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Decision No. 86

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May 02 1952
In Re: Constitutionality of Proposed Legislation Referred to the Judicial Council by the General Conference

Digest of Case

(1) The sentence: "Such a society of believers, being within The MethodistChurch and subject to its Discipline, is also an inherent part of the Church Universal, which is composed of all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and which in The Apostles' Creed we declare to be the holy catholic Church," is not so clearly in violation of the First Restrictive Rule as to continue its insertion in the proposed legislation of which it forms a part, a legal matter of such a nature as to authorize the Judicial Council to take jurisdiction and render a Decision as to its Constitutionality. (2) The proposal to add by legislation the words, "is the creation of God and" to Paragraph 101 of the report under consideration same being Article XIII of the Articles of Religion, does alter and change said Article. It is therefore in violation of the First Restrictive Rule, and is unconstitutional.

Statement of Facts

On April 28, 1952, the General Conference has referred to the Judicial Council for a Declaratory Decision as to the Constitutionality thereof the following: One - The last sentence of Paragraph 102 of the Report of the Commission on the Study of the Local Church, which sentence reads as follows: "Such a society of believers, being within The Methodist Church and subject to its Discipline, is also an inherent part of the Church Universal, which is composed of all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and which in the Apostles' Creed we declare to be the holy catholic Church." Two - A proposal to insert in the first line of Paragraph 101 of such Report (said Paragraph 101 being an exact quotation of Article XIII of the Articles of Religion) the following expression: "is the creation of God"; making the firstclause in said article to read: "Paragraph 101. The visible Church of Christ is the Creation of God and," etc. These two Paragraphs, 101 and 102 of the Report under consideration, read in full as follows: "Section 1 "101. The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same (Paragraph 73). "102. The local church is a connectional society of persons who have professed their faith in Christ, have been baptized, have assumed the vows of membership in The Methodist Church, and are associated in fellowship as a local Methodist church in order that they may hear the Word of God, receive the Sacraments, and carry forward the work which Christ has committed to His Church. Such a society of believers, being within The Methodist Church and subject to its Discipline, is also an inherent part of the Church Universal, which is composed of all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and which in the Apostles' Creed we declare to be the holy catholic Church." Paragraph 101 is a quotation of Paragraph 73 of the Discipline known as Article XIII of the Articles of Religion. Paragraph 9 of the Discipline, known as the "Restrictive Rules," is a part of the Constitution. Section 1 thereof is known in Church history as the First Restrictive Rule. It reads as follows: "1. The General Conference shall not revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion, or establish any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine." On the first item referred it was argued by the member of the Conference moving the reference that the insertion in the pending legislation of the last sentence of Paragraph 102 quoted above violates said First Restrictive Rule and is therefore unconstitutional. As to the second item referred, it was argued by the one moving its reference that the insertion of the words "is the creation of God and" in Paragraph 101 would not be in violation of the First Restrictive Rule or any other Constitutional provision and therefore would not be unconstitutional. JURISDICTION At this session of the General Conference general authority was granted to the Judicial Council to render Declaratory Decisions on the Constitutionality of proposed legislation when referred to it for such decisions by the General Conference, or by the Council of Bishops. This action was supplemental to, and does not in any way alter or amend, the last sentence of Paragraph 914 of the Discipline relating to Declaratory Decisions of the Judicial Council, such sentence reading as follows: "The Judicial Council shall determine from the facts in connection with each such petition whether or not it has jurisdiction to hear and determine the same." In a Decision handed down May 7, 1948 (see Decision 59), the Judicial Council held that it "was not set up as an interpreter of doctrine but as an interpreter of law from the strictly legal standpoint." To that general principle the Council adheres. In each case submitted the Council must determine from the facts in that particular case whether or not, it has jurisdiction. Both of the items referred are of a theological nature. If it appears clear that the language used does "revoke, alter, or change our Articles of Religion," it becomes a legal matter of which the Judicial Council should take jurisdiction. On the other hand if the language used does not clearly constitute a violation of the First Restrictive Rule, it should not be regarded as of such a legal nature as to authorize the Judicial Council to take jurisdiction and pass upon its Constitutionality. The insertion in the legislation of the last sentence of Paragraph 102 as quoted above is not so clearly in violation of the First Restrictive Rule as to authorize the Judicial Council to take jurisdiction and interpret the same. It is the decision of the Judicial Council that as to the matter set out under Paragraph One in the foregoing Statement of Facts, the Judicial Council should not and does not take jurisdiction to render a Declaratory Decision as to the Constitutionality thereof. The insertion of any word or phrase into one of our Articles of Religion, however, would constitute a violation of the First Restrictive Rule. The Judicial Council, therefore, takes jurisdiction to pass upon the Constitutionality of the matter set out in Paragraph Two of the foregoing Statement of Facts.

