A Wesleyan Account of Church Order, Discipleship, and Discipline

A Wesleyan Account of Church Order, Discipleship, and Discipline

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What follows is a Wesleyan account of church order, Christian discipleship, and church discipline. It is an excerpt from The Faith Once Delivered: A Wesleyan Witness to Christian Orthodoxy (Seedbed, 2024).

Church Order and Discipleship

147. The Church is the called-out people of God; the term church itself means “the called-out ones.” As such, the Church is named and redeemed by God through the work of Jesus Christ, and it is measured by its ability to pass on apostolic doctrine and witness throughout history. This calling is grounded in the discipline of grace, which guides and matures Christian life from the threshold of justifying faith to its fullness in sanctification. Such discipline is instilled in the Church through the practice of the means of grace, acts of piety, and acts of mercy.

148. Discipleship in the Wesleyan tradition is an integration of personal and social holiness, not only for those already in the Church, but also for those invited to become Christ-followers. The holy love of God produces mature believers who bear the Image of Christ in the world. God’s grace moves in believers “to think, speak, and act, in every instance in a manner worthy of our Christian calling” (Wesley, “Of the Church”). Transformed by grace, believers are given a spirit of humility and mutual affection—in the vulnerability of more intimate groups and the majesty of corporate worship—in order to be like Christ in laying down their lives for one another and for the world. Their time, energy, and possessions come under the direction of the Word of God and are freely shared for the building up of the Church and as a witness to those outside it. Methodists enter into this order and discipline of accountable life together in what historically were known as bands, classes, and societies.

149. The Church’s tangible witness of Christ’s love and presence permeates a truly Christian home, the congregation gathered for worship, and even the society at large. The life-giving love of God should be visible to others. That same love sparks generosity of heart and hand toward those in need. Believers are “provoked to love and to good works; to patient continuance in well-doing; and to abound more and more in that holiness without which no man can see the Lord” (Wesley, “Scriptural Christianity”).

Church Discipline

150. Methodism was built on a shared commitment to doctrine lived out through embodied discipline. Wesleyan doctrine was first and foremost grounded in “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3). Methodist discipline first sought a return to the practices of the early Church, particularly its first three centuries. Methodist discipline is expressed personally and corporately. Methodists search the Scripture, pray, and fast privately and corporately. Methodists gather for worship, receive the sacraments, watch over one another’s souls, and confess their sins. They engage in works of mercy, which are expressed both individually and communally.

151. Methodism was built on the certainty that the Christian life must be lived in community. Christian discipleship is lived in visible corporate (embodied) ways. When John Wesley said, “there is no holiness but social holiness,” he meant that we should not expect to grow in holiness on our own. This is vital for contemporary Wesleyans to reclaim. We must be connected to other people who are also following Jesus.

152. Social holiness was expressed within early Methodism through the class meeting and the band meeting. Classes were groups of seven to twelve people who met weekly to discuss the present state of their relationship with the triune God. Class meetings were required for membership in Methodism, both as a renewal movement within the Church of England and as many within Methodism organized as separate churches. Bands were groups of three to five people, divided by gender, where sin was confessed for the sake of healing and growth in holiness (James 5:16).

153. As some in Methodism transitioned from a renewal movement within a church to become a church in the newly formed United States, they brought its vision for social holiness into its understanding of how a church should be conceived and how it should live. This can be seen in the title of an early Methodist polity book, The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

154. The Methodist vision for corporate, embodied, social holiness did not leave room for nominal Christianity. “Discipline” meant a disciplined or structured life that provided the necessary boundaries for growing in grace. It also meant that those who persisted in living undisciplined lives were removed from the fellowship. Reclaiming a disciplined fellowship is a pressing need for the next Methodism.

This is an excerpt from The Faith Once Delivered: A Wesleyan Witness to Christian Orthodoxy (Seedbed, 2024). Included are 213 articles of faith centered around:

  1. Section I
    God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  2. Section II
    Creation—Image Given and Marred
  3. Section III
    Revelation—The Image Revealed
  4. Section IV
    Salvation—The Image Restored
  5. Section V
    The Church—Life in the Image
  6. Section VI
    The Fullness of Time—The Glorified Image

An appendix in the back offers discussion/reflection questions for each section. Get it from our store here.


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