2016 Wesleyan Discipline: Chapter 5: Special Directions
400. The special directions are expressions by which The Wesleyan Church seeks to bear witness to contemporary society concerning the Christian life and character required by its Articles of Religion and Membership Commitments. While they may or may not be membership commitments, they are official admonitions to the members, ministers and officials of The Wesleyan Church, and provide guidelines for bearing public testimony on the issues discussed.
The Holy Spirit gives wisdom and guidance to believers as they seek to discern personal boundaries for holy living. The Scriptures illustrate that personal conscience varies among individuals on matters for which direct commands of God are not given and that what God requires as a matter of obedience for one person He may not require of all. Therefore, relying on His help through prayer, Bible study, godly counsel, and thoughtful reflection, all believers should develop “personal convictions” to aid them in conforming to God’s will as they relate to and involve themselves in their culture as witnesses for Christ. Such private opinions apply only to one’s own conduct. Legalism is the attempt to impose one’s personal convictions upon others as if they are conditions for salvation or universal standards for holiness.
Issues arise periodically that require serious deliberation by the Church as a community of believers regarding its collective witness for Christ in society. Just as He does for individuals, the Holy Spirit also instructs the Church in discerning and applying biblical principles to its corporate response to current culture. Out of these prayerful deliberations, “collective conscience” statements are born. These statements are believed to be important enough that they should be a part of the identity of the Church and should characterize the lifestyle of those who are a part of our specific “family” within the larger Body of Christ. These statements are not implied to be conditions for salvation, and as such become legalistic and judgmental. Rather they reflect commonly held values of our Church that are voluntarily accepted in order to make a positive statement to society; to protect the wellbeing and integrity of each person; to bring transformation to culture; and to be a safe haven for those seeking refuge from the damages inflicted upon them by an abusive and godless society. By speaking collectively, the Church also seeks to provide examples for and encourage young disciples, recent converts, new members, and its friends in conforming to Christ’s likeness in areas of personal conscience not yet informed by personal study and understanding of biblical principles.
These statements of collective conscience do not speak to every issue and must periodically be amended to speak redemptively to important emerging issues affecting the church and society.
A. Christian Social Concern
410. The Wesleyan Church seeks recognition by the society which surrounds it of the authority of Almighty God, and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, in civil, political, and temporal as well as spiritual matters, and the transformation of that society into the image of Christ insofar as is possible in this present age. It believes that such a transformation of society shall primarily be accomplished by the divine transformation through faith in Christ of the individuals who compose society, but that Christians ought also to manifest social concern in every manner that is in keeping with their Christian testimony. To this end:
- (1) Equal Rights. The Wesleyan Church upholds the right of all individuals to equal opportunity politically, economically, and religiously, and pledges itself to an active effort to bring about the possession of dignity and happiness by all people everywhere (cf. 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:220; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:265:11–13; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:360:3d).
- (2) Peace. The Wesleyan Church, knowing that war results in great suffering for the bodies, minds, and souls of men and women, staggering economic loss with its legacy of debt for future generations, and the unleashing of the baser passions of life, urges that persons and nations seek by every legitimate means to avoid armed conflict among the peoples and nations of the world. The Wesleyan Church also urges that holy people everywhere pray earnestly for those in authority, so that peace may prevail (1 Tim. 2:2), and for the quick return of the Prince of Peace.
- (3) Military Service. The Wesleyan Church teaches respect for properly constituted civil authority and the proper loyalty to one’s country. It recognizes the responsibility of the individual to answer the call of government and to enter into military service. However, there are those within the fellowship of The Wesleyan Church who believe that military service is contrary to the teaching of the New Testament and that their consciences are violated by being compelled to take part in such. The Wesleyan Church will therefore lend moral support to any member who asks and claims exemption by legal processes from military service as a sincere conscientious objector and who asks to serve one’s country as a noncombatant.
