The Gift of Oddity

by Eric E. Frey

Every once in a while, some fellow Nazarene reminds me just how odd a Nazarene I am. I understand that. I accept that. I am an odd Nazarene.

I am odd for lots of reasons. In a Nazarene world where practics reign the day, and where the ends always justify the means, I reject both firmly believing that if we want to get the practics right, we have to first get the theology right, and that the means are the end.

In a Nazarene world that is soundly embedded in the pietistic notion that grace is somehow mediated spiritually, I hold fast to the catholic notion that grace is mediated sacramentally through the physical world.

In a Nazarene world that clothes itself in the best practices of the business world, I clothe myself in the ecclesial garb of collars, cassocks, surplices, and stoles.

In a Nazarene world where worship is anything a local church wants it to be, and where programs are the key to making Christlike disciples, I am completely sold on the ancient understanding that worship is the shared practice of a catholic liturgy, and that rehearsing that catholic liturgy is the best tool the church has for making Christlike disciples.

As I think about these commitments that make me a very odd Nazarene, I am optimistic. I am optimistic because we just elected two General Superintendents and both of them have earned a PhD in a theological field. While both have proven to be excellent practitioners, they have the academic ability to guide us and shape us theologically. Maybe I’m not that odd after all.

I am optimistic because in recent years our denomination has moved from requiring the Lord’s Supper to be celebrated quarterly to encouraging all churches to celebrate the Lord’s Supper more frequently. At our most recent General Assembly we passed resolutions to rewrite both Articles of Faith on the sacraments to bring them more in line with a thoroughly Wesleyan (and soteriological) sacramental theology. Maybe I’m not that odd after all.

I am optimistic because when I left seminary was appointed to my current church, the first thing I bought was a collar, an alb, and a stole. I waited until I was ordained to wear them as these things are traditionally a sign of ordination. Back then I think Todd Stepp was the only person I knew who wore ecclesial garb, but today I see more and more people adopting and advocating these Christian practices. Maybe I’m not that odd after all.

But while I am optimistic for lots of reasons, I am also still a frustrated oddball. Frustrated because I see our denomination fracturing. Frustrated because I see our intentional choice to reject the single most formative tool in our disciple-making toolbox. Frustrated because while we are moving in the right direction in so many areas, our liturgical progress is backward.

If we are committed to making Christ-like disciples, we need to realize that liturgy is the single most formative tool in our tool box. Ritual studies tell us that people are shaped most profoundly by the rituals (habits) they rehearse over and over and over again. This isn’t a church thing. This isn’t a catholic-protestant thing. This is a human thing. A couple years ago I was perusing and airport bookstore while waiting to catch a flight. I discovered that among the top books on the best selling list was one called “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business.” The business world gets it — but we still reject liturgy as the necessary foundation of making Christ-like disciples.

If we are committed to being a unified denomination, we need to realize that liturgy is not only formative for persons, but for groups as well. Whenever someone suggests we need to move to a regionalized polity rather than a global one, someone else always reminds us that we are a global church, not a federation of smaller groups. But a united church entails far more than a shared polity — it entails a shared liturgy. Now that liturgy absolutely has to be contextualized, and liturgy alone will not hold us together, but just as liturgy is the most powerful tool the church has for shaping persons, a liturgy is also the most powerful tool the church has for maintaining unity amongst diversity.

Yes, I am still an odd ball Nazarene. And I am OK with that. I have learned to be content in my little corner of Nazarenedom. But please know that my little corner of Nazarenedom is a beautiful place to be. Ya’ll should come and visit a while. Who knows, maybe you’ll see the beauty and decide to stay a while. The door is always open.

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Eric-Frey

Copied from his Facebook post and used by permission of Eric E. Frey. Eric is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and pastors two Churches of the Nazarene in eastern Central Ohio. He is also pursuing a D.Min (with an emphasis in Liturgical Studies) at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

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Why We’re Called the Church of the Nazarene

Archives’ Answers: The Denomination’s Name

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Friday, June 8, 2012
Global Ministry Center
By Stan Ingersol, Church of the Nazarene Archivist
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In a new segment, Nazarene Archives answers a question about the history of the Church of the Nazarene denomination. This month: “Exactly how did the Church of the Nazarene get its name?”
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The Hebrew name for “Jesus,” derived from “Joshua,” was common in first-century Palestinian Judaism, so “Jesus of Nazareth” specified which Jesus, and Acts references the early Palestinian Christians as followers “of the Nazarene” and “the sect of the Nazarenes.” The term “Christian” developed outside Palestine, in Syria according to Acts, in conjunction with the mission to the Gentiles. It is derived from “Christos,” a Greek translation of the Hebrew “messiah” or “anointed one.” As Gentile Christianity spread through the Mediterranean basin, Jesus became known as Christ and references to “the Nazarene” diminished.
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Nineteenth and early 20th century European writers produced numerous biographies of Jesus, re-popularizing the term “Nazarene” and setting the stage for how the Church of the Nazarene received its name.
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In 1894, some California Methodists became associated with the Peniel Mission in inner-city Los Angeles. These included Phineas Bresee, a minister, and J. P. Widney, a prominent Los Angeles citizen.
J. P. Widney


J. P. Widney, who gave the Church of the Nazarene its name.
(Nazarene Archives photo)

Widney, a physician, had founded the Los Angeles Medical Society and had served as president of the University of Southern California. Widney and Bresee had been friends for a decade. Bresee was the Peniel Mission’s preaching pastor, while Widney taught medical courses to nurses and taught a series of studies on the life of Christ, a subject that fascinated him, for he was an avid reader of “the lives of Jesus” literature.

