Thursday, July 23, 2009

Article X

Below I have posted the revision of our tenth article of faith in the Church of the Nazarene recently adopted by the General Assembly in Orlando, Florida. It must now be ratified by two thirds of the districts around the world. If that happens, then these changes will appear in the 2013 version of our manual.

Brackets indicate a deletion. Underlining indicates an addition.

X. Christian Holiness and Entire Sanctification
13. We believe that [entire] sanctification is [that] the [act] work of God[, subsequent to regeneration, by] which transforms believers into the likeness of Christ. It is wrought by God’s grace through the Holy Spirit in initial sanctification, or regeneration (simultaneous with justification), entire sanctification, and the continued perfecting of the Holy Spirit culminating in glorification. In glorification we are fully conformed to the image of the Son.
We believe that entire sanctification is that act of God, subsequent to regeneration, by which believers are made free from original sin, or depravity, and brought into a state of entire devotement to God, and the holy obedience of love made perfect.
It is wrought by the baptism with or infilling of the Holy Spirit, and comprehends in one experience the cleansing of the heart from sin and the abiding, indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, empowering the believer for life and service.
Entire sanctification is provided by the blood of Jesus, is wrought instantaneously by grace through faith, preceded by entire consecration; and to this work and state of grace the Holy Spirit bears witness.
This experience is also known by various terms representing its different phases, such as “Christian perfection,” “perfect love,” “heart purity,” “the baptism with the Holy Spirit,” “the fullness of the blessing,” and “Christian holiness.”
14. We believe that there is a marked distinction between a pure heart and a mature character. The former is obtained in an instant, the result of entire sanctification; the latter is the result of growth in grace.
We believe that the grace of entire sanctification includes the divine impulse to grow in grace as a Christlike disciple. However, this impulse must be consciously nurtured, and careful attention given to the requisites and processes of spiritual development and improvement in Christlikeness of character and personality. Without such purposeful endeavor, one’s witness may be impaired and the grace itself frustrated and ultimately lost.
Participating in the means of grace, especially the fellowship, disciplines, and sacraments of the Church, believers grow in grace and in wholehearted love of God and neighbor.

In my opinion, the revision of this article represents a major step forward in our expression of one of our core doctrines as Nazarenes. I think the wording is a little more wholistic than the previous wording in that it sets entire sanctification within a larger understanding of holiness. I also appreciate that this revision more explicitely connects holiness to the idea of being Christ-like. Additionally, the final sentence is an important step in the right direction (though it could be a little smoother grammatically for the sake of clarity). I see it as a significant return to our Wesleyan roots to affirm that holiness is nurtured by the means of grace in general and the sacraments in particular.

However, I also think that this article could continue to be improved in a couple of ways.

1) I would like to see the third paragraph, about the baptism or infilling of the Holy Spirit, completely eliminated. To say that we are baptized or in-filled with the Holy Spirit only once we are entirely sanctified seems to imply that we did not receive the Holy Spirit when we first believed which is certainly not a biblical idea. The book of Acts records repeatedly that believers received the Holy Spirit upon their conversion. In Galatians, Paul asks the church there if having begun with the Spirit they are now being perfected by the flesh? Paul's point is that the Spirit has been with these believers since they became believers. John Wesley even stated that while some in the Methodist movement used this language to describe entire sanctification, it was not really accurate in its depiction of God's work and Wesley himself avoided the phrase for that reason.

2) I would like to see the language of "instantaneous act" reconsidered. In the second paragraph, entire sanctification is desribed as an "act" of God, implying a single crisis event. Again in section 14 it is said that a pure heart is obtained in an instant while a mature character is the result of growth in grace. In my view, the emphasis on entire sanctification as an instantaneous, distinct second work of grace comes from two things. One is that this was simply the experience of a lot of good Nazarenes. Many people experienced entire sanctification in a clearly distinguishable moment in their life separate from their initial conversion. I think the other reason this language is important is because it reminds us that entire sanctification is not the same thing as simply maturing as a human being. It is something that God does in us with our cooperation. But it is not something that just occurs naturally if we are a Christian long enough. This is important and is an emphasis that should not be lost. However, I think that there are ways that we can talk about that without having to put everyone in the box of having to experience a distinct second act of God that is somehow qualitatively different from others acts of God in our lives. It may well be that it takes three or four or five distinct acts of God for us to continue on the path of maturing holiness. Furthermore, it is difficult to find scripture that supports the idea that there must be this distinct second act. Scripture certainly urges us onto perfection/maturity and expects that is not something we do on our own but do only through God's grace but it does not insist that this happen in a distinct second work of grace. I think that we can find ways to talk about God's continuing work of grace to make us holy and entirely sanctified without insisting that it always be a decisive two step process.


