Chapter 1 – General Principles
A. Meaning and Purpose of Church Discipline
5000. The Church has the responsibility to provide a holy and harmonious environment that fosters Christlike conduct and relationships. The purpose of church discipline is the vindication of the truth, the preservation of the integrity of the body, the restoration and salvation of the guilty, and the warning of the careless.
B. The Administration of Church Discipline
5002. In order that the purposes of the church may be realized, discipline in The Wesleyan Church shall be administered in accord with the following principles:
- (1) A prayerful and Christlike spirit shall be maintained at all times by all parties.1
- (2) Every effort shall be made to bring back to the Lord any who have wandered from Him (268).2
- (3) A sincere and reasonable effort shall be made to resolve an accusation or to deal with an offending person in keeping with scriptural admonitions.3
- (4) Each accusation and all proceedings shall receive prompt and careful attention by the proper authorities.
- (5) Any offending person shall be dealt with kindly, yet faithfully, according to the seriousness of the offense and as provided for in The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church and the General Board Policy for Church Discipline and Ministerial Restoration.
1 1 Cor. 13:4; Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 4:2
2 See 1 Thess. 5:14; Jude 22–23.
3 Matt. 18:15–18; Gal. 6:1–2; James 5:16, 19–20.
C. Conflict Resolution
5004. Conflict Resolution. The person having the grievance shall be first required to follow the Lord’s directions in Matthew 18:15-17.
- (1) The person having the grievance should go to the accused and point out the issue, just between the two of them.
- (2) If unresolved, the person having the grievance shall seek counsel from the official having jurisdiction (pastor, district superintendent, general officer) relative to the steps to be taken.4
- (3) If the personal grievance remains unresolved or affects the body of believers, the official having jurisdiction or a designated representative shall privately inquire, and, if necessary, instruct and admonish an offending person. If there is an acknowledgment of the fault and correction is made, the matter shall be dropped.
- (4) If the grievance continues, the official in charge shall provide intervention. If the conflict remains unresolved, and if the matter rises to the level of a fair and impartial hearing of charges pending, procedures shall be followed according to The General Board Policy for Church Discipline and Ministerial Restoration.
Paragraphs 5010-5450 were relocated by the 2016 General Conference to the General Board Policy on Church Discipline. A copy of the publication may be obtained by request at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4 See 2 Cor. 6:1-8
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5008. Left intentionally blank.
1. Individual or Corporate
5010. Any member, minister, local church, district, official body or other agency of The Wesleyan Church shall be liable to disciplinary proceedings for any of the following offenses:
- (1) Holding, teaching, disseminating or tolerating the teaching of any doctrine contrary v
- (2) Disobedience to the provisions of The Discipline or tolerating such disobedience.
- (3) Willful refusal to recognize Church authority. vi
- (4) Conduct unbecoming a member or minister of The Wesleyan Church.
- (5) Sexual immorality.vii
- (6) Serious or persistent neglect of duty.
5011. Accusations must be in writing, dated, signed by the accuser(s) and handed to the official having jurisdiction over the accused. The official having jurisdiction shall decide whether to handle the matter directly or refer to a higher Church authority. In either case, an investigation of the accusation shall be conducted. Whenever, in the opinion of the accuser(s), proper action has not been taken, appeal may be made to the next higher Church authority.
5012. Investigation. At any point in these proceedings, the official having jurisdiction or the accused may ask the official body having jurisdiction to conduct an investigation. Such an investigation may include a committee of two or more covenant members or ministers of The Wesleyan Church who can be relied on for impartial judgment, who are not involved in the matter, and who are not closely related to any party involved. The investigation shall involve a careful and thorough inquiry into the matter, meeting with each appropriate person and meeting with any antagonists together if at all possible. One member of the committee shall serve as secretary and a written report shall be presented to the official having jurisdiction. If the committee finds no grounds for discipline, it shall so report and the official having jurisdiction shall relay this report to the official body having jurisdiction and the matter shall be dropped. If the committee does find grounds for discipline, it shall so report and the official and official body having jurisdiction shall decide on subsequent steps. Should a hearing be ordered, the investigative report shall be made available to the judicatory.
E. Resolution without a Hearing
5014. Settlement by Agreement. At any point in these proceedings, in matters that would not involve removal from credentialed standing or dismissal from membership, if the official having jurisdiction discovers that an agreement can be reached with the parties involved that will settle the matter satisfactorily without a hearing, the official shall establish a written agreement and secure signatures to it from the involved parties and submit it for approval to the official body having jurisdiction and subsequently to the next higher Church authority. If all approve, it shall close the matter.