One year later, Bresee, Widney, and others established a new church among the poor in October 1895. At an early business meeting, the name “Church of the Nazarene” was adopted upon Widney’s suggestion. Other proposed names included various uses of “Methodist,” but Widney told the congregation that, after praying all night about the matter, he liked that the word “Nazarene” identified the church with the “lowly, toiling, ministry of Jesus the Nazarene.”

West Coast-based Nazarenes later merged with other denominations, forming the Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene, but the 1919 General Assembly deleted “Pentecostal” from the church name, since the word was increasingly understood in reference to charismatic gifts like speaking in tongues, which Nazarenes never practiced or approved. Thus, since 1919, the denominational name has been identical to that of its western parent-body — a name that originated because J. P. Widney read “lives of Jesus” books, and his imagination had been captured by a strong personal vision of “the Nazarene.”

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For more information about Nazarene Archives, click here. To submit a question for the next Archives’ Answers, email submitnews@ncnnews.com.

For a larger version of the above photo, click here.

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This article is copied from and can be found at at the Global Ministry Center site of Nazarene Communication Network News site.
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Why I Stayed in the Church of the Nazarene

Why I Stayed

by Jonathan Russell

Jonathan Russell is shown with his wife, Jan, and children Harrison, Sawyer, Graham, and Campbell. (Holiness Today)

There have been many discussions, anecdotes, and studies surrounding how the church has failed to capture the imagination and hold the attention of young adults. When I was recently asked to share my testimony, I began to realize the debt that I owe to the church and why the church continues to be relevant to my spiritual journey.

I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene. My parents modeled well what it meant to be a Christian and did their best to communicate the same to me and my sisters. They were part of the committed core at our local church. Mom and Dad co-taught an adult Sunday School class. Dad was secretary of the church board and Mom was missionary president. Our lives literally revolved around the cadence call of the church. When the doors were open, we were there.

It’s hard to remember a time when I was not aware that God loved me. My conversion experience was more like walking into the sunrise rather than being hit by a bolt of lightning.

At the age of five or six, I remember going to the altar to accept Christ into my heart and asking him to forgive my sins. When I was in the fourth or fifth grade, during a children’s camp in Northeast Maryland, I remember having a second spiritual experience of committing my life to Christ, expressing a willingness to go wherever and do whatever God asked of me.

While I attended public school until college, the strength of the connection to my local church caused me to understand that my values and identity were not to be found in a secular curriculum and culture. Although I enjoyed activities with non-Christian friends, from soccer to band to the National Honor Society, I knew that we were different. In some ways, I was like a foreign exchange student—speaking a different language, coming from a different culture, and having an allegiance to a different sovereign. I was reminded of this fact at my high school reunion when a soccer teammate of mine curiously asked my wife if I still didn’t curse.

However, in many ways, those high school years were defined by what I didn’t do, rather than what I did do. It wasn’t until college and then law school that I was stretched to think more about what I believed than what I was to avoid.

Attending Eastern Nazarene College (ENC) provided me the opportunity to sort through the issues that were fundamental to my faith and in what areas I needed to be more gracious. I was given the freedom to test out my faith and to disassemble and reconstruct my beliefs, without leaving me worse off for the process. This is not to say that I always made the best choices, but ENC was a safe place where I could grow and at times fail, while moving forward in my spiritual development.

During law school, I went on a two-week mission trip to Iquitos, Peru, and experienced that sweet spot in life where I found my vocation to be fully integrated with the tasks of my every day. As we laid the foundation for a Nazarene ministry center, I think the foundation was laid for me to look for a legal career with other believers who shared my world view. In this regard, I’ve been privileged to be partnered in my law practice with attorneys whose conversations about faith and spirituality are the norm and not the exception.

The church has been the vehicle through which I have found a place to serve and be connected to the body of Christ. The church has provided an environment for me to grow spiritually at every stage of my life. As a child, it was through Sunday School, VBS, talent programs, Bible quizzing, and camps. Entering adolescence, it was through a vibrant teen program, Festival of Life, Nazarene World Youth Congress, and teen and family camps.

