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Charles R. Hohenstein[1]

Liturgical theologians frequently use the shorthand language of lex orandi and lex credendi in describing the relationship between liturgy and theology, the "law of prayer" and the "law of belief." A considerable liter­ature has arisen around these terms which goes back to Prosper of Aquitaine's arguments against the Semi-Pelagians. According to Prosper of Aquitaine, legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi, which is to say, "the law of prayer determines the law of belief' (Prosper used the equivalent term lex supplicandi in place of lex orandi). Prosper treats the church's prayer as an authoritative source for theology in arguing that salvation must come entirely at God's initiative since in the liturgy the church prayed for the conversion of infidels, Jews, heretics, schismatics and the lapsed who would not seek the true faith on their own. Among later writ­ers Prosper's words were truncated to the formula lex orandi, lex credendi, a formula which acquired a life of its own as a statement of gen­eral principles which Prosper perhaps had not contemplated himself[2] As usually invoked, lex orandi, lex credendi stands opposed to any notion of liturgy as a mere mouthpiece for beliefs which have their origins outside the liturgical celebration. Instead, the affirmations which we make within the Body of Christ, assembled together in worship, ought to serve as a starting point for theological reflection. We should teach what we pray.

Most liturgical theologians would subscribe to some version of "lex orandi, lex credendi" as a fundamental presupposition of their enterprise. The notion of liturgy as an authoritative source for theology is a congenial one for many in the Wesleyan tradition who have attached such signifi­cance to the sermons and hymns of the Wesleys that these have served not only as grist for theological reflection, but as a doctrinal standard. In our own time, the work of the Methodist theologian Geoffrey Wainwright[3] has been an outstanding example of theology grounded in liturgy.

However, it is clearly also the case that lex orandi is informed and determined by lex credendi. Lex orandi necessarily includes the beliefs which people bring with them to the liturgy, and thus the relation between lex orandi and lex credendi has been a reciprocal (and sometimes prob­lematic) one. Theological developments have often resulted in liturgical change. For example, as Jungmann has demonstrated, the ancient Chris­tian liturgical convention of addressing prayer through Christ to the Father was found to leave room for a subordinationist christology, to the delight of the Arians, and to the distress of orthodox Christians who then addressed their prayers more and more to Christ.[4] This is a classic exam­ple of liturgy yielding to theological priorities, and many more instances might be cited where considerations of doctrine (not to mention polemics, church law and popular culture) have determined the shape and language of the rite. In many cases these influences have been salutary and fruitful. Thus it is wrong to assert that "the law of prayer determines the law of belief' in a simple and one-sided manner for much the same reason that it is wrong to assert that the egg came before the chicken. It has very often been the case that the law of belief determines the law of prayer. This general point may be considered the first of the cautionary notes I wish to raise against lex orandi, lex credendi in an oversimplified form.

I wish to address myself more specifically to some of the problems of asserting "lex orandi, lex credendi" in the context of American Meth­odism, where liturgy has often played a subordinate and secondary role. I do not mean to suggest that the adage is entirely inappropriate within this tradition; as a matter of fact, I would affirm its validity, but only after giv­ing due consideration to certain obstacles, some of which are described here. I offer these cautionary notes in the hope that they may assist us to keep our feet on the ground when asserting lex orandi, lex credendi as United Methodists.

Dealing with Texts

Without dwelling on methodology, I wish to ask two questions. Is there is a United Methodist lex orandi? What is this law of prayer and where is it to be found? It may be helpful to draw an analogy to secular law, where the law is referenced by consulting law books. The statutory law is written down. Even the more nebulous common law may be deter­mined by consulting texts. Once the relevant texts are located, there may sometimes be a problem of applying the law to particular cases, particu­larly if conflicting laws seem to apply or if the facts of the case, as seen by different witnesses, are unclear. But it will be clear that the law resides in legal texts, and even the legal principles behind the law will be deter­mined by consulting texts, such as the constitution, the written record of the intentions of the framers, and the remarks of various judges in build­ing up a history of interpretation.

