General Superintendents: An Emergent Position Statement?

Recently, the Board of General Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene addressed various district superintendents (not sure if it was all) with a letter that referenced the Emergent/Emerging Church issue.  As you will see in the letter, they provided a document (it follows the letter) to the DS’s, that the generals recommended the D.S.’s use as a means of explaining the generals’s position to others who might inquire about the emergent church.  Some of us have had some time to think about this document and what it says and/or might mean.  There are certainly some good things in it, yet some of the content is also troubling.  I will not comment on either today, but simply let you read the letter and the document, and will post some remarks in a few days.  Feel free to respond to me with your own thoughts on these letters.

ORIGINAL LETTER TO THE DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENTS:

May 4, 2010

District Superintendents

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As you are aware, there is much conversation among Nazarenes throughout the United States and Canada regarding the “Emergent/Emerging Church.” There has been at least one minister who has chosen to leave the Church of the Nazarene because of what he perceived to be our involvement in the emergent movement.

We recently received a copy of a letter that was sent from a district advisory board to one troubled pastor. We believe this is a well-written, well-thought-out letter that states our doctrine very clearly and succinctly and upholds everything that our denomination has stood for since its founding over 100 years ago.

We want you to have this letter as a means of explaining our position to others. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us at any time.

Board of General Superintendents

Dr. J. K. Warrick
Dr. Jerry D. Porter
Dr. Jesse C. Middendorf
Dr. Eugénio R. Duarte
Dr. David W. Graves
Dr. Stan A. Toler

THE ACTUAL LETTER SENT BY A DISTRICT ADVISORY BOARD TO A PASTOR WHOSE CHURCH DECIDED TO SEPARATE FROM THE CHURCH OF THE NAZARENE (WITH NAMES REMOVED):

Dear

Your recent resignation of ministerial credentials in the Church of the Nazarene has raised the question as to whether or not the denomination is accepting and promoting heresy through embracing the “emergent/emerging” church movement.

It’s always legitimate to examine the direction of a church, especially in a day such as ours with the destabilization of society’s institutions, growing cultural diversity, and new challenges to missional outreach. However, after examining your concerns, we do not believe the Church of the Nazarene is engaging in heresy, nor embracing the “emergent church” movement.

There are some misunderstandings which have grown from using the terms “emerging” and “emergent” interchangeably.  They are not the same.  The Emergent Church finds its roots in the Emergent Village which is an intellectual and philosophical network made up of writers and thinkers such as Brian McLaren, Toney Jones, Doug Pagitt and others.

These individuals are unorthodox in many of their theological positions and are all over the map in methodology.  They are far from being unified as a movement.  The General Superintendents have issued the following statement regarding the Emergent Church;

Sadly some in the Emergent Church have messed with the message. They have started down the road of compromise, eliminating the ‘useless baggage’ of specific scripturally based religious convictions.  Such misguided attempts to eliminate critical theological content may lighten the load of some churches. It may even create a temporary euphoria of false freedom. In the end, however, these choices will prove to be liabilities.

Some in the Emergent Church have substituted the solid rock of Biblical Authority for the shifting sands of human reasoning. Dismissing the supernatural attributes of God as mere holdovers from older times leaves the Church with an impoverished understanding of God. The subtle seduction of other narratives infiltrates the very heart of the Gospel message, leaving it weakened in the face of great challenge.”

We think it’s clear from the above statement that the General Superintendents are not about to lead the Church of the Nazarene in embracing the Emergent Church.

Emerging Churches, on the other hand, are churches that recognize the non-negotiable elements of our historic faith while adapting their methodologies for a rapidly changing culture.  We believe the Church can and must remain steadfastly committed to the faith of the Bible and the theological statements of the Church of the Nazarene; while redemptively speaking to the culture. The preservation of orthodoxy does not militate against the options of new and innovative methods of making Christlike disciples.

You  spoke of the Church adopting “Catholic practices” such as lectio divina, contemplative prayer and meditation to “produce transcendental experiences”.  Lectio Divina means “divine reading”.  It is an ancient method of allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to you, direct and teach you while you are engaging in Bible study and prayer  (John 14:26).

In the opening pages of Nazarene Publishing House’s Lectio Divina Bible Studies, we read the following steps and desired outcomes of this method:

1) a time of quieting oneself prior to reading the word
2) focusing the mind on the central theme of the text
3) carefully reading the passage of scripture
4) explore the meaning of the Bible passage
5) yielding yourself to God’s will
6) expressing praise, thanksgiving, confession or agreement with God
7) resolving to act on the message of the scripture

Instead of being something negative, we believe the above steps and desired outcomes will greatly aid our people in becoming Christlike disciples.

