Update, May 30, 2011: Rev. Felter’s post apparently disappeared today, but I have the full article copy at the end of my commentary:
In a new article on his blog, What About Those Nazarenes?, the editor of Holiness Today, David Felter, continues his analysis of the emergent church influence on the Church of the Nazarene. In the past, I have sent two open letters to Rev. Felter, and I have yet to get a substantive response. I have been particularly interested in getting very specific answers to some questions, so I can know what his thoughts are on some issues of importance. I believe that some of his comments from this post are again aimed at concerned Nazarenes like myself. It is my premise that Rev. Felter has missed the mark on some of his points by a wide margin, and I would like to give my opinion on them.
Here are some excerpted quotes:
“there are voices on the sidelines seriously critical of just about everything the church does; from conferences on spiritual formation to NYC.”
“I have combined the queries into two main questions, making them representative of the spectrum of concerns that I receive on a fairly regular basis. In this response, I have posted my perspective and am speaking as a member of the Church of the Nazarene who loves the church and grieves over the rending of its fabric by ill-informed critics.
1. The Church Of The Nazarene is slowly turning away from its roots so to speak and becoming more liberal.”
That we as a denomination are “turning from our roots” and “becoming more liberal” is without a doubt true, but Rev. Felter does not agree. Instead, he says that:
“The challenge behind this accusation is unfounded. Individual members of the Church of the Nazarene may have altered their perspectives and such alterations by individual members may have been mistakenly perceived as wholesale changes endorsed or adopted by the denomination. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
This accusation IS founded! And it is true! So, in my opinion, when Rev. Felter says, “nothing could be further from the truth”, that conclusion he makes is far from the truth. With the incredible amount of evidence for Rev. Felter to read, much of which crosses his desk by way of my emails to the Board of General Superintendents, he should know by now this is not a case of just a few individuals going off the Nazarene doctrinal railroad tracks! He has had almost two years of my annoying emails and enough information within the denomination to sift through the truth, and if anything is true, it is that this emergent church phenomenon is not just a few individuals going off the deep end. This should be very clear to him. Or is it that Rev. Felter is on board the emergent church express?
“Consequently, some Nazarenes hear our theological message and sense differences but perceive it incorrectly as a liberalizing trend. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Not much space here to get into it all, but here are a few examples of liberalism making its way into the Nazarene denomination now: social justice, environmental justice, denial of the Bible as the infallible word of God (which is attested to by John Wesley himself, which Rev. Felter likes to reference often, as well as many NazNetters and emergents who try to distort Wesley’s position on scripture). Even some are promoting liberation theology. These and the positions of such ideologies as open theism, process theology, and theistic evolution, are all on the side of liberal thought.
And then Rev. Felter states the following:
“The rhetoric in some quarters has gotten out of hand with unfounded accusations flying everywhere, creating unnecessary dissension and division in the Body of Christ.”
Time and again, Rev. Felter has said similar things like this, without substantiation. Just what are those “unfounded accusations?” Here are possibly a few that he might be referring to:
- Contemplative spirituality is being promoted in practically all of the Nazarene universities including the seminary, and in many Nazarene churches. This includes the use of prayer labyrinths, a clearly pagan practice.
- Nazarene Theological Seminary taught a course this semester that was based on Celtic spirituality, which is nothing short of occultic “Christianity.”
- Northwest Nazarene University has a professor, Tom Oord, who teaches open theism, which says that God cannot know all of the future. Dr. Oord is also a proponent of process theology, which concludes that God can make mistakes.
- Trevecca Nazarene University for years has been promoting and sending students to a Roman Catholic monastery, including encouraging the use of a mystical practice called “the silence.” The school also promotes the prayer labyrinth, which for some reason they now call it a prayer walk.
- Point Loma Nazarene University allowed a student chaplain to remain in his position after he openly professed that he was homosexual, and intended to live an open homosexual lifestyle after graduation. The local Nazarene church also hosted a support group for homosexual students that did very little, if anything, in helping these students see the sinfulness of their lifestyle.
- Many of our Nazarene schools are using books in their theology curriculums by such false teachers as: Brian McLaren, Richard Foster, Henri Nouwen, Brennan Manning, Rob Bell, and others.
- The Shack, a blasphemy-filled book, is being promoted as a great missional book for pastors and laypeople alike. It is an example of a total lack of discernment on the part of leaders who promote it.
- Most serious and egregious: the trust and reliability of the Holy Scriptures is being weakened in our Christian universities and churches, including the acceptance of the unbiblical views of theistic evolution.
