The General Rules: Continuing to Shape and Guide the People Called Methodist

Tammie Grimm

Whether one was introduced to Wesley’s General Rules for their historical significance in a seminary class or encountered them in sermons from pastors and bishops steeped in the Wesleyan tradition, the General Rules have an enduring legacy. The three rules are: (1) do no harm, (2) do good, and (3) attend on the ordinances of God. Though they have operated as a disciplinary measure and can be used as a means of devotion, the General Rules promote a practical wisdom that endures because they are, first and foremost, a rule of life.

For centuries, Christian communities have been guided by a rule of life that offers a distinctive way of living and acting Christianly in the world. Like maxims, precepts, and even mission statements, a rule of life speaks to the wisdom and purpose necessary to guide life. Yet, it does something more by offering an action plan that answers the question: How then shall we live?

The General Rules, though written for early Methodists, continue to prove their worth as a guideline for Christian living—even in our global context of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. In the following ways, the twenty-first-century people called Methodist inhabit the General Rules both as a church community and with individual effort as a matter of faithful living.

Do No Harm

It is a Christian thing to care for one another and one’s community.

In a significant move, prior to any governmental actions or guidelines, UM bishops across the connection (and other mainline ecclesial authorities) urged leadership in local congregations to suspend public worship to ensure public safety. Though it seemed unnatural and countercultural to the Christian nature of flocking together to be responsible and loving members of the body of Christ, we must for a time remain physically apart from one another for the sake of human health on this planet.

Let it be noted: such a move was not, nor is it, “wimping out.” Rather, this move has been difficult for all concerned. It is especially hard on pastors who consider their core identity as shepherds of a flock to be called into doubt. It is the shepherd’s instinct and job to gather and be joined with their flock in order to protect and enfold them until danger passes.

Continue to protect the vulnerable. For folks susceptible to the virus because of preexisting medical conditions and the marginalized because they do not enjoy the amenities that come with economic privilege, innumerable pastors, congregations, and UM agencies have sought to alleviate those suffering in a variety of ways through donations of food and other needed resources.

Individuals who practice social distancing and follow suggested guidelines of wearing a mask seek to not do harm to others just as those who decline to put their wants and desires first, over the plight of others who are without.

Do Good

In the effort to do avoid harm, Christians find themselves participating as ambassadors of God’s goodness, mercy, and justice. As God’s agent, the creativity and expression of the ways we can splash hope and joy is limitless.

Many congregations, who have hosted food pantry kitchens for their surrounding neighborhoods remain open and viable even if they have prepared bags of groceries for their constituents ahead of time and made retrieving them as friendly—yet contactless—as possible.

In efforts to alleviate short supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline medical and emergency workers, volunteers from across the connection extracted tens of thousands of masks, gloves, and protective suits from kits prepped to accompany future mission teams who offer relief after a natural disaster or other need.

Masks and PPE continue to be made and collected at both the agency and grassroots level for communities as they become hotspots or incur a sudden and unexpected outbreak.

Attend on the Ordinances of God

These ordinances are practices that declare us to be Christian—not just good folks.

Public worship and ministry of the word: In a multitude of creative ways, church services have become remote through taped or live services, sometimes including a variety of components, such as music, children’s ministry, and fellowship. Families often post photos of the ways and places around the house where they attend church.

Supper of the Lord: Whether one calls it Communion or chooses to practice the Love Feast, the opportunity to share in the holy act of breaking bread remains a meaningful practice for Methodists.

Family and private prayer, and searching the Scriptures: Even with social distancing measures, there is nothing preventing this Christian practice! If you haven’t heard, the Upper Room daily devotional has sought to make this simple for you and it is now available as a free download.

Posted Jun 10, 2020

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