Good Post About the State of the Nazarene Church

Here is an informative post from David Feltar, General Editor of the Nazarene church.  It will be of interest to those from a Wesleyan background.  There are some who are unaware of Nazarene history, and ask us to be something that we are not.

Link here: What About Those Nazarenes?

There are three main topics discussed.

  • Is the Nazarene church turning from it’s roots and becoming more liberal?
  • What about the Emergent church movement?
  • Evolution, Legalism and  the Word of God

Update [9-22-13] – the original link is now dead, so I have attached the post in its entirety below:

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As General Editor of the Church of the Nazarene, I frequently get the same questions about the status of the church. These undoubtedly come from well-meaning, sincere people who have picked up bits and pieces along with rumors from here and there that trouble them. Additionally, there are voices on the sidelines seriously critical of just about everything the church does; from conferences on spiritual formation to NYC.

I have combined the queries into two main questions, making them representative of the spectrum of concerns that I receive on a fairly regular basis. In this response, I have posted my perspective and am speaking as a member of the Church of the Nazarene who loves the church and grieves over the rending of its fabric by ill-informed critics.

1. The Church Of The Nazarene is slowly turning away from its roots so to speak and becoming more liberal.

The Church of the Nazarene has consistently affirmed its 16 Articles of Faith and its Agreed Statement of Belief. These documents form the very foundation upon which rests the theological and doctrinal trajectory of the denomination. Additionally, nothing has happened officially, within the decision-making of the General Assembly, to change these documents. If anything, we have strengthened our commitment to these foundational truths. We reference them in relationship to every book we print and every message we send because they represent our DNA.

The challenge behind this accusation is unfounded. Individual members of the Church of the Nazarene may have altered their perspectives and such alterations by individual members may have been mistakenly perceived as wholesale changes endorsed or adopted by the denomination. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Additionally, another challenge has arisen from the influx of new members over time who have come to the Church of the Nazarene from differing theological traditions. Some have come from Reformed, Calvinist, or charismatic traditions and when they discover the significant differences between our Wesleyan-holiness theological tradition, they may perceive such differences as liberalizing. This is especially true for those whose former religious experiences were in fundamentalist, Reformed, and Calvinist traditions. Wesleyan-theological traditions view many elements of Christian theology through ancient lenses stretching back to our roots in the 18th century Methodist revival under the ministries of John and Charles Wesley who were Anglican priests and remained such until their deaths. Our historic theological positions rest on ancient premises, supported by Early Church Fathers.

Reformed churches developed strains of Augustine’s predestinarian perspectives (God’s divine decrees), especially through the work of the towering theological giant, John Calvin. Presently, there are Bible Churches, Baptist Churches, and many Evangelical churches whose theological base is informed by these insights. Doctrines like eternal security and male-only ministry do not find their way into their way into the Nazarene theology because our roots return to the tap root of the ancient, apostolic fathers, mediated by the Church of Rome, the Church of England, the Reformation, the Wesleyan Revival, the American Holiness Movement, right up until now. Consequently, some Nazarenes hear our theological message and sense differences but perceive it incorrectly as a liberalizing trend. Nothing could be further from the truth.

2. The Emerging/Emergent church.

The discussions surrounding the Emerging/Emergent Church have been rather confusing because there is no one, single, all-encompassing definition of the Emergent Church. Some would say it is the church practicing hospitality, openness, and embracing all regardless of their knowledge or understanding of Grace. Others would say that it refers to a theological position staked out by popular authors and church leaders like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, et al. In truth, much of what is occurring in the so-called “emerging church” is driven by the changes in society as a whole. This is why one rarely if ever hears of “emergent churches” in global areas outside North America.

There are facets of the emergent movement that are truly troubling in that they seem to minimalize the role of evangelism, preferring instead the compassionate ministry approach of listening, serving, and representing the heart of Jesus in their world. While there is something eminently beautiful about selfless service to others on behalf of, and in the name of Jesus, there is also the reality that the Church cannot neglect the proclamation of the Gospel. Many young people are rejecting the heavy-handed approaches of another era, preferring instead “conversations” and solidarity with the world in Christ’s name. Clearly the jury is still out on this, but in my mind, any local church that ignores the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel in decisive terms, misses its God-appointed mandate given by the Son in Matthew 28. Moreover the words of General Superintendent J. K. Warrick help us in his reference to those who espouse the teachings of the Emergent/emerging church: “When they drift into heresy we draw lines and hold the line firm.”

The rhetoric in some quarters has gotten out of hand with unfounded accusations flying everywhere, creating unnecessary dissension and division in the Body of Christ. Many of us who are older are having a difficult time adjusting to the changes we see and hear in the local church; from worship styles to the way the local church perceives its place in the mission of God. The reality is the church is always changing. No methodology is sacrosanct. Everything we do in the Body of Christ must acknowledge our human limitations, relying fully on the grace and power of Christ for the furtherance of His mission.

Where there has been the substitution of human ideas for the clear teachings of Scripture and the time-honored, Spirit-inspired teachings of the Church, one must declare one’s allegiance to Christ and His teachings. Where the message that is proclaimed no longer affirms or is enriched by faithfulness to the Articles of Faith, then that congregation is slipping away from its theological moorings.

Corrective, constructive criticism can be offered without disconnecting one’s self from the Body. Prayer, fellowship, and involvement can bridge gaps between those whose knowledge of Scripture and proper, correct theological doctrine is insufficiently developed.

3. The Church of the Nazarene, Evolution, Legalism, and the Word of God

There is much debate in the evangelical world about these three issues. Some of it stems from widely differing positions on the nature of Scripture. The Church of the Nazarene is not, and never has been a fundamentalist denomination. Our view of Scripture rests on the solid foundations of the Early Church Father’s positions, and has been affirmed by the “holy, catholic Church” (the Church universal) down through the ages. Here are some quick associations between that perspective and some common issues.