Likewise, the lex orandi has a textual basis, in the liturgical texts themselves, and in texts which serve to illuminate them. There is in Methodism, as in the other churches, a corpus of beloved prayers and hymns which has been carefully preserved and lovingly updated from time to time. It is certainly the general expectation that the sacraments and other rites of the church will be conducted according to the prescribed forms. For example, a pastor would be expected to conduct a wedding according to the official rite of the church and to instruct the bride and groom in the meaning of the marital relationship by way of explicating the vows they will take. A few weddings might involve departures from the official rite, as for example when original vows are written by the couple, but the substitution would instantly be recognizable for what it was, and the pastor might well overrule the use of vows which seemed too aberrant, based on a comparison with the normative text. Here we see the clear basis for lex orandi in the text of the rite. But the total picture in Methodist liturgy is not as simple as that. Are all texts equal, or is there a canon within the canon? What is the status, for instance, of some of the more esoteric and even pagan liturgical texts which have found their way into the latest Book of Worship?

The different uses and degrees of "ownership" of United Methodist liturgical texts complicate the issue of where to look for the basis of lex orandi. Love feasts, watch nights and covenant services are seldom encountered these days; one might still hear the classic covenant prayer "I am no longer mine, but thine" in a service for the giving and receiving of appointments at annual conference, but rarely in a congregational setting. Many United Methodists have never heard the text of the Reproaches of Good Friday because their congregations have not yet observed the new rite in which they are read. With their reception among the faithful unclear, do these texts really constitute a part of lex orandi for United Methodists? In both cases, I believe the answer is yes, but a qualified yes. The lex orandi is surely more than just a lowest common denominator to be established by something like market research. Nor is it, on the other hand, the exclusive property of liturgical scholars and church officials who may then trickle it down to liturgical consumers. As a matter of fact, the liturgy belongs to the whole church. This issue of reception is some­thing we must consider. It includes the issue of how to relate the lex orandi as received among United Methodists to the lex orandi of the whole church - assuming there is one.[5] It also includes the issue of whether we receive liturgical texts according to our theological predispo­sitions, which, once again, would rule out any picture of lex orandi as pri­mary and lex credendi as secondary.

The hymnal raises its own issues about which texts have been received as part of lex orandi. The latest United Methodist hymnal, more than any previous edition, contains such a diversity of hymns and liturgi­cal material that it may be described as a resource for several different "churches" (high, low, liberal, evangelical, English-speaking, Hispanic, white, black, and so on), all of which just happen to coexist within the United Methodist Church. No single constituency could reasonably be expected to claim the entire book as its own. Is, for instance, the Native American hymn "Daw-Kee, Aim Daw-Tsi-Taw" (no. 330) really part of a lex orandi widely recognized among United Methodists, or was it included in the Hymnal as a gesture of political correctness and in order to solicit additional support for the Hymnal's adoption?[6]

It would seem that, with the Wesleyan core of the Hymnal, we are on safer ground in finding a lex orandi to which Methodists would gener­ally subscribe. The hymns of Charles and John Wesley have been seen as a treasure enjoying special status and much serious theological reflection, particularly (but not exclusively) among British Methodists, has made good use of them. Nonetheless, I must ask whether this rich inheritance still means what it once did.

Unfortunately, many United Methodists have come to find the hymns of the Wesleys stilted and foreign, while other categories of hymns have grown in popularity and have been rewarded with greater space in the Hymnal. The hymns of the Wesleys, with their traditional theology of divine sovereignty, grace, sin and redemption, run counter to the theologi­cal propensities of many modern United Methodists. The Wesleyan hymns are theocentric, even when describing the human response to grace, and that is their fatal flaw in appealing to modern Americans, who are preoccupied with discussing themselves and their personal feelings with anyone who will listen, and to Methodists, with their frequent bent for sentimentality. Many Methodists have long preferred Fanny Crosby over Charles Wesley, and many is the congregation where the gospel songs of a Sunday school hymnal supplement the contents of the official Hymnal, which itself has absorbed a number of items from this repertory.

The Christian community celebrates itself and its own "niceness" in at least two new additions to the hymnal, "We Are the Church" (no. 558) and "Help Us Accept Each Other" (no. 560)-which contrast sharply to the ecclesiology of earlier hymns-and in "Here I Am Lord" (no. 593) the community even gets to pretend that they are God.[7] For Charles Wes­ley the Christian community is not an end in itself, but is based squarely on "Christ from whom all blessings flow, perfecting the saints below" (no. 550). Samuel J. Stone prayed not for the pseudo-charism of accept­ance, but rather for the deliverance of a church "by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed" (no. 545). With the Wesleyan corpus giving ground to hymns where people celebrate themselves and their good rela­tions with their "pal" Jesus, which tradition is affirmed by lex orandi, the law of prayer? Or must we not look to the lex credendi to answer such a question?

