Reflections on The Discipline, Worship and Focus

At the Convocation of Cabinets (worldwide) held at Lake Junaluska in November 2007, Bishop Janice Huie gave a memorable address. At one point in her presentation, she lifted in one hand a Discipline from one hundred years ago. It was a small, relatively thin book. Bishop Huie shared the following (taken from her speech notes): In my lifetime, the Book of Discipline has grown from this (hold up a 1948 BOD) to this (hold up a 2004 BOD) and this (hold up a 2004 BOR) and this (hold up a BOW).  The 1948 BOD had a section on the social principles and worship.  (Hold the three.)  Stability and order is good, but that’s a lot of stability and order.  Just so the initials are clear.  BOR = Book of Resolutions.  The 2012 version is ¾ of an inch thick.  The 2008 version was 2 inches thick!  BOW = Book of Worship.  The most recent version is 1 ½ inches thick.  The current Hymnal is 1 ½ inches thick.  It is supplemented by a number of other hymnals containing a variety of music styles.  BOD = Book of Discipline.  It was 1 ½ inches thick in 2008.  The 2012 version of the BOD is 1 ¼ inches thick.  (There is actually no appreciable change in size, maybe minutely larger in material, but the print size and margins are smaller and the paper is thinner.) Now reflect on the 1898 Book of Discipline of the Methodist Church.  In that Discipline were not only the rules of the church but also hymns to be sung and orders of worship. Stack it all up as Bishop Huie did.  She weighed up all of the books which we have now to do the same functions as the 1898 Book of Discipline: The Book of Discipline, The Book of Resolutions, The United Methodist Hymnal, The Book of Worship. The difference between the one stack that is difficult for a person to hold in one hand and the one slim book that would easily fit in a saddle bag is staggering to behold.  If my math is accurate, 1898 = ¾ inches.  2012 = 5 inches; if we use the 2008 totals then the differences is 6.75 vs .6.5 inches. When the church was at its best, it lives out of a clear set of convictions and a passionate commitment to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world with a minimal set of legal instructions.  Wherever we are going as a denominational faith community, adding more pages  to The Discipline won’t help.  [In Remember the Future, Bishop Robert Schnase has a number of excellent chapters on this subject.  Chapter 4: “Four Thousand Shalls” and Chapter 22: “Logjam” especially catch my attention.]  What will make a difference is focusing on the mission of making disciples – disciplined committed followers of Jesus Christ who (by definition!) are engaged in transforming the world (“on earth as it is in heaven!”). At our recent Cabinet meeting, Don Scott handed me an old 1898 copy of The Discipline.  It still offers marvelous insight to what we are about. One section caught my eye. It is as follows:

CHAPTER VI The Means of Grace. Section I Of Public Worship.

Question 1. What directions are given for uniformity of public worship? Par. 216. Ans. 1. The norming service shall be conducted in the following order: (1) Singing – the congregation standing. (2) Prayer – the congregation kneeling. (3) Reading a lesson out of the Old Testament, and another out of the New. (4) Singing – the congregation sitting. (5) Preaching. (6) Singing – the congregation standing. (7) Prayer – the congregation kneeling. (8) Benediction. -Book of Discipline 1898 Hmm, … it sounds like an order of worship for a (so-called) contemporary worship service.  But then I’ve gone from preaching to meddling. What is clear is the need to focus on the mission.  Passionate worship is Job One.  It must be yoked to the other crucial elements of faithful and fruitful living: radical hospitality (witness/evangelism), intentional faith development (prayer), risk-taking mission and service (service), and extravagant generosity (gifts).