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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 through the resolutions that’s been submitted, and are now open to the public at ga2017.com (click resources, click resolutions), I’ve decided to elaborate on a few resolutions 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.

With that in mind I’d like to submit a few thoughts on some of the resolutions to be discussed in committees and on the floor at General Assembly. The following is not an exhaustive list of every resolution, but only alludes to some of the benefits and potential problems that could arise in our discussions.

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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). In my opinion, this resolution should be rejected.

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 and should be accepted.

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. In my opinion, these resolutions should be rejected.

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 and should be accepted.

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. In my opinion, this resolution should be rejected.

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. However, as it stands this resolution should be rejected.

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. This resolution should be rejected.

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. In my opinion, this resolution should be rejected.

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. This resolution should be edited and accepted.

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. This resolution should be accepted.

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. This resolution should be accepted.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of the resolutions to be reviewed at 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 committees and on the floor at General Assembly 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.

 

Repentance & Holiness

Becoming vulnerable is the first step toward freedom. Vulnerability exposes our weakness and enables God to break down strongholds. We cannot function in freedom until we become brave enough to confront the strongholds that hinder the advancement of the Kingdom in our lives.

God is so much better than we give Him credit for. I confess that I’ve done a poor job representing His goodness at times. The older I get the more inadequate I realize I am. The Lord has revealed Himself to me in new ways in recent days. I often find myself laughing and crying at the same as He makes His Presence known. These fresh encounters with God have left me more humble, grateful, and free than I can ever remember. There is so much to discover about following Jesus; it’s a never ending journey. I’ve asked God to help me become a better example of His goodness along the way.

I’m currently living in a place of great paradox. On the one hand, I’ve never felt closer to Jesus and I’ve never been more aware of the Presence of the Holy Spirit. Yet on the other hand, I’ve never felt more burdened; I live with a constant sense of heaviness for the state of the Bride. In the midst of my burdens I’ve discovered the power of weakness and the freedom that exists when we come to the end of ourselves.

At the heart of repentance lies vulnerability. True freedom in Christ requires that I constantly confess my faults, that I lay my inadequacies on the altar. Building an altar in our lives is so important. I’m not saying that we sin everyday as in “willfully transgressing against God.” However, I firmly believe that when we fail to love well that we sin against God and others. That means my attitudes, actions, words, and thoughts matter deeply. It means the things that I should be doing that I neglect to do matter in my relationship with Jesus.

I’m convinced that a lifestyle of repentance is the foundation of holiness. The minute I don’t think I have anything wrong in my life is the moment I set myself up as God. I have so many things to constantly repent of; at the top of the list is busyness and distraction. Beyond that, I often repent for not praying enough. I repent of being impatient. I repent for not always responding to my family the way I should. I repent for making decisions, even small decisions, without adequately seeking Jesus. I repent of developing preconceived notions about other people. These are all things that I need to continually lay on the altar. Again, the altar is so important.

True repentance is the only way to break down strongholds. Being in a relationship with God is important, but being in a right relationship with God is essential, especially if we’re going to live the life He’s called us to live. Indeed, repentance and holiness go hand in hand.

Dying to self and taking up the cross daily is about killing the little hedonist that’s kicking and screaming inside of us all. The flesh is one of our biggest foes; it’s always seeking pleasure that lasts for a season. We’re called to kill the flesh every time it raises its ugly head by nailing it to the cross. And when it reappears, we have to do it again. For holiness to become a lifestyle repentance must become a regular practice.

Have you ever considered the corporate hedonist that often appears among the Body of Christ? When the church begins warring against itself Satan takes the throne. When we refuse to corporately take up our cross we take up our quarrels. The Apostle James tells us that this infighting comes from the desire to please self over the desire to please God (James 4). It’s always rooted in our inability to believe that God can give us everything we need.

Many of you know that I’ve given my life to the Church, and in particular, the Church of the Nazarene. My heritage is grounded in the Church of the Nazarene. I love the people called “Nazarenes” very much. However, at times I’ve loved her too much. I repent of ever making my denomination an idol. I repent for allowing the boundaries of the Church of the Nazarene to limit my perspective of the Kingdom. I repent for the times I’ve allowed my identity to become more wrapped up in the Church of the Nazarene than the Kingdom of Jesus. We’d all do well to remember that God is a lot bigger than our little tribe.

