The Justification of the Methodist Episcopacy (1792)

Bishop Thomas Coke

This is from the notes by Bishops Coke and Asbury as found in the 1792 annotated Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church:

The late reverend John Wesley recommended the episcopal form to his societies in America; and the general conference, which is the chief synod of our church, unanimously accepted of it. Mr. Wesley did more. He first consecrated one for the office of a bishop, that our episcopacy might descend from himself. The general conference unanimously accepted of the person so consecrated, as well as of Francis Asbury, who had for many years before exercised every branch of the episcopal office, excepting that of ordination. Now, the idea of an apostolic succession being exploded, it follows, that the Methodist church has every thing which is scriptural and essential to justify its episcopacy.

Is the unanimous approbation of the chief synod of a church necessary? This it has had.

Is the ready compliance of the members of the church with its decision, in this respect, necessary? This it has had, and continues to have.

Is it highly expedient, that the fountain of the episcopacy should be respectable? This has been the case. The most respectable divine since the primitive ages, if not since the time of the apostles, was Mr. Wesley. His knowledge of the sciences was very extensive. He was a general scholar: and for any to call his learning in question, would be to call their own. On his death the literati of England bore testimony to his great character. And where has been the individual so useful in the spread of religion?

But in this we can appeal only to the lovers of vital godliness. By his long and incessant labours he raised a multitude of societies, who looked up to him for direction: and certainly his directions in things lawful, with the full approbation of the people, were sufficient to give authenticity to what was accordingly done. He was peculiarly attached to the laws and customs of the church in the primitive times of christianity. He knew, that the primitive churches universally followed the episcopal plan: and indeed bishop Hoadley has demonstrated that the episcopal plan was universal till the time of the reformation. Mr. Wesley therefore preferred the episcopal form of church government; and God has (glory be to his name!) wonderfully blessed it amongst us.

Coke & Asbury, while refusing to speak ill of the presbyterian system, would note that no such system existed until the Reformation, that ordination by an Elder as a rite of the Church was essential in the New Testament, and that the New Testament valued the episcopal system.

The episcopacy drew me to The United Methodist Church. It is historical, biblical, and deeply theological. Like Coke and Asbury, I believe it is more in line with the Great Tradition than the other systems of government, but we have to be careful about the attendees to the office, less we find the system irrelevant and nothing more than figureheads.

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