Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What's So Great About Being a Nazarene?

In our Sunday evening services, I have been responding to questions that individuals in my congregation have asked. One of those questions was this: With so many different churches and traditions to choose from, 12 churches just in our own little town, what is the benefit of belonging to and attending the Church of the Nazarene? The very first thing I want to say in response to that question is that I regard all Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ and I think we can learn a lot from other denominations. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy participating in our minster’s association here in town, why I always strongly encourage our members to attend the community services we have with other churches every year, why our teens are currently learning about and visiting other churches in town, why we combined with the Methodists and Presbyterians for VBS this past summer, and why we are happy to have those same two denominations participate with us in our community 4th Wednesday meal. As the priest at the Catholic parish we visited just last Sunday reminded us, there is much more that unites us than divides us.

That being said, there are meaningful differences between the different denominations within the body of Christ. Furthermore, while our allegiance to Christ should always be held in higher regard than our allegiance to a given denomination, I do think there is something to be said for digging in deep and putting down roots into a single tradition. This is not because one denomination is without fault or superior to all the rest but because the only way to truly know Christ is to know his Church in all its humanity and brokenness. Our loyalty to Christ inherently entails some loyalty to a local congregation and, therefore, the tradition of which that congregation is a part.

I confess and rejoice that I was born into a family of Nazarene parents and grandparents and that this has a lot to do with me being a Nazarene today. In spite of that, I could have found a home somewhere else at any time. Instead, I have not only remained but become a minister in this denomination. That doesn’t mean that I think the Church of the Nazarene is perfect or without the need for Spirit inspired change. But it does mean there are good reasons I have happily stayed. Here are my top ten.

10. We affirm historical Christianity. This may seem an odd way to begin a list of what makes us distinctive as Nazarenes but I think it is important. There are some traditions and non-denominational groups which acknowledge little or no connection to the history of Christianity which has preceded their own fellowship. As Nazarenes, we confess the historic creeds of the Church and acknowledge that our story does not skip directly from Jesus and the apostles to our founding as a denomination in 1908.

9. Our Wesleyan heritage as a via media between Catholicism and Protestantism. We typically refer to ourselves as protestants and John Wesley certainly wasn’t Roman Catholic. However, as an Anglican, he was part of a tradition that had found a blended, middle way between the Catholic and Protestant traditions which had alternately prevailed at different times in England. Since we often look to Wesley as our theological father, that moderate, catholic spirit has been passed down to us. The earliest Nazarenes followed the maxim “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity”.

8. We believe that God’s prevenient grace makes salvation available for anyone who will accept it. This is not an attempt to put down our Reformed brothers and sisters. They remind us of the important reality that salvation is not first and foremost a matter of human will. It is primarily an act of God. However, we do not believe that God chooses to elect only a few for whom that act is efficacious. We believe that God’s work of salvation in Christ has freed every human will to the extent that they can choose to accept or reject Christ. While salvation is entirely by the grace of God, we believe that God’s Spirit enables our spirit to cooperate with that grace.

7. We Are Not Fundamentalist (but neither do we exclude fundamentalists from our fellowship). Nazarenes have an extremely high regard for Scripture. We confess that it is “inerrant in all things concerning salvation.” Wesley described himself as “a man of one book.” Yet we also recognize that one can not read this one book without making use of reason, experience, and tradition. Our understanding of Scripture does not require us to choose between a faithful interpretation of Scripture and modern scientific and historical research. We believe that the two can easily co-exist. However, neither do we make an attempt to exclude those from membership who do see a conflict between modern science and their faith. We believe there is room for both approaches in our tradition.