You also raised the concern regarding silence and meditation as Catholic practices.  The scripture advises us “to be still and know that I am God”. (Psalm 46:10).  The Hebrew word for meditate, “hagah “, is used 25 times in the Old Testament.  The word means to “muse” or “to quietly think about”. We are told to meditate on:

1)   the scripture (Joshua 1:8)
2)   the person of God (Psalm 63:6)
3)   the works of God ( Psalm 77:12)
4)   and on God’s precepts and statutes ( Psalm 119:23, 48)

We are not blanking out our minds and chanting some transcendental meditation mantra. Meditation in the Judeo-Christian tradition is radically different from that practice. Christian meditation involves a focus on God and His Word, and quieting ourselves while engaging in this devotional discipline.

You wrote about the pastor/missionary being fired allegedly for speaking out about the emergent church movement. We only get one side of the story from the article.  Legal issues prevent the discussion of personnel matters in an open forum so we really don’t know the whole story.

Finally, let me mention the “Everything Must Change” conference.   McLaren’s book Everything Must Change and conference named after it is simply a rehashing of old classic liberalism and “realized eschatology” from around the turn of the 20th century with a green twist.  The Church of the Nazarene does not embrace that position; but we must engage it. We must be in conversation with it if we are to remain an influential force in our culture for Christ.  Otherwise, we will simply slink into the obscure corner of historic irrelevance; congratulating ourselves on our holiness, while the world disintegrates around us.  The Church of the Nazarene must remain vigilant that we neither compromise our message of holiness; nor ignore the cultural challenges around us.

We regret the decision you made to leave us; but we wish you well in your new venture.

In Christ’s Service

END OF DOCUMENT

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25 responses to “General Superintendents: An Emergent Position Statement?

  1. Thank you Manny, for posting this statement.
    I had seen comments, quotes and chats about the above document but have been unable to view it until now.

  2. This letter was issued by a representative of the Central Ohio District Advisory Board as a response to my resignation letter to them. Could it be any more clearer that the Central Ohio District and the Gen. Supt.s have sold out? Lectio Divina is harmless…right? They are allowing Brian McLaren and his imps to freely indoctrinate the students of the colleges at the expense of the budget paying local pastors. How can they say that they are engaging the culture if opposing Biblical viewpoints are withheld in these conferences?
    How can Nazarene Pastors read this and continue to peddle the Nazarene brand? We needn’t search the darkened alleys to find the devils puppets…they now reside in district and national denominational offices.
    In the name of Jesus we need people to stand up and be counted on the side of Truth…

    Pastor Rick Headley aka “One Troubled Pastor”.

  3. Are we now at a point and time where church from within our own homes is the only safe place to receive and study the true Word of God?

  4. Manny/Rick/ Advisory Board Central Ohio/ and GS’s

    “Thus says the Lord: ‘Stand in the ways and see, And ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it.” Jer. 6:16.
    The following verses (17-30) describes what will happen depending upon the path one chooses. When in doubt God instructs His people to choose the old paths that have tried and proven to be true, not the new false ideology of the emergent church we are seeing today. There have been and continues to be a lot of controversy about what path the Nazarene Denomination has choosen especially since many of those who foster the emergent ideology such as those mentioned in the above letter are invited to speak on our college and seminary campuses, and are invited to speak at our pastor’s conferences. From appearance sake it would look like we endorse their ideology. The old saying “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck,” you fill in the rest. The GS’s statement only addressed their opinion of the emergent church and pointed out some of the damgers it presents. However, they never denounced it to the point that the Denomination shall sever all ties to those who embrace its ideology. In other words they will not be allowed to speak at any gathering that rflects our church in any way. Now to the Central Ohio District letter concerning Pastor Rick’s resignation. There was some controversy over Catholic practices primarily concerning “Lectio Divina” Latin for divine reading. A little history lesson will be helpful and shed some light where Pastor Rick might have come from regarding his concern for our church and his district
    defending this practice. The practice was started by Benedict and Pope gregory and Romans (10: 8) is cited for support of the practice. A careful reading of Romans 10: 8 and following verses are a stretch to reach that conclusion. Saint Benedict in is his rule
    stipulated specific times and what manner would be used for “Lectio Divina.” It went from progression (Bible reading) to mediatation, to prayer, to finally a loving regard for God. In the 12th century Guigo called it a 4 step ladder of prayer: First one reads, this leads one to think, thinking leads to prayer, then points one to the gift of quietness called contemplation. Later Pope Benedict XVI stated in part: “I would like in particular to recall or recommend the ancient tradition of Lectio Divina: If it is effectively promoted, this practice will bring to the church a new spiritual springtime.” What I see wrong with this practice is it paralyzes the Christian in their faith. their walk before God becomes little more than a robot. The Catholic church practiced this for years. If there were any value in this they would be the most spiritual people on earth. God wants His people to have a dynamic relationship governed by the Holy Spirit, I do not think that Lectio Divina as practiced can do this. Second statement “paraphrased We must engage and be in conversation with it if we are to remain an influence for Christ. I thought Christ said; “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” John (3:14) By courting false ideology we will compromise our message of holiness in time the leaven has to do its work as Jesus warned us to be aware of. The letter is off to a good start but falls short and leaves the door open for more false teachings.