As a young adult, I benefited from a church-supported college where there was, as Dean Bertha Munro said, “no conflict between the best in education and the best in our Christian faith.” The church was where I met my wife and it’s where I want my kids to be raised within a community of believers who inspire them to live a life for Christ in service to his kingdom.

Looking toward the spiritual journey that lies ahead, my deepest concern relates to what I am contributing to the next generation of followers of Jesus Christ, especially my children. While the church’s mission has never changed, the way in which we demonstrate relevancy in the meaning of the gospel must. J. B. Phillips said, “The real danger for professing believers lies not in the more glaring and grosser temptations and sins, but in a slow deterioration of vision, a slow death to daring, courage and a willingness to adventure.”

My prayer is that I will have such courage, and that the church will continue to be the place where the adventure begins.

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Jonathan Russell is an attorney and layman who grew up in the Collingdale, Pennsylvania Church of the Nazarene and is presently a member of the Immanuel/Lansdale, Pennsylvania Church of the Nazarene, where he, his wife, Jan, and their four children worship together.

Holiness Today

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This article first appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Holiness Today. It is now available at the Holiness Today website. -iChurch of the Nazarene

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Ministry to Individuals With Special Needs

Here is a good article about what a church is doing for the people with special needs in their community and how the Church of the Nazarene was originally interested in reaching out to the poor, addicted and marginalized in the world.

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Can Anything Good Come from Nazareth?

by Julie Keith

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I am a transplant into the Church of the Nazarene.  While growing-up, and even as a young adult, I heard about the Church of the Nazarene but never really knew much about its beliefs or history.  I came to the church through a variety of circumstances, the most recent being an interview for the special needs pastor position at First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena, California (PazNaz).

Since high school, I have been involved in some kind of ministry to individuals with special needs, as well as with their families.  Prior to coming to PazNaz, I was serving at a church experiencing financial problems.  I believe God used this set of circumstances for me to discover the church I now call home.

Pastor Scott Daniels shared the history of the church during my initial interview.  He shared how Phineas F. Bresee, the first general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene, wanted to do more for the poor, the addicted, and the marginalized in society.  Of course, individuals with special needs are still marginalized in the world.  As I listened and learned how we obtained our denomination’s name I knew the position was a natural fit and I had come home.

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.  He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”  Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’  Philip said to him, ‘Come and see” (John 1:43-46 NRSV).

Can anything good come from Nazareth?  These words were the foundation for the name, Church of the Nazarene.  Nazarenes are named after Jesus the Nazarene.  Our church has its core the belief that something good can come from “Nazareth.”  Nazareth was considered the pit of the earth (my definition).  No one believed anything good could come from Nazareth.  The same is often said about children, youth, and adults who have varying kinds of disabilities and special needs.

The majority of the people in our world do not truly believe anything good can come from individuals who have special needs.  While there are more programs and services becoming available in the U.S., individuals in other places around the world with special needs are kept hidden.  They are not allowed in schools and typically not in places of worship.  The work that is being done to make an impact in the lives of the countless girls, boys, men, and women is largely being done by the community of faith.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to go to Romania on a mission trip to provide training and education to local churches and Christian organizations to better equip them to reach those with special needs for Christ.  The second part of this trip was to go into the orphanages and provide training and encouragement to the staff who wee providing care for orphans, many who had severe disabilities.

One particular day stands out in my mind as we were visiting a state-funded orphanage.  None of the orphans had anything that belonged to them.  On community outing days, the staff would go to the store closet and pull out clothes that were appropriate for the children to wear on outings to the community.

The next day we saw some of the exact same clothes on different children.  We then had the privilege of visiting an orphanage that was funded by a local church.  The contrast was amazing.  In this orphanage there was a row of  wheelchairs.  Each child had his or her own wheelchair.  It was nap time so most of the children were sleeping.  The facility was clean and attractive.  Children who were there had been rescued from some of the orphanages because if they had not been moved to this facility they would have most likely died.

After that visit, I was impressed with what happens when the people of God truly live into god’s kingdom and reach out and believe that something good can come from Nazareth.

This past June, at the Los Angeles District Assembly, we were reminded again of the call God has placed on us as the Church of the Nazarene.  It is our call to reach those from whom the world thinks nothing good can come.

Who are the children, teens, and adults in your life who have special needs?  What is God calling you to do?  What can your church do to begin to dream and plan to show God’s love and compassion to these individuals?  Begin to seek God’s face about how to reach out to those who are marginalized in most societies.

No matter where you live, there is at least one child or teen or adult and their family who need to know something good can come from them.

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Julie Keith is special needs pastor at Pasadena, California, First Church of the Nazarene. This article first appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of Holiness Today.  You can follow Julie Keith’s blog at JulieKeithsReflections.

Ten Reasons Why Church is Important

Old Historic ChurchAccording to a recent newspaper report, only 8% of British men attend church regularly, though 53% identify themselves as Christians. And the situation is similar in other Western nations, with more than 40% of U.S. evangelicals not attending church weekly and more than 60% of American mainline Christians not attending weekly. In short, millions who consider themselves Christians limit their church attendance largely to holidays, weddings, and funerals.