With that said, I am burdened for the church. I’m troubled over the lack of passion for revival and what seems to be protest against it by some. I’m burdened over the unfaithfulness and pettiness. I’m burdened over the toxic environment that exists in some places. I’m burdened over the manifestation of pride. I am praying that God break down these strongholds; and when I say break down, I mean crush.

I’m praying for people to be delivered from rigid fundamentalism because none of us are the judge. I’m praying for people to be delivered from dead religious formalism because God is alive and He needs room to move among His people. I’m praying for people to be delivered from progressive intellectual elitism because it’s opposite of the posture of humility. It saddens me to see so many places negatively affected by legalism, liberalism, antagonism, and a host of other “isms” that no doubt breaks the heart of God.

We need to become a “movement” again: one that’s led by the manifest Presence of the Holy Spirit. God forgive us for allowing the church to become a religious enterprise. Forgive us for turning the church into a business instead of a house of prayer. Forgive us for trying to climb the latter of success. Forgive us for being more concerned about what people think than we are what God thinks. Forgive us for trying to be something we’re not. Forgive us for not living by the principles of corporate prayer and repentance that You’ve prescribed in Scripture:

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

It’s time to cry out to God corporately. For the anointing of the Holy Spirit to fall on us again we must repent of our failed business strategies, hollow philosophies, lack of accountability, and broken theological constructs. The Father won’t settle for being an afterthought. He desires to be intimately involved in everything we do.

I hope you hear my heart. In the midst of my brokenness, my longing to be a better follower of Jesus is increasing. Brokenness is a good place to be. There’s a lot of freedom when we learn to live like there’s nothing to lose. Vulnerability that leads to repentance is the only thing that’ll break down the strongholds preventing us from experiencing the intimate Presence of the Holy Spirit.

God is so good. He’s better than I’ve ever imagined He could be. There are parts of His goodness that’s easily noticeable, yet often overlooked. I want to spend the rest of my life paying closer attention to who He really is and what He’s really like. For that to happen, vulnerability and repentance must become a common way of life.

stale-spirituality

Religious practice void of the Holy Spirit is more like a funeral service than a worship service. God is alive. Deadness is not in His nature. Jesus came so that we could have life and have it more abundantly. That’s how the Church is supposed to exist and that’s how we’re supposed to live: absolutely abundantly alive.

Living with intentional awareness of the Holy Spirit must be the goal of anyone serious about following Jesus. Staleness sets in when we make our spiritual journey a routine that we squeeze into our schedule alongside countless other items. Jesus doesn’t want to be one of many things biding for our attention. He desires to be the only One with whom we are captivated.

The life Jesus calls us to is not to be engaged sparingly. It’s an all-or-nothing kind of life. Anything else leaves us lacking and depleted. Jesus calls us to a degree of intimacy that cannot be sustained outside of continually abiding in His Presence. Stale spirituality occurs when we fail to recognize the Presence of the Holy Spirit working all around us.

Many people remain spiritually destitute because they dwell in the past. They long for the good ol’ days. They crave that old-time religion so badly that they fight to preserve something that no longer exists. The cloud has left, the fire has burned out, yet they sit in the same place, doing the same thing, wondering where everyone went. God has moved on while they continue meandering in the desert hoping to restore something that’s long departed. Sadly, these people settle for the residue of what was.

Then you have those who want to make God relevant. They assume God needs their help in His ability to relate. Thus, they attempt to align Him with modern-day culture. In their quest for importance they do nothing more than fashion the Church after the world. What they fail to realize is that Jesus is always relevant. In fact, Jesus is more relevant than anything else going on anywhere in the universe. The idea that the God who is omni-now could possibly become irrelevant is insane. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is perpetual relevance.

Relevance chasers often fail to understand that they’ll never achieve the significance they desire by mirroring culture. In fact, it’ll have the opposite effect because they’re chasing the wrong thing. Striving to keep up with the most up-to-date trends is a sure way to grow spiritually stale. Some congregations may lose their significance, but God never will. He is forever current, infinitely present, and eternally significant.