    Lige

  5. “We must be in conversation with it if we are to remain an influential force in our culture for Christ. Otherwise, we will simply slink into the obscure corner of historic irrelevance; congratulating ourselves on our holiness, while the world disintegrates around us.”

    Wow.

    ….making a deal with the devil to be relevant in a sin filled world…

    When did Nazarene Pastors and Nazarene Leadership become so weak and political? Were they always this way?

    Leviticus 19:2
    “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”

  6. “When did Nazarene Pastors and Nazarene Leadership become so weak and political? Were they always this way?”
    I spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out if I missed some of the signs along the way. I don’t think this has happened over night.

  7. Manny this is sad! What a compromise when we
    look to anything but Gods word to reach the lost. The Gospel is, was, and will forever be the power of God unto salvation to all who believe. It has passed
    the test of time for over two thousand years and was, and is, sufficient for every culture..
    To take on Catholic pagan practices and try
    to Christianize them will only bring more judgement on
    our denomination.
    Until there is a consensus among our Generals to forsake this Roman Catholicism and the emergent heresy (that has freely been promoted in our denomination) we will crash.
    If they are prone to head back to Rome, they will go without many of us. God said ” Come out of her, my people that ye be no partakers of her sins, and that ye
    receive non of her plagues. (Rev.18:4)
    May the Lord help us in this day of the “great falling away.”

  8. Rev Rick,

    Rev Rick said, “I spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out if I missed some of the signs along the way.”

    I’ve been praying about this for so long.

  9. So now I’m curious…. Will those of you who believe that our denomination has lost its way, and see this statement endorsed by the General Superintendents as confirming that — will you all be following Rick’s example and leaving the denomination now? Was this “the last straw”?

  10. Oh no… Rich, it won’t be that easy, at least in my view. I’m not going to go down in this battle right now. However, everyone decides what to do what is best in their circumstances. I do not fault Rick or his church at all; they had to do what they did based on their situation, and I believe they did it prayerfully, and that it was a difficult decision.

    Perhaps my day might come, but if so, I will know it. Until God directs me then to move on, I am in the fight.

  11. Manny is right.
    People leave for differing reasons.
    We left because we couldn’t in good conscience tithe anymore, knowing that part of our money was going to the univesities and seminary and publishing house.

    We also felt we needed to get our teenagers into a NON-Rob Bell Nooma environment. Rob Bell is endorsed and used by most (not all) youth pastors.
    We have our teens in a very strong Bible teaching youth group that is strong in apologetics and systematic theology. It’s not dry, but the teaching is really interesting and well done. We see them being equipped to face life through scripture each time they meet.

    We would like to come back IF the Nazarene denomination denouces the liberal-emergent path and it is apparent that the schools and publishing house do a thorough purge.

    We still have family members who are part of the church, so we still care about the direction of the church…..for their sake.

  12. My pastor made a comment about what he learned from attending a Nazarene Camp Meeting in his youth and it brought back old memories to me. It’s said that I hear it within a Baptist church though.

    I will still be in this fight with Manny even though I won’t attend a Nazarene church in my area. It is hard to let go of 80+ years of Nazarene family heritage.

  13. Hi Manny:

    I’ve been thinking about this statement for a couple of days. I see some encouragement and I see a continued need for concern as well.