Are any of the above examples the “unfounded accusations” Rev. Felter talks about? Believe me, I can give him, yet again, clear and irrefutable evidence of all these accusations and more, if he would like. I can assure him, the above are all true. The only question remaining is this: where does he stand on all of these issues? There is no doubt where I stand, and there is no doubt where many- many Nazarenes stand on these issues.
But the question remains unanswered: where does the editor of Holiness Today stand on the specifics of these issues?
DAVID FELTER’S ORIGINAL POST:
As General Editor of the Church of the Nazarene, I frequently get the same questions about the status of the church. These undoubtedly come from well-meaning, sincere people who have picked up bits and pieces along with rumors from here and there that trouble them. Additionally, there are voices on the sidelines seriously critical of just about everything the church does; from conferences on spiritual formation to NYC.
I have combined the queries into two main questions, making them representative of the spectrum of concerns that I receive on a fairly regular basis. In this response, I have posted my perspective and am speaking as a member of the Church of the Nazarene who loves the church and grieves over the rending of its fabric by ill-informed critics.
1. The Church Of The Nazarene is slowly turning away from its roots so to speak and becoming more liberal.
The Church of the Nazarene has consistently affirmed its 16 Articles of Faith and its Agreed Statement of Belief. These documents form the very foundation upon which rests the theological and doctrinal trajectory of the denomination. Additionally, nothing has happened officially, within the decision-making of the General Assembly, to change these documents. If anything, we have strengthened our commitment to these foundational truths. We reference them in relationship to every book we print and every message we send because they represent our DNA.
The challenge behind this accusation is unfounded. Individual members of the Church of the Nazarene may have altered their perspectives and such alterations by individual members may have been mistakenly perceived as wholesale changes endorsed or adopted by the denomination. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Additionally, another challenge has arisen from the influx of new members over time who have come to the Church of the Nazarene from differing theological traditions. Some have come from Reformed, Calvinist, or charismatic traditions and when they discover the significant differences between our Wesleyan-holiness theological tradition, they may perceive such differences as liberalizing. This is especially true for those whose former religious experiences were in fundamentalist, Reformed, and Calvinist traditions. Wesleyan-theological traditions view many elements of Christian theology through ancient lenses stretching back to our roots in the 18th century Methodist revival under the ministries of John and Charles Wesley who were Anglican priests and remained such until their deaths. Our historic theological positions rest on ancient premises, supported by Early Church Fathers.
Reformed churches developed strains of Augustine’s predestinarian perspectives (God’s divine decrees), especially through the work of the towering theological giant, John Calvin. Presently, there are Bible Churches, Baptist Churches, and many Evangelical churches whose theological base is informed by these insights. Doctrines like eternal security and male-only ministry do not find their way into their way into the Nazarene theology because our roots return to the tap root of the ancient, apostolic fathers, mediated by the Church of Rome, the Church of England, the Reformation, the Wesleyan Revival, the American Holiness Movement, right up until now. Consequently, some Nazarenes hear our theological message and sense differences but perceive it incorrectly as a liberalizing trend. Nothing could be further from the truth.
2. The Emerging/Emergent church.
The discussions surrounding the Emerging/Emergent Church have been rather confusing because there is no one, single, all-encompassing definition of the Emergent Church. Some would say it is the church practicing hospitality, openness, and embracing all regardless of their knowledge or understanding of Grace. Others would say that it refers to a theological position staked out by popular authors and church leaders like Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, et al. In truth, much of what is occurring in the so-called “emerging church” is driven by the changes in society as a whole. This is why one rarely if ever hears of “emergent churches” in global areas outside North America.
There are facets of the emergent movement that are truly troubling in that they seem to minimalize the role of evangelism, preferring instead the compassionate ministry approach of listening, serving, and representing the heart of Jesus in their world. While there is something eminently beautiful about selfless service to others on behalf of, and in the name of Jesus, there is also the reality that the Church cannot neglect the proclamation of the Gospel. Many young people are rejecting the heavy-handed approaches of another era, preferring instead “conversations” and solidarity with the world in Christ’s name. Clearly the jury is still out on this, but in my mind, any local church that ignores the responsibility of proclaiming the Gospel in decisive terms, misses its God-appointed mandate given by the Son in Matthew 28. Moreover the words of General Superintendent J. K. Warrick help us in his reference to those who espouse the teachings of the Emergent/emerging church: “When they drift into heresy we draw lines and hold the line firm.”
The rhetoric in some quarters has gotten out of hand with unfounded accusations flying everywhere, creating unnecessary dissension and division in the Body of Christ. Many of us who are older are having a difficult time adjusting to the changes we see and hear in the local church; from worship styles to the way the local church perceives its place in the mission of God. The reality is the church is always changing. No methodology is sacrosanct. Everything we do in the Body of Christ must acknowledge our human limitations, relying fully on the grace and power of Christ for the furtherance of His mission.