5016. Citation to Show Cause. If no agreement has yet been reached, and the official having jurisdiction believes the evidence is strong that an offense has occurred, in a final effort to avoid a hearing, the official may cite the person accused of the offense to appear before the official having jurisdiction to show cause why the accused should not go to a hearing. If the matter persists to resist counsel, the matter shall go to a hearing.
5018. Confession of Guilt. At any point in the proceedings outlined above, if the accused shall confess guilt, the official body having jurisdiction shall conclude the proceedings and decide on the discipline to be imposed. (Cf. 5058:4.)
F. Discipline Involving a Hearing
1. Right to Hearing and Appeal
5020. The right to a fair and impartial hearing and the right to appeal shall not be denied to any member, minister, local church, district or official body of The Wesleyan Church. No one shall be arbitrarily set aside without due consideration for both spiritual welfare and rights as a member of The Wesleyan Church and shall always have the right to request a hearing or to appeal, even when placed under discipline (Disc. 302:4; 305:3; 313:7; 315:8; 323:10; 360:3f; 375:4, 6; 380).
- 5020:1. Original jurisdiction over a member ordinarily belongs to the local church of which the person is a member.
- 5020:2. Exceptions in Jurisdiction. There are situations as provided for in The Discipline 365 in which jurisdiction over a member may be assumed by the district or by the General Church.
- (1) If a member is a person credentialed by the district, or is elected as an officer of the district, full jurisdiction over all offenses passes to the district, with full authority to set the discipline.
- (2) If a covenant member is also a general officer, a member of the General Board or otherwise employed by the General Church, or is a district superintendent, full jurisdiction over all offenses passes to the General Church, with full authority to fix the discipline, including removal from office or dismissal from membership.
- (3) If a lay member’s conduct is such as to affect the health of the local church where membership is held, and the district superintendent and the district board of administration become convinced that the local church is unable or unwilling to deal appropriately with such member, or if a lay member is alleged to have committed offenses which affect The Wesleyan Church beyond the local church where membership is held, the district superintendent may recommend and the district board of administration may authorize the assumption by the district of jurisdiction in the matter. Investigation and hearing would be conducted in accord with district procedures. Any appeals shall be heard by the district board of review. The district would have full authority to fix the discipline, including removal from office or dismissal from membership.
5022. Accusations must be in writing, dated, signed by the accuser(s) and handed to the official having jurisdiction over the accused before a hearing can be ordered. Whenever, in the opinion of the accuser(s), proper action has not been taken, appeal may be made to the next higher Church authority.
4. Disciplinary Measures
5023. Definition of Disciplines. There shall be five degrees of discipline for the administration of discipline which are:
- (1) Admonition. Admonition is the mildest discipline and consists of a general reproof, a warning and an exhortation to greater watchfulness by the offender. (See 1 Thess. 5:14.)
- (2) Rebuke. Rebuke is a stronger discipline for a more serious offense and consists in setting forth the offense, an official rebuke and correction, and a warning to the offender. (See 1 Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 4:2.)
- (3) Suspension. Suspension is that discipline by which the accused is placed “under discipline” and is deprived of certain rights and privileges for a period of probation.
- (4) Removal. Removal is that discipline by which a person is deposed from an official position, credentialed status or appointments. (See 1 Tim. 1:19–20.)
- (5) Dismissal. Dismissal is the strongest discipline and is the expulsion of the offender from membership in the Church (Disc. 305:3; 315:1; 585:3), which automatically includes all lesser disciplines. Dismissal should be imposed only for the most serious offenses, or for obstinate persistence in a serious offense. (See 2 Cor. 6:14–15; 1 Tim. 1:19–20.)
5. Charges and Specifications
5024. A hearing may not be ordered until a proper inquiry is made. When the investigation has found evident need for discipline, it shall prepare appropriate charges and specifications.
- (1) A charge sets forth an offense, a kind of act or conduct that makes a person liable to discipline.
- (2) A specification states what the accused is alleged to have done, an instance of the offense indicated in the charge.
- (3) It is not required that the accusations be written in any particular legal form. Every accusation must be in writing, dated, signed by the accuser(s), and must clearly define the alleged offense by its proper term as stated in 5010, and each charge must be accompanied by at least one specification.
- (4) A charge shall not allege more than one offense. However, more than one charge against the same person or unit, with the specifications for each charge, may be presented to the judicatory at the same time and heard at the same time, provided that the vote on each charge shall be taken separately. The specifications shall declare as far as possible, the time, place and circumstances of the alleged offense, and shall be accompanied with the names of the witnesses and the title of each record or document to be cited for its support.