So far we have been discussing the relation between lex orandi and the printed texts of the liturgy. At this point we must observe that United Methodists use "texts" in worship which are not part of the official litur­gical rites as distributed in print, but which belong to oral tradition. United Methodist liturgical practice, along with that of other Wesleyan churches, includes a strong tradition of extemporaneous prayer. The instructions for what to say in these prayers and how to say it are not writ­ten down, but there is an oral "text" or prototype nonetheless. For exam­ple, Sunday worship might commonly include a "pastoral prayer" where a general pattern of intercessions is observed and stock phrases are employed; this prayer, while considered extemporaneous, is in fact highly predictable as to content, but as an oral tradition is not likely to gain the attention of liturgists more accustomed to an analysis of written forms.[8]

Indeed, for much of the history of Methodists, the greater part of Sunday worship has been conducted with little recourse to printed liturgi­cal texts, as a consequence of the abandonment of Wesley's Sunday Serv­ice. As Jesse Lee observed, it seemed that Methodists preferred to pray with their eyes and their books shut.[9] In the absence of printed texts, it is difficult to evaluate the content of non-eucharistic Sunday worship, camp meetings, revivals, prayer services, quarterly meetings, and so on. Few have attempted to study this liturgical history in all its actual complexity, giving due attention to the full range of liturgical and paraliturgical cele­brations and to unpublished sources which shed light on these.[10] To con­fine ourselves to the history of official printed texts alone in our quest of lex orandi would be to misrepresent the reality of the United Methodist liturgical tradition. How do these non-print aspects of the tradition figure in the lex orandi?

Consider the extent to which United Methodist worship, even today, is only loosely based on official liturgical texts. On Sundays when the eucharist is celebrated, it is likely that the official rite will be observed, perhaps with some omissions or modifications, but the vast majority of United Methodist churches do not celebrate the eucharist on a weekly basis, and on those other Sundays, a diversity of practices will be encoun­tered from church to church.[11] Non-eucharistic worship in some places may amount to the general pattern of the eucharistic rite, but with com­munion omitted, while in others one might encounter something approxi­mating morning prayer with a concluding sermon, as favored in older Methodist orders of worship. In some places a pastor may have devised a more or less original pattern drawing on personal experience or borrow­ings from others. Prayers, hymns, and other items from nonofficial sources may have been introduced, and, although the period of experi­mental worship which peaked in the 1970s is mostly over, a few avant garde congregations may still be experimenting with clowns, dancers, balloons, and the like.

How can the broad content of this diverse liturgical tradition, much of which is not based on official printed sources, be related to essential principles and norms? Can we identify a single lex orandi for Methodists of different times, places, ethnicities, and theological persuasions? Should it be identified by a descriptive method seeking to establish what Methodists actually do, or by a prescriptive method capable of distin­guishing between things they should and should not do? The whole idea of a lex orandi, a law of prayer, would imply the latter, but according to what premises would the authentic strands of the Methodist lex orandi be discerned? Is there some sort of a higher lex orandi which stands behind and verifies the integrity of the run-of-the-mill lex orandi in its everyday operation-a constitution, as it were, behind the law? Is it the case, as I would argue, that this verification ultimately derives from the lex cre­dendi, the law of belief?

Dealing with Church Law

One of the foremost problems of applying lex orandi, lex credendi to the United Methodist Church (or perhaps to any church) is that it relates liturgy to doctrine without taking a third "lex" into account, church law itself. Church law is a third entity which cannot be reduced to lex orandi or lex credendi, although to a great extent it determines both. Therefore a bipolar paradigm of lex orandi and lex credendi, from which church law is omitted, is bound to result in distortions, just as a two-dimensional ren­dering of a three-dimensional object will result in distortions. Church law is all the more important a factor in United Methodism, because of the enormous attention which United Methodists devote to polity and organization.

Roman Catholics have the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas and the Reformed tradition may point with pride to Calvin's Institutes, but if United Methodists were asked to name a magnum opus representa­tive of their own ethos, the correct and honest answer would be the Book of Discipline.[12] United Methodists seem to enjoy poring over the Disci­pline and their conference journals, looking for details of interest and eagerly anticipating their next opportunity to submit resolutions, motions, and amendments to motions. Given the choice between heaven and a meeting to set up a board for the administration of heaven, they would probably choose the latter. To Methodists of this mind set, the interesting question about liturgy is not the relation between lex orandi and lex cre­dendi, but rather how the worship of the church may best be organized and administered. In their juridical approach to liturgy (and arguably other matters as well), United Methodists sometimes resemble Roman Catholics more than Protestants.