If you’re among these millions, please give church another chance.  By getting involved, you’ll discover that what you once viewed as a chore is actually a blessing. Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Gathering with a church encourages believers to love others and do good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).

2. A church is the main venue for using your spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-31). God has given you abilities and talents intended to help other Christians. If you’re not involved in a church, others are being deprived of what you have to offer.

3. A church helps keep you from abandoning the faith. According to the author of Hebrews, the antidote to developing an “unbelieving heart” that leads you “to fall away from the living God” is to “exhort one another” (Hebrews 3:12-13)—an activity that occurs most prominently in the church.

4. A church helps you defend Christianity against those who attack it. When Jude told the early Christians to “contend for the faith” (Jude 3), he directed his instruction toward a group of believers, not a scattering of lone-ranger Christians. Answering challenges from coworkers, friends, and family members is always easier when you can ask fellow church members for help and wisdom.

5. A church is a great venue for pooling resources to support missions and benevolent works (2 Corinthians 8:1-73 John 5-8). Your money combined with that of fellow church members can do a lot for Christ.

6. A church helps its members maintain correct doctrine (1 Timothy 3:15). You might begin to adopt unbiblical ideas without realizing it yourself. But you probably won’t adopt unbiblical ideas without someone at your church realizing it, and they can help you get back to the truth.

7. After your family, a church is the best group of people to meet your physical needs in an emergency (1 John 3:16-171 Timothy 5:3-16).

8. A church supports you when you face persecution (Acts 4:23-3112:12-17). You may not be imprisoned for your Christian beliefs like the apostles were, but a church family is still a great source of comfort when you face stinging words or unfair treatment.

9. A church is where you can be baptized and take part in the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 28:18-201 Corinthians 11:17-34Ephesians 4:4-6). These two ordinances are a vital part of any believer’s walk with Jesus.

10. A church provides the setting for corporate worship (Ephesians 5:19Colossians 3:16). Though it’s a blessing to praise God alone, there is a unique joy that accompanies singing God’s praises with an entire congregation of Christ followers.

The list could go on, but you get the idea. It’s worth it to start attending church.

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I came across this article at IronStrikes-Men Forging Men (a site I recommend), where they republished it from Bible Mesh Blog.  It was written by David Roach who is a writer in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and a contributor to both BibleMesh and Kairos Journal. He holds a philosophy degree from Vanderbilt University and earned his PhD in church history at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His writings have appeared in academic journals and various Southern Baptist denominational publications.

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When in Rome-What are Christians to Do?

When in Rome-What are Christians to Do?

 by Al Truesdale
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Al Truesdale

The writings of the apostle Peter might have first been penned nearly 2,000 years ago, but as time passes, they become more and more relevant to believers seeking to serve Christ. For in many ways, our society is beginning to mirror the culture in which early believers lived.

The apostle Peter urged his audience to rigorously discipline their values and practices. Greco-Roman culture contrasted sharply with his description of Christian discipleship. For example, Greco-Roman society was honeycombed by polytheism (worship of many gods). The Romans even encouraged their citizens to worship multiple gods, as long as people recognized the supremacy of Rome and its central deities. The absence of hope, as well as fear of demons, death, and judgment, marked Greco-Roman culture. So one issue that made the gospel attractive was its promise of refuge from a pervasive fear of spiritual enemies.

Also, from a Christian standpoint, Greco-Roman society was morally rudderless. This was evident in Greco-Roman sexuality practices and entertainment. Laws placed few restraints upon sexual expression. Greeks saw human sexuality as only a pleasurable art. The Romans viewed it as that part of humanity where the animal still resided, and did not consider the idea that sexual intercourse should express a sacred bond of love between husband and wife. Between the ready availability of prostitutes and the presence of slaves in many households, sex was in plentiful supply.

Roman entertainment also depicted their lack of value for life and morals. The Roman Coliseum evidenced an expanding thirst for violence as the games degenerated into pointless massacre and the crowds became immune to cruelty and bloodshed. Claudius (A.D. 41-54) required that mortally wounded combatants remove their helmets so he and the crowd could better watch death’s agony.

Against this pagan backdrop, Peter called for Christians to conform to an entirely different way of life. Darkened passion, ignorance, and futility marked the old way. An imperishable hope, confidence in God, and holiness characterize the new. The Greco-Roman gods required strict attention to religious ritual, but they did not require strict moral conduct.

How unlike the holy God! The contrast between the promiscuity of many Greco-Roman deities and the holy discipline required of God’s children was unmistakable. No God like Him could be found among the Greco-Roman deities. Ransomed from futile ways, God’s children were now to express and share in His very nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Against this pagan backdrop, Peter called for Christians to conform to an entirely different way of life. (Design Pics)

Peter had no illusion about reconciling the kingdom of God with a pagan world. Neither should we. That doesn’t mean we should ignore or discount honorable conduct by those who are not Christians-many people display commendable efforts to lift the human spirit. But it does require us to vigilantly examine our social environment. Rigorous attention and discipline, as guided by the Holy Spirit, are as imperative today as they were in the first century.

