iCampus – What about the Book of Discipline?

This is a series of responses to questions about an internet campus from a previous series of posts. Do you have any other questions? Feel free to leave them in the comments and I will try to respond to each one. Thanks!

What about the Book of Discipline? Thanks to Mark Burleson for adding his clarification question on a previous post – Will this affect the UMC conditions on staying within your region?

Why does the Book of Discipline matter in the first place? The Book of Discipline is the governing document for all congregations and clergy of The United Methodist Church, which includes The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. Part of our understood limitations as a congregation is that Resurrection shall not “do anything in opposition to the spirit and intent of the United Methodist Book of Discipline.”

Some particular paragraphs from the 2004 Book of Discipline that may be relevant to an internet campus

¶ 120 The Mission – “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.”

I believe that the mission of the church could be fulfilled through an online campus, including the addition from the 2008 general conference – “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

¶ 122 The Process for Carrying Out Our Mission – We make disciples as we:

  • proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome and gather persons into the body of Christ
  • lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ;
  • nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley’s Christian conferencing;
  • send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel; and
  • continue the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ.

The only portion of this paragraph which could not be directly carried out by an internet campus would be receiving the sacaraments, an issue which I have previously noted.

¶ 202 The Function of the Local Church – The church of Jesus Christ exists in and for the world. It is primarily at the level of the local church that the church encounters the world. The local church is a strategic base from which Christians move out to the structures of society. The function of the local church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to help people to accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God. Therefore, the local church is to minister to persons in the community where the church is located, to provide appropriate training and nurture to all, to cooperate in ministry with other local churches, to defend God’s creation and live as an ecologically responsible community, and to participate in the worldwide mission of the church, as minimal expectations of an authentic church.

I see two items of note in this paragraph in relation to an internet campus. First, the church “is to minister to persons in the community where the church is located.” I believe that a church with an internet campus could be understood to exist in the online community and be in ministry to people of that community. Second, cooperation with other local churches would necessarily be a part of an internet campus for a United Methodist congregation. Internet campus attenders would not be discouraged from seeking out a local faith community where they are physically located.

¶ 341 Unauthorized Conduct

3. No pastor shall arbitrarily organize a pastoral charge (See ¶ 260 for the method of organizing a local church.)

4. No pastor shall hold a religious service within the bounds of a pastoral charge other than the one to which appointed without the consent of the pastor in charge, or the district superintendent. No pastor shall hold a religious service within the bounds of a pastoral charge or establish a ministry to a college or university campus served by The United Methodist Church without the consent of the pastor or campus minister in charge or the district superintendent. If that pastor does not refrain from such conduct, he or she shall then be liable to the provisions of ¶ 362.1 and ¶ 2702.

In regard to point 3, an internet campus would not be a pastoral charge, it would be a part of the ministry of an existing local church. In regard to point 4, the Book of Discipline does not anticipate an internet campus and I believe that an internet campus experience would not violate this prohibition. There are likely many ways to think about it but here are a few – there is a physical service that is taking place in an existing local congregation and the service is being “held” on the internet not in a physical location. I am sure there are other interpretations here…

What do you think about my responses? How would you answer this question?

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