“Those of you who are leaders in the Church are going to pay a high penalty when you stand before God… because you did not have enough courage to stand up and confront the wicked.” (Paul Washer)
I’m sorry if this has become my longest post ever (about 4,500 words). I know you are all busy with your lives, but I ask you to please read it carefully, I believe it is that important. This issue I am responding to goes to matters of integrity, honesty, forthrightness, false accusation, and most importantly, the questions on what is or is not biblical Christian doctrine and practice.
The emergent church debate is alive and well in the Nazarene denomination. I believe much of it is due to a bunch of “loud mouth Nazarenes” who some say have nothing better to do than complain. But if not for those who refused to shut up, perhaps the emergent church train would not only have left the station long ago, but it would not even be in sight today. To you emergents out there, sorry if some of us have derailed those plans for a quick and thorough indoctrination, but such is the arena of ideas and debate. Now you have to deal with “the malcontents”- thus my response to Rev. David Felter, editor-in-chief of Holiness Today.
It seems to me there are three types of approaches going on in this emergent church “conversation.”
The first is the straight talk, “no beating around the bush” approach. That would be the approach taken by folks like me and other concerned Nazarenes. We are very straightforward in our writing as we seek to expose the false wolves in our midst. We believe, for instance, that open theism is outright heresy, because its very premise negates biblical prophesy, as well as God’s sovereignty. But whether you agree or disagree with our conclusions, we make accusations that are backed up with documented evidence and specific biblical refutation, of which the bulk of the evidence is the very words and teachings of those we accuse of contradicting scripture. We also are following the scriptural mandates to “rightly divide the word of truth” and to “expose”, “rebuke”, and “avoid” false teachers who cause divisions in the Body of Christ.
Secondly, there is the middle of the road approach. This has manifested itself in commentaries and position statements that have come from leadership, including the Board of General Superintendents. In these statements, it is difficult to pin down exactly what they think of the emergent church movement. Most of the statements involve generalized comments, such as condemnation of false teachers, but without saying just who are the false teachers. This has satisfied some, and frustrated others, including myself. But this approach generally does not tend to get a lot of people extremely upset, although some do want more answers in detail, as expressed in my open letter last week.
Thirdly, there is the character assassination approach. This method will use a lot of general statements of opinion but lacks specific details. But then it goes further and gets into the realm of accusation without substantiation or evidence. And thus the most recent character assassination piece, sadly, written by Rev. Felter. It is very disappointing to see this again, since I have tried several times to dialogue with him and get specific answers, but apparently, he prefers to write hit pieces about people like me or any other Nazarene who dares to buck the status quo. On three occasions I have written a commentary, then an open letter, followed by a second open letter, inviting a genuine dialogue about all the facts. Rev. Felter has chosen a different path.
So last week, I came across a new post by Rev. Felter. Frankly, he should not have bothered with it, because he continues on with cryptic writing full of words, but with very little substance. And more seriously, Rev. Felter throws out accusations without one bit of substantiation or proof. Now some will say that’s what we do, but the difference is quite simple: those of us who are calling on the carpet these emergent church promoters and their heresies, are actually providing substantiation and evidence, straight from their own testimony! Not so Dr. Felter in his latest post, which again leaves me wondering as to how much spin is there left to write.
I have written him several times in the past year, inquiring as to what is his position on the emergent church movement, and asking for specifics. He has never responded to me other than one unrelated email. Perhaps he just does not have the time to respond directly to me, but he certainly is responding (on his own website) to those of us who call ourselves concerned Nazarenes. And he is certainly attacking (again with no substantiation at all) many faithful Nazarenes who are simply expressing their dismay and concern about where our denomination is heading. I don’t believe that they deserve the dismissive ridicule and unsupported accusations coming from such an intelligent and well informed leader in the church. I for one seek to defend their integrity, as well as mine, in this response.
Rev. Felter’s entire post can be read at his site: I’m Concerned And It’s Time To Tame The Unruly Memes. I believe the issues I am addressing here are critical to the “conversation”, or lack thereof, that is going on in the Nazarene denomination. His quotes are in red italics.
