WHEN I RE-READ The Book of Discipline of The Methodist Church in Singapore, I was amazed at the foresight of our Methodist founders who held the first General Conference in London in June 1744, more than two centuries ago. The resolutions adopted at the conference laid a firm foundation of principles for Christian living and guidelines for pastors on church administration which are still relevant today.
In the last six months several seminars were held on the subject of The Book of Discipline by Methodist churches and organisations. These were very well received, especially the ones held in churches, and many of the participants were keen to have a personal copy of the book.
In my search for reference literature on e Book of Discipline, I was pleased to find that much is available locally. e Trinity eological College library has a large collection – 20 bookcases – of publications on Methodism and the Methodist denomination which are in English. In contrast, there are only 20 or less titles (original or translated) in Chinese because of the very small number of authors and researchers on this subject.
There seems to be a misconception among believers and even some pastors that The Book of Discipline is meant to be used by the bishop, presidents or district superintendents when disciplining the local churches. is is certainly not the case, but such a perception is understandable because of the word “Discipline”. Despite the title, the first three of the five sections in the book are devoted to statements of the Methodist creed regarding the world, church, man and our faith. It also provides all Methodists clear principles and guidelines on our social responsibilities and mission on earth. I do not think I can find another book which defines so clearly our identity and duty.
As I reflect on e Book of Discipline, I realise that the two main thrusts – whether it is on our social responsibilities in community or about the church and the various aspects of its organisation – are “connection” and “accountability”. Aren’t these also the essential elements of how we are to conduct ourselves in society? We have to connect with others and not live a solitary, self-centred life, and we must be accountable for our speech and action.
The Book of Discipline is an important book for its guidelines on Christian living and it should be popularised. If you have never heard of this book or have not seen it before, you may wish to contact your pastor to request a copy.
The Rev Dr Chong Chin Chung is the President of the Chinese Annual Conference.
WHAT SPIRITUALITY MEANS TO ME
It ‘revolves around spiritual formation’
IN A SENSE, the title is irrelevant or superfluous. It is not personal opinion of spirituality that counts but what the Bible leads us to. In this respect it seems to me that Biblical or Christian Spirituality is frequently misrepresented because we are influenced by general views of spirituality that often emphasise the dichotomy of body and soul/spirit leading to very mystical concepts as if the material is secondary.
For example, for many, to worship “in spirit and in truth” implies what happens “within” a person is what really counts.
If it were true that worship “within” is what counts then Baptism and Holy Communion, our Sacraments, would make little sense; they are very material rituals. Perhaps this is one reason why the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, said that Christianity “is the most materialistic of religions”. Christian spirituality does not emphasise the body and soul/spirit dichotomy. Body and material are important as well.
It seems to me that Biblical Spirituality actually revolves around spiritual formation. is is derived from Galatians 4:19 “ … until Christ be formed in you”. This parallels Colossians 1:28,29 “… so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that He powerfully inspires in me”. For the apostle Paul, these two objectives were complimentary (similar?) aims of his ministry.
Next question: What is Christian maturity?
It seems to me that if “until Christ is formed in you” is any guide, then maturity is growth in Christ-likeness, Christ-like character or “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22, 23). (Some Christian circles define “fruitfulness” in terms of converts or disciples but the case for this is not strong).
And if we look towards Biblical fruitfulness then John 15 (Jesus as vine) must be instructive. Fruit must be grown, the result of nurturing the plant. The picture from John 15 seems to indicate that “abiding and pruning” may represent what the Church has long recognised as spiritual disciplines – fasting, prayer, study, service, worship, etc. In John 15 this is the key to fruitfulness.
As spiritual disciplines nurture the soul the fruit of the Spirit grows in the Christian.
So, Biblical spirituality involves the processes of spiritual formation, the goal of which is Christian maturity in all Christians. Maturity is Christian character or the fruit of the Spirit grown by nurturing the soul through spiritual disciplines. True spiritual disciplines involve body/material and soul/spirit.
This, to me, is Christian or Biblical spirituality, individual and corporate.
Note: I am greatly indebted to Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline) and Dallas Willard (The Spirit of the Disciplines). They have helped me also see that Christian spirituality very much involves the body (material) and thus avoids the body/soul dichotomy.
The Rev Melvin Huang is the Pastor-in-Charge of Wesley Methodist Church.