Dead religious formalism also has the tendency to produce stale spirituality. Notice the adjective “dead.” This often occurs when people place intellectualism on a pedestal above relationality. Jesus is a Person to be encountered, not merely a doctrine to be understood. While preparation, education, and engaging the mind is vitally important, intellectualism alone has the propensity to kill the moving of the Holy Spirit and rob people of an authentic, life-changing, powerful experience with Jesus.

Interestingly, the religious sages of the age don’t seem very concerned with the manifest Presence of the Holy Spirit. They scoff at the mention of revival, calling it nothing more than worked up emotionalism. They’ve become satisfied with religious theory, and unfortunately, they raise up generations far more interested in academic exercise than they are experiential faith.

Formalistic approaches to faith tend to emphasize symbolism over experience. Personally, I have a high appreciation for symbolism (e.g. cross, chalice, trinity symbol). I also value the beauty of liturgical practices (e.g. communion, baptism, creeds). Anyone who appreciates the sacred history of the Church must keep a place in his or her heart for symbolism. However, I must also conclude that ritualistic approaches to faith, even when grounded in good theology, do not regularly leave room for the moving of the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, many pastors, educators, and church leaders not only devalue an encounter with the Holy Spirit, they outright reject it. They call experiences such as altar calls, revivals, corporate prayer, etc. “dangerous and manipulative.” I’m unsure what Bible they’re reading? If you follow Jesus through the Gospels and trace the Apostles through the Book of Acts you witness multitudes of people extemporaneously encountering the Holy Spirit. Those that make worship gatherings nothing more than religious routine are starving their parishioners. They obviously lack the faith to believe that God can move in the same ways He did in the New Testament.

Beyond these issues, prayer is a lost art in many congregations. It’s difficult to get people to focus on prayer for more than a few minutes in our worship gatherings. Have you noticed how people get fidgety as the service nears the sixty-minute mark? I’ve watched people walk out while serving communion because they don’t want to miss the beginning of an NFL game that’s going to last the rest of the evening. No wonder drive-thru, quick fix ritualistic services are so en vogue. We essentially advertise, “Lose your guilt, feel good about your life, and be on your way.” My friends, the anointing has left the building. We lack prayer, we lack power, and most of all we lack His Presence.

Now for the good news: With all of this distraction, God is doing something new. There is a generation on the horizon that’s desperate for an encounter. They are seeking God like never before. Revival is coming and is already here! The grassroots of this revival movement is longing for a return to an experiential faith. They desire something that brings transformation to individuals, churches, and spills over into entire communities.

Jesus and the Apostles didn’t institute a ritual; they unleashed the power of His Presence. They didn’t follow a one-year liturgical plan. In fact, they didn’t even have a one-hour plan. If what you think you know about practicing faith cannot be found in the life of Jesus and the Acts of the Apostles, then you have reason to doubt it. Jesus’s life is absolute perfect theology. The Apostles lived out of the direct anointing of His ministry and we should too. What Jesus and the Apostles did as described in the Bible is what we should be doing by faith, through the power of the Holy Spirit, right here, right now.

So, what did Jesus do? He prayed with people everywhere He went. He fasted intensely for days at a time. He accepted people wherever they were in life, but never left them where He found them. He made disciples persistently. He healed people openly. He gave to people freely. He wasn’t ashamed to preach the Kingdom boldly. His life is the standard. Are the things Jesus and the Apostles did happening in your church, ministry, university, school, home, life?

Stale spirituality sets in when we engage the head and neglect the spirit. Stale spirituality sets in when we gather to learn and suppress the notion to encounter. Stale spirituality sets in when we live in what was, or dream about what will be, yet neglect what is. Stale spirituality becomes a reality when we live with a form of godliness, but deny the power of Jesus. The Bible says to avoid such… (2 Timothy 3:5).

compromised-church

“The chief danger of the twentieth century will be religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell.” ~William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army)

Like so many other ideas, “tolerance” has been redefined in our postmodern society. Tolerance is something that focuses largely on morality. If one doesn’t embrace the behavior of another when that behavior is celebrated by society at large, then that person is likely to be labeled “intolerant.” This label carries consequences. Being called “intolerant” quickly discredits your views in the arena of public opinion.