To Rev. Felter, From an “Unruly Meme”:
Dr. Felter, I really think that you are either (a) not doing your homework and not analyzing the facts, or (b) you are doing your best to defend the indefensible, by attacking those who are concerned, rather than addressing directly the practices and teachings that we are condemning. And you need to realize that you are also going after much more than what you seem to perceive as a small, disgruntled band of unhappy Nazarenes who have nothing better to do than sit around thinking up the next person we can target for no good reason. It seems you still don’t take us seriously, even as many faithful Nazarene’s lives are in turmoil because of this so-called “emergent conversation.” Have you ever considered that? Following are some thoughts on what you wrote:
“Frequently I receive inquiries concerning the legitimacy of content developed by those who are harshly critical of the Church of the Nazarene. Their assumption is that the denomination is headed to hell in a handbasket. Numerous sites on the Internet have reflected the “concerns” of those who are “standing firm.” The allegations and charges are severe.”
It’s funny, but frequently I receive inquiries from Nazarenes all over the world now, asking me, “what is happening to our beloved denomination?” Rev. Felter, those you speak of who are harshly critical of the COTN, are Nazarenes themselves! Some have been members for over 50 years. These are folks who were brought up in, and were saved, because of the biblical holiness preaching in our church. I cannot speak for other concerned Nazarenes, but as for me, please feel free to mention my name in any of your critiques, because I have no problem with that and have nothing to hide in my attempts to get a dialogue going with leadership. In fact, we’ve been trying to have a “conversation” since at least the General Assembly last year, but unfortunately, no one seems willing to talk at this point. Is the denomination “headed to hell in a handbasket”, as you suggest is what we believe? I can’t answer that for sure, and I’m not a prophet, but I do know we are in big trouble, and if the ship’s course is not corrected, it will become another Titanic. You can quote me directly here: “The Nazarene denomination is heading for disaster if we do not tackle this problem head on, honestly, and biblically.”
“In some instances, perhaps some inquiry as to the legitimacy of their allegations should be made, although in a calm, Scripturally-mandated way, so that truth can indeed prevail without being blindly dragged through the court of Internet opinion.”
If any one of us is not doing this in a scripturally mandated way, please cite the specific scriptural support for that criticism, because we are willing to be corrected if we are not following proper biblical guidelines. However, I am very certain that we are. As far as doing it calmly, I myself am usually calm, but unfortunately, seeing pagan practices in a Nazarene church or school tend to upset me, and I also get a bit bothered at the thought of students walking away from the Lord because of false teachings- right in our own Nazarene universities! So please forgive me if I and others sometimes don’t appear to be as calm as we should. One can get nervous about the thought of losing a child from a terrible accident; so you can imagine getting all unraveled at the thought of just one child losing his soul for eternity.
And as far as you decrying the court of Internet opinion- well then, are you proposing a forum where we can gather with our leaders to discuss these issues? I’m all for it! I am reminded how at the emergent church session last year, run by Jon Middendorf and Scott Daniels, after we had asked GS Middendorf whether we could have a forum to present our side of the issues and he replied “that’s not likely”, you told us that “we need to go through proper channels.” Perhaps you can finally tell us the exact steps as to how to go through proper channels to air our grievances?
“Remember, you don’t have to have proof, nor do you have to submit to the scrutiny of vetting or fact verification in order to unleash a web-based attack on an individual or entity. All you need is a keyboard connected to the Internet.”
Are you implying that we are not basing anything on facts and proof? If so, please do some fact verification, and correct me and all the others in those instances where we have “twisted” the facts. And don’t forget, that you yourself are “using a keyboard connected to the internet”, therefore you have an opinion also. Perhaps you could back it up with proof next time.
“1. All Christians are concerned, or should be, not just an elite group populating the Internet.”
I will accept that you are a concerned Christian also. But I certainly do not consider myself elite. Do you consider yourself elite? Is NazNet an elite group, since many NazNetters have such a superior, elitist attitude, that perhaps you are talking about them, and not concerned Nazarenes? Have you read some of their posts recently? If you do, you will see a living, breathing definition of elitism right there; never mind that you will also read some very, very un-Nazarene and un-Christian theology (read this)! Yet I have not heard you criticize any of their work yet. Is NazNet more in line with your thinking, since they never seem to criticize anything at all, except concerned Nazarenes?
