Church Membership and Pastoral Authority in The United Methodist Church and Its Antecedents

Rex D. Matthews

Abstract


This essay investigates the changing provisions concerning church membership in relationship to pastoral authority in The United Methodist Church and its directly antecedent bodies from the formation of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1784 down to the present. It does so primarily by examining the conditions and requirements for church membership, and the mechanism of admission to church membership, that are stated in the Disciplines and Rituals of those bodies. By doing so, it seeks to help illumine the process by which Methodism in America evolved from being a group of voluntary societies existing within the context of a church to being a church (or family of churches). The general trajectory of the historical development of Methodism traced in this essay seems clear: from an association of relatively small voluntary religious societies of self-selected individuals with a high degree of mutual accountability, to a church which understands itself as a large and increasingly inclusive global covenant community with a comparably large and increasingly complex global infrastructure. In the course of this historical development, the role of the pastor has undergone significant change, as has the nature of pastoral authority, and provisions relating to church membership have been repeatedly reconsidered and revised. Throughout most of this history, pastoral authority in regard to church membership has been qualified by a specific role for local church laity in the membership process.


Keywords


Methodist church; pastoral authority; church membership

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Methodist Review, ISSN: 1946-5254 (online), copyright © 2009-2017 by The Methodist Review, Inc.