Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Book of Discipline and Why I Think It Should Be Online Free

Image borrowed from Cokesbury

As I am working on writing my post of Focus #2 today, I wanted to reference to The Book of Discipline and paragraph 340 which lists the responsibilities of elders and local pastors. The problem is that means a few things:

(1) The clergy would easily be able to reference this by breaking out their copy
(2) The laity would have to find a copy (which every church should have one) and it would assume that many know what The Book of Discipline is. (I have found that those who have had leadership do know of it---for the most part---but many that haven't do not have a clue what it is even. Now obviously this could be contextual, but this has been my experience)


(3) I would have to type it all out (and since we Methodists aren't known for our brevity on things...that would mean a bunch of typing....funny thing is I probably could have done it had I not gotten frustrated and decided to write this post).

What I hoped to find was an online source of The Book of Discipline to link to so that my readers (lay or clergy) could easily reference what I was writing about. There is one via Cokesbury (subscription service) for $14.

Now maybe it is my generation and my living in a world of open source, but to me that seems like we are kicking ourselves in the foot. Now I understand that it takes time to put together the book and changes made via General Conference, but why do we not make this part of the cost and have it able to view openly on the internet and integrated into our denominations homepage?

It seems to me that as United Methodists there are two formative documents that guide our life as a community: (1) The Holy Scriptures (available for free online in various translations) and (2) The Book of Discipline. Yet, the majority of our members do not have easy access to the document (once again I am used to instant access so this may be a criticizing of my own generation, etc). Most people would have to go to the church and find the copy of the book, which means the church would have to be open and wherever the copy is kept would also have to be open. In some rural areas this could mean a significant drive and in urban areas it could be a significant drive and time consumer also.

So I ask, if The Book of Discipline is such an important part of our denomination (seriously it is our ruling book that the Judicial Council rules off of), then why do we not have it free and easy to access? Shouldn't that be an important part of our apportionment dollars? (I personally think this would be a great use of our apportionment dollars--if we are taking seriously the importance of the book to our denominational life that is)

Is there an online edition (free) that I missed? (I hope so).

P.S. If there isn't one that I missed then I am pretty sure I am not the first to have this thought or even write about it.


  1. I'll second this--as a very active lay person there are maybe 3-4 times per year when I think access to a BoD would be useful. Maybe 1 of those times will I remember to ask my wife, a Pastor, to bring her copy home so I can take a peek at it.

    Put it up on Westlaw or something!

  2. I have been trying for the last 45 minutes to find a copy online as well and couldn't believe that it is not available. Why not? We are dealing in our church with a sticky situation - much of it could be helped if the congregants had access to the way the church governance works and where they do and do not have input. Most of us - including me - do not join a church knowing about its governance. We use other criteria to join a church. Once in - it can be frustrating not knowing where church members have input into governance and where they do not. A little education would have gone a long way tonight. So I thought I would educate myself only to find it will take a little more than a few key strokes.