The following is a bit boring. It is raw material for an essay I am doing.
The Manuel of Laws of the Methodist Church in Ireland identify the Church Council as being the court for members. Special provision is made for local preachers and ministers. Discipline for Local Preachers by-passes the church council and begins with the Circuit Executive, followed by the District Disciplinary Committee, the District Synod and the Conference. For ministers the courts begin with the District Disciplinary Committee, and are followed by the District Synod and Conference. Due to the fact that members are under the discipline of the Methodist Church it can be presumed that a member can appeal to the Connexional courts if they want to contest the decisions of their Church Council.
There seems to be a number of weaknesses with this structure.
Firstly, these laws do not mention what Adams refers to as the ‘informal’ stages of discipline; for example, in the procedure for discipline outlined in Matthew 18:15-20 discipline begins with a one-to-one encounter and then proceeds including one or two others. Those with a teaching responsibility in the church should highlight the responsibility to deal with private offences in a private matter before bringing them into a more public sphere.
Some offences begin with more public awareness and are of such a serious nature (e.g. 1 Cor. 5:1) that discipline begins with what Adams refers to as ‘formal’ discipline. This is the point at which the Manuel of Laws begins. But whereas the Manuel of Laws jumps from the Church Council to a district committee there is an emphasis in Scripture on the responsibility of the congregation (Matthew 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:2, cf. 2 Cor. 2:6). Robinson points out, that ekklesia (Matthew 18:17) mostly designates a local congregation and was never used in a collective way (e.g. of a denomination). It might be argued that the Church Council is representative of the congregation, but it would seem that it would be preferred that major issues of discipline were dealt with at a congregational meeting. Again those with teaching responsibility in the church should highlight that a commitment to church discipline is the responsibility for all the members.
Thirdly, there is a weakness in the fact that neither ministers nor local preachers are seen to be accountable to the local church. For the local preacher the courts of discipline begin with the Circuit Executive and for the minister they begin with a district committee. 1 Timothy 5:19-20 deals with accusations brought against an ‘elder.’ This passage is consistent with other New Testament passages dealing with discipline (e.g. Matthew 18:16 and 2 Cor. 13:1) in requiring more than one witness. The Apostle Paul’s concern is to ensure that elders are not exposed to unsubstantiated accusations and that if they are found guilty they are publically rebuked. As Wilson explains, they ‘must be publically rebuked so that other believers (‘the rest’) may fear to follow their good example.’ However, nothing in the apostle’s instruction to Timothy anticipates by-passing the local congregation in the disciplining of certain leaders. Although Methodist ministers do not formally hold their membership with the local congregation they should surely be seen as a full part of the congregation with which they serve. It does not seem correct that some should be exempt from the procedures outlined in Matthew 18:15-20