PC

Political correctness in and of itself is not a bad thing. In the simplest of terms, it’s a way of treating people with respect regardless of ethnicity, gender, race, religion, socio-economic status, and other things that have the potential to divide. According to that definition Jesus was politically correct. He treated everyone with dignity because God’s love does not discriminate; Jesus knew that God loves everybody as much as He loves anybody.

Scripture instructs us to be civil in our conversations: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up… that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29). However, what if charitable discourse in Jesus’ day was nothing like what we consider civil today. If we’re being realistic we have to admit that we live in a pampered society. Our sense of entitlement causes us to reject anything uncomfortable.

Yet without discomfort there is no cross. Without pain there is no discipleship. Without offense it’s impossible to live the life Jesus calls us to.

People groups of the world have distinctive understandings of what “civility” really means. I’m not sure overindulgent mainstream Americans should be the ones setting the bar for what’s considered offensive, especially if God is more clearly identified in the margins. Marginalized people want the truth; they need the truth. They long for the only thing that has the power to set them free. I’m thankful to be part of the Church of the Nazarene: a church that has been intentionally taking truth to the margins from the very beginning.

For many cultures passionate disagreement is not only normal, but also expected. There’s a great deal of biblical evidence supporting fervent dialogical disagreement. The Prophets, the Apostles, and Jesus himself spoke harshly at times. Their language wasn’t set-aside only for the religious leaders as some might say. Jesus had heated words for His followers, adversaries, disciples, and general audience. Peter, Paul, and other disciples also expressed themselves very matter-of-factly in many situations.

When Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers it wasn’t a charitable act. The moneychangers were common folk that had set up a spiritual flea market in the temple. They had taken something meant for one thing and turned it into something else. Jesus obviously thought the situation warranted a strong correction. In the Palestinian culture of that day, and in many cultures around the world today, confrontational dialogue wasn’t, and isn’t, considered offensive. In fact, it was, and still is, commonplace.

Postmodern America has an inaccurate understanding of political correctness. It’s become a new form of intolerance disguised as tolerance. The current cultural climate makes absolutes almost nonexistent; any claim to truth disturbs people’s sensibilities. I’m uncertain how we arrived at this place when one of the foundational blocks of American society is freedom of speech. It’s impossible to live in a society of free speech and never be offended by what others are saying.

Remember, “To those who are disobedient, ‘The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.’ They stumble, being disobedient to the word…” (1 Peter 2:7-8).

The gospel is offensive… period. The gospel confronts people; it makes us uncomfortable. It leaves us with a difficult choice. It forces one to admit that his or her way is the wrong way. Challenging people to completely reorder their life is a radical and evasive concept, particularly in postmodern America.

When a church becomes more concerned with political correctness than the power of the gospel it quickly becomes ineffective.

Let me explain how this has affected me personally. Often I have reservations about saying things in conversations with other Christian leaders, from the pulpit, and on social media. I’ve identified these reservations as a condition imposed on my thinking by the current state of our society. If the Bible speaks to an issue, I believe with grace and truth, I should be able to speak to the issue as well. In fact, as a minister of the gospel, I feel obligated to speak.

The old adage, “Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don’t say it mean,” has become an increasingly difficult task. People take offense where none is intended, which causes pastors and Christian leaders to be guarded. People presume the act of disagreeing is somehow arrogant and intentionally hurtful; this is especially true in the digital world. Therefore, an insistence on greater civility has emerged. Failure to engage by the arbitrary rules of cultural civility results in charges of ignorance and bigotry.

If there’s ever been a society where no one has the right to live unoffended, it’s the United States of America. In fact, we should expect to hear things that challenge our worldview. Dealing with what others believe is a small price to pay for living in a free country. Yet being easily offended has become fashionable. One can hardly exist on a college campus without being inundated with progressive points of view, and it’s not much different in Christian universities. If you refuse to drink the cool-aid then you’re labeled close-minded and lack critical thinking skills.

The paradoxical outcome of insisting on greater civility often goes beyond frequent offense to the realm of “outrage.” When this happens the PC police come after their opponents with no holds barred. They will shut anyone down at any cost that constantly disagrees with their views. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s exactly what the religious leaders did to Jesus when they put Him on the cross. The rules of political correctness get tossed out the window when the PC crowd becomes convinced that they’re right on any given issue.

The problem with the postmodern understanding of political correctness is that it focuses primarily on people’s feelings, not on being gracious and truthful. And when progressive thinkers assume places of greater influence in the church the focus shifts from what God declares as true to how people feel about what God declares as true. When the church starts focusing on how people feel about truth more than truth itself, God quickly gets extracted from the conversation.