Several of the Articles of Religion (¶ 67.3) deal with liturgical and sacramental matters and, under the Constitution, the Articles are protected within the terms of the restrictive rules.[13] They enumerate the sacramentsof the Christian gospel as distinguished from other sacramental rites, require communion under both kinds, the use of the vernacular, and the retention of infant baptism, reject transsubstantiation (without addressing other specific theories of real presence), and discourage Corpus Christi processions (not an issue in most United Methodist congregations). Church law further determines theological principles governing the min­istry of both the laity and clergy ¶¶ 104-114), rules governing church membership and membership records (¶¶207-243), local church worship committees (¶¶ 262.11), rules governing diaconal ministry (¶¶ 301-317), ordained ministry (¶¶ 401-459), and superintendency (¶¶ 501-534). The responsibilities of the General Board of Discipleship's Section on Wor­ship (¶ 1213) include the authority to develop standards and resources for the conduct of worship, prepare future revisions of the liturgy, participate in the Consultation on Common Texts, and promote the use of the Revised Common Lectionary.

It should likewise be obvious that the Discipline's pronouncements concerning ordained ministry will have an enormous effect on the way in which the rites of ordination are understood, that its attention (or lack of it) to marriage and the family will influence the interpretation of the wed­ding rite, and that its provisions for defining and recording church mem­bership will have a profound impact on Christian initiation. The 1996 edi­tion of the Discipline reflects additional legislation adopted by the General Conference concurrent with the approval of the study document on baptism, "By Water and the Spirit," clarifying the relation of baptism to confirmation and church membership, and including a prohibition of rebaptism, although its language was softened by the General Conference to make it more of a teaching Statement.[14]

United Methodists who know the Discipline only from recent edi­tions may be surprised to learn that the liturgy itself was a subdivision of the Discipline for most of its history. John Wesley prepared the Sunday Service to function as the service book for his American followers, but it was soon replaced by an abbreviated version entitled "Sacramental Serv­ices, & c.," which was appended to the Discipline in 1792. In the process, many significant features of Wesley's Sunday Service were dropped (including all provision for morning and evening prayer and for the church year) and the rites which were retained were revised. This portion of the Discipline was renamed the Ritual in 1848, and remained in the Discipline under that name until 1964. The Ritual was sometimes extracted from the Discipline and printed separately, but the official text was that approved by the General Conference and printed in the Disci­pline. Liturgy was almost entirely subsumed under the heading of church law, and, apart from the hymnal, and T. O. Summers' failed attempt to revive Wesley's Sunday Service in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, it can be said that the Discipline was the liturgical book of Episco­pal Methodists from 1792 to 1945, when the first Book of Worship was published-a span of more than 150 years.[15]

Since changes to the Ritual went before the General Conference for approval, along with all the other proposed revisions to the Discipline, they were in this sense precisely legal enactments. Theoretically, the Rit­ual might have been revised every four years, like any other part of the Discipline, but in practice the Ritual was usually left alone for years at a time, until the General Conference was prepared to execute a substantial revision. In the former Methodist Episcopal Church, such major revisions of the Ritual occurred in 1792, 1864, 1916, and 1932. Let us examine more closely the enactment of one of these revisions of the liturgy, that which received approval in 1916.

A proposal to revise the Ritual was presented to the General Confer­ence of 1912, which referred the matter to a commission, expected to report to the next General Conference. This began a chain reaction of passing the buck, and the ultimate results say much about the impact of church law and the legislative process on both lex orandi and lex credendi.[16] The report which came before the General Conference of 1916 reproduced the existing and proposed texts of the Ritual in parallel columns for ready comparison. The entire report was presented and debated on the floor of the General Conference on an item by item basis, and soon the General Conference became bogged down in the details. It referred the whole report on the revision of the Ritual to the bishops, "with full power to consider, approve, amend, or disapprove, all or any part thereof and to print the Ritual, as they may finally approve it, in the next edition of the Discipline and of the Psalter." The bishops approved a few changes, certainly not all of those which had been proposed, and reported their version of the proposed Ritual back to the General Confer­ence, which, reluctant to debate the Ritual all over again, reasserted that it had delegated the authority for final action to the bishops, adopted the proposed Ritual in the form approved by the bishops, and ordered it printed in the Discipline.

