Tuesday, August 19, 2008

General Assembly Resolution: General Superintendents

Note: Underlined text ___ are words that are to be added to the current Manual.

G. The General Superintendents

306. The general superintendents*, elected by the General Assembly, shall serve until 30 days following the final adjournment of the next General Assembly and until their successors are elected and qualified. (305.2)

*The term general superintendent is the Wesleyan synonym for bishop, and the term preferred by the Church of the Nazarene. However, when the former term may cause confusion (e.g., in ecumenical settings), the latter term may be used for clarity.


1. Much confusion has occurred, especially in relationship to other denominations and those new to the Church of the Nazarene, concerning the title general superintendent.

2. Within the Church of the Nazarene, the title has been misunderstood so as to have people incorrectly refer to our general superintendents as "generals," as though it were a military type of title instead of a term referring to their general oversight. General superintendents ought to no more be called "generals" than district superintendents ought to be called "districts."

3. The superintendency constitutes the "episcopal" side of our "representative" government which combines "episcopal" and "congregational" elements (cf., the "Forward" of the Manual, page 8). the traditional rendering throughout the Christian Church for the episcopal office (i.e., office of general oversight/superintendency) has been the term bishop.

4. Within the majority of the larger Wesleyan tradition, the function of general superintendency has been the role of the bishop, and the terms general superintendent and bishop have functioned synonymously within the larger Wesleyan tradition.

5. With such a footnote, the term general superintendent would REMAIN the primary term used by the Church of the Nazarene and would REMAIN the term used throughout the Manual.

6. The footnote only provides the opportunity for helpful clarity in settings where our usual terminology has proven and remains unclear.

7. Within the larger Wesleyan tradition, general superintendents/bishops have never been understood as a "third order." Universally, within the larger Wesleyan tradition general superintendents/bishops are understood to be "elders" (cf., the Manuals/Disciplines of The AME, AMEZ, CME, Free Methodist, United Methodist and The Wesleyan churches). Therefore, such a clarifying footnote in no way implies that our general superintendents would be ordained to a ministerial order superior to that of elder.


Eric said...

I think we may have talked about this one before, Todd, but I think this is the only one you've posted I would not support. Not because I don't approve of the use of bishop, but I think if we are going to begin using it, we ought to use it as the designation for the District Superintendant.

The argument for this, of course, is that implicit in the bishops duty is being in good relationship with the local churches since it is through the bishop that the local church is both connected to and in communion with the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church." The Church of the Nazarene covers far too great an area for only a handful of bishops to be present to every local congregation.

The objection, of course, is that it is the GS's who ordain - which is the work of the bishop. However, in the CotN ordination is not an act reserved only for the GS. It is the norm in America, but from my international friends I have been told that it is commonplace for there to be ordinations done by one other than the GS.

Additionally, it should be the one who examines and is in relationship with the ordinand (the DS) who does the ordaining.

I think the first step ought to be to make Bishop an acceptable designation for District Superintendant, and then work toward a more regional General Superintendency (US/Canada, Latin/South America, Africa, Oceana, Eurasia, etc).

Perhaps it might be helpful to understand how others do this. Is there a position above bishop in the UMC? Wesleyan? etc? How are they organized?

Todd Stepp said...


To make a DS bishop is to diverge from all of the Methodist tradition. The UMC understands the DS to be an extension of the bishop (the bishop being a general superintendent and the DS sharing in their superintending by extension).

And while elders may ordain, it is not completely correct to say that ordination is not an act reserved only for the GS. The reason is that no elder in the Church of the Nazarene has the authority (within the Nazarene structure) to ordain unless the GS extends his/her authority to do so. - In other words, even if my district approved "X's" ordination, and even if they said that I, as an elder, should ordain him, I cannot, unless my presiding GS gives me that authority.

I understand much of your argument, but it is simply the fact that, in Methodism & the Wesleyan tradition, the GS is a synonym for bishop.

The Free Methodist are much closer to us, in terms of organization than the UMC. Their bishops (they use that term) are not elected for life.

I would argue for an increase in the number of GS's. That is, I think we need to improve how our General Superintendents function. However, it is simply understood by the larger Methodist tradition that a GS is a bishop. It is clear in the Disciplines of the AME, AMEZ, CME, FM & UMC. I'm just arguing for the use of the more traditional term. (And, really, only the possibility of the use of the term and an official recognition of what the rest of Methodism already says.)

So, my argument is that the GS is for us and the larger Wesleyan/Methodist tradition a bishop. Many people in and outside the Church of the Nazarene do not understand how how the term GS is used (but Bresee certainly did). So let's just make that identification in a footnote.

That, I think, is a seperate issue from the improving of the function of our GS's.

Again, it is just bringing us in closer alignment with our own tradition.



Anonymous said...


I like this idea very much, but I think that I would go even further, as I believe this would be a good opportunity to address what I consider a failure of the episcopacy in both the Nazarene Church and the greater Methodist tradition. DS’ should be considered Bishops (name change and all) with GS serving in more of a role as an Archbishop would in the Catholic or Eastern traditions. (Although I am not sure that term archbishop should be used, but for this purpose I think that it best summarizes what the position would entail) Historically Bishops were the local/parishes connection to the larger catholic church as well as to the Body of Christ. Too often in the Nazarene and Methodist Churches DS and Bishops (UMC) have been relegated to nothing more than ordained administrators with no real connection to the local church. For instance Methodist Bishops serve huge numbers of local churches with effectively prevents them from being present for baptisms, confirmations, or the Eucharist. This has really created a disconnect between the local congregation and the episcopacy. As a UM I fear that my own church is moving further away from the episcopal form of government and closer to the congregational style, where the local church is disconnected from the larger church as a whole. As a former Nazarene I think that the Nazarene Church is already there in substance if not in form as well. If the DS’ in both the Methodist and Nazarene Churches were given the historical function and title of Bishop I think that both churches would be better served in growing in Christ.

Todd Stepp said...

Dear "Anonymous,"

One thing one has to consider anytime one puts forth a resolution is the likelihood of it passing. - Even as only a footnote, the likelihood that the term bishop will pass my districts committee, the GA committee and the floor of the GA is, frankly, low.

Like The Wesleyan Church, we don't like the term "bishop." (In fact, I tried something similar last time around, and my own district committee rejected it. Another reason to try to gain as much support across the denomination.)

On a different note: If you don't mind, given your background, if I have not yet spoken with you (you are "anonymous" after all), I would appreciate your emailing me at tastepp@insightbb.com



Eric said...

I understand both the historical connection and the ordination issue, although I think I have questions about those arguments (ie would JW want his superintendents called bishops? Charles certainly didn't and I'm not sure that it is clear that John did - or - does it matter if the GS can give permission? the issue is who can ordain and the answer is any elder with permission).

Additionally, for me to support this resolution it would require two parts: 1) the change allowing GS = bishop; 2) the creation of enough new GS/bishops that the GS/bishop can be in regular contact with every local church.

To me, this seems much more laborious than simply changing the DS to the bishop. Then the issue is done. Heck, we could get rid of GS all together.

The most imporant role of the bishop is the connection to the local church. Historical conntectedness is important. Ordination is important. Neither individually or taken together would surpass the importance of a connecting bishop imho.