We have arrived at a place where one cannot caringly confront cultural deception without upsetting the applecart. When this happens the spirit of offense protests. Again, they believe their cause is greater than anything anyone else has to say. Their rhetoric causes those who don’t agree with them to back down because they feel intellectually inferior. Of course, if it’s coming from the university it must be intellectually informed, right?

This, my friends, is the influence of postmodernity’s version of political correctness.

Now might be a good time to remember the words of the Apostle Paul: “Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Col. 2:8).

Instead of allowing scriptural truth to speak to modern day concerns, the spirit of political correctness is causing many to impose contemporary cultural issues on scripture. They insert a version of truth and spoon-feed it to the masses until it becomes uncharitable to say anything contrary.

Paul tells his young protégée, Timothy: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:2-4).

That’s good advice for all of us.

Remember, it’s impossible to speak truth without rocking the boat. Don’t stop speaking. Speak gracefully, but boldly. Don’t cave to the pressure of the current cultural stream of political correctness. When we do the gospel loses its effectiveness. Once that happens, like the builders of old, we reject the “chief cornerstone.” When the foundation is stripped away everything else falls apart and that’s not good for anyone.

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General Assembly is the quadrennial gathering of the global family that is the Church of the Nazarene. Every four years delegates from all over the world come together to celebrate what God has done, discern how the Holy Spirit is leading, and make decisions about how to faithfully advance the mission of Making Christlike Disciples in the Nations in the years ahead.

The Church of the Nazarene has always been theologically and biblically conservative, yet progressive in practice. In other words, we believe the Bible is true and we take the message of holiness seriously. Nonetheless, we’re willing to stop at nothing to reach people with the life-transforming message of the Gospel.

From the beginning the distinctive doctrine of the Nazarene movement has been “entire sanctification,” which teaches that after one becomes a Christian there’s a deeper work to be experienced. When a person is filled with the Holy Spirit (entirely sanctified) his or her devotion to Jesus becomes the essence of life. Entire sanctification is the doctrine of “love made perfect,” lived out as the Holy Spirit empowers us to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

At General Assembly we make decisions about resolutions that’s been submitted by districts and committees from around the world. These resolutions affect the theology, polity, social positions, and overall governance of the church and are incorporated into the Manual (book of discipline) if passed by the global delegation. I am thankful for the growing delegation from the Africa, South America, and Mesoamerica Regions, as I believe they will keep us on track theologically.

After reading the resolutions for the 2017 General Assembly, I decided to elaborate on a few that are categorized in the “Christian Action” grouping. This category informs our identity more than any other as it pertains to who we are theologically and where we stand biblically.

While administrative matters need to change as we discover better ways to faithfully steward the organizational structures of the church, theological distinctiveness should only be strengthened, never diluted. In a world of pluralism, relativism, moral decline, and social injustice, if our theological distinctiveness is not reinforced the church’s influence in the world will diminish.

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CA-700: Affirmation and Declaration of Human Freedoms – The United Kingdom British Isles South District submitted this resolution. It calls for us to “confess our complicity” as it pertains to the enslavement of human beings. That statement alone makes this resolution a bad idea. With that kind of wording this could become a legal issue in some world areas. It reads as an admission to a crime against humanity. This resolution is not necessary because our involvement in “setting captives free” is a given by nature of the holiness message (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18).

CA-701: Human Sexuality – Resolution 701 was created and submitted by the Board of General Superintendents. It is the best choice of the three submissions on “Human Sexuality.” There is unquestionably a minority looking for loopholes as it pertains to same-sex marriage. While we need to be gracious in our response, we must also remain committed to biblical orthodoxy concerning sexuality. The Board of General Superintendents engages this topic with a deep sense of compassion; yet they also remain clearly grounded in Holy Scripture and Wesleyan-Arminian theology. This resolution lovingly speaks to the various nuances related to the doctrine of human sexuality.

CA-701a/701b: Human Sexuality – The Netherlands, New England, and Kansas City Districts submitted these two resolutions. They remove any language pertaining to homosexual behavior. Without such language being supplemented elsewhere these resolutions weaken the biblical doctrine of sexual purity and potentially opens the door to homosexual behavior becoming acceptable. It’s impossible to remain biblically responsible, yet remove language pertaining to homosexuality from our doctrinal statements.