The new Ritual was attacked by Bishop Neely with regard to both its content and the legality of its adoption.[17] Neely raised several liturgical and theological objections to the new Ritual and decried the chaotic man­ner in which the revision was adopted.[18] The bishops' report to the Gen­eral Conference was not read, distributed, printed in the Daily Christian Advocate, or discussed. "With its eyes closed, and on blind faith, the chief representative body of a great denomination accepted a ritual containing most vital doctrinal teaching, to be used for the instruction of the Church and its congregations, presumably for generations, without knowing what it contained."[19] Note that Neely was very much concerned with the rela­tion of lex orandi and lex credendi. But what he discovered was that church law and the exercise of ecclesiastical power were the determining factors. Perhaps Neely sensed this; in any case, he presented some compelling legal points in addition to his liturgical and theological arguments.

Neely observed that even a resolution might not be considered as legally adopted if the body approving it did not know upon what it was voting. But the Ritual was much more than ordinary legislation. Argu­ably, it contained doctrinal statements and implications which constituted part of the doctrinal standards protected under the Constitution by the first restrictive rule, which forbids the General Conference from establishing any "new standards or rules of doctrine contrary to our present existing and established standards of doctrine." Neely notes that the same logic had recently compelled a commission of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, to conclude that a simple majority vote of the General Conference was insufficient to approve changes to the liturgy, which called for amendment by the constitutional process.[20] Apart from writing his book, it does not appear that Bishop Neely ever formally pursued his case before his fellow bishops or the General Conference. Since there is no doubt about his sincerity in the matter, it seems probable that Bishop Neely-who had been retired since 1912 - had calculated his chance of success to be minimal and decided not to expend his energies on a losing battle. Bishop Neely died in 1925.[21]

Another telling example of the entanglement of church law in lex orandi and lex credendi, and the impossibility of separating the three, has to do with the Discipline's treatment of church membership. It should be remembered that Methodism had its origins as a society within the Church of England, and that its original regulations concerning society membership were not intended to define membership in a church at all. Thus, in the Large Minutes we find the question, "How shall we prevent improper persons from insinuating into the society?" To this the answers given were:

1. Give tickets to none till they are recommended by a Leader, with whom they have met at least two months on trial.

2. Give notes to none but those who are recommended by one you know, or till they have met three or four times in a class.

3. Give them the Rules the first time they meet. See that this never be neglected.[22]

The sectarian flavor of these rules is entirely understandable within their original context. But when they were absorbed into the Discipline as rules governing membership in the new Methodist Episcopal Church, their meaning was entirely different. Their development as rules governing church membership was incremental. At first the language of society was left intact and the minimum period for time on trial was increased to six months. In 1816 the word "Church" was substituted for "society" in the opening question, and in 1836 the passage was revised again, to amplify the church context and to bring baptism into the rule:

Quest. 3. How shall we prevent improper persons from insinu­ating themselves into the Church?

Answ. 1. Let none be received into the Church until they are recommended by a leader with whom they have met at least six months on trial, and have been baptized.

Answ. 2. Let none be admitted on trial, except they are well­-recommended by one you know, or until they have met twice or thrice in a class.

Answ. 3. Read the rules to them the first time they meet.[23]

It must be remembered that John Wesley had suppressed the rite of confirmation in his Sunday Service and made baptism the single rite of admission to the church, restoring the practice of the early church and anticipating a reform advocated by liturgical scholars in our own century. Perhaps he did not reckon with the force of American voluntarism and the effect of the society rules when transplanted to a church context. By now Wesley's reform was already muddled, and baptism was explicitly referred to as a precondition for church membership to be conferred after six months on trial. It is possible that the Methodists of this time felt that there was no contradiction involved, on the theory that baptism estab­lishes membership in the universal Church, the body of Christ, while the issue at hand in the passages we have been examining was thought to be that of membership in a local Methodist congregation. Of course, this does not really solve the problem. There is no universal Church except as composed of persons in local congregations, and to distinguish between those who are merely baptized "common" Christians and those who have qualified for the extra status of "advanced" Methodist Christians, screened by local congregations, is sectarian arrogance unworthy of a body which now understood itself-more or less-as a Church.

Back to the Discipline. In 1840 the critical part of the passage was reworded and greatly expanded, so that even greater prominence is given to this reception into membership following baptism and the necessary forms of examination.

