Of course, the Church of the Nazarene isn’t what she used to be. She is 115 years old. Find any other institution that’s been around for that length of time and tell me it’s the same. I’ll save you the trouble, you won’t find it. It doesn’t exit.
Not a shocking admission: The world is different from 1908. So is the church. But is it worse? That’s what the aforementioned headline implies. It’s not the same and it’s worse. But is it?
When I was a kid there was no dancing. My folks sent a note to the Fifth-Grade gym teacher, Miss Norton, informing her that I was not to participate in the group square dancing. I was a Nazarene. If I could have had a membership class right there, every fifth-grade boy would be a Nazarene today. Fifth grade square dancing isn’t a slippery slope into a life of sin.
My boys went to their senior proms. Most Nazarene teenagers do too these days. Nazarenes attending prom was unheard of 40 years ago. Instead of the prom, me and two other seventeen year old classmates drove to Cleveland, Ohio (from Detroit) to see the Cleveland Indians play the Boston Red Sox. We stayed in a seedy hotel that night and went to Cedar Point the next day. Looking back, we could have found far more trouble on our excursion than anything that occurred at the Garden City West Senior Prom.
We couldn’t go to the movies either. I snuck out of the house as an eleventh grader to see Disney’s cartoon, Lady and the Tramp. It was my first movie. I was surrounded by second graders, thinking I was going to the Bad Place if Jesus returned at that moment. I’ve bumped into District Superintendents on my way out of the theatre now.
The church has changed in ways besides the rules.
There are more Nazarenes in Africa than in the United States. This is not a fact to be mourned but a reality to be celebrated. World Missions worked and is still working. Wasn’t seeing Africa turn to Jesus the goal when the first Nazarene stepped foot onto Capo Verde or Eswatini (Swaziland)? We might need our African brothers and sisters to return the favor (Praise the Lord!).
The Foundry and the Global Ministry Center are far less populated than in days’ past. And yet, ministry is still happening. Holiness publishing is still taking place. The work of the church continues. The valued employees of both entities work hard and are committed to the Church of the Nazarene. Is it different? Yes. Is it worse? Not necessarily.
The colleges and universities aren’t as “Nazarene” as they used to be. It’s true that the percentage of Nazarenes is at its lowest point in the USA/Canada schools, but is that a bad thing? My son married a non-Nazarene girl he met at Olivet. She’s a wonderful Christian. The addition of students from other traditions doesn’t water down who we are. It enriches the experience.
There are challenges, factions and the church is faced with economic and ecclesiastical disaster as funds dwindle and clergy age. All true in deed. But is it worse than the challenges faced in the Great Depression or during world war time? Every generation brings challenges, but that doesn’t doom the church. The Church of the Nazarene is not yours, mine, Phineas F. Bresee’s or anyone else’s, it’s the Lord’s. As long as the church keeps her eyes on Jesus, she will be just fine—no matter what changes occur in the world.
The headline is right, the Church of the Nazarene “ain’t” what she used to be. Neither are we. But that doesn’t make it bad. It makes it different. Sometimes different is OK.