    I am encouraged that the GS’s are engaging this subject, their involvement hopefully will bring direction, and I’m holding out hope that this direction will be positive. I am encouraged that they have endorsed this letter from Ohio where they have named Brian McLaren, Toney Jones, Doug Pagitt and others as unorthodox. Hopefully they will strengthen this stand against false teachers. I am troubled that they feel that they must engage them, I would certainly rather that they would expose them in the areas where they lead astray. And I am encouraged that they recognize where the emergent church has “messed with the message”

    On the subject of spiritual formation, we are also seeing some movement, although I will admit not much. So far this seems to be an attempt to redefine terms. I can agree that we need to quiet our hearts before the Lord, we need to prayerfully contemplate the meaning of scripture. I am troubled that somehow it is believed that we need to do this in am organized fashion through the medium of a labyrinth, or predescribed method such as Lectio Divina. I pray to a God who is alive, I have no need of a program to carry out this conversation any more than I would need training in order for you and I to have a conversation.

    Overall I find this letter encouraging, it indicates that our church is indeed listening at the highest levels and it indicates that our leaders have a concern to “get it right”. Sure it isn’t much, but I am reminded that a large organization moves slowly. We didn’t get to this point of concern overnight, I’m thinking that the return will be the same.

    The Generals have also issued another statement which I feel is very important. In it they emphasize the uniqueness of Christ. They make it clear that there is no other name by which we may be saved. To me this is the bedrock of our faith. No other name!

    http://www.ncnnews.com/nphweb/html/ncn/article.jsp?id=10009167

    I should also add that this is not a problem everywhere in the Church of the Nazarene. I attend a Nazarene church where emergent theology isn’t found, not one bit. I have visited a couple of churches in the Maine district, very traditional Nazarene churches. Two weeks ago I visited Clearwater First Church in Florida, very good bible based message there. I am sure that there are many good solid Nazarene churches across this great land of ours.

  14. Thanks Jim. Good thoughtful comments. I also like the reminder at the end that there are still many solid Nazarene churches around who uphold the holiness tradition and the Bible. I also attend a Nazarene church where emergent ideology is rejected. I thank God for pastors who are taking a stand.

  15. Jim, thank you for the good word! My prayer is, those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.

    Psalm 126

    1 When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion,
    we were like men who dreamed.
    2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
    Then it was said among the nations,
    “The LORD has done great things for them.”
    3 The LORD has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.
    4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
    like streams in the Negev.
    5 Those who sow in tears
    will reap with songs of joy.
    6 He who goes out weeping,
    carrying seed to sow,
    will return with songs of joy,
    carrying sheaves with him.

  16. Pam: I’m not sure that I am qualified to answer your question about when did Nazarene Pastors and Nazarene Leadership become so weak and political?
    Were they always this way? Allow me to try. I became a Christian in 1962 after serving in two branches of our Armed Forces having done things I was ashamed of as a lot of us have done. All I knew was that I wanted to get my life straightened out and the Nazarene Church offered what I needed. Their message was one of old fashion salvation and holiness. The pastor that I was saved under was a man of God who would not compromise his convictions. He preached as one having authority, and for that I was greatful. I was ordained under the leadership of Dr. Samuel Young (GS) who was a no-nonsense GS. In fact GS’s like Dr’s V. H. Lewis,mEugene Stowe, William Greathouse, D. I. Vanderpool, Edward Lawlor, to, mention a few. When these men spoke you sensed they had been with God and that mattered was Jesus Christ. In my opinion our denomination began losing its way over a period of time when we became an International Church. Leadership lines started to become blurred as added responsibility was added to the already busy schedule of our GS’s. I’m afraid that being politically correct and to become more pleasing began to take center stage and the drifting that has taken place in our church is now become more evident. My prayer is that our Leadership and Pastor’ will once embrace the courage that our former leaders had and come back to the message of holiness without fear and standup for the gospel and not be ashamed of who we are and not try and cater to the world by embracing such ideology as the emergent church is teaching and influencing our young people on our campuses. I would find it hard to believe that the Leadership past would have ever allowed this to happen.
    Hope this helps

  17. Lige,

    You mentioned names of some great Nazarene pastors. I was dedicated as an infant by Pastor Greathouse before Pastor Morsch took over for him. These men did speak with authority and you knew they were true men of God.

    There is definitely a difference with those men compared to some pastors I have encountered today within the denomination.

    Thanks for refreshing my memory of times past.

  18. Rich:
    I am in a much better postion now to take on the heresy in the COTN. I am totally freely speak to Nazarenes in my area about their denomination. I don’t have to answer to a D.S. or District Advisory board I am totally free to proclaim the truth about this heresy. I am not going to stop until they discover the truth and force a change in their church or they leave.
    I care too much about my brothers and sisters to leave them. Sorry to say we won’t go away that easy Rich….