    • We do not receive the Bible as a textbook on science. Instead we receive the Bible as a library of 66 books, authored by human authors writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to reveal and disclose the love, grace, and salvation of God.
    • Science is in the business of positing theories based on research. Our foundational understanding of Scripture is not disturbed when science suggests methodologies associated with the study of natural and human origins. All we insist is that all theories must recognize the eternal God who is behind all that exists; or as Gen. 1 says, “In the beginning, God!”
    • Some Nazarene scientists and educators recognize evolution as a methodology that explains the mechanics of creation, but not the reason for creation, and thus they emphasize the faithfulness of God who sovereignly reigns supreme and has disclosed Himself in the person and work of Jesus to bring us to Himself in reconciliation and redemption.
    • The Church of the Nazarene rightly respects the conscience of its membership. Where moral and ethical issues are in play, the Church of the Nazarene recognizes the value of stating beliefs and values in light of the church’s “collective conscience.” Hence, in our Manual you will read statements regarding human sexuality, abortion, homosexuality, and the value of a Scripturally-informed, Spiritually-sensitive conscience when it comes to participation in entertainment venues, both personal and collective.
    • The Church of the Nazarene rejects legalism and affirms the role of the Holy Spirit, Scripture, and the collective conscience of the Church to inform its membership with principles whereby they can navigate the issues of life. Alcoholism and drug abuse with their attendant wreckage in tow, challenge to Church to prescribe a position of total abstinence; not because it can be proved from Scripture, but because it represents the way of compassionate love for others, and for Christ.
    • The Bible is the word of God. But it is not a proof text for science, geography, or any other discipline. The Bible is not the domain of literalists who disfigure the Scriptures to support untenable positions like forbidding women to be ordained as elders in the church of God. The Bible is to be read, studied, and its teachings to be incorporated, but it is not to be placed on a pedestal and worshipped. That belongs to God alone.

Some Conclusions:

A new generation, weary of modernist assurances based on empiricism alone, have sought fresh wells from which to drink of the living water offered by our Lord (John 7:37-38). Many Christians have searched the ‘memory’ of the earlier generations of believers, in different times and locations, and have found rich treasures that offer simple, fresh ways to experience the transcendence and holiness of God in worship, praise, prayer, and community.

It is unfortunate that so many other believers have rushed to condemn those who have sought to resurrect ancient methods of worship, reflection, prayer, and meditation. It is always possible that someone will take something too far, idealizing it and in turn actually creating the inverse of what they thought they were finding by making their discovery an end in itself. Clearly some conferences or gatherings in universities have pushed the limits and have, or are, learning from their experiences. The criticism they experienced as a result served as a corrective.

Take the issue of homosexuality; the Board of General Superintendents has affirmed our traditional stand found in the Manual through their pastoral letter. They also reminded the church that as Wesleyan’s we view sin as any willful, voluntary breaking of a known law of God. They have reminded the church that there is a difference between a tendency or temptation, and acted out behavior. The latter separates an individual from fellowship with God, while the former offers the Spirit opportunity to perform the work of transformation and recovery.

Our institutions like Pt. Loma and others are intersections where critical issues will surface from time to time. They offer an environment where the fine line of love for the person and commitment to law of God are balanced to provide an opportunity for discussion, clarification, and redemption.

Numerous voices are extant today that are full of criticism, censoriousness, and confusion. Satan would like to confuse the people of God. Clearly, the Church of the Nazarene is not perfect. It is, however, a vine of God’s planting. It is committed to the message of Scriptural holiness. I encourage you to take heart and be faithful, for God is still working with His people.

Grace & Peace

David Felter

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6 Comments

Filed under Nazarene

6 responses to “Good Post About the State of the Nazarene Church

  1. Kevin – Thanks for such a great find. I love the COTN and this article clears up some negative perceptions.

    I really liked this paragraph: “The Bible is not the domain of literalists who disfigure the Scriptures to support untenable positions like forbidding women to be ordained as elders in the church of God. The Bible is to be read, studied, and its teachings to be incorporated, but it is not to be placed on a pedestal and worshipped. That belongs to God alone.”

    Also, “Clearly, the Church of the Nazarene is not perfect. It is, however, a vine of God’s planting. It is committed to the message of Scriptural holiness.”

    Again, thanks!

  2. Chuck Abbe

    Link goes nowhere

  3. peter

    Kevin, there is much you say I would agree with but not everything. Your statement that those who oppose womens ordination are disfiguring the scriptures is irresponsible. The church fathers overwhelming opposed this. John Wesley himself wrote a treatise against the ordination of women to the office of the Presbyter (i was shocked when I actually read wesley’ s own writing because I was indoctrinated in nazarene schools that to be wesleyan is to support WO.) The nazarene church’s position on this is a 19th century novelty. I have no disagreement that this has been the position of the CON since its inception , but it’s position is not biblical, patristic, nor wesleyan. I have switched my view on this because the weight of scripture and the
    page and istics are agAinst it. This is not based on a fundamentalist view of scripture but on a patristic-wesleyan view of scripture.

  4. Thanks for the comment Peter.

    This article was written by someone else. I agree with his sentiment, but wouldn’t say the other view disfigures scripture. Rather, I would say that there were specific cultural reasons for Paul’s prohibitions that are not applicable today.

    Wesley didn’t ordain women, but he did license them as preachers. Two he did this for were Sarah Crosby and Mary Fletcher. So it’s fair to say that the Wesleyan movement has always supported the preaching of women. Wesley viewed Anglican priests and Methodist preachers differently.

    Historically women have been allowed to lead most often when they haven’t been paid. :)

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