6. Global Fellowship and Missional Unity. In a time when “denominational loyalty” is in decline and “church hierarchy” is often viewed with suspicion, I actually think our denominational structure is one of our great strengths. Nazarenes enjoy a fellowship and mutual support structures across a district that independent congregations do not. Furthermore, even denominations which have such a fellowship often go no further than a district or conference level. By contrast, Nazarenes from around the world gather every four years. Our most recent General Assembly was the first to consist of more delegates from outside the United States than from within and also the first to elect a General Superintendent (the highest office in our denomination) from outside the United States (Eugenio Duarte of Cape Verde, Africa). Additionally, while some churches see the budgets we pay to the district and the general church as a drain on local resources, I see them as an opportunity to pool resources and carry out ministries in other parts of our district and the world that simply would not happen if it was left up to each local church to plant churches or send missionaries.

5. Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. I am proud to be a part of a denomination that has an organization dedicated specifically to compassionate ministry to those in need across the globe. NCM works in impoverished areas throughout the world, especially providing nourishment and education for children through their sponsorship program. In times of disaster, NCM is often quick to respond because they have already been working in the area where the disaster struck. When they do not already have resources in place, they are quick to funnel resources to those who do.

4. The Church of the Nazarene began with the stated mission of serving the poor of the inner city. In contrast to the “white flight” pattern of many churches in North America today, Phineas Bresee (usually considered the founder of the Church of the Nazarene) envisioned America’s cities as “centers of holy fire.” As such, service to the disadvantaged in the urban core of America cities has been a part of our identity from the beginning. In fact, the name “Church of the Nazarene” was chosen to reflect the humility of Christ who called lowly Nazareth home and was to be reminder that Nazarenes were always to find themselves among those of humble means as well. To be sure, we have not always lived up to that heritage but it is an encouragement to know it is a part of who we are. A renewed insistence on the presence of Church of the Nazarene in the urban core is not a strange, new development for us but a reclaiming of our ecclesial DNA.

3. The Church of the Nazarene has ordained women for ministry since its inception. In a world where a large number of denominations still do not allow women to serve as ordained ministers (and others won’t allow women to hold any office of authority whatsoever), I am thankful to minister in a denomination whose ordination practices reflect Paul’s words when he says that in Christ “there is neither male nor female.” In its 100 year existence, the Church of the Nazarene has always held that women are just as fit for every office of ministry as are men. While there is certainly more work to be done in this area (since female ministers still make up a very small percentage of senior pastors in the Church of the Nazarene), the ordination of women is certainly one of the reasons I am proud to be Nazarene.

2. Our Colleges and Universities. This one is especially personal for me. I would not be the person I am today if it wasn’t for Eastern Nazarene College. My time at ENC changed the course of my life in a number of ways. Obviously, my faith already played an important role in my life before college since I chose to go to a Nazarene school but the “conversion” which took place in the way I understood my faith while I was at ENC was, I believe, no less significant than the life changing stories we often hear from others when they first come to Christ. The existence of eight colleges and universities (in addition to the Bible college and seminary) spread across the country where Nazarene young adults (and many non-Nazarenes as well! Two other ministers in Clinton attended Nazarene schools when they were younger.) can find a “safe” environment, full of trustworthy mentors, in which they can ask the hard questions of the Christian faith while also gaining competence in their various future vocations and professions is an invaluable resource for our denomination and the Church in our country as a whole. So many of the graduates of our schools go on to become the lay leaders of our local churches as well as Christian professionals who engage others in their field in thoughtfully Christ-like ways. I know that we are not the only ones with great schools but the schools we do have are, in my opinion, one of the most encouraging things about being a Nazarene.

1. Entire Sanctification and the Possibilities of Grace.  Our doctrine of Entire Sanctification declares that we are a people who are optimistic about the transformative power of God’s grace in this life. Our optimism does not stem from a naivety concerning human nature but from the hope that the Holy Spirit can make us truly new creatures in Christ thus fulfilling God’s promise to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. There is little doubt that we have overstated this claim at times in our history. Even as our article of faith on Entire Sanctification has been recently revised in positive ways, I have made no secret of the fact that I believe it needs to be revised further still. Nevertheless, I think we are right to continue to proclaim that it is possible for the Holy Spirit to turn all of our affections toward the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, even in this life. Even as I am painfully aware of our many failings to live up to our calling as Christ’s body in this world, it is good to be a part of a denomination that boldly declares that those failings do not have to be the norm of our existence. We believe that the possibilities of God’s grace are so great as to include a whole and complete sanctification of our lives for God’s purposes in this world. For that I say, “Thanks be to God.” 


