What sort of knowledge base should be considered essential for our clergy? What limits should restrain the teaching of our clergy? Allow me to suggest some guidelines.
I First and foremost, we should desire that our clergy be biblically literate. After all, the preacher is supposed to be deriving his or her teaching from the text, not the other way around. At the same time, however, not everything that any given preacher can come up with should be considered a valid interpretation. Giving authority to teach to people with overactive imaginations and limited instruction can lead to all kinds of screwy ideas. We read the Bible from within a given tradition. So, what constitutes that tradition?
II We read the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, from within the apostolic tradition. The first followers of Jesus are to be considered the best authorities not only for the gospel, but for how the Scriptures (especially the Old Testament) are to be understood in teaching the gospel.
III We accept the great creeds of the early Church as authoritative, especially the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Chalcedonian Definition of the Faith, and the Athanasian Creed. These aren’t Scripture, but if you’re finding quibbles with any parts of them and purport to find evidence for your views in the Bible, then you’re reading the Bible wrong.
IV As Methodists, we are heirs of the English Reformation. Despite our evangelical and frontier heritage, our understanding of the Church, of the Sacraments, and of ordination, are very Anglican. Likewise, we accept the wisdom of John and Charles Wesley in their emphasis on holiness, their particular methods of discipleship, and their use of hymnody as a teaching aid. We are not Catholics, nor Baptists, neither Calvinists nor Dispensationalists. We respect other Christians, but we should not assume that anybody can teach any form of Christianity from our pulpits. It is up to the person seeking authority to conform to our tradition, rather than taking whatever tradition they were raised in and assuming they have the authority to teach that to Methodists.
V That said, just because some Methodists have become enamored of a new idea doesn’t mean that it has become the new standard. Christianity is more than “what Christians do.” Our teaching should change us rather than change to fit what we would prefer. When our teaching disagrees with the foregoing principles (I-IV, above), then the teaching should be corrected.