What is the correct text for the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church?

In my previous post, I noted that the current 2012 Discipline does not contain the correct text of the General Rules. I neglected to say what can be done about this. The only method I can think of is the same method used in Judicial Council Decision 468. Basically, a church body that can request the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision has to, well, request the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision.

What inspired me to research the General Rules was a scrivener’s error that first appeared in the 2008 Discipline. Page 60 of the 2008 Discipline added “Lamentations” to the list of canonical books in Article V. (The errata for the 2008 Discipline did note for page 60 that Article III was mistakenly titled Article II. There is no mention of “Lamentations”.) The errata for the 2012 Discipline notes that the word “Lamentations” should be deleted on page 65, line 4. (Somebody else noted this first. Oh well.)

This past summer I wondered: what is the correct text of the Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church? ¶ 3 says that “The Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith of The United Methodist Church are those held by The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church, respectively, at the time of their uniting.” The reasoning of Decision 468 suggests that the relevant text should be from the Plan of Union. The Plan of Union is not something readily available.

¶ 17 (also called the First Restrictive Rule) reads, “The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine.” These are strong words. What text are they directed toward? To say that one must not “revoke, alter, or change” a text without a precise specification of the text in question would be like beautiful whitewashed tombs that hide internal rot.

Let me be clear: I’m not claiming to be a guardian of the Articles of Religion. I’m also aware of differing historical conventions in spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. The Constitution of the United States is a perfect example of some of these differences. What underlies this cursory discussion is one basic premise: in order to know whether something has been changed, we have to know what is supposed to stay the same.

The 1894 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South “appointed a commission to examine the text of the Articles of Religion.” This commission found “numerous” changes in the Articles of Religion since 1808, “though mostly errors of the press, and all of them have been without authority.” (The Report of the Commission Appointed to Examine the Articles of Religion can be found on pages 109-116 of The Methodist Review, volume 42, available here.)

Whatever we call them — scrivener’s errors, errors of the press, typos — these seemingly random mistakes are nothing new. Here is how the 2012 Discipline describes the Articles of Religion that appear on pages 63-69:

2012 Discipline, page 63

2012 Discipline, page 63

With all due respect, with regards to the Articles of Religion the 2012 Discipline does not contain the text of the Discipline of 1808 collated against Wesley’s original text in The Sunday Service of the Methodists. (Images from the 1808 Discipline are available to view here; images from The Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America are available to view here.) There are simply too many variations introduced after 1808 for me to agree with the Discipline‘s Bibliographical Note.

I think the primary source for the 2012 Discipline‘s text of the Articles of Religion is from the Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards. This was before the 1972 General Conference and appears on pages 1988-2024 of the 1972 Conference Journal.

The report in the 1972 Conference Journal could not be used “as is”. It contains errors. Here are two examples:

1972 Journal, page 2004

1972 Journal, page 2004

The word I marked in Article XXI should read “abstain”. The word in Article XXII should read “rites”.

The Journal of the General Conference session that approved the Plan of Union also contains variations in its version of the Articles of Religion.

1964 Journal vol. 3, page 3026

1964 Journal vol. 3, page 3026

Both of the above instances of “Spirit” have historically read “Ghost”.

Any one version of the Articles of Religion has these potential problems. The Report of the Commission Appointed to Examine the Articles of Religion found that the 1808 Discipline contained “obvious typographical errors.” Any historical source will have to be collated.

One of my problems with the 2012 Discipline text is that it introduces changes that took place after 1808.

What follows is a limited survey. The “ME Discipline” refers to the Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church after 1844; the “MES Discipline” refers to the Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South after 1844.

Spelling

I’m limiting this discussion of spelling to worshipping (Article XIV) and worshipped (Article XVIII).

Article XIV in the 1808 Discipline begins, “THE Romish doctrine concerning purgatory, pardon, worshipping, …” Article XVIII in the 1808 Discipline concludes, “… carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.” The text in both instances uses the British spelling of a double p.

The 1860 ME Discipline removed each “extra” p. The 1868 MES Discipline also removed each “extra” p, but the 1898 MES Discipline restored the double p.

The 2012 Discipline preserves on pages 66 and 68 these spelling changes first made in 1860.

Punctuation

I’m limiting this discussion of punctuation to the use of em dashes in Article XI.

Article XI in the 1808 Discipline begins, “VOLUNTARY works, besides, over and above God’s commandments, which they call …” Article XI in the 1852 ME Discipline begins, “Voluntary works,—besides, over, and above God’s commandments—which are called …” The 1856 ME Discipline also included the em dashes, but the 1860 ME Discipline discontinued them. The 1872 ME Discipline restored the em dashes: “Voluntary works—besides, over, and God’s commandments—which are called …” These dashes persisted in the ME Discipline after 1872. (I did not find any instances of these em dashes in the MES Discipline through 1922.)

These em dashes appeared in 1852 at the earliest. The 2012 Discipline preserves them on page 66.

Insertions or omissions of parts of words

I find it easier to present the following alterations as a graphic. In the discussion that follows, Emory refers to this source, pages 109-110. (Emory is cited as a historical reference in Decision 468.)

Some Textual Differences in the Articles of Religion

Some Textual Differences in the Articles of Religion

  1. Emory documented that the 1816 Discipline included a change from Holy Scripture containeth to The Holy Scriptures contain. The Holy Scripture containeth comes from the 1972 Report mentioned above.
  2. Emory documented that the 1790 Discipline first omitted Of at the beginning of this phrase. A cursory study suggests that the inserted are did not appear in any MES Discipline but first appeared in the 1872 ME Discipline.
  3. Emory documented that the 1812 Discipline first omitted to.
  4. Emory documented that the 1812 Discipline first inserted is after tree.
  5. Based on a cursory study of online resources, I think this change from ye to you took place sometime between the 1968 Discipline and the 1992 Discipline.
  6. By the 1840 Discipline, this phrase read toward. The the is present at the 1939 Uniting Conference but disappears during the twentieth century.

So What?

“So what?” Well, that’s a fair question.

I don’t claim that any of the above modifications are significant. They are, nonetheless, modifications. (The above catalog is by no means exhaustive.) How can we judge whether a modification to an official text is significant if we don’t even know what the official text is?

A book of law should contain the legal language that is not to be altered rather than “historical reconstructions” of a questionable provenance.

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  1. Pingback: The Ecumenical Articles of Religion (Introduction) | Attending Circuses

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