5025. When the official body having jurisdiction orders a hearing, it shall at the same time appoint the judicatory (judicial committee) in keeping with the appropriate provisions of The General Board Policy for Church Discipline and Ministerial. Each judicatory is appointed as needed for a specific matter. The judicatory shall conduct the hearing in keeping with the provisions of this General Board Policy for Church Discipline and Ministerial Restoration.
5026. One member of the judicatory shall be designated as the chair, either by the official body having jurisdiction, or as otherwise provided in The General Board Policy for Church Discipline and Ministerial Restoration. The chair is a voting member of the judicatory. The duties and responsibilities of the chair shall include:
- (1) To preside over all phases of the hearing, making certain that all provisions of this General Board Policy for Church Discipline and Ministerial Restoration are observed.
- (2) To appoint a secretary (5056).
- (3) To exercise, if such is deemed wise, the option of appointing counsel when the accused has not exercised the right to do so (5040:1). The counsel shall be a member or minister of The Wesleyan Church.
- (4) To give direction to preparation of notices and citations to appear, and to sign the same (5042).
- (5) To notify the accused of their rights (5040).
- (6) To instruct the judicatory concerning its duties as assigned in this General Board Policy for Church Discipline and Ministerial Restoration, both before the hearing begins and again before the judicatory deliberates on the verdict (5058:14).
- (7) To decide on the validity of any challenge for cause of the qualifications of a member of the judicatory (5040:3; 5054).
- (8) To grant, if such is deemed wise, a postponement of the hearing (5044).
- (9) To schedule the hearing date providing time for the members of the judicatory to arrange their schedules so that they can be available to complete the hearing in a timely manner.
- (10) When possible to schedule the hearing to be conducted on consecutive days.
- (11) To receive the list of witnesses that will be called by the hearing manager and the accused, and to inform both parties at the same time of said witnesses.
- (12) To state, at the beginning of the hearing, the purpose of the hearing, to read the official action ordering the hearing, and to announce the members of the judicatory (5058:2).
- (13) To decide on the admissibility of evidence (5027).
- (14) To announce the verdict only as “guilty” or “not guilty.”
- (15) To communicate the verdict and any recommendations being made to the official body having jurisdiction (5058:17).
- (16) To inform the accused in writing of the verdict.
- (17) To attest the records of the hearing (5056).
- (18) To have custody of the records throughout the hearing until the matter is finished, and then to deliver such records to the official having jurisdiction (5056).The records of a hearing will be retained in a confidential file either at the district or the General Church level for a minimum of ten years.
5027. Rules of Evidence. An investigation, judicatory or other official body shall not be bound by any technical rules of evidence but shall adopt such rules as shall, in its opinion, be best adapted to ascertain the truth and determine accurately the substantial rights of the parties involved. The chair of the judicatory shall decide on the admissibility of evidence.
5028. Testimony. No one may be barred as a witness on the grounds of not being a member of The Wesleyan Church (but their time in the room where the hearing is held shall be limited to their time on the stand unless waived by the chair of the judicatory (cf. 5046). Whenever circumstances make it impossible for a witness to appear, a proper certificate of affidavit from such a person may be presented, provided that the party against whom it is sought to be introduced has had a proper opportunity to see the certificate or affidavit and personally or through counsel to question before witnesses the person signing the affidavit regarding the contents thereof.
5030. Proof of Charges. The accused shall be presumed innocent until the contrary is proved. However, the moral conviction of the truth of the charge is all that is necessary to find the accused guilty of the charges. In all matters the accused may be questioned relative to the charges made.
5032. The official body ordering a hearing shall, at the same time, appoint a member or minister of The Wesleyan Church in good standing as manager of the hearing. In addition an assistant manager shall be appointed. The manager’s duty is to prepare in final form the accusation and specifications, present them at the proper time and place to the judicatory and represent the official body having jurisdiction during the hearing. The manager’s responsibility is to help the judicatory get at the truth and to secure a just outcome.
9. Rights of the Judicatory
5036. Right of Investigation. The Church has a right to investigate the character of its members and ministers in order to maintain the purity of its doctrines and practices, and can, therefore, through its own officers, official bodies and judicatories, require members or ministers under investigation to testify, under discipline of dismissal, if they refuse.
5038. Duty of Cooperation. It shall be the duty of every member, minister and church body to cooperate and to give testimony when properly requested to do so for an official investigation or hearing (cf. 5010:3; 5050).
