“If the foundations are destroyed, What can the righteous do?” Psalm 11:3
A disclaimer of sorts first: today’s opinion may not be well received by some, perhaps even by some of my best friends. Maybe some of you will ask me to remove your name from my mailing list, but my goal is not the largest mailing list possible, but to seek the truth at all times. So I can no longer let some kind of polite etiquette hinder me from expressing my thoughts on what many believe to be perhaps the most serious crisis the Church of the Nazarene is facing.
I am not a bigshot; I don’t pretend to be a powerful influential authority, just because I have a blog. Some of you are much more intellectual than me and know more Bible verses than I do. All I am is a concerned Nazarene. In fact, I am really first and foremost a concerned Christian. This emergent church problem is affecting practically all evangelical denominations, and I do not have any less concern for non-Nazarenes who may be affected by this problem. So today I am going to give my unvarnished opinion, for what it’s worth, and to whoever will listen to me with prayerful consideration, about the latest statement by the Board of General Superintendents, which they just recently posted on the main Nazarene website. At the end is a link to the full statement, so you can read the entirety of it in context.
As I eagerly went to the link on the Nazarene website to read the new statement, I did not have a clue as to what would be said. I knew that most likely, I would have two reactions: either one of disappointment, or one of hope or cautious hope. And so when I finally read it, my reaction at the end was fairly quick: disappointment. Let me tell you why, and give a few comments (in bold italics) on selected parts of the statement.
I have been fighting the emergent church movement for nearly two years now. I am not alone, because I have joined many others in this fight all across the country, and even around the world. In that time, I have seen much that has been truly heartbreaking, as well as frightening. Much of what I have seen leads me to believe that we are truly seeing the great apostasy that the scriptures have prophesied.
First, the most difficult things for me to handle are not necessarily the factual information about such heretics and false teachers as Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Richard Foster, and Leonard Sweet. Certainly that is disturbing to see these men being allowed to wield such influence in a holiness denomination. These are all men who practically spit on God’s word, in one way or another, albeit sometimes with a kind smile as they do it. Why they are allowed a forum in the Nazarene denomination is one question I would like to ask the leadership.
But there are two difficult things I am having trouble with, and the second one being more troubling. First, I am very troubled by the many emails I have received over the last year or two. many, but not all, were from Nazarenes telling me stories of how they were practically run out of their church, because they were questioning why such strange practices were being introduced to the congregation. Or they simply gave up and left the denomination because there was no longer a Nazarene church within close driving distance that really preached God’s word. Or churches that “divorced” themselves from the denomination. Or stories of churches losing hundreds of members in some cases, because of emergent ideology. Or churches close to closing because of, again, almost everyone leaving. Or several other churches that have split, with a group of people separating and starting their own congregation. That has been very difficult for me to process, although I welcome getting these stories, because I actually have been able to help some of them because of what happened to me, and knowing what to advise them. The second and most difficult thing I have had to wrestle with, will be mentioned at the end of my comments.
So when I read this statement by the Generals, I said to myself, is that all there is? With so many people’s future in the balance, and more importantly, souls in the balance, this is it? Have they not received a message from enough concerned Nazarenes to understand that something is terribly wrong? When they found out that 6,000 DVDs were passed out at General Assembly, and they each received their own copy, did they not have some idea of trouble brewing in our churches and universities? (I assume they received the DVDs because it was promised by the General Secretary that they would get them). Did they view the DVDs, and if so, what did they think of the information? Have they had enough time in one year to assess what is going on in our universities, and if so, what do each of them think about it? Have they prayerfully considered the content of the DVDs, and the implications of such things if they are truly going on in the denomination? (Believe me, it is happening). One would think they have processed enough information coming from not only concerned laypeople, but pastors, evangelists, and district superintendents. In relation to scripture only, what are their specific thoughts on: open theism, process theology, prayer labyrinths, contemplative prayer, lectio divina, bringing in pagan practices into our churches, secular music played in worship services, trips to monasteries to fellowship and practice the silence with monks, and the big one for me: the infallibility, authority, and sufficiency of scripture, or denial of scripture as the word of God? There’s more, but I would like some answers to these questions.
Here are a few of their selected comments and my thoughts:
“There are several issues related to “the emergent church.” Some are helpful and positive; others are problematic and troubling.”
Problem #1: They did not specify what is helpful and what is not- again! This has been the same kind of response in past statements. So with this statement, we are once again kept in the dark as to what is good, and what is perhaps bad. I would like to believe that our leaders are responsible for giving us guidance, yet how can they give us guidance, when they do not give specific answers? How can so many Nazarenes continue walking down a dark road, possibly stepping on harmful things, unless that road has been lit up in front of them? In other words, this statement does nothing at all but maintain the confusion and uncertainty as to where our top leadership stands.
“There are authors with a significant readership who readily identify themselves as “emergent church leaders.” They are aware of the Church’s need to increase its engagement with society. Some are completely orthodox in their theology and views of Scripture, but others embrace positions that the Church of the Nazarene would view as unorthodox and therefore unacceptable.”
This is the same as problem #1! Again, I ask, who are the completely orthodox authors, and who are the unorthodox and unacceptable! Are we left to fend for ourselves for a time again, until the next statement comes out? In the meantime, many are unsure what is good and what is bad. Many continue to wonder if Thomas Merton or Henri Nouwen (two heretics) are acceptable in their theology and views of scripture, or not.
And does the church primarily need to engage with society, or is it not clearer to say: “the church’s need to bring the gospel to the lost in society?”
“The Board of General Superintendents neither endorses nor affirms “emergent churches” or leaders who are not orthodox in their theology.”