  19. Lige,
    Several years ago I heard VH Lewis preach in a morning session at General Assembly. I was a fairly newly licensed minister in the COTN. It was my first GA. He stepped to the podium preached a message titled “God First”. He never looked down at his notes, he just preached from his heart for over an hour. The crowd inside the Hoosier Dome was silent, there was no moving around. God came down in that place. I will be forever changed by Godly Nazarenes like him.
    Brother Carlton Mills has also been a man whom God has used greatly to influence the churches I have Pastored as well as my family. If God could just see fit to raise up great people like these in the COTN the ship might not go down.

  20. Manny,
    I understand that everyone’s situation is different. I pray for God’s clear direction in your life, as I do for all of us who follow him.

    Rick,
    I was just curious how this letter affected people’s decisions with respect to the denomination and what those decisions might be. I wasn’t trying to imply that anyone should just “go away.” Sorry if I gave that impression.

    Re: the great General Superintendents and Nazarene preachers of days gone by… Our family housed some of those GS’s in our home during district assemblies when I was young. (I’m a PK: Pastor’s Kid.) I remember sitting on one’s knee in our dining room after dinner, etc. We’ve been blessed with good leaders down through the years. And, throughout our history, we’ve also had our share of weaker preachers and leaders. It’s not quite fair to compare the best of the best from days gone by to the average or poor leaders we may have encountered more recently.

    I believe we are still blessed with good leaders and preachers today. Twenty, thirty, forty years from now, I imagine people will be fondly remembering some of today’s leaders just like you’re remembering those of earlier years.

  21. Rich Schmidt,

    Thank you for the clarification re: “go away” from your May 19th response. I was “smarting” from that one.

    Many people have been chased out of their churches for disagreeing, it has become a very painful issue. I’ve seen Seniors who help build and pay for the church during their life times chased out in the name of “make the gospel more appealing to our generation.”

    A few Nazarene Pastors that I’ve been under have become cowboys herding cattle instead of shepherds leading sheep.

    Lige,

    Thank you for the well thought out reply. It helped. We may not get some answers on this side of heaven. That letter was hard because I thought if the GS’s deal with this it will just go away. That illusion was blown out of the sky for me.

    I find myself asking what is my responsibility as a lay person who wants Christ’s church to be healthy. When do you confront and when do you walk away? During these blog discussions I really have to take a lot of time to talk to Jesus, forgive, forgive, forgive, and seek wisdom & direction from God’s word.

  22. RevRick:

    I am truly sorry to hear of the conditions of your departure. I’m sure that you struggled greatly with this before taking this step that you felt was necessary.

    I can tell you that we still have great men leading us, I listened to one last night and again this morning at our District Assembly.

    His sermon last night at our communion service was based upon the instructions given to build the ark of the covenant. He read the scripture from Exodus, then he stated that this was not a scripture that we read over and over again. However this is scripture he said, “This is the word of God” He said this slowly deliberately and reverently. His sermon focused upon us reading and following the instructions contained in the Word.

    This morning he preached a charge to the ordination candidates. He was very clear, that they were charged with “preaching the word” he gave careful exhortation that never should they be carried away with their own ideas, their charge was to preach the word, and not to mess with the message.

    I am convinced that our General Superintendent EuGenio Duarte, is a great man of God following in the footsteps of great men before him and more importantly he is following in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

    There is hope, continue to warn, but remember there is hope!

  23. That’s a wonderful and encouraging report, Jim!

    However, as long as professors are allowed to promote “their own ideas”, students will still be caught away to a distorted view of scripture and distorted view of the character of God.

    Take a look at this blog entry for example:

    http://thomasjayoord.com/index.php/blog/archives/comparing_bible_and_quran/

    Towards the end, read THIS sentence from Lodahl’s book. Lodahl changes what is stated in Revelation and in other books in the Bible, because it doesn’t line up with his opinion on the Last Days.
    Some of these influential teachers want to re-write the warnings of destruction and judgment in the latter days.

    QUOTE:
    Lodahl argues that because there is “no evidence that God is interested in coercing Christians into a life together,” we have no good reason to “expect that at some point God will resort to coercion, a kind of divine violence, in order to usher in a world of righteous love” (198).

  24. exnazarene:

    I do share your concern about our universities. I will not send my children there, I’m sure that we have many good professors, but the risk is too great at this time.

    The only help we can give is to elect delegates to General Assembly that will pass articles helping in areas of concern. Our schools are constrained by our articles of faith.

  25. I just found out that my pastor will be teaching an extension class titled “Spiritual Formation” for our district. I plan on asking him what he will be using as a text and authority for the class. I am concerned that he is not even aware of the larger picture.

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