10. Rights of the Accused
5040. Any member or minister who is accused shall have the following rights:
- (1) Counsel. The accused shall have the right to choose counsel, or to present a personal defense; but where this right is not exercised, counsel may be appointed by the chair of the judicatory. The counsel shall be a member or minister of The Wesleyan Church.
- (2) Examination. The accused, or counsel, shall have the right to meet any accuser(s) face-to-face and to cross-examine any witnesses presented by the manager (cf. 5028).
- (3) Objection. The accused shall have the right to challenge for cause the qualifications of any member of the judicatory, the validity of which shall be determined by the chair of the judicatory (cf. 5054).
- (4) Limitation. A minister or member shall not be required to answer for any accusation which occurred more than five years before the filing of such accusation, except in matters involving immorality.
11. Notices and Postponements
5042. All notices and citations to appear shall be given as directed by the chair of the judicatory and shall be in writing, in the name of the official body having jurisdiction ordering the hearing, and signed by the chair. An official notice of the date, time and place of the hearing (the names of the persons appointed to the judicatory), together with an official copy of the accusation and specifications, and a citation to appear shall be delivered to the accused; this shall be done at least thirty days before the hearing unless both the manager and the accused agree to a shorter period. No subsequent changes in such charges and specifications shall be permitted. Notices to appear shall be given to such witnesses as either party may name, and shall be served at least thirty days before the hearing. Members or ministers of The Wesleyan Church shall be cited to appear, but others may only be requested to appear (cf. 5038). An official notice of the names of the persons appointed to the judicatory shall be delivered to the accused at least thirty days before the hearing.
5044. The manager or the accused shall have the right to petition the chair of the judicatory for a postponement of the hearing date, and the chair may grant such a petition if deemed essential for proper preparation or other necessary reasons, provided that the other party shall be notified before the postponement is granted. A postponement shall not be granted for more than fifteen days, except for extenuating circumstances.
5046. Only those who are members or ministers of The Wesleyan Church shall be allowed to participate in a hearing, except as witnesses and only those participating in the hearing shall be permitted to attend the hearing. Nonmembers who consent to testify may be brought in as witnesses at the hearing, but any witness, even a member, should not be allowed in the room except while testifying, unless this prohibition is waived by the chair of the judicatory. Witnesses shall be examined first by the party producing them, then cross-examined by the opposite party, after which any member of the judicatory or either party may put additional questions. All deliberations of a judicatory shall be considered confidential during and after the hearing, and members of a judicatory shall not discuss the matter with anyone outside the judicatory during the hearing.
13. Request for Withdrawal
5048. Whenever in the course of an investigation or hearing, the accused person shall request a letter of withdrawal from the Church, the same shall be granted and the matter shall end. It shall be noted on the membership records of the local church, and, when the accused is a minister, on the membership record of the district, as “withdrawn under accusation” whenever such request is during the investigation, and “withdrawn under charges” when such request is during the hearing (cf. Disc. 592).
14. Failure or Refusal to Appear
5050. Whenever an accused member or minister refuses to obey a properly issued citation to appear for hearing, or fails to appear except for unavoidable circumstances, the accused shall be considered guilty as charged and the judicatory may proceed to set the discipline. A member or minister of The Wesleyan Church who refuses a properly issued citation to appear as a witness shall likewise be deemed subject to church discipline (cf. 5010:3, 5038).
15. Status of the Accused
5052. After the official notice of the date, time and place of the hearing, together with a copy of the accusation and specifications, is delivered to the accused and until after judgment is rendered by the judicatory, the accused may be temporarily suspended from the exercise of any office by the official body having jurisdiction.
16. Grounds for Challenge
5054. A person is disqualified to serve as a member of any judicatory who is personally interested in the matter, closely related to either the accused or the accuser, has been active for or against either party in the matter referred to in the charges, is at personal variance with either party, or who has prejudged the matter (cf. 5012; 5040:3). Any member of a judicatory may, on such grounds, be challenged in writing by either party, provided that such challenge shall be made not later than one week prior to the opening of any hearing, and the allowance of such challenge shall be decided by the chair of the judicatory.
