The Historic Questions 2.0

Several weeks ago, I posted the historic questions for those being ordained in The United Methodist Church. The cool thing about the list is that these questions (slightly revised over the past 225+ years) have been asked every year of people moving toward (or entering) ordained ministry. But I have been wondering just how much the questions have changed over the years.

Incidentally, I called them “Wesley’s historic questions,” but I have been unable to determine their origin (i.e., whether or not they came from Wesley). I have been able to trace them back to 1784, the first Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, presided over by Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke. Click here to read “A Form of Discipline” (1787) online at Google Books. Wesley may very well have asked them of preachers in one form or another prior to that.

Back then, these questions were asked of those entering a two-year trial period before being received into “full connection.” Today, entering full connection happens at ordination, but there’s no real mention of ordination in the document (the need for ordination developed during the 1780s in the American Methodist church so it was still perhaps being developed around this time).

In section three of A Form of Discipline entitled, “On the Method of receiving Preachers and their Duty” (beginning on page 11), question 5 asks, “What Method do we use in receiving a Preacher at the Conference?” (13).

The answer begins, “After solemn Fasting and Prayer, every Person proposed shall then be asked, before the Conference, the following questions (with any others that may be thought necessary) …”

So, here are the questions, which were not numbered in the document; they were written in paragraph form. I’m putting them in a bulleted list for readability. I have also bolded words/phrases that denote differences from the current list of questions.

  • Have you faith in Christ?
  • Are you going on to perfection?
  • Do you expect to be made perfect in Love in this Life?
  • Are you groaning after it?
  • Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and his work?
  • Do you know the Rules of the Society? Of the Bands? Do you keep them?
  • Do you constantly attend the Sacrament?
  • Have you read the Form of Discipline? Are you willing to conform to it?
  • Have you considered the Rules of a Preacher; especially the first, tenth, and twelfth? Will you keep them for Conscience Sake?
  • Are you determined to employ all your Time in the Work of God?
  • Will you endeavor not to speak too long or too loud?
  • Will you diligently instruct the Children in every Place?
  • Will you visit from House to House?
  • Will you recommend Fasting or Abstinence, both by Precept and Example?
  • Are you in Debt?

I’m not sure what is meant by speaking “too long or too loud.” I’m guessing it’s relative. In later editions of the Discipline (by 1820, anyway), there was a list of “smaller advices” added to the rules for preachers. One of them stated that preachers should “not usually pray extempore above eight or ten minutes (at most) without intermission” (that’s a pretty lengthy prayer!).

One question asked about the rules of a preacher (I will list them in a future post). The Discipline listed twelve but three are highlighted, two of which are listed in number 19 of the current list.

The question about attending the Sacrament (i.e., the Lord’s Supper) was asked at least through 1848 but was dropped by 1880 (I didn’t check editions in between).

Following the list of questions, the Discipline states …

We may then, if he gives Satisfaction, receive him as a Probationer, by giving him the Form of Discipline, inscribed thus: To A. B. “You think it your Duty to call Sinners to Repentance. Make full Proof hereof, and we shall rejoice to receive you as a Fellow-Labourer.” (14)

I looked at a number of different Disciplines online (1804, 1808, 1820, 1848, 1880, 1884, and 1900) as well as a bound copy of the 1928 Discipline that someone gave me, and by 1880 the list had become much like it is today (incidentally, for many years, those being questioned were asked to “abstain wholly from the use of tobacco” products).

As one who appreciates history, it will be cool to answer these questions at annual conference, questions, which for the most part, have been asked for more than two centuries of Methodism!

(Edited to add: See Rules for Early Methodist Preachers and Smaller Advices for Early Methodist Preachers)

1 thought on “The Historic Questions 2.0”

  1. I am so thankful you have posted this and shared your reflections. I would love to be in conversation with you! I’m a UMC Elder belonging to New England, but on family leave, following my husband’s work to greater Pittsburgh – yet by the grace of God and computers and phones still quiete involved in New England. I am aslo presently the secretary of the UMC Historical Society and have been a member of the Order of St. Luke since I was ordained a Deacon (on the way to Elder) in 1998. I got my MDiv at Duke and my PhD at BU studying liturgy and sociology of religion and writing my dissertation on 19th century camp meetings in New England. My husband is from Nigeria and our children, Grace and Salem are 11 and 10 years old. I would love to “meet” you through the computer – and in person if that could be worked out. I’ll be working at the Girl Scout camp not too far from Altoona for 4.5 weeks ths summer – where are you presently appointed? Blessings, Sr. Sarah


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