Many Nazarene lay persons and clergy are aware of an issue brewing underneath the surface of the Church of the Nazarene in the United States and Canada. The issue has been framed in its most formal conversations as a debate between the emerging church and a group of Concerned Nazarenes. This awareness has been brought on largely by the campaign of the Concerned Nazarenes which has included a website, a formal strategy to approach and influence church leadership at all levels, a strategy to pass out propaganda at General Assembly including their DVD’s, and countless letters, blog posts and website comments from the core group of the Concerned Nazarenes.
Basically the Concerned Nazarenes claim that all things related to the emerging church are heretical and stand against the Church of the Nazarene. They have also included contemplative spirituality as heretical. The thrust of their argument is that these two things, which they see as interwoven, are threatening to infiltrate the denomination and take it away from Christianity.
To this end the Concerned Nazarenes have used the following phrases and adjectives to describe the emerging movement and contemplative spirituality:
1. “…grieved by the spiritual demise of our much-loved denomination under the influence of the emergent movement.”
2. “…purging our denomination of the emergent cancer before it is too late.”
The Concerned Nazarenes have gone on to list out several of their concerns:
1. We are concerned about the authority of God’s Word being undermined. We consider His Word to be inerrant (without error) in all matters.
2. We are concerned about the teaching of Open Theism within our academic institutions.
3. We are concerned about the invitations extended to emergent teachers, such as Brian McLaren, Tony Jones and Doug Pagitt, to speak at our universities and colleges
4. We are concerned about experiential works-based techniques for prayer being promoted on and through our academic campuses.
5. We are concerned about the emergent ideology that our academic institutions and General Church within the United States are promoting.
6. We are concerned that the “Jesus” that the emergent movement is preaching is “another Jesus”.
I would like to look at these concerns based on the doctrine of the Nazarene church:
1. This group openly admits that their view of Scripture (inerrant in all matters) is not part of the manual of the Church of the Nazarene and never has been. It should be noted that they are attempting to pass a resolution to change that, but to date, their views on Scripture are different than the formal position of the church as agreed upon by the larger body of the Church of the Nazarene.
2. The concern about open theism centers around their disagreement that God has given man free will to choose to follow Him or not. While the concerned Nazarenes would say that God has given us free will, He already knows what we will choose. In other words God has created us with the intent to choose to accept His love or not. This view of God’s creation is not free will and is predestination. The Church of the Nazarene has always followed the belief of free will and has denied predestination in matters of salvation. To be clear this view is different than the Church of the Nazarene.
3. The concern about who is invited to speak at our academic institutions does not include any concern for those speakers who might speak incorrectly on any issues other than those they have chosen as significant. There is no concern over speakers who might incorrectly teach students that all Scripture is completely inerrant which is against Nazarene church belief, or any other matters that would disagree with Nazarene church beliefs. It should also be pointed out that the role of higher education is to expose students to a variety of views, beliefs, and ideas so that students can, under the teaching of professors, process these ideas and come to their own conclusions, articulations and thoughts. In short, the purpose of the academic institution is the help teach people to think, not only give them the right answers.
4. The concern about experiential works-based prayer techniques upon closer examination is a concern about accepting and following the early church’s own practices. According to the cited article the Church of the Nazarene should ignore those first few centuries of Christianity altogether because there were some heresies that arose during that time. Any serious historical look at the church would reveal heresies emerging at every step. We do not choose to ignore all of our history, nor should we! To explore the concern even deeper, there is a fear that these practices will be too much like other religions views of prayer. These practices that they are concerned with include times of solitude and fasting, quietly and earnestly seeking God. They also include times of walking in nature and inviting God’s Spirit to reveal any separation in the heart. These are things that Scripture informs us that Christ modeled himself. If the concern is that we are too close to other religions then perhaps we should also be seriously concerned about the almost universal adoption within Christian homes of the pagan religion’s Christmas tree!
5. This concern about the “emergent ideology that our academic institutions and General Church within the United States are promoting” is difficult to assess or react to because there are no further issues developed or discussed here.
6. As a Christian and a Nazarene, I would agree with being concerned about anything that would point us away from Christ. I also would share concern for another Jesus being preached than what is found in Scripture. This is why myself and others wrote this White Paper to the General Church building on the work of another scholar, to show the connections we feel exist between some of the emerging church movement and the Wesleyan theology that the Church of the Nazarene was built upon.
It is not my desire to angrily fight over any issues regarding Christ or the church. Nor is it my desire to divide in any way from my brothers and sisters in Christ or my brothers and sisters in the Nazarene church. In fact, I stand with many who would state as their heart’s cry to join together with these brothers and sisters in reaching the world for Christ through the love of Christ.
The reality is that the Concerned Nazarenes are concerned about issues that are related to the theology of the Church of the Nazarene as it has always been. The claim that they want to “return to our theological roots” is not true for these are not our theological roots. If it is a different theological church they want the Nazarene church to become, then that is their prerogative and I hope that they will go through the necessary channels, gatherings, leadership and processes to have that conversation.
It is my desire that the global Church of the Nazarene would stay united in Christ, in mission and in holiness. I welcome genuine dialogue around these issues and would be happy to meet with anyone to discuss these issues further.