5056. The chair of the judicatory shall appoint a secretary, who need not be a member of the judicatory (but must be a member of The Wesleyan Church), and shall see that complete and accurate records are kept by the secretary of all proceedings, testimonies, evidence, documents admitted, together with copies of the charges, specifications, notices, citations and findings of the judicatory. The records shall be attested to by both the chair and the secretary. The chair shall be the custodian of such records until the matter is finished and shall then deliver such records to the officer designated by the official body having jurisdiction for permanent filing. Whenever the decision of the judicatory is appealed, the person having custody of the official records shall forward such records promptly to the chair of the appellate body, or a transcript of the same, when requested to do so by the chair of the appellate body.
18. Order of a Hearing
5058. The following order should be observed in conducting a hearing:
- (1) Devotions.
- (2) Statement of purpose, the reading of the official action ordering the hearing, and the announcement of the members of the judicatory, by the chair of the judicatory.
- (3) Reading of the accusation and specifications by the secretary, unless waived.
- (4) Answer by the accused or the counsel for the accused with a plea of “guilty” or “not guilty.” If guilt is confessed, the judicatory may thereupon consider the discipline to be imposed, if any, and terminate the hearing, or it may request to hear the evidence in order to make a more proper determination of the matter and the disciplines to be imposed.
- (5) Statement of the matter and outline of the procedure by the manager.
- (6) Evidence submitted by the accused and cross-examination by the accused.
- (7) Statement of the matter and line of defense by the accused.
- (8) Evidence for the accused and cross-examination by the manager.
- (9) Rebuttal by the manager.
- (10) Rebuttal by the accused.
- (11) Summary of the matter by the manager.
- (12) Summary of the matter by the accused.
- (13) Should it be deemed proper to allow the manager to reply, the accused shall also be permitted to reply.
- (14) Instructions by the chair to the judicatory concerning the duties assigned to it as set forth in this General Board Policy for Church Discipline and Ministerial Restoration and especially to render a verdict in not more than three days, if possible, and to vote separately on each charge, with a two-thirds vote of all the members required to render a verdict of guilty. Members of the judicatory who have been absent from more than one sitting shall not be permitted to vote on the verdict.
- (15) The verdict, stated only as guilty or not guilty.
- (16) Communication of the verdict to the accused.
- (17) Communication by the chair of the verdict, and the recommendations, if any, being made to the official body having jurisdiction over the accused.
5062. Right of Appeal. The accused, if found guilty, shall have the right to appeal the verdict and/or the discipline unless such right has been forfeited for misconduct. Misconduct shall consist of withdrawing from the Church, publicly discrediting, slandering or libeling the members of the judicatory, refusing to abide by the decision of the judicatory, or by refusing to appear in person or by counsel if cited to appear by the appellate body, or by resorting to a suit in a civil court concerning the matter involved in the charges. Misconduct shall be decided upon by the appellate body. If, on the other hand, the accused was found innocent, the official body which ordered the hearing has the right to appeal the verdict.
5064. Procedure of Appeal. The appellant or the counsel of appellant, within thirty days after being notified of the verdict and/or discipline, may submit a request in writing and shall set forth the grounds of the appeal. The chair of the appellate body shall ask for a transfer of all the official records of the matter, or a transcript of the same, which shall be forwarded promptly by the person having custody of such records. The appellant shall be responsible to pay the cost of the appeal, including the cost of preparing a transcript of the records. Upon modification or reversal of the verdict and/or discipline, such cost of the appeal shall be paid by the person or body losing the appeal.
5066. Status of the Accused during Appeal. While the appeal is pending, the discipline shall be deferred, though if under discipline prior to hearing such discipline shall remain. Whenever the accused is a church or a district, it may continue to function but shall have the status of being under discipline and shall not be entitled to any representatives in a conference body and, in the case of a district, shall not have authority to buy, sell or transfer any real property, except with the approval of the General Superintendent.
5068. Judgment of the Appellate Body. The appellate body shall promptly consider the matter and the grounds for appeal and shall render judgment within sixty days, with the exception of the General Board of Review. The appellate body, by a majority vote, may affirm, modify or reverse the verdict and recommendations of the lower judicatory in whole or in part, or may remand the matter for a new hearing, provided that if the accused has been previously found innocent, it shall require a two-thirds majority vote of the appellate body to find the accused guilty (does not apply to the General Board of Review, cf. 5425:3). In all matters the right to present evidence shall be exhausted when the matter has been heard once on its merits in the proper judicatory. Whenever a matter is remanded for a new hearing, a new judicatory shall be constituted, to provide for a fair and proper hearing. When any appellate body shall modify or reverse, in whole or in part, the verdict and recommendations of a judicatory, or change the discipline imposed by the official body having jurisdiction, it shall return to the official body having jurisdiction, or to the judicatory, a statement of the grounds of its action.