Bishop Carder, p. 9: As a renewal movement in the 18th Century, the focus was less on defining and defending distinctive doctrines and beliefs, and more on experiences and practices that embodied the doctrines and beliefs. On the American frontier, with its individualism and revivalism, more emphasis began to be placed on “right experience” than right beliefs. The original meaning of Methodist as those who with discipline and accountability grow in grace took on an institutional and organizational reference. Methodists became known for their structures and polity more than their beliefs.
On the frontier, uneducated Methodist pastors engaged in debates with college educated pastors from other denominations. The Methodists were well read, and often studied on horseback as they road from appointment to appointment through the brush and prairies. In debates these educated pastors sought to discredit the Methodists by demanding to know where they had gone to college – one common answer was “Brush College! Let’s move on!” And the debate would continue.
On the frontier, a theological education wasn’t always respected, although Methodists frequently started colleges. Some believed in those days that a seminary education could ruin a young person for the ministry by undermining his faith, the faith as it was commonly understood back home among the uneducated laity.
On the frontier, there was no “established church” like the Church of England within which the early Methodists learned to cooperate with theologically educated pastors. Wesley himself was an instructor in Greek and lecturer in New Testament at Oxford.
Sometimes there are remnants of this belief still present today … where laity believe that they know more about the bible, about faith, about prayer, and are closer to God than their seminary educated pastors. Have you ever encountered this opinion?
The initial quote in italics above is from Living Our Beliefs: The United Methodist Way, by Kenneth Carder (Nashville: Discipleship Resources, 2009), 9. This book is available from Cokesbury.com, Amazon.com and other sources.