In my previous blog I asked: Will Article Four (the Nazarene Statement on Holy Scripture) lead the Church of the Nazarene down the same path as the United Methodists?
Both the Church of the Nazarene and the United Methodist churches have similar statements regarding scripture. The coming United Methodist split is in part because both sides of their divide site scripture as their authority for their particular position in the debate. Common sense leads one to conclude: if it could happen to them, it could happen to us.
Here are a few options to avoid a similar United Methodist schism within the ranks of the Church of the Nazarene:
Change our position on Holy Scripture.
The easy answer is to move to a more fundamentalist stance toward the Bible. Point out the four or five statements from the Bible regarding homosexuality and declare: “If the Bible says it that settles it for me.”
The problem: Nazarenes are not fundamentalists and most don’t want to be. We don’t believe for example when the Bible talks of “four corners of the earth” that we need to look for four corners on our round planet. The inspired authors of the Bible thought the earth was flat, like a sheet of paper (hence four corners) and were simply stating that God’s love covers all the earth. All this to say, we don’t believe the Bible is a science book, rather it is a faith book. Its purpose is to bring people into the saving faith of Jesus. We don’t cherry pick verses to build straw man arguments on the topics we deem worthy.
If Fundamentalism isn’t the answer, then how can Nazarenes not follow in the United Methodist footsteps and remain united?
Emphasize the “plenary inspiration” of our statement.
Unlike fundamentalists and those of the opposite end of the spectrum who pick and choose what scriptures to emphasize or eliminate to build their case; Nazarenes moving forward will need to rely on our common plenary inspiration view of scripture. Our emphasis on looking at the whole scripture from an eagle’s eye view and building our foundational truths from the whole of scripture seem to be the way forward.
We believe the whole of scripture is inspired. We believe that there is a common thread running through the Bible and that all of Scripture leads to Jesus. As such, we are called to love everyone, everywhere. As it relates to the current United Methodist rift, we must maintain a deep understanding that the whole scripture describes marriage as between a man and a woman and the whole of scripture calls all sex outside of marriage sin. We aren’t cherry picking verses to come to this conclusion, but looking over the full inspiration of the entirety of Scripture to draw this belief.
Be Committed to Loving All
Everyone (heterosexual or homosexual or everyone else) is loved by God. Everyone is created in the image of God, no matter how they identify themselves. But not everyone is called to the married life. Just as Jesus walked on the earth, unmarried, but completely fulfilling God’s purposes, we believe all people can fulfill their purpose in the Lord. Our stance regarding Human Sexuality and marriage does not leave room for judging or holding ill regard toward those walking the path of singleness as Jesus did. Our call is to love, not judge. Build bridges, not walls. All of this done in the whole of scripture’s description of marriage, singleness and sexuality.
A humble North American Church
There seems to be a western Christianity sense of superiority or arrogance rearing its ugly head in the Methodist debate. The last general conference vote to remain true to the Discipline as written was upheld mostly because of African and other world areas refused to conform to the prevailing Western practices and beliefs. Yet, with its anemic numbers and rapid decline, rather than looking at the other world delegates as unenlightened or incapable of discerning biblical truths, the North American church can learn much from our other world area brothers and sisters. A great need for humility from the North American church as it comes to the realization that other world area brothers and sisters have much to teach us (not the other way around).
Clearly, unity is missing in the United Methodist Church and presently unity (97% voted in favor of the current statement on Human Sexuality and Marriage at the 2017 General Assembly) is what the Nazarenes enjoy. The Nazarene church must do everything possible to remain united. A continued emphasis on the global nature of the church, and a continued (as expensive as it is) regular four-year General Assembly family gathering to bolster that unity is imperative. Unity comes as the church is more international at all levels and listens to all world areas in Biblical interpretation and practices. Meanwhile, thinking of ways to further emphasize and celebrate our unity in a greater measure in all publications and gatherings will help avoid a Methodist type split.
The happenings in the United Methodist church should call all Nazarene to our knees as we pray for our fellow Wesleyans as they seek a path through these troubled waters. It should also call all Nazarenes to work toward greater ways of unity amidst our diverse backgrounds and experiences if Nazarenes wish to avoid the same fate.