Scripture is full of instances where Jesus interacted with people He didn’t agree with morally. Jesus teaches us that love has no boundaries. We are called to love people wherever they may be on their journey. That’s what true tolerance is: being willing to walk with and bear the burdens of others even though we disagree with their choices and behaviors. True tolerance says, “While I don’t agree with you, I love you anyway.”

Today’s view of tolerance requires much more than loving and walking with a person. Today’s tolerance requires that we celebrate a person’s choices. Today’s tolerance strips us of the ability to say that anything is “wrong.” This view doesn’t leave room for absolutes. It teaches us that we are incorrect, possibly bigoted, and certainly close-minded to even think that another person’s behavior misses the mark.

When properly defined tolerance requires one to identify right and wrong, truth and untruth, good and evil. It is recognizing that something that is less than what it should be and deciding that you can live with it. True tolerance means you endure something that you believe to be incorrect. Loving someone is different than celebrating immoral behavior. If you don’t believe something’s wrong, and you embrace it, that’s not tolerance. Jesus accepted everyone, yet with love and compassion, He also confronted their sin and offered them a better way.

Western culture has become a battlefield; truth and morality is what’s at stake. While we must remain tolerant toward all people, that doesn’t mean we should celebrate sinful behavior. The church is being influenced heavily by the cultural undertones of the day. We want to be liked so badly that we’re willing to compromise. What we end up compromising are the very things scripture declares as nonnegotiable. In our negotiations we forfeit the power of Jesus. Without His manifest presence there is no anointing, no transformation, and no sense of purpose.

In many ways the church has become a mere reflection of the American way. Entire denominations are revising the basic tenets of biblical theology as it pertains to Christian practice. Church leaders are legitimizing immorality because it’s become legal. Just because laws change regarding sin doesn’t make it right. We can legalize drug use, but that doesn’t make it right. We can legalize same-sex unions, but that doesn’t make it right. We make it lawful to deport people and rip families apart, but that doesn’t make it right.

Reports of our shifting views make the news all the time. A few years ago an openly gay bishop was ordained in the Episcopal Church. He went on record to say that he considered his relationship with his partner “sacramental.” Since when do the Episcopals get to make “sacred” what God calls an “abomination”?

We are so concerned with what everyone thinks that we’ve forgotten to care about what God thinks. Have you checked out the stats of some of the more “progressive” denominations lately? They’re in rapid decline. Why? Because God does not bless what He has declared in His Word as being wrong. It doesn’t matter what we call it. When the Holy Spirit withdraws from a group of people there’s nothing left to do but go though the motions and gather in powerless huddles hoping for the best.

Recent studies by Barna Research indicates that large percentages of people identifying as Christians see nothing wrong with occasional adultery, abortion, homosexual behavior, casual use of pornography, living together outside of marriage, and the use of profanity. Many of these same people don’t believe in Satan, and hell is merely a contemporary platonic construct, not an actual place. To add to the confusion only 15% of people who identify as Christian actually hold to any sort of biblical worldview.

I’ve interacted with people who adhere to many of the above-described views. A few years ago a candidate who was seeking ordination admitted to a few people in a restaurant if they were ever questioned about their beliefs concerning sexuality that they’d lie. They indicated that their cause was more important than the ordination process. Let that sink in. . . These up-and-coming progressive leaders have a cause that’s more important than anything else, including orthodoxy, scripture, sound doctrine, church tradition, and life-transformation.

This theological confusion is spreading across denominational spectrums. In a day and age where we need hope more than ever before we are offering people theological play-doh. The problem is not that these folks are being disingenuous. It’s just that they’ve accepted a worldview that is far from the one given to us by Jesus, Scripture, the Apostles, and the Early Church Fathers. Beyond that, they’re extremely intolerant of anyone who holds a more centered biblical view.

