Monthly Archives: November 2021

The Church of the Nazarene and the Middle Way

Years ago, in the same week, two couples in the church where I was the pastor informed me of their decision to go to other churches (that’s never good). One thought the church was too “liberal.” The other thought the church was too “conservative.” I thought, “hmmm… maybe we are on the middle path and that’s where we need to be.”

During the Pandemic with its vocal adherents on all sides, again in the church where I pastor has tried to walk the tightrope down the middle regarding all of the divisive issues brought on during these times.

I’ve written blogs that my “liberal” friends labeled as “conservative.” I’ve written blogs that my “conservative” friends labeled me as a “liberal.” I don’t like labels much (hence the quotation marks around such terms. Do we really need such labels? Ugh). 

I hope I’m in the “messy middle.” And if I am, I’m in good company. John Wesley in his sermon “The Witness of the Spirit” writes of the need for a “middle way.” He’s not talking much about politics or various opinions, he is talking about behavior. Wesley talks about the “worst kind of enthusiasm” is when a group feels the need to defend God and instead creates division. In contrast, Wesley talks of the Holy Spirit that leads us to “steer a middle course.” He uses scripture, most notably Ephesians 4, that says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” He also uses scripture (Jude 1:19) to warn of the consequences if we slip out of the middle. 

The Church of the Nazarene has historically stood in the middle of many debates. We used to say, “We are a big tent,” meaning don’t all have to agree on every issue because we love one another and the message of holiness brings us together. As such, we don’t have a preferred statement on HOW God created the heavens and the earth. We all agree that God DID create the heavens and the earth. We don’t have a preferred statement on end times. We all agree Jesus is coming back again. We don’t have a preferred mode of baptism. We all agree it’s the amount of grace bestowed not the amount of water used. We don’t all agree on many things, but we say the grace of God keeps our unity in place. It’s our unity and love that best displays our holiness message, even as we disagree (especially as we disagree) on certain things. 

In these divisive times, we need unity. Everyone I know that calls themselves a Nazarene loves Jesus and wants the message of holiness to move forward. Unfortunately, one of the adverse effects of the pandemic includes people moving farther to the edges (in politics, theological opinions, and life) rather than to the middle where there is listening to one another, cooperation and mounds of grace.

If the message of holiness is going to be promoted to our world that desperately needs it, the Church of the Nazarene (and any other body) must be united and usually that means living in the “big tent” in the messy middle. My prayer is that folks on all sides (this applies to any discussion that might be happening), “make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.”

Is the Holiness Partnership good for the Church of the Nazarene?

“Faction” is defined as follows: “a small organized dissenting group within a larger one.” Guess where the word “faction” appears in the Apostle Paul’s writings?  It’s in the list of the “acts of the flesh” in Galatians 5.  Right along with orgies, witchcraft, and fits of rage are “factions.” Factions within the body of Christ are no good in other words.

Instead of factions, in another letter, Paul talks of the importance of unity. He wrote: As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-4). Factions are bad. Unity is good. It’s simple.

Using the Ephesians passage as our guide, most Nazarenes would agree that “the calling we have received” is holiness. It’s our “watchword and song” after all. Doesn’t holiness then call us by Paul’s definition to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit?” Wouldn’t forming a faction, splinter group, clique, partnership (whatever word one choses to use to describe an off-shoot) to be contrary to the way of holiness? Even if one calls their group a “holiness partnership,” if it is causing disunity and dissention, then the group would fall into the “faction” category not the “unity” category. Isn’t having invitation only gatherings, starting separate publications, and going after those who don’t hold similar views the stuff of factions and not the unity of holiness? Even if some of the goals of the “holiness partnership” are worthy (and I honestly don’t know the goals of the group, but assuming they are worthy), forming a faction is not the way of holiness. Factions are bad. Unity is good. It’s simple.

The Church of the Nazarene will have enough challenges in the 21st century without having splinter groups dividing the church. Back to Ephesians 4, we need humility, patience, gentleness and bearing with one another in love if we are going to promote holiness in a culture that is increasingly less responsive to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need unity in other words. Instead of factions to promote holiness or any other thing (no matter how worthy), how about if in unity we live out holiness in our deeds and attitudes. If we want to “make Christ-like disciples in the nations,” that will happen as people see and the church proclaims the beauty of holiness at work in us. 

The holiness we need is one the produces unity and grace. The partnership we need is when we are “bearing with one another in love.”  It seems the “Holiness Partnership” is doing neither.

I am not thankful for…

It’s Thanksgiving Day. I am to count my blessing and name them one by one. I get it that by making such a list I am risking forever being known as, “The Prince who stole Thanksgiving.”  But here it goes, my list of what I am not thankful for…

I am not thankful for Covid (but I am thankful for the health care workers who care for those we love—especially as we can’t even visit these sick loved ones ourselves)

I am not thankful for the coming Michigan winter (but I am thankful for a warm house).

I am not thankful for Brussel sprouts (but I am thankful for so many other yummy foods that are available for me to eat.)

I am not thankful for mosquitoes, spiders, snakes, and I am not particularly fond of skunks (but I am thankful for God’s wonderfully diverse and beautifully created world!)

I am not thankful for the political divide in our country (but I am thankful for a country in which civil political debates can happen—I just wish we were a lot more civil).

I am not thankful for mean-spirited social media (but I am thankful for the opportunity to wish merriment on birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, seeing happy pictures of family and even share my faith from time to time).

I am not thankful for migraines (but I am thankful that they are a constant reminder of my needed reliance on God).

I am not thankful for fear that has seemed to grip so many people in the church, in politics and in life (but I am thankful that the Bible proclaims “perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18) Help me Lord to be more loving to those who are so fearful).

I am not thankful for sins committed in the name of Jesus (but I am so thankful for Jesus. He is the Bride, even as the groom at times is tattered). 

I am not thankful for cranky church curmudgeons (but I am thankful for those curmudgeons whom God is sanctifying into faithful servants, and I have hope God Almighty will transform a few more of my grumpy Gus’s and Gertrudes).

I am not thankful for the times when I am like a “grumpy” Gus (that’s me looking in the mirror right now. But I am thankful for the patience and kindness of a Savior who is not done working on me too). 

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 

1 Thessalonians 5:18