- (4) Care of the Body and Substance Abuse. The Bible teaches the sanctity of the human body as the temple of the Holy Spirit (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Christians should avoid the use of anything which would damage the body, destroy the family, harm society (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:1 Corinthians 10:23-24), undermine the fellowship of the church, hinder reaching full potential in Christ, enslave the will (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:1 Corinthians 6:12), inhibit evangelism (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:1 Corinthians 9:19-23), breach the Lord’s command to love God supremely and to love one’s neighbor as oneself (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Deuteronomy 6:5; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Leviticus 19:18; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Matthew 22:37-39), or become a stumbling block to the young in age or faith (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Matthew 18:6; 1 Corinthians 8:9, 13; 10:32–33). The Wesleyan Church encourages its members to practice self-discipline and temperance in matters of proper eating, exercise, and rest. We oppose the production, sale, purchase and use of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, narcotics, and other harmful drugs, unless for mechanical, chemical, or medicinal purposes (cf. 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:265:4). The unprescribed use of hallucinogens, stimulants, and depressants, and the misuse and abuse of regularly prescribed medicines should be prohibited; only on competent medical advice and under medical supervision should such drugs be used. The consequences to society stemming from substance abuse are of major concern because of their unarguably negative impact on the spiritual character and nature of individuals and the welfare of society. These include the creation of barriers to conversion, family dysfunction and breakdown, poverty, disease and death, increased violence and crime, the incalculable loss to national economies, and the destruction of the individual caught by the power of addiction. In light of the overwhelming evidence of damage to society and the spiritual health of the individual by the abuse of such substances, we believe that even where their use may be legalized, we choose total abstinence as our appropriate response (i.e., voluntarily refraining from and totally avoiding the use of something in all unnecessary circumstances as determined by the individual Christian’s conscience in submission to the lordship of Christ and the admonitions of the Church). Such abstinence is a willing act of self-discipline, an acceptance of group accountability, and never a test of salvation or an evidence of superior spirituality.
- (5) Human Sexuality. The Wesleyan Church maintains a biblical view of human sexuality which makes the sexual experience, within the framework of marriage, a gift of God to be enjoyed as communion of a man and woman, as well as for the purpose of procreation. Sexual relationships outside of marriage and sexual relationships between persons of the same sex are immoral and sinful. Yet we believe the grace of God sufficient to overcome both the practice of such activity and the inclination leading to its practice.
- (6) Divorce and Remarriage. On the basis of a careful study of the Scriptures, and in keeping with its Membership Commitments (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:265:6), The Wesleyan Church teaches the following with reference to divorce and remarriage after divorce:
- (a) To obtain a divorce on other than scriptural grounds is a sin against God and humanity. Such putting asunder of what God has joined is a direct and deliberate act of disobedience against both the Law and the Gospel. It separates one from God and may subject a member to Church discipline (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:222).
- (b) However, recognizing the fallen state of humanity, divorce has been recognized in the Scriptures as a valid and permanent dissolution of marriage with all its rights and responsibilities. Divorce is not reversible. There is no way to “restore” a dissolved marriage. The divorced (unmarried) status can be changed only by a new marriage to the same person or another person. No divorced and remarried person has two spouses, only a former spouse and a present spouse, as in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:1 Corinthians 7.
- (c) Divorce, however sinful the act and however serious the consequences, is not “unpardonable.” A redeemed sinner or reclaimed backslider is “free” to marry “in the Lord” or to remain unmarried, a eunuch for the kingdom of God’s sake. The one exception to this freedom of choice is mentioned by the Apostle Paul. It is a believer who disobeys the commandment of God and puts away a believing spouse. That person must remain unmarried to leave room for reconciliation to the spouse (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:1 Corinthians 7).
- (d) The right to remarry in no way excuses the sin of divorce. It only implies that the Church must forgive and restore those whom the Lord forgives and restores. Neither penance nor penalty remain to the truly penitent and restored sinner, or backslider, whatever the traumatic consequences of the sin may be.
- (7) The Lord’s Day. God prescribed that one day a week be set aside for the spiritual, mental, and physical well being of humankind (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Genesis 2:2-3; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Deuteronomy 5:12-14). The Wesleyan Church encourages its members to observe the Lord’s Day in an appropriate manner (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Romans 14:4-6; cf. 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:265:1).
