Anyone who has been following GC news knows about the commission that will be studying issues of “human sexuality.” In the post-GC letter from the Council of Bishops this is referred to as “a way forward, postponing decisions about sexuality matters and committing to having a different kind of global conversation that allows all voices to be heard.”
Something else mentioned in the letter, an item I never noticed in the reporting from GC, was (again using the language found in this link) a “churchwide study on our ecclesiology.” Here’s the language from the DCA:
Subject: Study of Ecclesiology
Membership: 73; Present: 67;
For: 62; Against: 0; Not Voting: 5;
The Petition is amended by substituting with the following:
The Committee on Faith and Order proposes a period of study to stimulate and aid
theological reflection throughout the church on the identity and mission of The United Methodist Church. The Study and response process in the coming quadrennium will involve these elements:
1. A teaching document on ecclesiology will be made available electronically through
http://www.umc.org, http://www.gbhem.org, and http://www.gbod.org along with a brief study and response guide to facilitate study of the document. These documents will be translated into the language of the General Conference.
2. Each resident bishop will be asked to arrange for congregationally-based studies of
United Methodist ecclesiology between June 2016 and December 2017 involving approximately ten percent of both the laity and clergy of her or his episcopal area. Resources for the study will be provided by the Committee on Faith and Order.
3. Responses will be solicited from specific groups who may have particular expertise
in ecclesiology, including: faculty from United Methodist seminaries and schools of theology, general agency staff, pan-Methodist theologians and officials; and other selected ecumenical partners.
4. All United Methodists will be invited and encouraged to offer feedback on United
5. The Committee on Faith and Order will design processes to solicit and receive these
6. The Committee on Faith and Order will be responsible for evaluating the study process, considering the responses received, and will offer appropriate action to the 2020 General Conference. The Committee on Faith and Order will send to the 2020 General Conference a theological teaching document on ecclesiology for adoption as an official document of the church, comparable to By Water and the Spirit and This Holy Mystery.
I don’t know what is intended in this “study on our ecclesiology.” It may be that it is only aimed at indoctrination – something like, “Here is our ecclesiology, now you have a document you can study to learn about it.” On the other hand, it could be a work in constructive theology, studying scripture and tradition to discern where our thinking and practice with regard to ecclesiology should go.
We’ve been strong on polity (Methods!) – so strong that our polity has often substituted for deep work in ecclesiology. Yet it is exactly such deep work that the other more famous commission will require if it is to do more than just go with the cultural flow and the “demands of our age.” I’m hoping and praying someone will make the connection.