Dear Reverend Felter,
First of all, I wish you a Happy New Year! I had previously written to you in an email on Oct. 9, 2009 in response to your editorial in Holiness Today, entitled “Are The Emerging Church Folks Stealing the Church?” I was very concerned about what I understood from your editorial, because Holiness Today is so very influential and reaches so many Nazarenes across the world. I realize that it is difficult to respond to every email, but I believe, based on the enormous audience that the magazine reaches within the Nazarene denomination, that it would be very helpful for you to clarify some things that are written in Holiness Today that are not so clear to all readers. And it seems that your editorial is one of those that still needs clarification.
Previously, I had asked you to read my article, and then if possible, respond to some of the questions I raised in my critique, which was posted on September 26, entitled “Does Holiness Today Endorse The Emergent Church?” Some things you wrote did not necessarily give clear answers to the questions in my mind, and I believe in the minds of other Nazarenes who have written to me, or who have posted questions on our blogs and FaceBook group. Perhaps it might be easier if I asked a few specifically targeted questions, and you could answer them. I do understand you are busy every month with new editions to put out, but again, I believe many Nazarenes are awaiting some answers that will clarify where Holiness Today really stands on the emergent church. So here are some questions that I hope you will be able to answer for us.
One of your comments that gave me pause was this one: “These [emergent] Nazarenes, not content to simply lock the shutters or man the battle stations, are joyously dreaming new expressions of the Body of Christ that can thrive in the arid deserts of cultural change.”
1. Question: For you, does “new expressions” include any or all of the following: prayer labyrinths, prayer stations, Walk To Emmaus, use of prayer beads, lectio divina, ecumenical services with the Roman Catholic church (which I am sure you know teaches a lot of false doctrines), and rejecting the Bible as the infallible, inerrant word of God? Many emergent Nazarene churches and some universities are actively doing some or all of these things. What is your position on these? Is that part of what you meant when you used the term “new expressions?” If not, what are some of the new expressions that you referred to?
Another quote stated: “they believe we more closely resemble our beloved founders than at any other time since the beginning of our history.”
2. Does this statement mean that those emergents who are using all these expressions I mentioned in question #1… that they are truly reflecting the holiness tradition of our founders, even though none of these practices were officially in use in our denomination, and still are not officially sanctioned or recommended by our leaders? (Regarding our founders, my position is that even though they were great men of God, that even they are not infallible, and whatever they wrote, should always be scrutinized in light of what the infallible word of God says, would you agree?)
3. Regarding scriptural authority: (This was not mentioned in your article by the way) I have noticed a trend amongst emergent Nazarenes, particularly those who I have interacted with on NazNet (a Nazarene discussion site, although unofficial), of lowering the bar regarding scriptural authority. Many of them say that the Bible only CONTAINS the word of God, instead of stating that the Bible IS the word of God. Some have incredulously said that holding the scriptures to the highest level is idolatry! (They say that Jesus is the real Word. Well… yes.. but.. aren’t the scriptures the only sure way for us to really know what God has revealed to us? Yet this is a strange position many of them take, including pastors!)
My question is: is it your position that the entire Bible IS the word of God, as opposed to those in the emergent movement who seem to be casting doubt on the complete veracity of all scripture? In other words, do you believe that ALL of the Bible is trustworthy in ALL it affirms, and not the view of emergents that it is probably allegorical in the creation account, in the global flood account, when saying Methuselah lived 967 years, etc?
4. You also stated: “the bold lengths to which these innovative Nazarenes are prepared to go in order to be the people of God in a changing world.”
Would you agree with me that we Christians ought to be as bold as possible to reach out to the world with the gospel, as long as we do not violate, change, or water down the gospel message itself? (I believe the only way people are changed by the gospel is when the power of the Holy Spirit is behind it).
And also, would you agree with my statement that “we should NEVER change or compromise the gospel in ANY way, in order to accommodate the world, or our “changing post-modern culture.”
Would you instead agree with me that we ought to follow Romans 12:2 in its admonition:
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
In other words, cultures may change, Rev. Felter, but the true gospel and its effectiveness and power NEVER changes, no matter what culture we are in. Would you agree?
5. Finally this statement from you: “Others, for whatever reasons, have chosen the caricatures of exaggeration and the use of disingenuous rhetoric to assail both the character and the efforts of a new generation of visionary Nazarenes.”
Can you please give us some very specific examples of this so-called exaggeration and disingenuous rhetoric? I am so perplexed with this statement, Rev. Felter, because surely you know by now that there are many Nazarenes all across the denomination, including internationally, who are extremely concerned abut the direction of our denomination with these new emergent and contemplative spirituality practices, which never were around in the past, but now in the last ten years or so, have filtered in, under the radar of many Nazarenes.
I truly feel it is an insult to those Nazarenes (which includes pastors like you, evangelists, and ordinary laypersons like me) who are grieved tremendously by the fruits of this movement, to simply imply that we are exaggerating and being disingenuous. Did you know that there are many Nazarenes across the country who have been forced to leave their churches, because of these emergents and their “joyous expressions of faith”? Did you know that even though there is no official position by the leadership or even in our church manual about the emergent church, some pastors cannot readily speak out against this movement without risking some level of intimidation or pressure? I could tell you some real life stories I have received, that would make you cry for those families who have had their lifelong relationships and fellowship with other Nazarenes totally disrupted and severed. It is real, and that fact cannot be ignored forever without real long term consequences to our churches and universities.
I wonder if the revenues into our denomination have not reached its projected targets lately, and if not, I wonder how much of that has been affected by long time Nazarenes giving up and leaving their churches in disgust, because of emergent ideology and these “new expressions of faith.” Or perhaps there are churches who have decided not to submit their budgets to their designated university, until that university cleans up its act and stops the indoctrination of our youth with contemplative spirituality practices, or with teachings that God does not know the future (Open Theism), or that He makes mistakes. Perhaps these new teachings about God are what you mean by “new expressions?’ But we just don’t know for sure..
So that is something to think about, Rev. Felter, and perhaps I may be able to get those financial statistics from headquarters. I think this is a big problem that may continue to show itself more prominently as more Nazarenes become aware of what seems to be a quiet behind the scenes operation to weave emergent ideology into the fabric of our denomination, without ever hearing any official announcements that it has been welcomed. If people are not aware, how can they make good decisions, especially the kind that determines what university their child will go to?
But, I digress. I’ve written more than I had planned. Were you able to read the 3,000 word post I sent out last month, called “Nazarene Denomination Losing It’s Way?” It was written as an introduction to our many concerns, and mainly targeted those who have never heard of the emerging church. I am praying that the paper copy of the newspaper also reaches many in New England who were not yet aware of the emergent church problem. If you also have time, let me know what you think of it. And do you think it is just a matter of time until there is a formal declaration that the emergent church ideology has been welcomed into our denomination? If so, would we expect new training programs denomination-wide to introduce all Nazarenes to the emergent church and its practices?
I sincerely ask that you are able to spend a few minutes of your time and answer these questions. I believe a lot of Nazarenes around the globe would really appreciate it. Please keep in mind you are not the only person I am asking for answers. I realize you are one part of our large denomination. Rest assured I and others will be asking questions of our leadership as well, until we can get some answers.
I think we deserve that much.
All the glory to Jesus,