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.”