Again, who is orthodox or not? Is Leonard Sweet orthodox, and why? And if not, will they be banned from continuing to spread their false teachings?
“Issues involved in discussions such as these are often complex. The communication is sometimes at inappropriate volume levels.”
First of all, there are some issues that are not complex, such as the use of pagan prayer labyrinths. Is that compatible with a holiness denomination? And I’m sure folks like me may have sometimes raised the volume a bit higher, but there is a good reason for that, as I will state at the end.
“The Board of General Superintendents is engaged in study and conversations with numerous Nazarene scholars, pastors, districts superintendents and laity on this subject. Each general superintendent continues in prayer and in a careful search for what is true and best in all things related to Scripture and mission.”
With all due respect, how long will this take? So many Nazarenes have made their decision to leave the denomination, because they had the biblical discernment to know what is right or wrong, and could not accept false teachings to harm them or their children. How long will we wait until our leadership will give us definitive answers? To me, this is the most important question. Which leads me to explain what bothers me the most.
While we dance with these issues, and continue in a “conversation”, what happens to some of our students at the universities? Perhaps it might be one of yours that I’m talking about. While we wait until some definitive answers come from leadership, perhaps your very own child will walk away from the Lord. That is my biggest concern. Perhaps a really positive decision will come in two or three years time, but if one child walks away from the faith, what consolation is that, for that child, and also for the parents of that child, who trusted the university to keep them from bad influences. Who will answer to that?
I believe that much of the evangelical world is watching as we deal with this.
We need specific answers from our leaders, and we need them fast. Too much is at stake, including the future of the Church of the Nazarene.
Please pray for our leadership that something will be done very soon.
Following is the full statement by the General Superintendents, and the link to the website:
A Statement on the Emergent Church
As a denomination of 2 million members in 156 world areas, there are conversations on a variety of topics taking place within the Church of the Nazarene.
One discussion centers on “emergent” or “emerging” churches. This subject creates confusion and conflict in some circles. There are several issues related to “the emergent church.” Some are helpful and positive; others are problematic and troubling. This is compounded because those who self-identify as “emerging” reflect a wide array of positions and perspectives and differ among themselves.
There are authors with a significant readership who readily identify themselves as “emergent church leaders.” They are aware of the Church’s need to increase its engagement with society. Some are completely orthodox in their theology and views of Scripture, but others embrace positions that the Church of the Nazarene would view as unorthodox and therefore unacceptable.
Some of our pastors, superintendents and lay members believe that there is a certain segment within the Church of the Nazarene who is embracing a new “movement” filled with risks to our theological coherence as a denomination. They fear this direction will only serve to undermine the Church of the Nazarene with heresy.
Their concerns are seemingly reinforced by a few “emergent” leaders who have made statements that to them are troubling. These comments reflect theological positions denying several of the basic tenets of Scripture and orthodox Christianity as held by the Church of the Nazarene in our Articles of Faith.
There are others within our denomination, including pastors, superintendents and scholars, who view the concept of an “emerging” church as a positive and hopeful expression of what it means to be the Church. They are seeking to genuinely come to terms with ministry in a complex and rapidly-changing culture. Their goal is to demonstrate the relevance of biblical truth through incarnational and transformational living.
This latter group is deeply committed to the authority and infallibility of the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives, communities, and nations. They are often engaged with the brokenness in society through active, compassionate ministries working diligently to bring renewal, conversion, and transformation.
The Board of General Superintendents neither endorses nor affirms “emergent churches” or leaders who are not orthodox in their theology. “We Believe,” the statement issued by the BGS, clearly articulates the position of the Board regarding the Articles of Faith, the values, and the mission stated in the Manual of the Church of the Nazarene, encouraging Nazarenes everywhere to join them in embracing these vital truths. (See “Official Statements” on the nazarene.org website.)
The involvement of many Nazarenes in this conversation reveals a sincere desire to embrace our missional objectives. They are attempting to reach the emerging cultures around us while clearly articulating an orthodox interpretation of Scripture and theology.
John Wesley, founder of Methodism and a firm believer in the power of the Holy Spirit to sanctify and cleanse the heart of all unrighteousness, was intentionally and forcefully engaged in the social needs around him. In that same tradition, P. F. Bresee established the first “Church of the Nazarene” with a focus on both the physical and spiritual needs of people while calling men and women to make a total commitment to Christ and to the fullness of the Spirit in cleansing and heart purity.
This is the objective toward which Nazarenes, including those engaged in ministry to emerging cultures, are committed.
Any conversation of this nature carries with it the risk of being misunderstood or being classified with positions that are not healthy or appropriate. Issues involved in discussions such as these are often complex. The communication is sometimes at inappropriate volume levels.
Nonetheless, it is our hope and prayer that those in the Church of the Nazarene who are engaged in this conversation will do so with grace and humility. We believe it is possible to move beyond mischaracterizations, embrace what is legitimate, and reject any unorthodox positions without hesitation.
The Board of General Superintendents is engaged in study and conversations with numerous Nazarene scholars, pastors, districts superintendents and laity on this subject. Each general superintendent continues in prayer and in a careful search for what is true and best in all things related to Scripture and mission.
While the Board does not embrace anything that is heretical it does encourage healthy conversations among Nazarenes who are part of a holiness and Great Commission church.
Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus Christ who lived, died, and was resurrected to save the lost and broken of the whole world. He is coming again, to set to right all things. The mission He gave to His Church was to announce and embody the Kingdom, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to visit the sick and imprisoned. His mission is our mission as well.
Board of General Superintendents