Let none be received into the Church, until they are recom­mended by a leader with whom they have met at least six months on trial, and have been baptized; and shall on exami­nation by the minister in charge, before the Church, give satis­factory assurances both of the correctness of their faith, and their willingness to observe and keep the rules of the Church. Nevertheless, if a member in good standing in any other orthodox church shall desire to unite with us, such applicant may, by giving satisfactory answers to the usual inquiries, be received at once into full membership.[24]

From 1840 onward, developments snowballed rapidly. In 1848 the crucial passage appears under the new and significant heading, "Of Receiving Members into the Church," to be followed, beginning in 1856, by a new section on baptized children and their relation to the Church which was contributed by F. G. Hibbard. By the General Conference of 1864, the lack of a formal rite to confer church membership after the completion of probation was remedied by the addition of a new item to the Ritual. When D. W. Clark moved its adoption, he remarked that "he did not know how it was with other brethren, but he did not know how he came into full connection in the Church. There had always been a blank at this point in his history. He hardly knew what was his relation to the Church." At this point the record indicates that an alert delegate called out, "You are on probation yet, Doctor." This prompted Clark to mention that he had already been using a service of his own devising to receive probationary members into full connection, that "the venerable Daniel Coe, a minister of some forty years standing in the Church," had been present when he used that form, and that he had requested to be received into full member­ship the next Sunday.[25] As such anecdotes illustrate, the nullification of baptism as a sufficient rite of Christian initiation was at this point practi­cally complete.

In 1908 the Methodist Episcopal Church eliminated the fixed period of probation before membership for adults, although the Discipline still required that "no one be enrolled as a probationer unless he gives satisfac­tory evidence of an earnest desire to be saved from his sins." In 1916 this indefinite period of probationary membership was renamed preparatory membership. A ruling by the bishops in that year reminded the Church that the requirement was still in force, even if the length of the probation­ary period was unstated. This probably indicates that the preparatory membership of adults was already somewhat ignored. In 1912 the Disci­pline directed that baptized children should be enrolled as probationers, but not counted as such for purposes of preparing membership reports. In 1939 the newly formed Methodist Church eliminated preparatory mem­bership for adults entirely, in keeping with the official action of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, many years before, and steps in that direction in the Methodist Episcopal Church since 1908. From 1939 to 1996, preparatory membership would be a category of semi-membership applying to baptized children only in the Methodist and United Methodist Churches; preparatory members were not counted as members for statisti­cal purposes (for example, in the calculation of apportionments). In 1964, the rite of admission to membership was dignified with the title "confir­mation."[26] Ironically, when discussion arose a few years later concerning the possibility of restoring a unified rite of Christian initiation, with the elimination of confirmation, many objected that the latter should be pre­served as a worthy and venerable Methodist custom.

The liturgy of baptism adopted with the approval of the new Hymnal in 1988 revived the notion of baptism as full Christian initiation and before long the tension between the new rite and the 1939 policy on church membership was noticed. After a period of study, the General Conference of 1996 attempted to clarify the situation in church law. Bap­tized children would be regarded as full members of the Church, includ­ing the local Church. However, the two-tiered approach to membership was perpetuated by providing for a separate category of "professing mem­bers" who have professed their faith and reaffirmed their baptismal vows, with the calculation of apportionments to depend on the latter category - ­more or less nullifying the effect of what was done for baptized children. The more things change, the more they stay the same. As ever, lex orandi, lex credendi and church law remain inextricably linked.

It remains to be seen whether these changes herald a greater regard for baptism throughout the United Methodist Church, or whether liturgists were simply successful in securing the approval of General Conference to new rites and legislation which are perhaps not widely understood or received among the clergy and laity. It is simply too early to tell.

Summary of Findings

The relation between lex orandi and lex credendi would be compli­cated enough if we only had to account for the mutual interaction of fixed terms of reference, but as a matter of fact, each represents something of a moving target in itself. The history of the rites and theology of baptism in American Methodism, where permanence has been particularly elusive, well illustrates this. Among the few signs of constancy has been a contin­uing insistence, against Baptist and Campbellite objections, on the valid­ity of infant baptism and of baptism by aspersion. Otherwise an astonish­ing and ongoing transformation has taken place, particularly over the history of the Methodist Episcopal Church. One might with considerable justification say that we have gone from Augustinianism to Pelagianism, and started our way back again.[27]

That there is a lex orandi in the United Methodist Church, and that it has often served to shape the lex credendi, we may take for granted. But greater caution must be observed about making any assertion that the lex orandi determines the lex credendi in a one-sided way. It is highly doubt­ful that Prosper of Aquitaine's adage has ever meant simply that, except to those who have taken it up as a bludgeon with which to defend the liturgy's pride of place as a source for theological reflection. Such attempts, while well-meaning, can only do more harm than good. It is easily demonstrable that such a reading of lex orandi, lex credendi does not correspond with reality. Nor should we too blithely assume that lex orandi can be identified with official liturgical texts, at least not as United Methodists. The rites, prayers and hymns of our church include forms beyond the officially published texts, and they encompass strands of litur­gical tradition which are diverse, sometimes disparate, and received as bona fide to varying degrees among United Methodists of different litur­gical and theological orientations. The proper place and relative authen­ticity of these cannot be sorted out except by way of reference to criteria which will ultimately derive, to a considerable degree, from doctrinal principles, which is to say, from lex credendi.