The immorality of western culture has created instability, confusion, and a church that is void of power. Many people who identify as Christian have aligned so closely with the postmodern religious narrative that they’ve lost the ability to recognize the “anointing” of God. In fact, they don’t even like words like anointing, manifest presence, glory, revival, etc. They rely solely on forms and functions. They can’t hear from God because their minds are muddled by the noise of postmodernity.

This is not who the Church is called to be. We are the Bride of Christ, the Body of Jesus, and the Light of the World. We are God’s ambassadors in a world void of hope and power. The Church is a group of called-out, sold-out, radical world-changers. The Church is on mission through the infilling power of the Holy Spirit as she takes presence of Jesus to communities all over the globe.

However, postmodern pollution has built a dam. The rivers of Living Water have been largely shut off. When the things God calls sin is continually validated in Christian articles, on Christian bookshelves, and in classrooms and pulpits, the source of this contamination is made clear. Yet, the dam is protected and even celebrated in the name of tolerance.

The good news is there’s a leak. God is raising up prophets. The Living Water is starting to seep through the cracks. There is a remnant of committed Christ-followers passionately calling out to Jesus. They are praying earnestly for revival every single day. They realize that the powerless tolerant form of religion that’s currently in vogue will never suffice in transforming the world. So, while these are serious times, they’re also exciting times. May we wait with hopeful hearts for the King of Glory to make His presence known once again.


(Sources: “Trouble with Truth” by Rob Renfroe; “Desperate for His Presence” by Rhonda Hughey; Barna Research Group)

Crown of thorns and bible on old wooden background

When speaking about “Essentials” we are referring to what is indispensable concerning Christian faith and practice. In reflecting upon this subject we always want to leave room for varying ideas, convictions, and opinions. However, we are often confronted with voices that want to make non-essentials essential, making the conversation all the more challenging.

The tribe of which I am part, the Church of the Nazarene, released a publication last year entitled “Nazarene Essentials” in an attempt to bring more clarity to the subject. Unity is the goal. For unity to exist among any group there must be underlying principles that the adherents of the group subscribe to. When digression from foundational doctrines takes place, harmony is lost.

The Bible has always been central in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. In John Wesley’s words, “God himself has condescended to teach me the way. He has written it down in a book. Oh, give me that book! At any price give me the book of God. Let me be a man of one book.” Later Wesley’s methods were categorized in what we call the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. In this, theological reflection and doctrinal development are filtered through four sources pertaining to what we believe and how we live as being: (1) Established in Scripture; (2) Clarified by Tradition; (3) Confirmed by Reason; and (4) Vivified in Experience.

Many churches today live in a state of tension due to an increasing openness toward social ethics. When cultural preferences begin to replace scriptural principles division is soon to follow. This error is common among religious progressives and conservatives. Progressives frequently rally around social issues and by default undervalue biblical standards. Conservatives tend to stress conformity to strict codes of conduct often resulting in legalism. Disunity occurs because people in both camps focus on personal convictions and preferences, thus placing too much emphasis on lower level theological issues.

So, how do we know what is most important? We must start with the Gospel; it is central to the Christian faith. Everything revolves around the birth, life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, it’s imperative to understand exactly what the Gospel is and what it is not. The Gospel is not my response to Jesus. The Gospel is not the results of believing in Jesus. Essentially the Gospel is the fact that Jesus, God incarnate, died for our sins, arose from the dead, ascended to the Father, and promised to return.

With that as a foundation allow me to provide four tiers pertaining to how we should distinguish Christian essentials from non-essentials. These lists are not exhaustive, but serve as a point of reference concerning levels of importance for Christian faith and practice.

Tier 1: Essentials. These are matters of orthodoxy versus heresy. In other words, you cannot be a Christian if you do not believe these things: (1) Doctrine of the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit); (2) Person and Work of Jesus Christ (deity, incarnation, atonement, resurrection); (3) Continual Work of the Holy Spirit; (4) Original and Personal Sin (we are born sinners in need of a savior); (5) Salvation by grace through faith; (6) Divine Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures (the bible reveals the nature of God and all things necessary for salvation). These are matters worth defending. It is appropriate to correct those who contradict sound doctrine in these areas.