“It’s in our DNA to be concerned… We have the right to wear the colors of the concerned as much as anyone.”
Who is “we?” And is anyone taking away the right for you to be concerned? I’ve been asking all Christians to be concerned, Rev. Felter. And we are particularly concerned about doctrinal matters. And we are voicing those concerns, not just keeping silent and wringing our hands in distress, hoping it all goes away. That’s not how it should work in the Body of Christ. As many would say, “God is in control”; yet, that does not absolve us from standing for truth, and standing against error, loud and clear, without fear of being villified by our own.
“One of the cultural ideas that is being transmitted by the astroturfers in the Church of the Nazarene is that its impermissible to investigate any idea that has not been approved by, and comes from the Articles of Faith.”
You’ve got it wrong here in yet another assumption about us. What we disagree with is not the investigation of ideas; it is the dissemination of ideas to young, impressionable students as if those ideas were based on sound Christian doctrine! However, I confess, we are against any idea that contradicts the infallible word of God! In fact, we believe that the Scriptures are wholly and completely inspired by God, not by men, and in their entirety. Of course, I am sure you don’t think that prayer labyrinths is a good cultural idea for the Nazarene church.
“The lambasting of Trevecca Nazarene University’s incorporation of a prayer labyrinth as a sure and certain indication of the institution’s de facto surrender to New Age religion is laughable”
I am shocked, absolutely shocked! Yet I applaud you for at least not saying “guided prayer walk” (as now re-defined by Trevecca) instead of the correct name that it is, prayer labyrinth. Rev. Felter, If I am to understand that you are now defending prayer labyrinths- a pagan practice - then frankly, I am disappointed, because you are the editor-in-chief of Holiness Today, and you seem to now be giving your approval of this clearly ungodly pagan practice which is forbidden in Scripture, and which serves to only demean God’s work and the Holy Spirit’s work. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but what else can I conclude from this statement? So can we clarify this: do you or do you not believe that prayer labyrinths are unbiblical? Or are you still investigating this?
“Why is it that the cultural idea that it is impermissible to review, study, or evaluate different thoughts and forms, is being sanctified by the astroturfers as though such sanctions are indigenous to the Church of the Nazarene? Nothing could be further from the truth!”
Here is the problem, Rev. Felter. Nazarenes are not just “reviewing”, “studying”, or “evaluating” such things as prayer labyrinths. They are using them as worship tools, in violation of biblical commands, and replacing the sufficiency of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit, with inward turning rituals that focus on themselves and what they do, rather than what Christ has done!
“The Nazarene academy has granted academic freedom to explore even those ideas inconsistent with our foundational theological understanding, with the knowledge that in the pursuit of truth, the Holy Spirit who is the author of all truth can enable us to grasp the rich treasures of that truth, enabling us to make the compelling, Scriptural case for our beliefs.”
And if a few students (many trust their professors without question) walk away from the faith as a result of this great, unbridled academic freedom? What then shall we say about that? Yes, the Holy Spirit is the author of all truth. But I am reminded of the scripture in Matthew 18, when Jesus says it would be better to “have a millstone hung around his neck than to cause one of His little ones to stumble or sin”. I prefer a millstone. I prefer to see that any future student is instructed in the way he should go, and to be told the difference between sound doctrine and heresy, rather than letting him figure it out without any guidance whatsoever.
“Am I saying we should unquestionably acquiesce to every wind of doctrine, practice or belief that contradicts the essence of our beliefs? Absolutely not!”
Then, is it possible that you and others could start openly condemning specifically that which is unholy, unbiblical, untrue, and in error? What do you think we have been trying to tell so many people, Dr. Felter? We are warning them about every wind of doctrine, practice and belief that contradicts Holy Scripture (not the Nazarene Manual). Yet even though you just said something significant here, you have not specified which winds of doctrine that you disagree with. Do you believe in the heretical teaching of open theism? If not, then reject it loud and clear, and speak out against those who are teaching it to our students! Write an article on it in Holiness Today! Look, if leaders have made mistakes by embracing some of this emergent stuff, let them admit it, repent, correct it, and move on to full obedience to Jesus Christ!
