Introduction to the Methodist Social Principles

Introduction to the Methodist Social Principles

At the General Conference of The Methodist Church in Singapore held in 2020, the delegates accepted the revised edition of the Methodist Social Principles (MSP). The previous edition had been put together in the 1980s. Although that document incorporated certain issues that were generating concerns in Singapore at that time, like the paragraphs on the “Responsible Use of Power” and “In-Vitro Reproduction”, the bulk of the Social Principles was largely adapted from the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church (UMC) of the USA.

Since the 1980s, UMC has revised its documents a number of times. Many of those social issues that preoccupied the minds of the American churches and the stands adopted by UMC have become too American-centric. The revised edition of the MSP of MCS is thus a local work written by Singaporean theologians, reflecting our local and Southeast Asian context contextual concerns and offering guidelines that Singaporean Methodists can understand and identify.

The MSP’s main sections have been re-titled and arranged along the theological idea of “Orders of Creation” found mainly in the writings of Reformed theologians/ethicists. Those who read D. Bonhoeffer would notice that he uses “Divine Mandates” in his Ethics. However, we have opted instead for “Spheres”, which is a broad term because our Wesleyan work cannot fit exactly to the classical “Orders” found mainly in the works of Reformed scholars.

We expanded some sections and added new subjects to take into consideration issues and developments which were not covered or were not sufficiently covered in the old edition. We have also deliberately replaced the word “individual” with “person” in most places, an intentional move to avoid giving ideas of supporting individualism and the culture of entitlement rampant in the Euro-North American World.

The new sections which we have added are the Spheres of the Internet; Sciences and Technologies; Creation Care; and the Church.

Section 1 of the MSP states the reasons for our interest in social issues:

  1. Christian social responsibility is rooted in the teachings of the Bible and guided by Christian tradition. It is an integral part of the Gospel which the Church is expected to proclaim, preserve and practise.
  2. The Methodist Church has a special interest in social concerns because of its desire to be obedient to Christ in bringing the whole of life with its activities, possessions, relationships and environment into conformity with the will of God. Such obedience is exemplified in the life and labour of John Wesley who ministered to the physical, intellectual, spiritual and social needs of the people to whom he preached the Gospel of salvation.
  3. It is out of our gratitude for God’s love and in affirmation of our belief in the inestimable worth of each person and the integrity of God’s creation, that we renew our commitment to become faithful witnesses to the Gospel and to live a life of personal and social holiness.

The revised edition of the MSP goes on to offer our theological basis for our interest in bringing our faith to bear on the social issues of our time, before getting into the eight “Spheres” of concerns:

  • The Sphere of the Family
  • The Sphere of Economics
  • The Sphere of Politics
  • The Sphere of Community Life
  • The Sphere of the Internet, Sciences and Technologies.
  • The Sphere of Social Well-being
  • The Sphere of Creation Care
  • The Sphere of the Church

The revised MSP is an important document of MCS. It is included in our Book of Discipline. More Methodists should familiarise themselves with the teachings of this document and our churches should use it for studies and preaching. The whole document offers guidelines for Methodists to know our Wesleyan heritage and our official stand on some contentious issues which we have to deal with in our daily living.

Rev Dr Daniel K. S. Koh is a retired pastor who is currently re-engaged at Barker Road Methodist Church. He was formerly Chaplain at Trinity Theological College. He formerly served as Chairperson of MWS, where he currently still serves on its Board of Governance.