Nor should we relate lex orandi to lex credendi without taking the more obvious "lex," church law itself, into account. I claim, at least for the United Methodist tradition, that there are really three major entities interacting here, each of which embodies the other two to a considerable extent, and that a two-dimensional analysis will result in inevitable distor­tions. Finally, both lex orandi and lex credendi are in a state of flux, and significant new developments in each are likely to arise more in fits and starts than gradually. In the United Methodist tradition, liturgical change has often followed the lead of theological change.

We should be wary of relating lex orandi to lex credendi as if either were a static thing. And, while a balanced interplay of lex orandi and lex credendi, where each anchors the other, may make an attractive picture, we should be careful about assuming that the facts will bear out any such worthy ideal. The worship life of the church today displays considerable fluidity and defies any simple analysis. To a significant degree, this is nothing new.


[1] Charles R. Hohenstein completed his Ph.D. in liturgical studies at the Uni­versity of Notre Dame. His doctoral dissertation was concerned with the history of the rites of baptism in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and was directed by Professor James F. White.

[2] See Paul De Clerk, "'Lex orandi, lex credendi': The Original Sense and Historical Avatars of an Equivocal Adage," Studia Liturgica 24 (1994), 178-200, 182.

[3] Geoffrey Wainwright, Doxology: A Systematic Theology (London: Epworth Press, 1980).

[4] Josef A. Jungmann, The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1989), originally published as Die Stellung Christi im Liturgis­chen Gebet in the series Liturgiewiβenschaftliche Quellen and Forschungen (Munster: Aschendorff, revised edition, 1962).

[5] See Paul V. Marshall, "Reconsidering `Liturgical Theology': Is there a Lex Orandi for All Christians?" Studia Liturgica 25 (1995), 129-151. Marshall echoes De Clerk's warnings about reducing lex orandi, lex credendi to a simplis­tic slogan where primary theology is elevated above secondary theology.

[6] Signs of the fragmentation between the various constituencies of the United Methodist Church abound throughout the book. At the very outset, "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" is given three times-first in English with music (57), then without music in an extended presentation of seventeen verses, for Wesley buffs (58), then once more with music and Spanish text (59). The Spanish hymn "¡Canta, Débora, Canta!" (81) is immediately followed by the canticle "Gloria in Excelsis" in the old Scottish chant setting (82). The United Methodist Hymnal: Book of United Methodist Worship (Nashville: United Methodist Pub­lishing House, 1989).

[7] In Here I Am, Lord, this "Voice of God" self-love leads to comic compli­cations. In the verses of this song, the worshipers become God. They, the plural God, sing about how grand They are, how They divinely command the earth and sky, how They hear the supplications of those in distress. Then, in a miraculous transformation, the worshipers become human beings during the refrain ("Here I Am, Lord"). In the same song, the congregation is the loving God and the loved individual. Simultaneously, the congregation divinely offers and humanly gives love to itself' (Thomas Day, Why Catholics Can't Sing: The Culture of Catholi­cism and the Triumph of Bad Taste, New York: Crossroad, 1990), 66.

[8] This is in much the same manner that the presider at the eucharist in the early church seems to have been free to improvise the eucharistic prayer within the limits of a certain pattern which varied somewhat on a regional basis.

[9] Jesse Lee, A Short History of the Methodists in the United States of Amer­ica (Rutland: Academy Books, 1974, facsimile reprint of Baltimore: Magill & Clime, 1810), 107. See also William Nash Wade, "A History of Public Worship in the Methodist Episcopal Church and Methodist Episcopal Church, South, from 1784 to 1905" (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1981).

[10] Thus the importance of the recent study by Lester Ruth, "'A Little Heaven Below': Quarterly Meetings as Seasons of Grace in Early American Methodism" (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1996).

[11] Even in the consecration of the eucharist it unfortunately may be the case that a pastor recites the institution narrative from memory and omits some or all the rest of the eucharistic prayer.

[12] The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church: 1992 (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1992). The 1996 Discipline was not avail­able when this paper was prepared.