Tier 2: Practices. These are matters that determine local church practice and ministry: (1) Polity or Church Governance; (2) Administration of Sacraments (Baptism and Communion); (3) Philosophy of Ministry; (4) Theological Persuasions (Calvinist vs. Arminian). These are issues that a local church needs to have general agreement on in order to minister effectively. While differences in these areas should not lead us to question one another’s faith, we might have to agree to exist in different fellowships.

Tier 3: Interpretations. These are matters that we can disagree on peaceably. Interpretations vary, but should never cause us to questions a person’s dedication to Christ. I will name a few that seem to get more attention: (1) End Times (preterism, historicism, futurism, etc.); (2) Views of Creation (literal 24-hour, gap theory, day-age, etc.); (3) Spiritual Gifts (miracles, healing, prophecy, etc.). I’ve pastored people who hold diverse opinions on various third tier theological issues, yet were able to exist in unity.

Tier 4: Convictions. These are often matters of the conscience, where scripture does not bind all, yet some may need to live a certain way while others live differently. Convictions often revolve around: (1) Education (public or private); (2) Politics (social issues); (3) Entertainment (movies, music, etc.). The last category refers to matters similar to the ones that Paul dealt with in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-11. When scripture does not give us a command, we must use wisdom. Also, we must refuse to lay our convictions on the shoulders of others.

Again, none of these lists are exhaustive. However, they do give us a place to start thinking about what is truly indispensable to the Christian faith. To be absolutely clear, the most essential part of our faith is Jesus. He is the way, truth, and life; no one comes to God except through him. So, the best advice I can give is… put Jesus first and with everything else live by the famous words of Saint Augustine, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.”


(Source: Nazarene Essentials; Discipline of The United Methodist Church; Derek Radney)

Trbal Trchotomy

Tribal name: Nazarene.  Tribal mission: Make Christlike Disciples in the Nations.  Tribal values: Christian, Holiness, Missional.  My tribe, the Church of the Nazarene, is typically described as faithful, loving, hard-working people engaged in the mission of God in the world.  However, as we transition further into postmodernity new dynamics are unfolding that are testing the authenticity of our love.

In fact, I believe there is more diversity in the Church of the Nazarene than ever before.  The following may not be a perfect description, but for the sake of communication I want to break the Nazarene tribe down into three groups (Israel had twelve, that must’ve been hard).  The tribal trichotomy of Nazarenedom, and I’m not talking politics, consists of: (1) Conservatives (sometimes fundamentalists); (2) Moderates (sometimes progressives); and (3) Liberals (sometimes processists).  Some may find themselves bouncing between more than one camp, however, they probably spend more time in one or the other.  The demand upon my spirit relates to these groups learning to live together like family.  Let me say that again… FAMILY.

I have two brothers and we could not be more dissimilar.  However, regardless of our differences, we love each other deeply.  I’m the oldest, I tend to be open to new ideas, love to think outside the box, an adventurer of sorts.  My middle brother is laid back, old-school, likes routine, committed to the fundamentals.  My younger brother likes to read Charles Bukowski and listen to whatever music Jack White might be producing at the moment.  My point, we are very different, but we are still brothers and nothing changes that.  Nazarenes are family, and I hope we won’t allow that to change.

The size of each camp within the tribe really doesn’t matter, but for the sake of conversation let’s establish a context.  My guess is that the Conservative group is approximately 70-80% considering we are an international tribe, with fundamentalism not existing across the board.  The Moderate crowd is maybe 15% with some being more conservative and others more progressive.  That means, the Liberal camp, in my estimation would be 5%, and not everyone in this camp would adhere to process theology although it’s influence is felt.  Again, these are estimates for the sake of perspective.

Now, let’s talk practical application.  With the secularization of North America, people are running away from anything that even hints at religion.  In years past “holiness people” have had the tendency to be extremely legalistic.  In this religiously perplexing era, I’d like to offer a few topics to help people identify where various members of our tribe fit into the mix.  The following are listed merely to help you differentiate and identify.