Where there has been the substitution of human ideas for the clear teachings of Scripture and the time-honored, Spirit-inspired teachings of the Church, one must declare one’s allegiance to Christ and His teachings. Where the message that is proclaimed no longer affirms or is enriched by faithfulness to the Articles of Faith, then that congregation is slipping away from its theological moorings.
Corrective, constructive criticism can be offered without disconnecting one’s self from the Body. Prayer, fellowship, and involvement can bridge gaps between those whose knowledge of Scripture and proper, correct theological doctrine is insufficiently developed.
3. The Church of the Nazarene, Evolution, Legalism, and the Word of God
There is much debate in the evangelical world about these three issues. Some of it stems from widely differing positions on the nature of Scripture. The Church of the Nazarene is not, and never has been a fundamentalist denomination. Our view of Scripture rests on the solid foundations of the Early Church Father’s positions, and has been affirmed by the “holy, catholic Church” (the Church universal) down through the ages. Here are some quick associations between that perspective and some common issues.
- We do not receive the Bible as a textbook on science. Instead we receive the Bible as a library of 66 books, authored by human authors writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to reveal and disclose the love, grace, and salvation of God.
- Science is in the business of positing theories based on research. Our foundational understanding of Scripture is not disturbed when science suggests methodologies associated with the study of natural and human origins. All we insist is that all theories must recognize the eternal God who is behind all that exists; or as Gen. 1 says, “In the beginning, God!”
- Some Nazarene scientists and educators recognize evolution as a methodology that explains the mechanics of creation, but not the reason for creation, and thus they emphasize the faithfulness of God who sovereignly reigns supreme and has disclosed Himself in the person and work of Jesus to bring us to Himself in reconciliation and redemption.
- The Church of the Nazarene rightly respects the conscience of its membership. Where moral and ethical issues are in play, the Church of the Nazarene recognizes the value of stating beliefs and values in light of the church’s “collective conscience.” Hence, in our Manual you will read statements regarding human sexuality, abortion, homosexuality, and the value of a Scripturally-informed, Spiritually-sensitive conscience when it comes to participation in entertainment venues, both personal and collective.
- The Church of the Nazarene rejects legalism and affirms the role of the Holy Spirit, Scripture, and the collective conscience of the Church to inform its membership with principles whereby they can navigate the issues of life. Alcoholism and drug abuse with their attendant wreckage in tow, challenge to Church to prescribe a position of total abstinence; not because it can be proved from Scripture, but because it represents the way of compassionate love for others, and for Christ.
- The Bible is the word of God. But it is not a proof text for science, geography, or any other discipline. The Bible is not the domain of literalists who disfigure the Scriptures to support untenable positions like forbidding women to be ordained as elders in the church of God. The Bible is to be read, studied, and its teachings to be incorporated, but it is not to be placed on a pedestal and worshipped. That belongs to God alone.
A new generation, weary of modernist assurances based on empiricism alone, have sought fresh wells from which to drink of the living water offered by our Lord (John 7:37-38). Many Christians have searched the ‘memory’ of the earlier generations of believers, in different times and locations, and have found rich treasures that offer simple, fresh ways to experience the transcendence and holiness of God in worship, praise, prayer, and community.
It is unfortunate that so many other believers have rushed to condemn those who have sought to resurrect ancient methods of worship, reflection, prayer, and meditation. It is always possible that someone will take something too far, idealizing it and in turn actually creating the inverse of what they thought they were finding by making their discovery an end in itself. Clearly some conferences or gatherings in universities have pushed the limits and have, or are, learning from their experiences. The criticism they experienced as a result served as a corrective.
Take the issue of homosexuality; the Board of General Superintendents has affirmed our traditional stand found in the Manual through their pastoral letter. They also reminded the church that as Wesleyan’s we view sin as any willful, voluntary breaking of a known law of God. They have reminded the church that there is a difference between a tendency or temptation, and acted out behavior. The latter separates an individual from fellowship with God, while the former offers the Spirit opportunity to perform the work of transformation and recovery.
Our institutions like Pt. Loma and others are intersections where critical issues will surface from time to time. They offer an environment where the fine line of love for the person and commitment to law of God are balanced to provide an opportunity for discussion, clarification, and redemption.
Numerous voices are extant today that are full of criticism, censoriousness, and confusion. Satan would like to confuse the people of God. Clearly, the Church of the Nazarene is not perfect. It is, however, a vine of God’s planting. It is committed to the message of Scriptural holiness. I encourage you to take heart and be faithful, for God is still working with His people.
Grace & Peace