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Connexionalism

In the eighteenth century 'connexion' was a term used generally, in e.g. political, commercial and religious contexts, to refer to the circle of those connected to some person or group, and to the relationship thus created. But it was the particular character of the connexion John Wesley maintained with his members, his societies and his itinerant preachers that gave the term its technical significance in Methodism. All were in connexion primarily with him and thence with each other. The 'connexion' came to be in some senses equivalent to 'denomination' and, later, to 'Church', and 'connexionalism' was descriptive of a particular principle and pattern of church life which emphasized the interdependence of the constituent parts (over against independency). The WM Conference of 1891 endorsed the use of the word 'Church' rather than 'Connexion' and it replaced 'Society' on class tickets in December 1893.

Whilst the various non-WM branches differed in the balance of authority accorded to the various levels of church government, all accepted some form of connexionalism. This was manifested in, for example, a common bond of discipline and usage for the societies with transferable membership, and the itinerant ministry of those 'in full connexion' with the Conference and stationed by the Conference. Ministers are still 'received into full connexion' prior to being ordained.

This connexional principle continues to be intrinsic to Methodism, as a structural expression at all levels of church life of essential interdependence, through fellowship, consultation, government and oversight. In 2015 the Conference adopted a report from the Faith and Order Committee, 'Issues of Connexionalism in the 21st Century' (Agenda pp 87-96), which affirmed the continuing value of connexionalism, and commended the report to the Methodist people for study and reflection.

Quotations

[Under the Trust Deeds, etc.] 'it is not possible to alter the title of the Connexion ... The Conference declares, however, that the title hitherto used is not, and never has been, inconsistent with the assertion for "the people called Methodists" of a true and proper position as a Church, with all the authorities, privileges and responsibilities belonging to the New Testament Church; and ... distinctly approves of the general and popular use of the term "The Wesleyan Methodist Church".'

WM'Minutes, 1891 p.321

'Whether or not Methodism was ‘born in song’ is open to some debate, but it was certainly born as a Connexion. The Wesleys’ strand of the wider eighteenth - century Evangelical Revival comprised those individuals, societies and preachers who were ‘in connexion with’ John Wesley. In its eighteenth - century usage, ‘connexion’ referred both to the circle of those connected to some person or group and to the relationship itself. It was used of politicians as well as religious bodies, and within the Revival, George Whitefield, Howell Harris and the Countess of Huntingdon, as well as John Wesley, had their ‘connexions’. This description of the Wesleys’ movement, retaining its distinctive eighteenth - century spelling, has endured for nearly three hundred years. ‘Connexionalism’ has been elaborated theologically, expressed in hymns and liturgies, justified in debate with advocates of other models of church order, and articulated in the constitution and polity of the Methodist Church. It has also shaped, and been lived out in, the faith, practice and assumptions of generations of Methodist people.'

'Issues of Connexionalism in the 21st Century', Report presented to the Methodist Conference, 2015

Sources

  • J.H. Rigg, Congregational Independence and Wesleyan Connexionalism Contrasted (1851)
  • John C. Bowmer, Pastor and People: A Study of Church and Ministry in Wesleyan Methodism (1975) pp.176-97
  • B.E. Beck in Epworth Review, 18:2 (May 1991) pp.48-59; 18:3 (September 1991) pp.43-50
  • Conference Agenda 1995 pp.195-8
  • R.E. Richey, D.M. Campbell and W.B. Lawrence (eds.), Connectionalism: ecclesiology, mission and identity (Nashville, 1997)
  • Brian E. Beck, 'Connexion and Koinonia: Wesley's Legacy and the Ecumenical Ideal', in Randy L. Maddox (ed.), Rethinking Wesley's Theology for Contemporary Methodism (1998), pp.129-41)
  • Bruce W. Robbins and David Carter, 'Connexionalism and Koinonia: a Wesleyan contribution to ecclesiology', in One in Christ, vol. 34 (1998), pp.320-36
  • David M. Chapman, 'Koinonia and Connexionalism', in Epworth Review, 26:2 (April 1999) pp.82-87
  • David Carter, Love Bade Me Welcome (Peterborough, 2002)
  • Russell E. Richey, 'Connection and Connectionalism', in Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies ed. W.J. Abraham and J.E. Kirby (2009) pp.211-28
  • Russell E. Richey, Methodist Connectionalism: Historical Perspectives (2009)
  • Gareth Powell in Methodist Recorder. 27 November 2015

Entry written by: SRH
Category: Subject

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