Scripture.  Conservatives (sometimes fundamentalists) have an inclination to read the Bible literally.  If the Bible says Jonah lived in the belly of a fish for three days, they consider it a historical fact.  Liberals (sometimes processists) think the Bible was written by divinely inspired humans.  They prefer to see the Bible as metaphor and are open to multiple interpretations, taking the Bible seriously, but not always literally.  Moderates (sometimes progressives) combine the two approaches.  They’re open to Jonah’s big fish story being accurate, but ultimately are looking for life application: what it means for us now.

Influences.  Conservatives sing the praises of James Dobson, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, Chuck Colson, and televangelists such as Pat Robertson.  The Liberal camp loves Reinhold Niebuhr, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren.  Moderates enjoy the company of C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Lesslie Newbigin, and Alan Hirsch.

Science.  Conservatives believe God created humans in their present form within the past 10,000 years.  The Liberal camp supports scientific method and the teaches that evolution plays a key role, yet reveres God as the source of evolutionary creativity.  Moderates are open to various theological concepts like the Gap Theory and Old Earth Creationism, but they don’t generally see it as an important spiritual issue.

Interestingly, though the differences are vast, the connection remains.  There’s something about Jesus and the 2,000 years of tradition that binds these three dramatically contrasting camps together.  Yes all who say they are followers of Jesus are considered the “Body of Christ.”  And that, at least theoretically, remains true for them even when they are uncomfortable with each other’s viewpoints.

For Nazarenes, we realize that we are not Calvinists, nor are we Universalists.  We are Wesleyans… and that’s where our unity stems from.  No one wants change for the sake of change.  We want change for the sake of mission.  We must refocus on the essentials.  To do that we must stop overemphasizing nonessentials and start extending charitable love where we disagree.  The only way to respect everyone is to recognize everyone as having a seat at the table.

What’s being tested is the authenticity of our love.  And let’s face it, the true test of our love is how well we spend it on each other.  If we can’t do it well with our own family, we don’t stand a chance at extending the family tree.  So, let’s meet in the living room, pull up a chair, and start a new conversation… Someone get the coffee started.

(Sources: Facebook Group “I’m Nazarene, Too”, Jason Rowinski, Hans Deventer, Douglas Todd of The Vancouver Sun)

Theology

Everybody has a theology. That is to say, everyone has a perspective of God and a way in which they interact with that perspective. You are what you think. What you think about God is the most important thought you will ever have. Personal theology is ingrained in the human experience. Everyone views the world through a lens: a belief system pertaining to how the world operates, morals that govern people’s conduct, and customs concerning how people interact in community. Every person’s worldview shapes their theology: social grids, ideas impressed early in life, and individual biases become so ingrained that virtually everything is viewed through life’s experiences.

Theological constructs dictate how others are treated, where boundaries are drawn and maintained, how religious congregations treat outsiders, how decisions are made, how we treat our children, how congregations worship, what stories we enjoy telling, and more. Things people say, their actions, and self-expressions all relate to their understanding of God. We are theological creatures. Understanding Missio Dei establishes a missional lens through which we can purposefully engage God and the world.

Theology is a broad subject. Narrowing theology down to the specific subgenre of “mission” helps us process how to effectively function as the Body of Christ in the world. However, if we believe the mission of God is linked to every aspect of his existence, then it doesn’t help as much as one would like in a pursuit to think “theologically.” God is mission; everything he does is part of his mission.

Given the global extent of the Christian faith, an astonishing variety of people are doing theology in diverse situations. Over the years, theology has developed some negative connotations. Many people perceive theology as being intellectual and abstract, undertaken primarily by trained professionals who use language and concepts beyond the reach of the common person.

However, I argue that theology is something that every person uses. I believe this because I’ve never met a person who doesn’t have an idea about God. Everyone believes something about God, even if they believe he doesn’t exist, that still counts. Therefore, theology is an enterprise in which all people enter into, even when they don’t realize it. Remember, we are theological beings and we can’t help it. God’s grace has touched the life of every human being. Therefore, no one can live and not consider the Creator and Sustainer of their very existence.

messy

Jesus is here. God is present. In all the confusion, in all the messy situations, in all of life’s painful circumstances… God is near. Too often we proceed with business as usual without recognizing the presence of God. The scripture declares that where two or three gather in the name of Jesus, he is there in a special way, working, moving, and changing lives (Matthew 18). As a pastor part of my job is to recognize the leading of the Holy Spirit and help people unite in the direction he is guiding. Will everyone follow? Probably not. Will God’s purpose be established? Yes it will.