CA-708: The Christian Life – The Mid-Atlantic and Northwestern Ohio Districts, and the General Assembly Resolutions and Reference Committees collectively submitted this resolution. The new wording offers a much-needed global perspective. Without it, this entire section of the Manual is established on paradigms employed primarily in western culture, especially the U.S., and is not reflective of the fact that we are an international church. This resolution is a great addition for our Manual.

CA-709: The Use of Social MediaWhile I appreciate the efforts of the Mid-Atlantic District and the Reference Committee, to say that all social media activities should be affirming and uplifting to all people is biblically inaccurate (Jer. 1:10). There would be large portions of the Bible that couldn’t be quoted on social media if our activities must continually be uplifting to all people. This would also deny anyone the ability to speak prophetically about the difficult issues facing the church. Beyond that, who decides what qualifies as “respectful” when it comes to social media interaction? Various personalities speak, write, and communicate differently. Interpreting online interaction becomes an impossible task if we attempt to judge one person’s written expressions based on what another person considers respectful and/or offensive. Being gracious and forgiving to one another on social media should be a given.

CA-710: The Use of Intoxicants – The Nebraska and Mid-Atlantic Districts, and the Reference Committee submitted this resolution. While we could certainly work on the wording of this Manual paragraph, this particular submission weakens our position on the use of alcohol to the point that we might as well remove it altogether. I struggle with the missional implications as it pertains to something as addictive as alcohol consumption. We certainly realize the devastating effects it’s had on the poor and marginalized. We should consider rewording these paragraphs our Manual. However, I’m not comfortable with this resolution as it’s presented.

CA-714: Sanctity of Human Life – The Mid-Atlantic District submitted this resolution. I struggled more with this submission than any other. The suggested change weakens our current stance and actually devalues human life beyond what we presently affirm. It’s a slippery slope that we should avoid at all costs. When we arrive at the place in our theology where we view the sanctity of human life as a “political” issue we fail the most innocent human beings among us: those still in the womb. If anything, we should make a stronger statement on the sanctity of human life, especially as it relates to abortion.

CA-717: Covenant of Christian Character – The Netherlands District submitted this resolution. The Covenants of Christian Character and Conduct are designed to give additional direction to members of the Church of the Nazarene concerning what is beneficial to the Christian life. They are not exhaustive, but they are helpful. They serve to strengthen believers in the pursuit of holiness. Eliminating these details deprive us of our distinctiveness. When we lose the things that make us unique we ultimately ignore the distinctive call of God on our movement, and in turn become generic and ineffective.

CA-718: The Christian Life – The New England District submitted this resolution. Rewording this Manual paragraph to include the Great Commandment and the Sermon on the Mount would be extremely helpful. However, removing the reference to the Ten Commandments when Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law…” (Matt. 5:17), only weakens the statement. I agree that focusing exclusively on the Ten Commandments centers primarily on rules and lends itself to legalism. The teachings of Christ should be highlighted in this paragraph. Rewording this resolution slightly would strengthen our theological position.

CA-721: Christian Marriage – The Southwest Indiana District submitted this resolution. This amendment strengthens our theological and legal position on marriage. As society continues to change at a rapid pace there will be more and more groups attempting to redefine marriage in light of cultural shifts based primarily on human reasoning. One recommendation: if we are going to change the word “biblical” to “Christian” in the last sentence, we should also change it in the second-to-last sentence.

CA-724: Gender Identity – The Board of General Superintendents submitted this resolution. In a day and age where gender identity is surrounded with controversy we desperately need a statement that provides direction on an issue that is predominantly driven by culture and politics. This resolution is rooted in biblical doctrine and Christian tradition, and affirms that gender identity reflects God’s divine plan for humanity.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of the resolutions submitted to the General Assembly. This article only speaks to resolutions that some feel could have a significant impact on the future identity of the Church of the Nazarene. These particular resolutions are what I describe as “identity declarations.” When we amend the Manual paragraphs concerning what we believe and how we practice what we believe we are reinterpreting how to apply biblical doctrine, which cannot be done lightly.

The sentiments expressed in this article are based on conversations with various leaders in the Church of the Nazarene, analysis of the negative impact that secularized culture is having on the church, application of Scripture in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, and personal convictions as it pertains to how the church can best move forward in the power and authority of the Holy Spirit.

Please feel free to contact me at kynazds@gmail.com with any questions or comments. If you have more insight as to how we can better discuss these issues in the future I’d love to hear from you.