Anonymous said...

Ohhhh it looks so *NICE* all laid out in black and white, however, my experience of the Nazarene Churches and it's affiliate, ENC, is MUCH different. I and several friends left the denomination for reasons that are much more tangible. Namely, that we felt that, in general, while the Nazarene church preached the love and grace of Christ -the church bodies were more about rules, fake grace and judgement. ENC was a protective bubble where the already molded acceptable Nazarenes were groomed to advertise for the college and the denomination and to find and marry more acceptable Nazarenes to produce more proper Nazarenes. Sorry, but: "What's So Great About Being a Nazarene?".... Pfft.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for this, Dave.

I imagine everyone has their struggles with institution. I often find myself wishing for something different as much of that which comes with institution seems to eat away at Kingdom. But for most of the reasons that you list, I too value the CotN. She has much room for change, but she is family. She will likely die someday, and that's okay: the Kingdom will be just fine.

As has already been demonstrated above, people can indeed be hurt by their time served or spent in some kind of organizational institutions - whether academic, ecclesial, and especially corporate. The Internet is full of examples of people spouting off on such things. Anyone can shout loudly and be heard if they do it right these days.

I like what one writer said about hating on institutions: "When I meet someone who has been burned by an institution, my first question is, 'What was the person's name'?"

So the problem with the CotN, ENC, and other institutions is that they're made up of people. But the great thing about institutions is that they're made up of people. If you don't like people, chances are institutions aren't the only thing that make you mad.

Anyway, thanks again, brother.

Unknown said...

To Anonymous:

While my experience at ENC was obviously quite different from what you've described above, I don't doubt the experience you've recounted. I don't know anything about the advertising for ENC or the denomination. That's just not something in which I've ever been involved so I can't speak to it. But I do know that we have our fair share (perhaps more than our fair share?) of legalism and judgment within our denomination. I know because I've experienced it firsthand more than once. I know because I've been the one guilty of it more than once. Perhaps I was even one of those who failed to extend grace to you during your time at ENC. If so, I am sorry. There is no doubt that I could be very judgmental at times during my college years and still can be on my worst days.

One of the things I appreciate most about my time at ENC was that, far from being a protective bubble, it challenged me to grow and began to move me away from that judgment and legalism. Obviously, it didn't happen all at once but ENC was largely responsible for setting me on a path that has helped me to see the world in less black and white ways. Again, I don't say that to discount your own experience but simply to say that my experience was something else - and it was a positive, indeed, a life changing means of grace in my life.

I hope it is also clear that my post was not meant to be a whitewashing of all the sins of the Church of the Nazarene. The general tenor of the post was meant to communicate (though perhaps it didn't do so adequately) that despite all of our failings (and they are legion) these are the things that I still appreciate about the Church of the Nazarene. It is certainly not an argument that our denomination is better than all the rest. I assume every denomination has its own particular set of failings. The purpose of my post was simply to celebrate what I feel we are doing right (and, of course, to answer the question of the person in my congregation).

I hope that wherever you are now you are enjoying a Christian fellowship characterized by love and grace rather than legalism and judgment.

To Jeremy: Thanks for your comments. You are always an encouragement to me.

Anonymous said...


Excellent post. thank you! Is OK to repost with proper credit a link-back?


Sarah Derck said...

What a refreshing thing to read as I start my day. Thank you for your careful articulation. I'm an alumna of NTS, and was directed to your blog from a link David Busic posted on FB. God bless your ministry today.

Unknown said...

Daryl: Yes, please feel free to repost.

Thanks Sarah.