The early Methodists were serious about church membership and produced catechisms to prepare potential members. In the late 19th century, Methodist minister Rev. S. Olin Garrison, M.A., published the Probationer’s Hand-book: Religious, Historical, Doctrinal, Disciplinary and Practical. The handbook, also known as the Probationer’s Catechism, is a series of lectures in catechetical form, intended to prepare probationary members for full membership in the Methodist Episcopal Church. Garrison explains in the Preface,
Lectures to classes of probationers have been put into the catechetical form. Many of the questions were asked during the progress of “Evenings with the Probationers,” and thus suggested the idea of catechetical instruction, While an effort has been made to be brief, it is thought the lectures, by what they imply as well as ask, cover all the points in Methodist history, doctrine, polity, and usages necessary to the probationer.
Each lecture in the handbook has now been added to the Holy Joys archives. The Q&As could be adapted for a church membership class or provide inspiration for developing a class of your own. The lectures are published under the following titles:
- The Probationer’s Catechism, Part 1: General Q&As (explains the probationary term and its relationship to baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and full membership)
- The Probationer’s Catechism, Part 2: Q&As on the History of Methodism (highlights the history from Methodism’s foundation by Wesley to the division of North and South and the Methodist Ecumenical Conference of 1881)
- The Probationer’s Catechism, Part 3: Q&As on the Doctrines of Methodism (covers the 25 Articles of Religion and the doctrines stressed by Methodism)
- The Probationer’s Catechism, Part 4: Q&As on Discipline and Government (covers the discipline, government, officers, and general rules)
- The Probationer’s Catechism, Part 5: Q&As on General Church Usages and Benevolences (covers the itinerancy, class meeting, love feast, watch night service, etc.)
- The Probationer’s Catechism, Part 6: Review and Practical Questions (asks about the church catechism, the Apostles’ Creed, the Baptismal Covenant, the Ten Commandments, etc.)
Here are a few questions that stood out to me from the lectures:
- Question 6: Should a probationer be baptized before his reception into full membership? He should.
- Question 7: Should an unbaptized probationer partake of the Lord’s Supper? It is well that he first be baptized.
- Question 31. Upon what doctrines does Methodism lay special stress? Universal Redemption, the Free Agency of Man, Regeneration or the New Birth, Adoption, the Witness of the Spirit, and Entire Sanctification or Perfect Love.
- Question 37. What is the object of Church discipline? To guard the purity and conserve and increase the saving power of the Church among men.
- Question 53. What is the design of the Class-meeting? It is designed to gather together the members weekly for free spiritual conversation. It is not a confessional, but it furnishes the leader an opportunity to instruct, exhort, rebuke, and encourage those who are committed to his care. It has been, and should continue to be, a power in Methodism.
- Question 66. Have you ever read or studied the Church Catechism?
- Question 67. Can you recite the Apostles’ Creed?
- Question 72. Have you thought prayerfully of the peculiar “duties” and “privileges” of Church membership until you are impressed with the serious import of the step you are about to take?
After the final lecture, there is a litany of resolutions for new converts and a tract on the Christian duty of becoming a church member: