Skip Navigation

Judicial Council Decisions Search


Decision No. 358

Back to Search

April 23 1972
In Re: Appeal of the General Conference for a Determination of the Constitutionality of its Action when it Adopted the Report of the Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards

Digest of Case

Part II of the 1968 Discipline is not a part of the Constitution. The Report of the Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards does not violate Restrictive Rules I, II or V. Therefore, the adoption of the Report by the General Conference as a legislative enactment is constitutional.

Statement of Facts

At the session of the General Conference on April 21, 1972, the Report of the Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards was presented for action. After some discussion and questions, the vote on the Report was taken by written ballot, following which William B. Grove moved to ask the Judicial Council for a decision as to whether or not this action requires a constitutional amendment. The General Conference supported the request by the required vote. The Report of the Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards is a proposal that the Report become Part II of the Discipline, in effect, substituting the Report for the present Part II. This is the action which the General Conference took when it adopted the Report. When the ballot was counted it showed an overwhelming vote of approval. The Report of the Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards is in three sections: "Section 1-Historical Backgrounds," "Section2-Landmark Documents." "Section 3-Our Theological Task." Section 2 of the Report contains The Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church, the Confession of Faith of The Evangelical United Brethren Church and the General Rules of The Methodist Church. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Paragraph 1707 of the 1968 Discipline. ANALYSIS The question before us is in two parts: (1) whether Part II of the 1968Discipline is a part of the Constitution, thus requiring for any change a constitutional amendment; (2) whether the Report of the Theological Study Commission makes any changes in the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith or the General Rules thus requiring a constitutional amendment under the Restrictive Rules. While there has apparently been some ambiguity in the past because of the location of this material in former Disciplines, it is the opinion of the Judicial Council that Part II entitled "Doctrinal Statements and General Rules," of the 1968 Discipline is not a part of the Constitution. The two doctrinal statements and the General Rules in Part II have the protection of the Restrictive Rules of the Constitution and cannot be changed except by following the procedures for Constitutional amendments, but Part II itself is not a part of the Constitution. The paragraphs of historical setting and comment in the Preface to Part II are legislative enactments and can be amended, therefore, by action of the General Conference. The record indicates that this was the intent of the action of the General Conference when it adopted the Report of the Theological Study Commission to become Part II of the Discipline. The Chairman of the Theological Study Commission stated to the General Conference that the Report was before the Conference as a legislative enactment and that the point of their motion was "that it be referred to the Annual Conferences not as a constitutional amendment for vote, but rather for consideration as to how it might be used for optimum study and use throughout the Churches." (Daily Christian Advocate, 1972, page 344) It is the opinion of the Judicial Council that the General Conference action, substituting sections 1 and 3 of the Report of the Theological Study Commission for the present Preface in Part II of the 1968 Discipline is valid. Such a change does not require a constitutional amendment. There is another question involved, however. Section 2 of the Report of the Theological Study Commission contains the Articles of Religion, the Confession of Faith and the General Rules. These three documents are protected by Restrictive Rules I, II and V of the Constitution (Pars. 16 and 19) which read as follows: "Section III, Restrictive Rules. Article I-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. Article II-The General Conference shall not revoke, alter or change our Confession of Faith. * * * Article V-The General Conference shall not revoke or change the General Rules of our United Societies." Paragraph 64 of the Constitution reads in part: "Amendments to the Constitution shall be made upon a two-thirds majority of the General Conference present and voting, and a two-thirds affirmative vote of the aggregate number of members of the several Annual Conferences present and voting, except in the case of the first, second and seventh restrictive rules which shall require a three-fourths majority of all the members of the Annual Conferences present and voting . . ." Thus any change in the Articles of Religion or the Confession of Faith would require, in addition to the two-thirds affirmative vote of the General Conference, a three-fourths majority vote of Annual Conference members, and a change in the General Rules a two-thirds majority of Annual Conference members. These three documents, while not specifically a part of the Constitution, are basic documents in the life and structure of our Church. The Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith are given even greater protection than the Constitution itself. Change in them is made more difficult. The question before us is whether or not the Report of the Theological Study Commission makes any changes in our Articles of Religion, our Confession of Faith or our General Rules and whether or not it establishes any new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing standards of doctrine. On the basis of a narrowly construed interpretation of the question, the Judicial Council is of the opinion that it does not. We find no recommended substantive changes or additions to the documents themselves. The broader question of whether or not changes in paragraphs of historical and theological interpretation in Part II of the Discipline make changes in these protected documents we do not decide. The Judicial Council, historically, and we think properly, has refused jurisdiction over questions which demand of it theological interpretations. (Decisions No. 59 and 86) We believe the General Conference is competent to make this decision. If the General Conference had decided that the new setting provided for these protected documents by sections 1 and 3 of the adopted Report made changes in the documents themselves or established any new standards or rules of doctrine, then the procedures for amendment of the Restrictive Rules would have been required. We believe the General Conference did not so decide, rather, that it agreed with the Chairman making the Report when he said, " . . . we do not regard it as in violation of the first, second or fifth Restrictive Rules." We believe, therefore, that the General Conference had the authority to adopt the Report of the Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards as a legislative enactment, to become Part II of the Discipline.

Decision

It is the decision of the Judicial Council that Part II of the 1968 Discipline is not a part of the Constitution, that the Report of the Theological Study Commission on Doctrine and Doctrinal Standards does not violate Restrictive Rules I, II or V, that the adoption of the Report by the General Conference as a legislative enactment to become Part II of the Discipline is therefore not unconstitutional. In order to keep this matter clear and unambiguous it is required that, either in the Preface or as a footnote to Part II of the Discipline, there be a statement to the effect that Sections 1 and 3 are legislative enactments and neither a part of the Constitution nor under the Restrictive Rules.

Back to Search