- (8) Religion in Public Life. The Wesleyan Church, believing that it is possible to allow recognition of God and the invoking of His aid in public functions without violating the personal rights and freedoms granted in many nations, advocates the enactment of suitable legislation by legislative bodies at all levels of government which will strengthen provision for the free exercise of religion in public life and allow reference to, or the invoking of the aid of God by individuals serving, writing, speaking, leading or contributing to any public function. The Wesleyan Church further affirms its belief in the public school’s duty to recognize the historical and ongoing contribution of the Judeo-Christian tradition to world cultures and modern life. The Wesleyan Church verifies the Bible is an appropriate book for reading in public schools and the right of students to pray as desired.
- (9) Public School. The Wesleyan Church supports the right and responsibility of parents to determine what is appropriate education for their children, testing the education their children are receiving in accordance with biblical principles and striving for excellence in the education provided for all children. We maintain the right of our members to seek exemption from participation by their children in all matters that are contrary to scriptural doctrines and principles as expressed in the Articles of Religion, Membership Commitments, Elementary Principles or Special Directions of our Church, without prejudice to academic standing.
- (10) Judicial Oaths. The Wesleyan Church reserves for its members the right to affirm the truth in testimony before the civil and criminal courts rather than to engage in a judicial oath.
- (11) Abortion. The Wesleyan Church seeks to recognize and preserve the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death and, thus, is opposed to the use of induced abortion. However, it recognizes that there may be rare pregnancies where there are grave medical conditions threatening the life of the mother, which could raise a serious question about taking the life of the unborn child. In such a case, a decision should be made only after very prayerful consideration following medical and spiritual counseling. The Wesleyan Church encourages its members to become informed about the abortion issue and to become actively involved locally and nationally in the preparation and passage of appropriate legislation guaranteeing protection of life under law to unborn children.
- (12) Use of Time and Entertainments. The Wesleyan Church believes that its members should exercise responsible stewardship of their time for worship, work, rest, personal leisure, and service to others. Special care should be given to honoring Christ in one’s choices and pursuit of entertainments. This will include refusing to patronize and to carefully regulate the use in the home of activities, media, and communication where they feature the cheapening of human life, the gratuitiously violent, the use of immoral or profane language, and the sexually explicit and pornographic. Members should avoid involvement with activities that tend to be addictive or conducive to gambling (i.e., risking one’s assets or property on the outcome of legal or illegal games of chance, including government-sponsored lotteries). We believe gambling violates the principle of Christian stewardship (i.e., trusting God’s provision for us, as exemplified in 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Matthew 6:25-34) and the tenth commandment which forbids coveting (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Deuteronomy 5:21); is harmful to the individual in that it is emotionally addictive; can be a poor example to others of how to manage the resources of God or trust in God’s provision; appeals to greed; endangers families; lowers socio-economic standards and self esteem; engenders false hope; and is exploitative in that it takes advantage of the misplaced hopes, compulsions or poor judgment of others. We believe that total abstinence is the best Christian response to gambling in all its forms.
B. Christian Worship and Fellowship
420. Rites and Ceremonies of Churches. True religion does not consist in any ritual observances such as forms or ceremonies, even of the most excellent kind, be they ever so decent and significant, ever so expressive of inward things. The religion of Christ rises infinitely higher and lies infinitely deeper than all these. Let no one conceive that rites and ceremonies have any intrinsic worth, or that true worship cannot subsist without them. Therefore, it is not necessary that rites and ceremonies should in all places be the same or exactly alike, for they have always been different and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and customs, provided that nothing be ordained against God’s Word.
2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Acts 15:10, 28–29; Rom. 14:2–6, 15, 17, 21; 1 Cor. 1:10; 12:25; 14:26; 2 Cor. 13:11; Gal. 5:1, 13; Col. 2:16–17; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14; 1 Tim. 1:4, 6; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:1 Peter 2:16.
430. Healing. The truth that Jesus is both able and willing to heal the body as well as the human soul, whenever such healing is for His glory, is clearly set forth in God’s Word and attested by the experience of many of His people at the present day. Prayer for healing according to the pattern set forth in the Scriptures shall be encouraged.
