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General Conference and the Book of Discipline

January 18, 2012

In the alternate reality we call The United Methodist Church, we are governed by two essential books: the Holy Bible and the Book of Discipline. Granting greater weight to holy scripture to define and describe us, we acknowledge the need for some guidelines and structure by which to do our work. The Bible says who we are and whose we are; the Book of Discipline lays out how we will work together to fulfill our scriptural mandate to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” (Matthew 28:19-20; Book of Discipline ¶120.)

Our Bible comes to us through the divine inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit, but where does the Book of Discipline come from. Well, hopefully, it is inspired as well, but in the most practical terms, the Book of Discipline is the product of the serious and dedicated efforts of United Methodist men and women, clergy and laity, young and old, to establish the guidelines, governance and protocols by which the church lives its faith in each community and throughout the world.

Every four years, individuals, small groups, agencies, annual conferences, and caucuses draft petitions for legislation to modify, improve, amend, add to or eliminate sections of our Book of Discipline. The Book of Discipline clarifies our Constitution, our Doctrinal Standards, our Theological Task, our Social Principles, our Mission and Purpose, and provides the guidelines and standards for doing the work of the church at all levels. In a very real sense, the Book of Discipline explains what it means to be United Methodist, and by God’s grace and guidance the people called United Methodist continuously attend to the discernment of God’s Holy Spirit to adapt the Discipline to the ever-changing demands to be a faithful and effective church.

The petitions that are drafted to make changes to the Book of Discipline are collected in preparation for General Conference every four years. They are assigned to a wide-variety of legislative committees that work diligently during the General Conference sessions to perfect language and ensure clear meaning and ease of understanding. The General Conference delegates vote on the proposed legislation, codifying the Book of Discipline for the coming four years.

The process is often criticized for being less than perfect, but it is our best effort to be inclusive, egalitarian, open, and honest as we seek to live together in unity of purpose and commitment to our task of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
-Dan Dick

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