Decision Number 204


April 30, 1964

Request of the Southern Illinois Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Constitutionality of Paragraphs 304.2, 392 and 402, Limiting the Ministerial Functions of Approved Supply Pastors


Paragraphs 304.2, 392, and 402 of the 1960 Discipline which limit the authority of an unordained or ordained local preacher in the exercise of his ministerial functions to the charge to which he is appointed or in which he resides are constitutional.

The alleged inconsistency which is implied between paragraphs 353 and 363 which mention no limitations on local preachers serving as evangelists and paragraphs 304.2, 392 and 402, which indicate limitations as noted above, does not render paragraphs 304.2, 392 and 402 unconstitutional.

Statement of Facts

At the 1962 session of the Southern Illinois Conference, the following resolution was adopted:
"WHEREAS, the 1960 General Conference of our church passed some rather strict legislation on the ministry of approved supply pastors,

"AND WHEREAS, the approved supply pastors and the executive session of the Annual Conference have requested the Board of Ministerial Training and Qualifications to seek clarification on the meaning of and legality of the said legislation,

"THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Southern Illinois Annual Conference request the Judicial Council of The Methodist Church to give a declaratory decision on the constitutionality of Pars. 304.2, 392 and 402 insofar as they limit the ministerial function of the approved supply pastor, and insofar as they appear inconsistent with Paragraphs 853 and 363."


The Judicial Council has jurisdiction in this matter under the provisions of Paragraph 914.8 of the 1960 Discipline.

Analysis and Rationale

Each of the three paragraphs in question, 304.2, 392 and 402, restricts the authority of a local preacher, whether ordained or not, in the exercise of his ministerial functions to the charge to which he is appointed or in which he resides. The first question raised is whether or not this restriction makes the paragraphs cited unconstitutional.

Article IV of Division Two, Section 1, of the Constitution, which is Paragraph 8.2 of the 1960 Discipline, reads as follows:
"The General Conference shall have full legislative power over all matters distinctively connectional and in the exercise of said powers shall have authority as follows: . . . . .

"2. To define and fix the qualifications and duties of elders, deacons, supply pastors, local preachers, exhorters, and deaconesses."

The above quoted provision of the Constitution clearly gives the General Conference power to define and fix the qualifications and duties of both ordained and unordained ministers. The dictionary definition of "to define" is "to mark the limits or boundaries of." In the exercise of this power granted by the Constitution, the General Conference in Paragraphs 304.2, 392 and 402 saw fit to fix certain limits or boundaries to the authority of local preachers, both ordained and unordained, in the exercise of their ministerial functions, namely, the charge to which they are appointed or in which they reside. The question raised is whether this legislation placing limitations, especially on local preachers who have been ordained deacons or elders, is constitutional.

Ordination occupies an important place in Methodist polity. Its meaning has been interpreted historically by Methodism, as the public recognition of the call of God to a person to become a minister. Through it, the church gives authority to the ordained to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments, but within the framework of the rules and regulations of the church conferring ordination, as from time to time enacted by the duly constituted authority of that church. In Methodism, this is the General Conference. Ordination, therefore, in The Methodist Church, does not confer authority on the one ordained to exercise ministerial functions beyond the limits defined and fixed by the General Conference. In other words, the act of ordination confers authority to perform certain ministerial functions, but the General Conference has constitutional authority to define when, where, and under what circumstances these ministerial functions may be performed while the one performing them remains in good standing in The Methodist Church.

This principle finds expression in several paragraphs which have been part of the Discipline for a number of years. For example, in Paragraphs 943 and 963 of the 1960 Discipline, a minister, either traveling or local, whether ordained or unordained, is prohibited from exercising his ministerial functions within the bounds of a charge not his own, when requested by the preacher in charge or the District Superintendent not to do so.

Likewise, in Paragraph 374, an ordained member of an Annual Conference, who is voluntarily located, is restricted in the exercise of his ministerial functions to the charge where he resides or to which he is appointed. Paragraph 377 provides that an ordained member of an Annual Conference who is involuntarily located, shall have his right to exercise the ministerial functions suspended. It is to be noted that these restrictions are placed on certain ministers even though they have received the same ordination as all others who have been ordained.

It is alleged in briefs presented to the Council that the restrictions placed on ordained approved supply pastors work a hardship on them as well as on the work of the church in general. This may be the case. It should be noted, however, that the Judicial Council does not have the responsibility to determine the wisdom of legislation passed by the General Conference, nor the effects of such legislation, salutary or otherwise. The Council passes solely upon its legality and constitutionality.

The other question raised in the request is that of the constitutionality of Paragraphs 304.2, 392 and 402, insofar as they appear inconsistent with Paragraphs 353 and 363.

The Judicial Council holds that any apparent inconsistency of Paragraphs 304.2, 392 and 402 enacted in 1960 with Paragraphs 353 and 363 enacted prior to that date does not render the later legislation invalid or unconstitutional. On the contrary, so long as the legislation is within the constitutional authority of the General Conference, as we hold above, the latest enactment of the General Conference, to the extent that it appears inconsistent with prior legislation, constitutes a limitation or modification of the earlier law. The last expression of the legislative authority controls. Thus the apparent unrestricted area of service of a local preacher serving as an evangelist as provided in Paragraphs 353 and 363 has been modified by the later enactment limiting the area of service of all local preachers.


It is therefore the decision of the Judicial Council that:

1. Paragraphs 304.2, 392 and 402 of the 1960 Discipline, which limit the authority of an unordained or ordained local preacher in the exercise of his ministerial functions to the charge to which he is appointed or in which he resides are constitutional.

2. The alleged inconsistency between Paragraphs 304.2, 392 and 402, and 353 and 363 implied by the lack of any references in Paragraphs 353 and 363 to limitations on the exercise of his ministerial functions by a local preacher serving as an evangelist, is not sufficient grounds for declaring Paragraphs 304.2, 392 and 402 unconstitutional.

Dissenting Opinion

R. F. Curl, John D. Humphrey, A. Wesley Pugh, and J. Russell Throckmorton dissent on the grounds that: (1) The Methodist Church has historically recognized ordination as a permanent authorization, so long as life and conduct becometh the gospel, to a full ministry in the "Church of God," subject only to abuse of such authorization which abuse is amply guarded against by the provisions of Paragraphs 943 and 963;

(2) the distinction between "local preachers" and "traveling preachers" is a distinction based on relationship to the Annual Conference and not on differences in ordination and the rights and responsibilities attendant upon ordination;

(3) local and traveling preachers ordained either as deacons or elders receive the same ordination, are given the same parchments, and have identical authorizations;

(4) if the General Conference may by legislation limit the authority of one group or class of deacons or elders it may likewise limit the authorization of any other group, such as, district superintendents, bishops, board secretaries, retired elders or deacons, members of theological faculties, et al;

(5) the authority given by and recognized in ordination is protected by Restrictive Rule No. 3 (Par. 9.3, 1960 Discipline) since the ultimate penalty the Church can assess against an ordained minister is to deprive him of the authority given and recognized in an ordination which can be lost only by death, surrender of credentials, or through due trial.

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