WarPig said...

I have attended a wonderful Nazarene church the past six years. I love it there, love the people, and am loved by them. I have been asked a couple of times to teach the men's Sunday school class, but have declined because I think if a person is going to hold such an important church position, he should be a member of the church, and I am not, nor can I become one.

I refuse to join because I cannot support and believe the doctrine of the Church of the Nazarene in its entirety. I have studied it closely and find that it is a wonderful, Biblically strong doctrine with which I am in full support and agreement, except for one thing, and that one thing looms very large to me. I most definitely believe in and covet holiness, but I absolutely do not believe that any part of its attainment, whether you call it "entire sanctification", "perfect love", "heart purity", or whatever, must occur in an instant of time as a second definite work of grace. Also, I do not believe the doctrine of the "double cure", where the second part of the "cure" is cleansing from original sin, i.e., depravity. I believe that *all* forgiveness for and cleansing from *all* sin that exists at the time, both original and committed, is granted at the time of salvation, i.e., the "born again experience", and I believe that holiness is a daily growing-by-grace experience. Although this daily experience is rarely linear but can often have jumps and dips like an EKG, it still takes place over time. And I am not just speaking my a student of the Bible most of my life (I'm 61), I do not and have never found any support whatsoever for the "instant-in-time" version of sanctification.

Our church recently called a new pastor and, anticipating that he like his predesseor might eventually ask me why I was not a member, I have been re-familiaring myself with this issue, and when I Googled "Article X", I came across your blog entry on same. Having seen that you agree with me to at least some extent, I am leaving this comment to ask you this: what is the state of this issue? Has the process of revamping the Articles been completed and are thus set in stone for next year, or is the issue of which I speak an open one and one still under debate? Any information you could give me on the state of the debate about the doctrine of entire sanctification as an instant-in-time work would be much appreciated.

Maranatha....Mike Acord

Unknown said...

Thanks for the comment Mike. I apologize for taking so long to respond but I've been on a mission trip this past week.

As to your question, the revision I spoke of in this blog post did pass at the time (but notice I wrote this three years ago). However, the revision of the Articles of Faith is never really complete or set in stone in the Church of the Nazarene - although they are intentionally made very difficult to change (these are our basic beliefs, after all, we don't want them just changed on a whim). The process of changing an article begins at the District Assembly level where proposals can be made for the next General Assembly (which is next year). At General Assembly (the meeting of Nazarene representatives from around the world), committees are formed which look at the many proposals from all the districts. The committee will then recommend certain proposals for consideration by the larger assembly. If the assembly votes in favor of those changes then it still has to go back to all the district assemblies and be ratified by two thirds of the districts. It is only once that happens that the article is changed in the manual. So like I said, the articles are never set in stone - more like a never quite completely hardened wet concrete. The conversation about our articles and doctrines is an ongoing one and I'm sure that someone will propose exactly the kind of changes I've mentioned here again this year just as they have been proposed in the past. Having said that, the revision that took place at the last General Assembly in 2009 was probably one of the most substantial revisions to Article X in our church's history.

As a separate matter, I know you mentioned that your disagreement with some this article is what has kept you from becoming a member and I certainly appreciate that concern for honesty and integrity. However, I don't think I would consider your concerns enough to keep you from being a member. After all, I am not only a member but an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and I became so having openly discussed the disagreements I've expressed here with my District Superintendent and Credential Board (not mention having posted it on the internet where anyone can see it). So I'd encourage you to discuss this with your new pastor and see what he thinks. My belief is that there is room within our membership for disagreement over details like this concerning what the process of sanctification looks like as long as there is agreement on the much more central issue that we should all be seeking holiness as long as you are being open and honest about your perspective (which it seems you are). After all, you will never be able to formally participate in the kind of discussions that can actually change things unless you become a member.

Please feel free to e-mail me directly at if you have any other questions.