Methodists/Probationary Membership


QUESTION: Why did the UM stop doing probationary membership and when?  How do you handle such persons when they become a part of the congregation?  I am a Course of Study instructor in ALabama-Florida Epsicopal Area of the AMEZ church and I just wanted to get some historical and practical knowledge on this topic.  How difficult was it to achieve this?  I am Methodist Doctrine using Campbell's book, Maddox's book, and Outler & Heitzenrater's book for this course.  I did not know the UM had stopped this practice.  ANother question, how often do you use the Nicene creed?

ANSWER: Dear Harold,

The United Methodist Church changed it's understanding of membership -- Baptismal instead of just Probationary / Professed rather than Full -- in 2000 at General Conference.  In 1992 the UMC published a statement on Baptism (By Water and the Spirit) and, after 8 years of learning from this document, it was decided that baptismal membership more accurately describes someone who has been baptized but not yet confirmed.  This is true for adults as well as children and youth.  Since we don't believe that there is any sacramental difference between infant and adult baptism (in both God is the primary giver and we are the passive recipient of divine grace), those who have not yet been confirmed are, nevertheless, members of the body of Christ.  Professed Membership reflects our understanding that membership comes to fruition (i.e., experiences the very beginning of sanctification) when one is confirmed/professes faith in Jesus Christ before the congregation.  In other words, with this approach we are holding in balanced tension the Anglican/Catholic Sacramental understanding with the Reformed emphasis on the personal responsibility of response.

It wasn't easy for the General Conference to come to accept this understanding; some of the best theology ever done in Conference was accomplished in conversation over this change in nomenclature ... matched in intensity and quality only by the General Conferences' address to our understanding of Holy Communion in the 2004 approval of "This Holy Mystery."

Most UMCs that affirm their faith through the historic creeds will do so with either the traditional or the ecumenical version of the Apostles Creed (881 or 882 in the UM Hymnal).  Many will use one of the other creeds, on occasion, including the Nicene Creed.  The Nicene Creed is found in the UM Hymnal at 880.  Some congregations never or rarely use it; other congregations will use it on Communion Sundays or at special services where either a more complete statement of faith is helpful or where strong ecumenical affirmations are in focus.  In the church I am currently serving as Senior Pastor they were familiar with the Nicene Creed before I arrived, however it wasn't something they used on a regular basis; I appoint it for use every Communion Sunday, however, so that has helped to bring this creed more into the forefront.

I hope this helps.  If you have any other questions or would like to follow-up, please feel free to write again.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Is there any way I can have this document about Baptism mad available to me.  I would love to read it.  I have a M. Div. from Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, NC.  I hope to soon start my PhD in Historical Theology.

It's entitled: "By Water and the Spirit" and can be found on the internet for download as a PDF.  Here's a link:

May God's richest blessings be with you as you begin your doctoral studies.


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Rev. Gregory S. Neal


I can answer questions dealing with all issues of United Methodist Doctrine and Wesleyan-Arminian Theology. In particular I can answer questions dealing with the Sacraments and other liturgical and worship-oriented questions. I can also answer questions dealing with the form, structure, and organization of the United Methodist Church and our relationship with other denominations.


I am an ordained United Methodist Elder with more than 20 years of ministerial service experience in the local Church.

I am a Clergy Member in Full Connection and have been a member of the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church since 1991. I am a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion. I am also a member of the Emmaus Community, and am currently serving as Senior Spiritual Director for the Dallas Emmaus Community. I am a member of the Order of Saint Luke in the United Methodist Church.

I have my own website:   I have written two books, "Grace Upon Grace" and "Seeking the Shepherd's Arms," both available at and in bookstores.

I have a BA in Religious Studies, History and Russian. I have an M.Div in Systematic Theology and Biblical Studies and a Ph.D in Sacramental Theology and New Testament.

Awards and Honors
Ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church
Fellow of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist

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