Pastoral Office

WM held a high doctrine of the 'Pastoral Office', believing that the ministry was of divine institution and, according to the NT, had final responsibility before God for the souls committed to it. Though it did not believe, with RCs and Anglo-Catholics, that this ministry had to be transmitted in unbroken tactile succession from the Apostles, it stressed the obligation of Christians to submit to the pastors of the Church they had chosen to enter (cf. Heb. 13:17) and the responsibility of the ministry to appoint and train its successors. These convictions underpinned the refusal in the earlier nineteenth century to admit laymen to the Conference. Non-Wesleyans, and other Free Churchmen, accused WM of denying the proper rights of the laity in Church government.

At the end of the century, with the admission of laymen to the Conference and closer relations with the Free Churches, the doctrine became attenuated, though it did not entirely disappear. The Deed of Union stresses that ministers have 'no exclusive cure of souls' (thus rejecting traditional high Wesleyan claims), but also emphasizes that they are 'Stewards in the household of God and shepherds of his flock'. The 1937 statement on the Nature of the Christian Church according to the Teaching of the Methodists describes ministry as a gift of the Spirit to the Church.


'And though of Alfred Barrett's prize essay The Pastoral Ofice perhaps only the title is of survival value today, it was important that in that troubled age the thought was kept of a continuity of pastoral care and a ministry grounded in a divine call and therefore "from above", and not dependent on a popular vote. This is the apostolic succession: the ministry appoint (we should say 'ordain') the ministry.' E. Gordon Rupp, 1969, p.125

  • John Beecham, Essay on the Constitution of Wesleyan Methodism (1829)
  • Alfred Barrett, The Ministry and Polity of the Christian Church (1854)
  • Leslie F. Church, 'The Pastor in the Eighteenth Century', in London Quarterly and Holborn Review, January 1956 pp.19-23
  • Gordon Rupp, 'The Pastoral Office in the Methodist Tradition', in The Church Quarterly, 2:2 (October 1969) pp.119-30
  • W.R. Ward, 'The Legacy of John Wesley: the Pastoral Office in Britain and America', in A. Whiteman, J.S. Bromley and P.G.M. Dickson (eds.), Statesmen, Scholars and Merchants (Oxford, 1973) pp.323-50 (Reprinted in Faith and Faction (1993) pp.225-48)
  • John C. Bowmer, Pastor and People: a study of Church and Ministry in Wesleyan Methodism 1791-1858 (1975)
  • 'The authority of the Preachers and the development of the doctrine of their pastoral office, 1791-1827', in Margaret Batty, Stages in the Development and Control of Wesleyan Lay Leadership, 1791-1878 (1988), pp. 12-26

Entry written by: DJC
Category: Subject
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