline in its entirety…” (cf. http://unitedmethodistreporter.com/2013/12/16/schaefer-states-uphold-book-discipline/). I think we know what they meant, but why put it like this? Is this an unprecedented request? I can’t recall other instances where clergy (much less church members) have been asked or required to “affirm the UM Book of Discipline in its entirety.”
The Judicial Council has ruled, for example, that material in the Social Principles reflects the consensus of the Church but is not binding on clergy or church members. This was the basis of its decision following the 1984 General Conference that the location (within the Social Principles) of a prohibition against ordaining “self-avowed and practicing homosexual persons” could not be binding on the denomination, and the reason why it was moved to the section ordained ministry in subsequent Disciplines.
In the wake of the Schaeffer decision, some of have argued that it’s impossible for anyone to affirm the Discipline in its entirety. I’m not sure about this. But wouldn’t it make more sense to require clergy to affirm and carry out the specific promises made at the time of our ordinations? For the record, here’s my list of the promises I made at my ordination as elder in 1988.
The following are the questions beginning with “Will you…?” or “Do you promise to…?” that we were asked at the time of my admission to full connection in the Texas Annual Conference and when I was ordained as a elder. I.e., these are the questions that implied promises for my future conduct in the ministry of an elder.
From the examination for full connection (1984 Discipline ¶ 424, p. 212):
- Will you keep [the General Rules]?
- Will you preach and maintain [the doctrines of The United Methodist Church]?
- Will you support and maintain [our Church government and polity]?
- Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?
- Will you visit from house to house?
- Will you recommend fasting or abstinence both by precept and example?
- Will you obey the following directions? a) Be diligent…b) Be punctual…
From the examination in the service of ordination of elders (An Ordinal: The United Methodist Church: Adopted for Alternative Use by the 1980 General Conference, pp. 42-44):
- Will you be faithful in prayer, in the study of the Holy Scriptures, and in pursuing the knowledge that will make you a stronger and more effective minister of Christ?Do you promise faithfully to fulfill the duties of your calling among the people committed to your care; to preach and teach the Word of God and the faith of the Church, to led the celebration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, to exercise pastoral care and leadership, and in the spirit of Christ to defend the Church against all doctrine contrary to God’s Word?
- Will you undertake to be a faithful pastor to all whom you are called to serve, laboring with them and with your companions in this ministry to build up the family of God, and enabling them as God’s people to fulfill their ministry of reconciliation?
- Will you, by precept and example, lead the people of God to participate in the life and work of the community and to seek peace, justice, and freedom for all people?
- Will you be a steadfast and prayerful disciple, in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that your life may be fashioned by the Gospel, and provide a faithful example for all God’s people?
- Will you be loyal to the Church, accepting its order, doctrine, and discipline, and submitting, as sons and daughters in the Gospel, to those who are appointed to serve over you, so that the Church may more and more realize the will of God in Christ for this world?
- As ambassadors of Christ, will you, with the help of the Holy Spirit, continually rekindle the gift of God that is in you to make known to all people the Gospel of the grace of God?