Matt. 10:8; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Luke 9:2; 10:9; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Acts 4:10, 14; 1 Cor. 12:9, 28; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:James 5:14-16.
440. Christian Liberty. Christ, through His death on the cross, has freed His followers from sin and from bondage to the law. Christians are “called unto liberty” (Gal. 5:13 KJV), and are not under the law as a means of salvation. They are rather exhorted, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1 KJV).
This liberty, however, is not to be construed as license (Gal. 5:13). Rather, love for Christ constrains the Christian to live a righteous and holy life as God demands. By the Spirit of God, His laws are written on the heart (Heb. 8:10). So Christians resist evil and cleave to the good, not in order to be saved, but because they have been saved. Within the bounds of Christian liberty, there will be differences of opinion. In such cases, the believer seeks to avoid offending other believers. The stronger one is mindful of the opinions of the one with the weaker conscience (1 Cor. 8 and 10), and is careful not to put a stumbling block in another’s way (1 Cor. 10:24; Gal 5:13). On the other hand, the weak does not criticize the strong (1 Cor. 10:29–30), for the conscience of the weak may need instruction. The recognition and exercise of that liberty which Christ affords will glorify God and promote the unity of the Church.
450. Christian Unity. The Wesleyan Church, having originated through merger between those of like precious faith, is fully committed to that true Christian unity which is based on scriptural truth and the fellowship of the Spirit, and deplores the separation or division of Christians over peripheral and nonessential matters. While The Wesleyan Church opposes the building of one all-inclusive ecclesiastical organization which regards neither scriptural doctrine nor practice, it welcomes fellowship with those who are committed to the same doctrines and standards of holy living, and cooperation across denominational lines with those who hold the cardinal doctrines of the Christian religion revealed in the Bible.
C. Christian Stewardship
460. Meaning of Stewardship. The Scriptures teach that God is the owner of all persons and all things, that people are His stewards of both life and possessions, that God’s ownership and one’s stewardship ought to be acknowledged, and that every person shall be held personally accountable to God for the exercise of their stewardship (cf. 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:265:3). God, as a God of system and order in all of His ways, has established a system of giving which acknowledges His ownership and humankind’s stewardship. To this end, all His children should faithfully tithe and present offerings for the support of the gospel.
465. Storehouse Tithing. Storehouse tithing is a scriptural and practical performance of faithfully and regularly placing the tithe into that church to which the member belongs. Therefore, the financing of the church shall be based on the plan of storehouse tithing, and The Wesleyan Church shall be regarded by all its people as the storehouse. All who are a part of The Wesleyan Church are urged to contribute faithfully one-tenth of all their increase as a minimum financial obligation to the Lord and freewill offerings in addition as God has prospered them.
Gen. 14:20; 28:22; Lev. 27:30–32; Deut. 14:22; Prov. 3:9–10; 11:24–25; Mal. 3:10–11; Matt. 23:23; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:Acts 4:34-35; 6:1–3; 1 Cor. 16:2; 2 Cor. 8:13–14; Heb. 7:1–2, 6, 9.
470. Methods of Fund Raising. In the light of the scriptural teaching concerning the giving of tithes and offerings (cf. 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:465) for the support of the gospel, and for the erection of church buildings, no Wesleyan church should engage in any method of fund raising which would detract from these principles, hinder the gospel message, sully the name of the Church, discriminate against the poor, or misdirect the people’s energies from promoting the gospel.
475. Wills, Bequests and Annuities. It is essential in the exercise of Christian stewardship that careful thought be given as to what shall be done with one’s estate after death. Civil laws often do not provide for the distribution of an estate in such a way as to glorify God. Each Christian should give careful attention to the preparation of a last will and testament in a careful and legal manner, and The Wesleyan Church and its various ministries through the local church, the district, world missions, extension and evangelism, education, and benevolences are recommended for consideration. The General Superintendent’s office is prepared to assist in these matters (2016 Wesleyan Discipline:4240; 2016 Wesleyan Discipline:4940).