The Western world is experiencing a “resurgent paganism” similar in many ways to the New Testament Greco-Roman context. As the light of morality and Christian practices dims, more and more people steer their lives by values and ideas that are “pagan” by first century standards. One of the greatest dangers Christians face today is that of subtly absorbing “pagan” values. Escaping this danger requires us to pursue the kind of alert and disciplined life in Christ that Peter urged.

Let’s identify three prominent characteristics of “resurgent paganism.”

1. The first is moral relativism. Society’s belief in moral norms that apply to everyone is decaying. Our shared Judeo-Christian moral fabric is fraying. This erosion has been described as a “fragmented moral universe.” No divine center is generally recognized as grounding morality. Our crumbling foundations are often replaced by the belief that “right” and “wrong” depend upon individual preferences. Morality is “relative” to a person’s social and temporal context. Its content can change from one circumstance and person to another.

Pop culture, advertising, and news and entertainment media regularly invite us to embrace moral relativism. The invitation is sometimes subtle, sometimes bold. Moral relativism contradicts the revealed character and will of God. Like acid, it will eat through a mind and life not disciplined by the Holy Spirit. Peter assures us that God has given us “everything needed for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3, NRSV).

2. The second characteristic of “resurgent paganism” is the idolatry of human sexuality. Billions of advertising dollars and an entertainment industry that knows no satisfaction drive the worship of sexuality. More and more ways are sought to exploit human sexuality. We are witnessing a revival of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sexual rapture. Her temple in Corinth once housed perhaps hundreds of sacred prostitutes who “ministered” a steady stream of worshipers. Aphrodite’s “temples” are now prevalent in society. This feature of “resurgent paganism” measures the value of everything by how well it exploits sex. The standard applies to people, toothpaste, clothing, corrective lenses, and automobiles.

3. A third characteristic of “resurgent paganism” is that a person “is” what he “owns.” The more a person “owns” the more of a “person” he or she is. Contrary to what Jesus said, we measure humans as quantitative, not qualitative. For example, advertising tries to convince us that people who wear certain labels are valued more highly. Cable news programming commits endless hours to tracking the careless behavior of a wealthy starlet. Judging by the airtime given, she is more of a person than a faithful schoolteacher or dedicated foster parents.

So, across the centuries the Apostle Peter now speaks to us in a period of resurgent paganism: “Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13). Our unfailing resource is the power of God that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

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Al Truesdale is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion and Christian ethics, Nazarene Theological Seminary.

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Originally published in Holiness Today, March/April 2009.  Currently found at Holiness Today Online.

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Nazarene Compassionate Ministries in the Middle East

Ramping Up the Compassion Factor

by Rod Green
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Recently, someone asked, “How are the Nazarenes doing in the Middle East?” The answer varies from country to country. Nazarenes in Baghdad face the dangers of explosions in the market; Egyptians live in uncertainty with a drastically weakened economy and a newly-elected government; Syrians are exhausted from civil war and ministering to hundreds of displaced families; Jordanians are coping with thousands of refugees; and people in Israel and the West Bank continue on with occupation and violence.

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Media tools keep us updated on the unfolding events, but real people, Nazarenes and their neighbors, are living under this canopy of hurt and threat and strive for normalcy as best they can while the world rages in their own backyards.
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Twenty Nazarenes just finished the second of a three-part training program in lay counseling in Beirut, Lebanon. The purpose is to equip parishioners, who have skills in attentive listening, to be effective in bringing healing and empowerment to people in distress. Next year, a number of the participants will graduate as trainers so that the program will multiply over time.
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Three years before the lay counseling program started, Marlene Mashantaf was wondering where she could get training in counseling. Marlene lived through the Lebanese civil war of the 70s and 80s in which she and her neighbors lost family members to the conflict and were themselves traumatized by living in crowded bomb shelters.
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Once, the fighting in their neighborhood turned so intense that for an entire month 2,000 people shared a single bathroom in the shelter. If you can get Marlene to tell her story, it is short with very few details, and you know she is protecting herself from the memories that still sting even after decades have passed.
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Marlene is the principal at the Beirut Nazarene School, which serves 170 children of low-income families in grades K-9. An increasing part of her role at the school is spending time with the mothers of her students. She listens to them as they share their stress, which has roots in the past and nourishment in the present. Marlene always wanted training in counseling that would enable her to help parents and students. “I started asking God where I could get training in counseling so I could help others, and out of the circumstances happening to us three years ago we got the opportunity to have a lay counseling program. Now I can see that God is answering my prayers!”
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The circumstance to which Marlene referred was the death of her pastor, Raja Nwaisser. At the age of 40, he suffered a heart attack while he was baptizing new believers in Beirut. Nazarene Compassionate Ministries sponsored a grief seminar led by Rand and Phyllis Michael, university educators from Portland, Oregon, with the help of Tom and Karen Gray, missionaries in the Middle East. The seminar helped Raja’s wife and the church grieve in healthy ways.
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Rand and Phyllis shared with us about the concept of lay counseling and how they were experiencing success with students in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. We started thinking of Nazarenes in the Middle East who at the time were facing their own crises:

  • Teachers in the Damascus church were asking for advice on how to attend to the emotional needs of adolescent Iraqi refugees in an after-school program, whose behaviors were reflecting the trauma of war.
  • Israelis and Palestinians were at their peak of tension after the bombardment of Gaza in retaliation for mortars fired by a militant wing of the Hamas.
  • Jordanians were exhausted and stressed from relief work for the thousands of Iraqi refugees who were living in their neighborhoods (not to mention the stress and uncertainty of the Iraqis who were now homeless and vulnerable).

As they sipped hot tea together following the grief seminar, someone spoke for the group by saying, “We wish we could have more training in counseling so that we can help our neighbors and friends who are going through difficult times.” Rand and Phyllis set their tea cups on the table and replied, “We can help with that.”

Beirut from the air. (Photo Credit: Rand Michael)

Beirut from the air. (Photo Credit: Rand Michael)

By the late summer of 2011, the Michaels and the Grays started teaching 20 students from Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt in basic counseling skills. The second phase of the training finished in the summer of 2012, and part three is scheduled for July of 2013. “The really exciting part is that we have identified seven students we feel will be good trainers so that this ministry can expand in the churches,” says Rand.

A stipulation of the course is that participants must practice their newly-acquired skills throughout the year. Some hang out with their college friends, some lead small discipleship groups, and one young man, Mukhlous Halasa, taught the concepts he learned in year one to people in his college fellowship group at his church. “My aim is that in Jordan we will go to the churches and train others,” explains Halasa. “The students were amazed when we began to compare our culture with values in the kingdom of God. We then began to practice listening to each other and we found that it was really helping us to experience peace.”

This year the students have expressed interest in visiting the refugee camps set up in Lebanon and Jordan for hundreds of thousands of Syrians fleeing from civil war. Nazarenes are delivering food, medicine, and cooking aids, and the lay counseling students want to train the Nazarenes who take part to understand the healing power of listening with love and care.

Because someone asked, this is a glimpse into what Nazarenes are doing in the Middle East.

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.Rod Green is Nazarene Compassionate Ministries coordinator for the Eastern Mediterranean (Middle East) Field.  This article first appeared in Holiness Today, September/October 2012.  It can currently be found at Holiness Today online.
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We Believe in Entire Sanctification

We Believe in Entire Sanctification

by David J. Felter

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David J. Felter (Attig Photography)

In what is being called the “historic” 27th General Assembly this past June [2009], delegates once again affirmed Article X-Entire Sanctification, from our Articles of Faith. It is important that every Nazarene understand what many call, “our distinguishing doctrine.”

Scriptures remind us that all who are in proper relationship with God are called to be holy. Christian holiness obviously points to Jesus Christ and is descriptive of those persons who exist in a dependent relationship with Jesus. Christians are at once a holy people, and are also called to pursue holiness in expressions of their relationship with Jesus Christ.

The word sanctification is different from the word holiness. We might say that sanctification is the means to the end, which is holiness. The Christian Church believes in the sanctifying work of God, (1 Peter 1:2) We believe this call to holiness originates in the First Testament’s call to holiness (Leviticus 11:44-45) and continues on into the New Testament (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Bible scholars have understood the term sanctification as an “umbrella” term with differing levels of meaning. The term may refer to something we do, as well as to something God does. It has both the element of process and crisis inherent within its range of meanings. We believe that Christian holiness requires the entire sanctification of believers and that this involves both a process whereby we express our deepening devotion to God and our willingness to experience a “moment” of total submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Also, we believe the Holy Spirit is doing the work of sanctification-setting us apart as the exclusive property of God-and cleansing our interior being of all that conflicts with love for God and our neighbor.

Further, we believe the best definition of Christian holiness is the simplest one: Christlikeness. Christian holiness is about love and the renewal of God’s image in our being. It was summed up by our Lord when He stated: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’, and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Luke 10:27).

dove_with_flameWe believe entire sanctification is that act of God following our conversion experience by which Christians are freed from competing loyalties that hinder or obstruct uncontested love for God and one’s neighbor. Further, we believe the heart is cleansed from the principle of sin, which is undeniably selfishness. By the power of the Sanctifying Spirit, we are enabled and empowered to love God with the totality of our being, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Entire sanctification is provided for every Christian by the blood of Jesus. It is by grace through faith and follows our willing, complete surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The sanctifying Spirit affirms this gracious relationship to our consciousness, commonly known as the witness of the Spirit.