Decision

As shown above, Paragraph 101 of the Report of the Commission on the Study of the Local Church is Article XIII of the Articles of Religion and is so designated in the Report by reference to Paragraph 73 of the Discipline of 1948. The first clause reads as follows: "The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men," etc. The proposal under consideration is to add to this clause by legislation six additional words, to wit: "is the creation of God and," so as to make thisclause read as follows: "The visible Church of Christ is the creation of God and is a congregation of faithful men," etc. The only answer possible is that the introduction of the phrase, "is the creation of God and," though generally accepted as true, would be changing or altering the plain and simple language of Article XIII, not to say adding to it, and is therefore in violation of the First Restrictive Rule (Paragraph 9, Section 1, of the Constitution). It is the decision of the Judicial Council that the insertion by legislation of the words "is the creation of God and" in the first clause of Paragraph 101 of the report under consideration would be unconstitutional. May 3, 1952 Dissenting Opinion With the "Statement of Facts" as given in the majority opinion, the undersigned finds himself in full agreement. But he believes that the contention that, when the General Conference asks the Judicial Council to determine whether legislation, or proposed legislation, is Constitutional or unconstitutional, the Council is free to take or refuse jurisdiction, as it may choose, is not valid. It is the conviction of the undersigned that when the General Conference has requested a clear Decision, the Judicial Council is under legal as well as other obligation to make such a Decision. The Articles of Religion are direct and clear, but they are likewise broad and profound; and though they state their truth dogmatically, this does not mean that the Church holding them can say nothing about them or that it is not warranted in drawing from them, within their expressed or implied meaning, such conclusions, corollaries, and applications as disciplined reason may deduce. For uncounted generations the doctrine of the universality of the Church has been preached from the pulpits of the Churches throughout the world and devoutly believed by the people, sometimes according to one confession, sometimes another, and not least among Methodists. Very evidently the General Conference has no power to enact legislation which is at variance with Article XIII of the Articles of Religion, or which in any manner or measure renders its meaning doubtful or ambiguous, or less than simple, clear and straightforward. The question before us is, Does the second sentence of Paragraph 102 of the Report of the Commission on the Study of the Local Church render the meaning of Article XIII of the Articles of Religion doubtful or ambiguous or complex, and does it add to or take from or in any way alter the meaning which it has historically been conceived to hear? In my opinion the Judicial Council does have jurisdiction to give a plain answer to this plain question, and to say whether Paragraph 102 of the Report under consideration lies within or without the area of Christian faith and doctrine covered by Article XIII of the Articles of Religion. This is not a question of abstract theology, but of the definition of the concrete "visible Church of Christ." The Article declares that this Church is a "congregation of faithful men." Whether that "congregation" be present and existing in the flesh at a particular spot or a particular time, or whether it embraces the sum and assembly of all Churches in the world, or whether it includes all who have ever been a part of it, it is still a "congregation of faithful men." Article XIII also asserts that this "congregation" is a place or a company "in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinance." What can be more visible or real or concrete than that? In determining this issue we are under obligation to avoid obscurantism and legalism and to give a clear and positive answer to the question propounded to the Judicial Council by the General Conference. Let it be reiterated, therefore, that Article XIII of the Articles of Religion declares, "The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinance." This is true whether the "visible Church" be of the Methodist or any other name. Methodists have historically so declared it in the Apostles' Creed, continually repeated by worshiping local congregations everywhere. This universal or "holy catholic Church" can be composed of none other than all Churches "in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinance." Therefore such a local church or "society of believers is an inherent part of the Church universal," and so to declare it does not violate the constitution of The Methodist Church. Hence Paragraph 102 of the Report of the Commission on the Study of the Local Church, as adopted by the General Conference on April 25, 1952, is within the plain meaning of Article XIII of the Articles of Religion, and does not contravene, modify, or alter the fundamental law of the Church, and is constitutional.

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