The Article reads: "It is not necessary that rites and ceremonies should in all places be the same, or exactly alike; for they have been always different, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times and mens manners, so that nothing be ordained against Gods Word. Whosoever, through his private judgment, willingly and purposely doth openly break the rites and ceremonies of the Church to which he belongs, which are not repugnant to the Word of God, and are ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, that others may fear to do the like, as one that offendeth against the common order of the Church and woundeth the conscience of weak brethren."
Every particular church may ordain, change or abolish rites and ceremonies, so that all things may be done to edification." Scripture references: Hebrews 13:7; Titus 1:5, 13, 2:9.
Doctrines are fixed beliefs founded and established on the infallible unchanging and eternal Word of God. Ceremonies and rites are flexible, and can be changed to meet the needs of each local fellowship if necessary.
The services of the early church were very simple. They consisted of a time of praise, prayer, testimony, reading of the Old Testament Scriptures, and the reading of apostolic epistles, closing with the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup in commemoration of His death as they awaited His return.
However, as the church grew in number and expanded to other areas outside of Jerusalem, customs and ceremonies naturally developed and gradually crystallized into a definite form. An order of service and of authority gradually developed from Apostles and deacons, to the appointing of Bishops or Overseers over churches or areas with definite responsibilities. Rites and ceremonies developed peculiar to their own area or episcopacy.
Methodism developed within the fold of the Church of England, noted for formal ceremony. The very word Methodism is synonymous with orderliness, but Methodism has never been rigid in its formality. One only needs to read Wesleys treatise, "What is a Methodist" to understand why this is true.
A true worship service has in it four basic elements: prayer, praise, thanksgiving and the reading and expounding of the Scriptures. But the order of each is not fixed. The fellowship of the Lords supper, the administering of baptism, the marriage ceremony, the admission to membership and the fellowship and the ordination of the clergy are vital and important to the welfare of the church. The Evangelical Methodist Church has its own peculiar way of carrying out each portion through its ritual as established by the General Conferences, but there is sufficient flexibility to keep it on a high spiritual plane. This flexibility can keep the ritual from becoming so formal and routine that it becomes cold and meaningless. But it also tends to keep a church from too much informality which can create disorder and thus grieve the Spirit.
Wesley did set down an order of worship and procedure for his churches, but he allowed the local churches to make changes from time to time and from place to place as circumstances required. He allowed those left in charge with leading worship and administering the rites and ceremonies to use their better judgment as to Just how, in that locality, they were to be carried out.
Dr. Hilary T Hudson of North Carolina, in his book, "The Methodist Armor," published in 1896, wrote: (1) "The doctrines and institutions of the Christian religion are positive and unchangeable, while her rites and ceremonies are circumstantial. Baptism may be administered by pouring, sprinkling, or immersion. The elements of the Lords Supper may be received sitting or kneeling; prayers may be offered in public kneeling or standing. We may stand or sit in singing. (2) This article opposes the Catholics, who maintain that the authority of the Church is supreme, and whatever rite she may ordain, though it become obsolete and useless, is of supreme and endless obligation. It teaches that whenever a ceremony becomes a hindrance to the real progress of the Church, it is to be laid aside. When new ones are needed they are to be used. The law of expedience is to reign as to these matters. (3) This Article also teaches that when rites and ceremonies are "rdained and approved" by the proper authorities of the Church, they are not to be tampered with by private individuals. No person is allowed, "through his private judgment," to set them aside. This secures uniformity of Church ceremonies."
Methodism has always claimed superiority in adapting itself to the circumstances of human life. The great evangelist, Dewitt Talmadge. once said, "Methodism in England preaches in a gown; in our Eastern cities in broadcloth; in the West, in shirt sleeves, if the season be appropriate--preaching in the house or in the fields, anywhere, it makes no difference where--preaching just as well in one place as another. It takes the express train and goes across the continent, or a horse and rides with saddle bags across the prairie; it is at home in the magnificent St. Pauls, New York, and is not at all inconvenienced in a log cabin. It has wonderful flexibility and adaptedness. It has this power of easy adaptation to the most diversified conditions of life. It reaches out to embrace the negro in his hut, the backwoodsman in his forest home, the scholar in his study, and the prince in his gilded palace."
E. C. S. Gibson in his treatise on "The Thirty-nine Articles" states that three principal positions are maintained in this Article:
1. There is no need for tradition and ceremonies to be everywhere alike.
2. Those persons are deserving of censure who break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which are ordained by common authority.
3. Every particular or national church is competent to manage his own ceremonies and rites.
Wesley was simply continuing the ideas of Bishops Parker and Whitgift, under the reign of Elizabeth I of England who wrote: Service and prayers: some say the service and pray in the chancel, others in the body of the church, some say the same in a seat in the church; some in the pulpit with the faces to the people.
Speaking of the Communion: Some with chalice, some with communion cups, others with a common cup. Some with unleavened bread some with leavened. Some receive it standing, some kneeling, others sitting.
Concerning baptism: Some baptize in a font, some in a pool.
Concerning ministerial garb: some wear a surplice, others do not. Some wear a square cap, some wear a round one, some with a button cap, some with a hat, some wear their school gown, some another kind.
But all is done in decency and order as commanded by St. Paul.
Hooker concludes by saying, "These propositions are such as no man of moderate judgment hath cause to think unjust or unreasonable, and if they be admitted, they appear to be fully sufficient to establish the position taken up in the Article."