We believe that there is a difference 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. The sanctifying Spirit motivates us toward spiritual growth and Christian maturity. Our responsibility is to nurture this impulse by incorporating all the means of grace.

Our distinguishing doctrine, drawn from the inspirational insights of Wesley and a long line of Scripture students, back to the apostolic New Testament Church, has never been more important or relevant. It stands the test of scriptural scrutiny, and responds to the spiritual and social needs of every culture, in every location. Every Christian can experience what John Wesley called, “an entire renewal in the love and image of God.”

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David J. Felter is editor in chief of Holiness Today, though just this week he announced his retirement. This article was originally published in Holiness Today, November/December 2009; it can currently be  found at Holiness Today.

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What’s So Great About Being a Nazarene?

This article by David Young, pastor of Clinton (IL) First Church of the Nazarene, was originally posted at his blog site, “All Things New.”   (Reposted here with with permission)
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What’s So Great About Being a Nazarene?

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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wesley9. 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 inEngland. 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”.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Church_of_the_Nazarene_Seal4. 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.”
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This article by David Young, pastor of Clinton (IL) First Church of the Nazarene, was originally posted at his blog site, “All Things New.”  Visit Pastor Young’s site.    (Reposted here with with permission)
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Why Wesleyans Aren’t Fundamentalists

Why Wesleyans Aren’t Fundamentalists

by Al Truesdale

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Wesleyans aren’t fundamentalists because that would require them to exchange a high doctrine of Scripture for a low one.

Wesleyans and Christian fundamentalists (hereafter referred to as fundamentalists or fundamentalism) agree on many aspects of Christian doctrine, but there are major differences that involve what Wesleyans believe about revelation, the “Word of God,” truth, discipleship, and fidelity to Christian doctrine. The following distinctions are not meant to discredit anyone’s love for God.

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Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism, as it exists among doctrinally conservative Protestants, arose in the latter part of the 19th century. It was largely a reaction against threats to Christian orthodoxy posed by certain features of modernity. Threats stemmed from modern critical studies of the Bible, from some developments in the sciences, and from default on some parts of historic Christian doctrine, including the deity of Christ. Without doubt, many of the perceived threats were real and had to be rebutted. By the 1920s, fundamentalists found themselves living in a culture that was becoming openly post-Christian.

The term fundamentalism, applied to Christians, derives from a series of booklets published in the U.S. between 1910 and 1915 titled The Fundamentals. The series defended what the authors saw as essential Christian doctrines under attack from liberal Christianity.

Defining fundamentalism is challenging. There is no uniform list of characteristics. Historian George Marsden defined early 20th-century fundamentalism as “militantly anti-modernist Protestant evangelicalism.”¹ Major distinguishing features of fundamentalism are as follows:`:

1. A doctrine of inspiration of the Bible that insists upon its absolute inerrancy in all topics it addresses, whether God, religion, morality, history, or the sciences.

2. An unyielding rejection of the critical study of the Bible by using modern tools of literary analysis.

3. A belief that fundamentalism is the only faithful evangelical and orthodox interpretation of the gospel.

4. Traditionally, for most fundamentalists, a strong commitment to premillenialism.

5. Militant opposition to some developments in the sciences, especially neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory.

6. Usually a reliance upon Reformed (Calvinist) theology.

Today, fundamentalism also includes what is called Neo-Fundamentalism. Neo-Fundamentalists battle what they see as threats coming from post-modern influences.

The principal difference between Wesleyans and fundamentalists springs from contrasting doctrines of Scripture and revelation. Other differences proceed from there.

For fundamentalists, revelation is thought of primarily as divine information or truth about God, humans, and the creation. For example, when Exodus 12:37 states the number of Hebrew slaves who left Egypt, that information is part of divine revelation. The Bible is the inspired and inerrant deposit of divine revelation. For that reason it is the Word of God. God unerringly communicated his revelation in various ways—through patriarchs, prophets and apostles, oracles, signs and wonders, and ultimately through Jesus Christ. Regardless of the topic the Bible addresses, it is part of God’s infallible revelation. It stands to reason that an inerrant God would communicate through an inerrant vehicle.

Therefore, in the Bible God has given us an inerrant source of truth. Either the entire Bible is without error, or the Scriptures as a whole must be false. Either Isaiah of Jerusalem wrote all of Isaiah, or the Bible is deceptive. Equally essential for fundamentalism is belief that the body of revelation the Bible contains is accessible to all who will rightly use their reason, and who will submit to what the Bible teaches.

We can see that for fundamentalists, “truth” is principally “divine truths” God has communicated to humans and recorded in the Bible. This makes the Bible “the Word of God.” Faith, then, is principally a matter of understanding and assenting to truth, to revelation, without reservation. This doesn’t minimize the importance of personal trust in Jesus Christ.

