One of the historic questions candidates for ordination in The United Methodist Church are asked prior to ordination is, “Will you visit from house to house?”
This question was also one of the questions from the 1784 Discipline, the first discipline of the Methodist church in America (see my post with the 1784 version of the questions).
My sense is most people think of this question as being related to pastoral care (e.g., visiting the sick). However, the view in the 1784 Discipline is quite different. In fact, the section on visiting from house to house is the longest (six pages). The complete title of the section, “On visiting from House to House; guarding against those Sins that are so common to Professors, and enforcing Practical Religion” (32), gives you an idea of what early Methodists meant by visiting from house to house. It was about discipleship and accountability, not pastoral care.
The section centers around four questions with most of the space given to the first question, which specifically deals with visiting from house to house. To answer the question, “How can we further assist those under our Care?” the Discipline suggests, “By instructing them at their own houses” (32). The Discipline goes on to say, “every Travelling-Preacher must instruct them from House to House” (33), indicating that “public preaching alone” won’t cut it.
The end of the answer to the first question summarizes the point …
The Sum is, Go into every House in course, and teach every one therein, young and old, if they belong to us, to be Christians inwardly and outwardly. Make every Particular plain to their Understandings, fix it in their Minds; write it on their Hearts. (36)
The fourth question provides a glimpse of the level of accountability early Methodists practiced. The final question asks, “What shall we do to prevent Scandal, when any of our Members fail in business, or contract Debts which they are not able to pay?”
The 1784 Discipline offers this reply …
Let the Elder or Deacon desire two or three judicious Members of the Society to inspect the Accounts of the supposed Delinquents; and if they have behaved Dishonestly, or borrowed Money without a Probability of paying, let them be suspended till their Credit is restored. (38)
Clearly, we don’t practice accountability, including visiting from house to house, in the way or to the degree to which early Methodists did. But I wonder (because it is hard to imagine), what does the twenty-first century version of visiting from house to house look like?