Our bishop, Thomas J. Bickerton, recently told a story of being at a particular Council of Bishops’ meeting when a fight broke out. OK… it was only a conversation but there were several different points of view. Whatever you call it, there were various opinions being expressed over how they (the bishops) could help get our people, and our churches, to be more unified as United Methodists.
It seems that we have learned how to debate well and disagree often. But if we are going to bear the word “United” in our name, ought there not be something about which we agree?
So, the Council of Bishops was trying to formulate some plan, or statement, or idea that could help us refocus on our unity… on what it really means to be “Methodist” in our heritage and “United” in our practice of being the church. And there were apparently a lot of ideas that took a L O N G time to discuss.
But then Bishop Bickerton shared that the conversation sort of settled into silence as one of our older bishops, Bishop Reuben Job, stood up and reminded everyone that we already had a statement, an idea, a plan that ought to be uniting us and identifying us as Methodist… And it was summed up as Three Simple Rules.
Dating back over 250 years to John Wesley himself, the “General Rules of the Methodist Societies,” already addressed these issues and, in essence, were part of the covenant every one of us United Methodists vowed we’d keep. While the wording is old-fashioned, the truth is still there… and still do-able.
In the official text (from the Discipline, ¶103), we are introduced to the rules thusly:
There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies: “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.” But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits.
Basically, if you have repented of your sins and Christ lives within you, then you are welcome to “join” us Methodists. BUT, we also have an expectation that IF that’s really true, then people around you (inside AND outside of the church) will be able to tell that you have Christ living in you.
With that in mind, the Methodists agreed that any of us who really had Jesus in our hearts, would agree to show it in three ways:
“First, By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind…”
“Second, By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all me…”
“Thirdly, By attending upon all the ordinances of God…”
Bishop Job reworded those three General Rules, for today’s United Methodists, thusly:
1. Do No Harm,
2. Do Good, and
3. Stay in Love with God.
To this day, the “General Rules” are printed verbatim in our Book of Discipline. They are meant to be a part of the daily lifestyle of every person who is a part of the Methodist heritage.
We deliberately watch out so that we don’t cause harm to others with our words, our actions, or our silence.
We consciously look for ways to do good to others any chance we get.
And we intentionally, (in a methodical way) practice what has become known as the spiritual disciplines… faithfully attending public worship, carefully reading and searching the Bible, purposely praying, thoughtfully reading Christian authors and devotionals, and regularly participating in the sacrament of Holy Communion and the remembrance of baptism.
Throughout this next year, we will regularly focus on ideas presented in this little book.
Let’s show all of Reynoldsville our fruit…