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Wesleyan Doctrine

Wesleyans hold to a different understanding of revelation. The difference directly affects our doctrine of the Scriptures. God himself, not information about him, is the primary content of revelation. God manifests himself, his person, his “Name,” and his will in all the earth. he reveals his “glory” as Creator and Savior, the proper end of which is our worship of and obedience to him. God declares his Name particularly by creating a people who, in covenant with him, will bear redeemed witness to his holiness, his love, his Kingship, and his faithfulness. The Bible uniquely and definitively tells the story of God’s self-disclosure and of humankind’s response. But not everything in the Bible is essential to God’s self-disclosure.

For Wesleyans, knowing the truth is primarily a matter of knowing God, of being transformed and gifted by him, and of being placed in his kingdom service. Thinking of knowing the truth as principally a matter of assent to a body of divine knowledge or propositions strikes Wesleyans as once-removed from knowing him who is the “Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

The Bible becomes the “Word of God” in that it faithfully and definitively bears witness to Jesus Christ, who is the Word of God incarnate (Luke 24:13-27).Calling the Bible the Word of God must maintain this critical order. For Wesleyans, the Bible’s truth is not primarily demonstrated and vindicated in a book or by arguments. Confirmation of the Scriptures happens in people who have been born again from above by the Holy Spirit, and who live as new creations in the power of the Spirit. Wesleyans read the Bible by asking “soteriological” questions (questions about salvation), not by asking questions about facts. They ask: How does a particular event or a book lead us to better understand who God is, his reign in the world, and what it means to be his people?

The measure of importance for any part of the Bible depends upon its role in declaring the Name of the Lord and in training God’s people in holy living. Not all aspects of the Bible equally serve this purpose. That God is the Creator is absolutely central; how he did it is incidental. That God delivered the hebrews from Egyptian bondage is absolutely primary, but how many escaped is secondary. That God will consummate his kingdom is paramount, but how and when is of marginal importance.

The Bible’s sufficiency for teaching us all things necessary for salvation and Christian practice defines its authority; forcing its authority to go beyond this will gravely distort the Bible’s purpose. Claiming too much for the Bible will end up diminishing its proper authority.

Next, while fundamentalists believe that through reason the content of the Bible—revelation—is accessible to any right-thinking person, Wesleyans believe that apart from the enlightening work of the Spirit the Bible remains inaccessible. Of course anyone can read the Bible, but unless the Holy Spirit bears convincing witness that what the Bible says about God the Redeemer is true—not as information, but as transformation—the Bible will remain a dead letter.

John Wesley taught that not only did the Holy Spirit inspire those who wrote the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:20-21), he must also enlighten those who read the Bible in earnest prayer.² This is the “the internal witness of the Holy Spirit” who alone can transform the written Word into the living Word. Wesley and John Calvin agreed: “Scripture suffices to give a saving knowledge of God [only] when its certainty is founded on the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit.” Knowledge of the Bible’s real meaning and authority cannot be separated from the grace of regeneration.³ The goal of revelation, confessing “My Lord, and my God,” is something the Spirit alone can accomplish (John 15:27; 16:8-11).

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The Free Word of God

The irony in the contrast between fundamentalism and Wesleyan theology is that Wesleyans end up taking the Bible more seriously than do fundamentalists. Though well-intended, fundamentalism requires of the Bible a perfection the Bible doesn’t require of itself. Consequently, the Bible cannot be itself.

Because Wesleyans don’t lock the Bible into an artificially imposed perfection, its long and rich history of composition (including the slow development of the Hebrew language) is permitted to speak. We can learn from various types of literature (genres) that characterize the books, and take seriously what genre tells us about purpose and social context. By studying the temporal setting of 2 Peter and its similarity to Jude, for example, we can gain a better understanding of its role in the New Testament and its importance for us today.

Only by taking seriously an author’s theological perspective can we hope to understand a book such as Chronicles. Moreover, the Wesleyan doctrine of Scripture doesn’t force the Book of Genesis to become a book about science. Thus, the Bible’s rich testimony to the living God stands forth in all its beauty and diversity, and its exposition becomes more fruitful. By contrast, because of its low doctrine of Scripture, fundamentalism can’t utilize these rich tools and crippling consequences follow.

Fundamentalism can certainly be chosen over a Wesleyan doctrine of Scripture. But we must not make the mistake of confusing the two. We shouldn’t ask the Church of the Nazarene, which is a Wesleyan denomination, to exchange its high doctrine of Scripture for a lesser one. What attracts us most is asking the Holy Spirit to so enliven the Scriptures that they will teach us how to become Spirit-filled and Spirit-led people in the Church and in the world.

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Notes:

1. George Marsden, Fundamentalism and American Culture, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 4).
2. John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament, comment on 2 Tim. 3:16.
3. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, 8.13.

Al Truesdale is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion and Christian ethics, Nazarene Theological Seminary

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This article  was originally published in Holiness Today, September/October 2012 and reprinted by Nazarene Communications Network (NCN) News, November 23, 2012.

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