Last year, I received an invitation to be one of the guest speakers at a conference in Kokomo, IN. The Holiness Partnership (tHP) was planning its first annual gathering, and I was honored to be asked to preach.
I have known the majority of those involved in organizing tHP for many years. They are fruitful pastors—women and men that superintendents would love to have on their districts. These leaders support district ministries, pay their budgets, and send their young people to our universities. Not only are they ordained elders in the Church of the Nazarene, but they’re also mentors, friends, and colleagues. Thus, I had no reservations about accepting the invitation.
As the event drew closer, the organizers decided to make it “invitation only.” They indicated they didn’t want to exceed the number of occupants permitted, as COVID restrictions were still in place.
Admittedly, I was not fond of the idea of it being an invitation-only event. I get it; no one likes feeling left out. However, I understood the organizers’ desire to comply with safety and health regulations. We all know the trouble churches have found themselves in by not following COVID guidelines. From what I understand, all future gatherings of tHP will be open invitation.
As word got out, predictably, people became upset on social media (surprise). They began labeling the Holiness Partnership as a far-right, fundamentalist group trying to divide the church.
On a side note, I am convinced that many of those who throw the term “fundamentalist” around don’t actually know what it means. They have no context. Yes, the Holiness Partnership is biblically and doctrinally conservative, as is the vast majority of the denomination. However, far-right fundamentalists, they are not.
Until one attends a KJV only, us-against-them, no-shorts or jewelry wearing, optional men and women seating, fire-hell-and-brimstone-every-Sunday kind of church, I wish people would stop using the fundy label. As a teenager, I was exposed to the dangers of fundamentalism through a local independent church. God opened my eyes the day I brought a black friend to church, and an elder called me aside to explain that they didn’t believe in mixing races.
That is not to say that the Church of the Nazarene hasn’t been impacted by fundamentalism. Churches across denominational lines were affected by the fundamentalist movement of the 20th Century. For example, the former Concerned Nazarene group displayed many elements of rigid fundamentalism. However, the group of elders responsible for tHP does not meet the criteria.
Furthermore, it would be difficult for a genuine fundamentalist to exist within the Nazarene structure for very long, especially within a prominent area of leadership. So, for those tempted to throw labels around, remember that the pastors who organized tHP have a proven track record of being team players. They are some of the more fruitful leaders in our tribe.
Preaching the Gospel
A month or so before the event, someone tagged me with a question on Facebook (I forget the name of the discussion group). By the way, this is a person that I consider a friend.
The following is not verbatim, but the question went something like this: “I also get asked to speak at various church events and am wondering what your process is for discerning where to preach? What criteria did you use for deciding to speak at the Holiness Partnership gathering?” My response (not verbatim): “I have never thought about it. Since God called me to preach, I’ve always been willing to go anywhere the doors are open.”
This question was good for me. It was not something I’d ever really considered before. I became curious about the type of gathering where my fellow pastor might refuse to speak? However, I didn’t want to press the issue. Again, my days of engaging contentious, drawn-out, dead-end debates on social media are over.
Frankly, I can’t think of anywhere that I wouldn’t preach the gospel. I cannot think of an event where I wouldn’t share the Good News of Jesus Christ. I’d be willing to preach anywhere, no matter how hostile the environment. It seems to me that anywhere people gather would be a good place to preach the Good News. How will they hear without a messenger?
The Labeling Game
Some have branded the Holiness Partnership a “faction.” I would kindly urge folks not to fall into this labeling game without first being willing to listen. Consider, Jesus was crucified as the leader of a faction. They sentenced him to death as an insurrectionist, an enemy of Rome. We all know that Jesus didn’t come to overthrow the government. Instead, he came proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God!
When we express our thoughts, we must remember that we are not fighting against flesh and blood but principalities and spiritual strongholds. Labeling those involved with tHP a “faction” is quite an indictment on a group of leaders whose track records and combined support for the denomination would overwhelmingly indicate otherwise.
The only way any of us can conclude how God might be working among any group of people is to examine the fruit in light of scripture. To do that, one would have to be willing to engage those they feel led to critique.
Martin Luther intended his Ninety-Five Thesis as the basis of scholarly debate on papal indulgences. He hoped for reform and renewal, but the authorities declared him a heretic and an outlaw. Nonetheless, God used Luther to spark the Protestant Reformation, and the rest is history.
John Wesley came along 200 years later. Like Luther, Wesley’s intent was not to start a new movement or denomination. He wanted revival, yet the Church of England resisted. Even so, God used Wesley to fan the flames of the Great Awakening and the Wesleyan-Holiness Movement.
As I understand it, the heart of the Holiness Partnership is to support the doctrines and polity of the Church of the Nazarene. The leaders of this movement have continually expressed their desire to uphold and strengthen the church’s identity. The stated goal is to celebrate and champion the doctrines of biblical holiness and entire sanctification.
The Holiness Partnership isn’t trying to deconstruct the teachings of scripture as supported by the church but to highlight our holiness identity as a positive thing. They desire to equip women and men whom God has called to ministry. They are focusing on small group discipleship modeled after Wesley’s system. Make no mistake, revival is the end game for the Holiness Partnership.
We live in a day where we face many distractions. It seems that everyone is yelling about something, making it is easy for people to get side-tracked. Being reminded of our identity in a post-Christian era is not a bad thing. While some call that a faction, others call it refreshing.
In a world of loud voices, it’s easy for the identity of any group to be misrepresented. It has happened throughout history; movements begin with spiritual vitality and eventually drift from the original vision. From my perspective, tHP merely wants to celebrate the church’s roots within the broader Wesleyan-Holiness tradition.
Several years ago, I remember having questions about The Awakening: A National Prayer Conference. I heard stories about it being a neo-Pentecostal group that was trying to usher in a charismatic movement. Yet, as I got to know Corey Jones, I realized the smear campaigns were unfounded. For what it’s worth, Corey is an excellent Nazarene historian. When I finally started attending the Awakening conferences, I became convinced that corporate prayer was desperately needed in the church.
Various groups exist that are not officially endorsed by the Church of the Nazarene. Besides tHP and the Awakening Prayer Conference, we have Becoming Love Ministries, Young Clergy Network, Love Wins: LGBT, Encuentro, ONE Movement, Concerned Nazarenes, Sacramental Nazarenes, Extreme Nazarene Missions, and several others. None of these groups are formally sanctioned by the Church of the Nazarene. Yet, various leaders within the denomination lead and support them.
We have all heard about the need to make room at the table. Personally, I believe authentic conversation is one piece that’s been missing. There has been a lot of dialogue on many subjects, and most of it hasn’t been peaceable. The best way forward is not by arguing or labeling, which has happened across the board, but through prayer and communication.
I am having more fruitful conversations than ever about the cultural issues that we’re facing. Let’s be mindful that none of us were trained to lead through a global pandemic, navigate the rapid moral decline of Western society, or raise our kids in a culture where God has been canceled.
Maybe it is time for everyone to focus on what the Lord has set before them and let God sort out the details. Maybe people should stop criticizing and pushing agendas and focus on the harvest. Perhaps it is time to stop viewing others as opponents and start doing what the Lord has called us to do. What we cannot afford to do, and my conscience will not allow me to do, is cower every time the scoffers light up on social media.
Do we need the Holiness Partnership? No. God doesn’t need any group or individual to accomplish his mission in the world. Anyone who teaches that God needs us for anything is deceived. However, he has invited us to participate in proclaiming the gospel and making disciples.
My question isn’t whether the church needs the Holiness Partnership? My question is can God use the Holiness Partnership to fan the flames of revival? No doubt about it!