“I am not a big McLaren fan…I think he’s got some things all wrong. I am not a huge fan of Ken Blanchard, Erwin McManus or Len Sweet. But does this mean that I can’t learn something from them”
In two sentences, you just mentioned four false teachers! Yet, all that you can say is, “I’m not a McLaren fan?” What about his thorough disrespect and low view of scripture? What about his concept that John 3:16 means Jesus came to save the planet- the earth? Or that end-time believers need to be robustly confronted? Or his utter disdain for the Cross as perhaps being false advertising for God? What about Len Sweet’s bizarre quantum New Age thinking? Or Ken Blanchard for that matter? And Erwin McManus? Do you really know these guys? Have you ever given specific reasons for not being a fan of these people, and did you give scriptural support to refute them? If they are tainted with false teaching, yes, by all means, let’s throw out the baby with the bath water! That’s what we can learn from them.
“St. Paul said, “No man is an island.” I can learn from others, even from some of their half-baked ideas.”
Actually, the apostle Paul did not say that quote, it is not in the Bible. It was said by John Donne, (1572-1631). It appears in Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII, 1624. (Ironic that it has the word emergent in the title). The idea of learning from others is fine, but it gets pretty dicey when we think we can risk learning good from those who are purveyors of untruth, who mix lots of truth with a bit of error. (I’m sure we can learn some good from the Satanic Bible). But this is a working definition of false prophets, Dr. Felter, and you know that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.” The lesson we can learn from those with “half-baked ideas”… is to reject them completely!
“1. The basic premise of many of their objections is rooted in Reformed theology, not the Wesleyan-holiness perspective.”
This is a recurring strawman argument. No one I know who is a concerned Nazarene is a Calvinist, and our objections are based on Holy Scripture, nothing else. Theological labels are useful sometimes, but irrelevant here. And if anything, those who oppose us are clearly trying to re-write Wesleyan history, some even claiming that John Wesley was emergent, which is laughable. He would roll over in his grave to see some of the error coming into our denomination that is trying to pass for Wesleyan theology. John Wesley would have roundly criticized Brian McLaren much the same way that he called out the Roman Catholic Church as apostate. John Wesley was not emergent, but perhaps he would be a Concerned Christian now!
“2. The theological process by which these individual(s) extract their positions does not follow John Wesley’s wonderful procedure known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Reason, Tradition, and Experience.”
You may be preaching to the emergent choir, but not to me. And I am seeing a pattern here. There is more emphasis on John Wesley as the basis to refute us, and so far, no emphasis on scripture. Wesley also believed in the inerrancy of scripture, yet the emergents ignore that tidbit of information. But, how much more will you cite John Wesley, instead of refuting us with biblically sound arguments? No matter what John Wesley or anyone says, Scripture trumps everything as far as authority over our lives, because man’s reason, tradition, and experience is prone to error. Jesus Christ is THE WORD, but His written word ought to be held up to the highest respect and final authority, because it IS the word of God. And those are the only words I trust completely.
“4. They have created straw men against which to mount massive attacks in the name of purifying the church of New Age thought. In truth, they really do not understand New Age thought.”
Who are these straw men, Rev. Felter? Can you please give specifics again? This is another accusation, without substantiation. And I think I have a pretty good understanding of what is New Age, but can you explain New Age thought to us?
“5. They have labeled precious individuals with scurrilous comments and false accusations, raising unnecessary questions about motives they cannot possibly read from afar, and often creating unnecessary suspicions and the cloud of doubt.”
This statement was the final straw for me. It painfully reminded me of accusations thrown at me publicly last year, without any basis in truth, without any substantiation or proof. Since then, I’ve heard more of the same, but the same pattern remains. If you were a lawyer in court, the judge would have roundly scolded you if you brought up charges like this without evidence. Therefore you owe all these people that you are accusing a sincere apology, or if not, then show the evidence that demonstrates that your allegations are true.