Today, we are leading a new generation of Christ-followers. Our purpose is to equip them to rise above mediocrity, apathy, and the dumbing down of discipleship and instead teach them to be tried and true followers of our Lord and Savior. This initiative takes deep commitment; it takes the current leaders rising up and leading the way with passion and boldness. Without the kind of discipleship Jesus originated, we have little to no chance of making a difference for God in the world. Undisciplined disciples will not survive spiritually in today’s society.

So, how do we make better disciples who recognize the presence of God even in the messy parts of life? How do we change our discipling process? We preach, we teach, we go through curriculums, yet we struggle as disciples… We struggle at “obeying everything Jesus commanded.” We are often confused about what it means to “seek first the kingdom of God.” Many even struggle with the first commandment, which is putting God first and having whole-hearted passion for Jesus alone.

The chief goal of ministry today must be the making of true disciples, genuine followers of Christ. In our attempts at making disciples we must do what Jesus did… create small, tight-knit units that meet regularly for prayer, accountability, and fellowship. Jesus was able to accomplish his mission with the first twelve disciples because he created an atmosphere where they were in his immediate presence. They could ask intimate questions and he could give intimate answers. The first disciples literally experienced the presence of God… and we can too!

Remember, God is here. He is present.

Cast off the hindrances. Abandon the snares that have distracted you from full devotion to our Lord. Dedicate to sharing your life with people who you can love, trust, and experience God’s presence with. Follow him. Experience him. Love him. Invite him into the messiness of your life. Learn to trust God with everything and experience the blessing of his presence.  That’s what disciples do.


(Source: Discipled By Jesus by Hal and Debbi Perkins)

God is always up to something. It’s impossible to figure out exactly what, but sometimes you can just feel it in the air. Newness is in His nature. He makes all things new, and when they get old, he makes them new again. That’s why renewal is a process…it never ends. We’re always being made new, discovering new things, becoming new people, going new places, and developing new understandings about who God really is and what He’s doing in the world.

There is something magnificent, mysterious, and breath-taking about the universe. The way it’s all held together by a God who knows exactly what to do and precisely when to do it. I often lie on my hammock in the backyard and gaze into the sky at night and think to myself, “God is a wonderful artist… He never needs an eraser because he doesn’t make mistakes.”

Every time I look into the sky, it’s a brand new sight. I’ve never seen the same sky twice. He always gives a fresh perspective. Look out your window. Have you ever considered that you’re the only one in the entire universe with the view you have right now. Move an inch and the view changes. Have you ever considered that your view is always new.

Some people allow the ‘newness’ of God to slip through their hands. They get old and start complaining. They forget about all the great things God has done. In this condition their hunger for the presence of God departs and without even realizing it they stop living life to the fullest. They dry up and eventually breathe their last breath. I never want to be that person. I want to live in the newness of the life God has created for me, and I want to experience every last drop of it.

We are created to know God and to be known by God… to fall deeply in love with who he is and participate in all he does. For ‘newness’ to apply, we must allow the awareness of God’s presence to move from our brain to our heart. In the heart we experience renewal of the entire person. It’s where we learn to feel again; it’s where we rediscover all the things that make life worth living. Life cannot be understood in past-tense. It has to be lived in the present with an eye on the future.

Things are always changing… always moving forward. It’s God’s design; we might as well embrace it. Every person changes seasons in their lives; they can never recapture what once was. They have to change. If not, life will leave them and then they simply wait to die. Seasons of life remind us all that we must keep changing, there is no avoiding it.

You get one life, make it count. Give God everything you’ve got. Trust him in the good times and the bad. Realize he is always near, and always willing to make things new again. And he does t’s your job to spread newness like the flu. Give it to everyone you come in contact with… Be contagious with newness!