Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

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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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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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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