We name names and provide documented evidence, and let the readers decide for themselves! On the other hand, you plainly accuse us of “scurrilous comments and false accusations”, and then you don’t follow it up with any proof whatsoever. Which precious individuals have we falsely accused, and for what reason? Can you name one false thing that I have fabricated on my blog? Or perhaps from the other concerned Nazarenes such as the Nazarenes-Standing Firm folks, or Concerned Nazarenes, or sadnazarene, or Nazarene Psalm 11:3, or ex-nazarene, or maybe Help For Nazarenes? Or NazNet Distorts? Or maybe Nazarenes for Biblical Creationism? I’ll personally retract any mistakes you can point out. If not, please stop accusing us of something without substantiating it?
“6. They have created distractions that have absorbed the energies of the church needlessly and without blessing or benefit either to the Body of Christ, or to the accomplishment of our mission.”
If “distractions” means that we have awakened some in the church to the heresies invading our beloved denomination- then I am very glad that has happened. And I disagree- it is always a blessing to the Body of Christ when false teachers are exposed to the light of truth. And I assure you, Dr. Felter, we will not stop doing this, until every false teacher and false doctrine is revealed to our brothers and sisters in Christ, Nazarene or not, who can then make their own decisions as to their future in any denomination.
“7. They have created a smokescreen of innuendo by mislabeling everything that is different either New Age, Contemplative Spirituality, Spiritual Formation, or Emergent. Every variant and manifestation has its dangers. Emotionalism can breed a sentimentalism devoid of true holiness.”
Again, I believe you say much here by way of accusation and over-generalization, but you show little substantiation for it. We are not labeling everything that we see as New Age; we are only labeling New Age for what it is, and the predominant bulk of teaching of Spiritual Formation in our universities is based on mystical practices that have no basis in scripture. But no one seems to want to have a real “conversation” about it. And what would you label books and teachings by such authors as Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, and Richard Foster? Do these people write in the tradition of great holiness writers? It seems that those kind of speakers and writers are fading fast from our Nazarene landscape, to be replaced by such as these I mentioned. I believe the following scripture is an accurate description of all these false teachers circulating in our denomination today:
“They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” Jude 12b, 13
“For the sake of our Lord, His Church, and the mission to which He calls us, I urge us to be alert and recognize that God is building His Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it!”
This is about the only part of your article that I agree with! I do trust that God is building His church, and it has nothing to do with membership numbers, and I know for certain that the gates of hell will not prevail against it! But Rev. Felter, I’m not so sure about the future of the organization called Nazarene. I’ve been a Nazarene all my life, yet I am certainly aware that “The Church” is not simply comprised of Nazarenes. No sir, the real Church is the invisible church, that which is living in obedience to Christ and is not being tossed around, as you said, “by every wind of doctrine.”
The Church of God, the true Church, will not be destroyed. On the other hand, I cannot say that for certain about the Nazarene organization. My question to you is, will you be a part of facilitating it’s destruction, or will you stand up for the truth, even if it costs you your job. I know several pastors who have taken that stand, Rev. Felter, and they counted the cost. One was fired unjustly, and another “divorced” from our denomination along with his entire congregation. Oh, but to have a few more men with backbone who will put the Lord first above their position and standing. God builds His church not with numbers, but through faithful servants, no matter how few. Remember the 7,000 that did not bow the knee to Baal?
Rev. Felter, as I close, for the sake of our Lord, I exhort every Nazarene and Christian who is reading this, to fight those who are spreading false doctrines in our churches. Do not be silent. You suggested that “it’s time to tame the unruly memes”. Sorry, it’s not going to happen. Speaking out against heresy is our responsibility and duty as Christians, and it is not an option. I suggest you go back to the beginning of this post, and read the quote from Paul Washer.
And if you can put in a good word for me, I am willing to come to Lenexa or Kansas City at my expense to speak with any or all of the General Superintendents about our concerns.
Sincerely in Christ,
P.S. Rev. Felter, I have not sent this to your email address. If you wish to be placed on my email list, please let me know.
2 Corinthians 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.