Methodist 'discipline' encompassed for John Wesley the ordering of the life of the societies and their members, both in personal and ecclesiastical terms. Personal discipline was strongly enforced by e.g. the General Rules of the United Societies, first published in 1743 and regularly handed out and explained to new members (with stricter rules for the bands). Wesley himself frequently examined the societies and purged the membership lists during his tours. Between his visits, discipline was exercised by the Assistants and other itinerants, whose own itinerancy and stationing were under the authority of Wesley and later of the Conference. The Large Minutes periodically summarised the Conference decisions on such matters. The use of the term 'discipline' to refer to the ordering of church life in its various aspects has continued, from the Form of Discipline of 1797 to the modern Constitutional Practice and Discipline.

Within this broader sense, jurisdiction in 'disciplinary' matters has always been exercised where, upon a charge being brought, misconduct is found to justify the removal of a person from ministerial or lay office or membership. Originally, the Deed of Declaration vested in the Conference the general power to exclude from the ministry, but rules were adopted e.g. in the Plan of Pacification for the procedure to be followed in the trial of such preachers through District Committees. Charges against lay members came to be dealt with by the Leaders' Meeting, with the Local Preachers' Meeting having jurisdiction over local preachers with respect to their exercise of that office. Provisions for appeal were made, including a final appeal to the Conference.The rules relating to the exercise of disciplinary jurisdiction evolved, with variations, in the different branches of Methodism, and have been revised several times since 1932.

Ministerial, diaconal and lay discipline is now dealt with by a connexional discipline committee, with appeal to a connexional appeal committee, in each case containing a mixture of ordained and lay people and chaired by a person with appropriate qualifications or experience. The final appeal in all cases continues to be to the Conference. From 1998, this Conference jurisdiction is exercised, other than in doctrinal cases, by a committee of thirty (from 2011, fifteen) members of the previous Conference acting in its name.

Recent measures have also been introduced to address questions of ministerial and diaconal competence (1996), and to deal with complaints, not necessarily culminating in a disciplinary charge, made against ordained or lay members of the Church (2000). Further emphasis has continued to be placed on attempting to reach an agreed resolution of such issues, with the appointment of district and connexional Reconciliation Groups.

A major report to the Conference on Complaints and Discipline (2007 Agenda, pp. 360-380) set out some theological considerations upon which the system is based, and the overarching principles are to be found in legislative form in Part 11 of CPD, in particular in Standing Orders 1100 and 1102.

  • History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain 1 (1965) pp.183-209; 4 (1988) pp.59-61
  • Constitutional Practice and Discipline, Vol 2, Book III, section 04, and Part 11'
  • Charles Edward White, 'John Wesley's Use of Church Discipline', in Methodist History, 29:2 (January 1991) pp.112-18