Remember the methodists

The call to pastoral ministry is often depicted with the metaphor of “Shepherd and Sheep.” The shepherd is one who leads, serves, and protects the flock. In every church I’ve pastored I have taken that call very seriously. I stress the word “protect” as it relates to the shepherd’s staff. The staff was used to ward off predators and get the sheep out of precarious situations.

Since coming into the role of District Pastor (Superintendent) there have been times when I’ve been very vocal about what I perceive as “dangers” lurking in the shadows. No differently than I would have confronted those dangers in the local church, I’ve confronted them as they’ve influenced the network of churches that I’ve been called to serve. I suppose it’s my shepherd’s reflex responding to what I identify as threats.

My concerns have largely been informed by recent developments in the United Methodist Church. Many people are heartbroken over the harm caused by the lack of accountability among their clergy. The unfaithfulness of some UMC pastors and bishops has caused damage that will be difficult to ever repair, which is why groups like the Wesleyan Covenant Association have been established. I am encouraged by such alliances. Revival is breaking out in many pockets of the UMC because of the faithfulness of a few. All it takes is a remnant.

In the midst of my efforts to “protect the flock,” God recently reminded me that He doesn’t need me to defend Him. He’s shown me that making a statement and arguing a point are two very different things. So, while I’m not going to stop speaking (I’m a preacher for goodness sake), I am going to stop debating as if there’s a fight to win. This battle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against the rulers of this dark world and the forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6).

I’ve been very loud at times over these issues. Not debating is difficult for some of us; it’s how we process and learn. However, in the age of social media we lack the relational equity to have difficult conversations without constant offence. Sometimes volume isn’t nearly as effective as simply handling matters in a way that isn’t seen or heard beyond the boundaries of the people we’ve been called to serve. Nonetheless, in my opinion, a higher level of accountability is needed across the board.

Accountability for ordained ministers has been a topic frequently discussed as it relates to these issues. Ordination has traditionally been understood as a sacrament (i.e. “Holy Orders”). That means the covenants taken by ordained and licensed members of clergy matter greatly. Remaining faithful and striving for unity is a big part of the job for those who’ve been entrusted to serve the church.

When I think of ordained ministry, and especially the call to preach, I’m reminded of the sacred charge that many of us carry. Think about it, preaching is a form of public speaking unlike any other. The preacher is one who has answered a divine call to proclaim eternal truths from God’s Word to a gathered group of listeners. There are serious implications involved with preaching; we are liable for shaping people’s lives with our words. The words we speak foster an ongoing Christian worldview among those we shepherd. This is an amazing honor, but an even greater responsibility.

With unorthodox teachings increasing in popularity they’re becoming more commonplace among pastors and leaders in every denomination. These issues are infiltrating our university classrooms, making their way into our pulpits, and taking center stage in many forums (remember the Methodists). Personally, I think we should put a stop to it. Every member of clergy should be accountable to the covenants they’ve made a promise to support. If they can’t they should surrender their credentials; it’s not difficult.

Some people believe I’m overreacting. Again I say, “Remember the Methodists.” We’d be naïve to think it couldn’t happen to us. Of course I realize that nothing will ever destroy the Church; the gates of hell won’t prevail against Her (Matt 16:18). However, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a great price to pay if we’re not faithful with what we’ve been entrusted to steward.

Most of the conversations that I’ve engaged pertaining to biblical unorthodoxy are with faithful pastors who feel extremely misrepresented. These pastors aren’t looking for a fight; they’re just serving faithfully and bearing fruit. Yet many are struggling with spending the rest of their life at odds with the people they’re supposed to be partnering with to advance the cause of Christ. I’ve spent hours explaining “why” the unfaithful among us aren’t held to a higher level of accountability.

The mission of Jesus is something we should be willing to die for; it’s the difference between life and death. Getting sidetracked with negotiating biblical truths in light of cultural shifts does nothing more than taint the mission of making disciples. Maybe I’m too extreme. One thing I’m certain of, however, the Kingdom means too much to forfeit a single minute debating with unfaithful co-laborers.

Bottom-line: we need a higher level of accountability. Actually, I believe it would lead to greater unity, church growth, and denominational revitalization. Yet, I concede from responding out of “protection mode.” While there are many who share my concerns, I also understand the wisdom of not speaking so loudly.

With all due respect, at times it seems like pastoring has become synonymous with “being a nice person” and “not offending anyone.” Interestingly, that’s not the model of Jesus, the disciples, or the prophets. Pastors are called to represent a Kingdom that’s not of this world, not get in bed with the world. It may be more important that we start taking a stand instead of going with the flow. Remember the Methodists.