United Methodists adjusted their theological base last month, legislating a major change in their Book of Discipline that charts a course “between doctrinal dogmatism … and doctrinal indifferentism.”

“We do not possess infallible rules to follow, or reflex habits that suffice, or precedents for simple imitation,” says a newly conceived theological statement. The 4,800-word statement was designed to be included in the Discipline along with John Wesley’s Articles of Religion of 1784, his General Rules, and the Confession of Faith of the old Evangelical United Brethren Church.

Delegates to the United Methodist General Conference,United Methodism’s supreme legislative assembly, which, though normally quadrennial, has met every two years since 1964 because of heavy press of business. meeting in Atlanta, approved the package with virtually no debate by a signed but secret ballot of 925 to 17.

Also part of the package is a section entitled “Historical Background” which notes that “by the end of the nineteenth century, and thereafter increasingly in the twentieth, Methodist theology had become decidedly eclectic, with less and less specific attention paid to its specific Wesleyan sources as such. Despite continued and quite variegated theological development, there has been no significant project in formal doctrinal reformulation in Methodism since 1808.”

The package was put together by a thirty-six-member commission headed by the theological elder statesman of United Methodism, Professor Albert C. Outler of Perkins School of Theology, Dallas. He described it as an effort to clear up some of the theological “bedlam” in the church, but said the new theological statement should not be regarded as a creed.

The “Historical Background” argues ...

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