In each of the recent General Assemblies, a resolution has been presented to move to an every five year General Assembly instead of four. In 2017, every General Superintendent spoke in favor of the move. The retired Generals did too. If the powers that be could have brought back from heaven a few dead GSs, they would have.
I get it. General Assemblies are expensive. Really expensive. They are a lot of work too. No sooner does the poor General Secretary’s staff get through one General Assembly, they are on the clock for the next one.
It would be easy to think, “Well, we’ve just gone six years between General Assemblies, moving to every five years wouldn’t be so bad.” But is that true?
Look what has happened since the last General Assembly. The pre-Covid, 2017 world doesn’t exist. No one could have imagined the changed world in which we now live. Of course, delaying the planned 2021 General Assembly was necessary. Why would anyone willingly delay the gathering when the world and the church change so rapidly. An extra year, simply puts the church that much further behind and allows cancers within the church to metastasize.
For example, the big tent of the Church of the Nazarene has been fracturing (“faction-ing”) into pup tents. One faction’s periodical even had an article opposed to the “Big Tent Concept.” It seems like Nazarenes are going to their corners, putting on fighting gear and looking nothing like the holiness people they aspire to be.
There are many groups organically forming around their particular theological, geographical or sociological perspective. A non-exhaustive list includes: The Holiness Partnership, the 1908 project, affirming Nazarenes, Naztoo, Nazarenes for peace, various geographical Nazarenes, Boomer Nazarenes, Millennial Nazarenes, Gen X and Gen Z Nazarenes, Nazarene college fandom, fundamentalist-like Nazarenes, progressive Nazarenes, you name it. The list is long and getting longer.
Of course, our social media, react first (before thinking), blog first (ahem… sometimes guilty), anger and angst world is conducive to factions. These groups would, no doubt, develop no matter how frequent General Assemblies occur, but a more frequent gathering could help alleviate the fracturing (faction-ing) that all non-casual observers have witnessed in the last couple of years.
The only way Bresee’s mantra (not original to the founder), “in essentials unity, in non essentials liberty, in all things charity” can happen is through personal, face to face interaction. It’s much more difficult to demonize people with opposing views if one has seen, talked, worshipped with, and maybe even had a meal together. Even more than the official meetings of General Assembly, the casual conversations in the Exhibit Hall and before and after services in the meeting places are crucial to the unity and charity within the church.
A four year, family gathering is crucial for the survival of the denomination in our ever changing world. Zoom meetings, email, social media conversations can be helpful (they can also be disruptive as we all know) but none are substitutes to the friendships developed among those who disagree about various non-essentials. The recent dust up concerning what constitutes an “essential” might have been avoided (maybe not) if people were not quick to jump to conclusions, assume the worst, and demonize those with whom they disagree.
The cost and work of an every-four-year General Assembly is high, but it’s worth it if unity, liberty and charity are the result.