[13] Ibid., ¶ 16.

[14] By Water and the Spirit (Nashville: General Board of Discipleship, 1996); "Baptism Statement Approved," United Methodist Newsscope, 3 May 1996, 2-3.

[15] John Wesley's Sunday Service of the Methodists in North America, with an Introduction by James F. White (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1984). The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America, Revised and Approved at the General Conference Held at Baltimore, in the State of Maryland, in November 1792 (Philadelphia: John Dickins, 1792), L. Edward Phillips, "Thomas Osmond Summers, Methodist Liturgist of the Nine­teenth Century," Methodist History 27 (1989), 241-253, The Book of Worship for Church and Home: With Orders for the Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies According to the Use of the Methodist Church, for Voluntary and Optional Use (Nashville: Methodist Publishing House, 1945). In the unique and expanded edition of the Discipline in 1798, with explanatory notes by Coke and Asbury, the liturgical material was omitted.

[16] Journal of General Conference 17 (1912) 364, 438, 504-505, 512-513; Nolan B. Harmon, The Rites and Ritual of Episcopal Methodism (Nashville: Pub­lishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, 1926), 59.

[17] Journal of General Conference 18 (1916), 330-334, 396-397, 1335-1341; Thomas Benjamin Neely, The Revised Ritual of 1916 (Philadelphia: Yeakel, 1920).

[18] Bishop Neely's detailed analysis of the Ritual of 1916 runs to more than 100 pages. While some of his comments on the changes of wording proposed by the commission or adopted by the bishops might seem pedantic, he makes many telling points about the liturgical and theological agends of the revision. He sum­marizes the theological tendencies of the revised Ritual in a manner which reveals both his astuteness and his appreciation for the relation between lex orandi and lex credendi.

[19] Neely, 90-91.

[20] Ibid., 91-93.

[21] "This is in response to your request concerning records relating to the 1916 revision of the MEC ritual and any challenges put to it. As the official depository for the United Methodist Church we would hold such records as they exist. There are no records of a challenge by Bishop Neely because none was ever mounted at the General Conferences of 1916 or 1920.... There is no men­tion of any challenge by Neely to the new ritual either in the Journals, the DCAs, or the committee records. Actual minutes of the General Conference committees no longer exist; all that is left are the petitions. Neely appears to have expressed his dislike for the new ritual only in his book" (Dale Patterson, unpublished elec­tronic mail message, 12 September, 1996). Mr. Patterson is Archivist/Records Administrator for the General Commission on Archives and History of the United Methodist Church. See also Jesse A. Earl, "Neely, Thomas Benjamin (1841-1925)," in The Encyclopedia of World Methodism, Nolan B. Harmon, ed. (Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House, 1974), vol. 2, 1707-1708.

[22] "Large Minutes," The Works of John Wesley, Thomas Jackson, ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1978; reprint of London, 1872), vol. 8, 307.

[23] The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York: Mason and Lane, 1836), 81. Italics added for emphasis.

[24] The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church (New York: Mason & Lane, 1840), 84. Italics added for emphasis.

[25] Daily Christian Advocate, 13 May 1864, 2-3. The Doctrines and Disci­pline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1864 (New York: Carlton & Porter, 1864),145-149.

[26] The Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1908 (New York: Eaton & Mains, 1908), ¶ 48 (p. 47); Journal of General Conference 16 (1908) 325; Frederick Norwood, Church Membership in the Methodist Tradi­tion (Nashville: Methodist Publishing House, 1958), 34; Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1912 (New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1912), ¶ 51 (p. 49) & ¶ 88.6 (p. 73); Doctrines and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1916 (New York: Methodist Book Concern, 1916), ¶ 48.2 (p. 51) & ¶ 90.7 (p. 78); Doctrines and Discipline of The Methodist Church, 1939 (New York: Methodist Publishing House, 1939), ¶ 141 (p. 55); Doctrines and Discipline of The Methodist Church, 1964 (Nashville: Methodist Publishing House, 1964), ¶ 1714 (pp. 562-564).

[27] Developments in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, were somewhat more conservative. For a detailed treatment of the rites of baptism in the M.E. Church, with a summary of developments in the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, and since the merger of 1939, see Charles R. Hohenstein, "The Revisions of the Rites of Baptism in the Methodist Episcopal Church, 1784-1939" (unpub­lished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Notre Dame, 1990).

Edited by Michael Mattei for the
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at Northwest Nazarene University
© Copyright 2003 by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology

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