Last year, I had a meeting with someone who is a leader in our denomination. This leader had read my article (Nazarene Denomination Losing It’s Way), which had been printed in The Good News Today, a Christian newspaper that is distributed to over 300 churches and businesses. Shortly after, some Nazarene churches cancelled their subscription. (The editor knows of these kinds of risks, yet I know him as a man who only seeks to print the truth, sometimes at the cost of readership).
This Nazarene leader said to me (not an exact quote): “I was grieved to find out that you published this article, because I know many people in the areas around us that are considering joining the Nazarene denomination, and they may not because of this.” My response was that “I too am grieved. I am grieved because of knowing about all the Nazarenes who have been forced to leave their beloved churches of many years, because of the false teachings of the emergent church. That is what grieves me.”
As I think of that day, I remember that neither this leader, nor any other, has ever taken the time to point out any falsehoods that were in my article, to this day. They just simply were not happy with it. In retrospect, I would have added more to my statement that day. I would have also said to this leader, “And furthermore, until the Nazarene denomination rights the ship, cleans out all the heresies being taught and promoted, and proclaims loud and clear that the entire Bible is the infallible, inerrant word of God, I in good conscience before God, must advise any person considering joining the denomination, to put off that decision indefinitely. In addition, I do not recommend that any Christian send their child to any Nazarene university, college or seminary, unless they verify that that school stands solidly for biblical truth (in word and practice) and actually teaches a belief in the entire word of God. This nonsense that the Bible is “infallible and inerrant only in matters of salvation” must be rejected by all Bible believers, once and for all. It is not scriptural, and therefore, it is wrong.” Yet, if somehow I am wrong about all this, I sincerely ask for a solid scriptural correction of my wrong thinking. That is what Christians ought to do for each other, is it not?
So having just read the previous paragraphs, how many of you think this was from an unloving and uncaring Christian? Is what you just read insensitive? Is it un-Christlike? Was I disrespectful to this leader? Did I violate scripture in any way in what I wrote? The reason I ask is because of a document called A Covenant of Community Conversation that was released by the Board of General Superintendents last Fall of 2010. You can read the entire document at the end of this post, and also download it here: COVENANT-COMMUNITY
When I read the statement, I had two impressions. First, I can agree with the contents as expressed. But I could not dismiss the thought in my mind that it seemed to be written to address those, like me, who are speaking out in a louder voice than many may want to hear. Recently a friend of mine submitted the same kind of thoughts that I personally was having trouble articulating, and posted them to the Holiness Today website. I do not know if her comment ever was approved, but here is what she said:
“I would like to comment on the article “A Covenant of Community Conversation” from the General Superintendents (Nov/Dec, 2010 issue). I am in full agreement with the premise that as Christian holiness people, we should treat each other with loving kindness and with respect as Christ would have us to do. Yet, in the article, I sense an undercurrent of criticism directed at those who disagree with the premises of the Emergent Church Movement being promoted by a growing number of our people, including our leadership and educational institutions. (It is being promoted in all Christian denominations.) To disagree is not to be unkind, as when searching the Holy Scripture, I can find no scriptural justification for the practices embraced by the Emergent Movement – but rather unscriptural. I MUST base all that I believe on the Word of God, as it is TRUTH. I am reminded of Martin Luther’s statement “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen” Thank you for allowing me to speak.” Naomi Gilroy
I agree fully with this statement, which reflects the attitude and approach that concerned Nazarenes everywhere are taking. I have been prayerfully considering since the “Covenant” statement came out, as to what I would say in response to it. I believe it is missing additional statements. It seems incomplete, and as my friend pointed out, has an undercurrent of criticism towards those of us who love the Nazarene church and yet stand ready to question what we see as unscriptural practices and teachings, for the sake of those who need to be warned, and for the sake of those who are erring in their ways and rebelling against God and His Holy word.
But there you go again, Manny, some will say. “You are being judgmental, because we are told in scripture we should not judge.” Of course, that is totally incorrect and unscriptural. But of course we are to judge, but we are to judge righteously. We are to have spiritual discernment, and that is impossible without the ability to judge whether something stands on the word of God, or whether it is trying to subvert the word of God. To be a “watchman on the wall”, you must discern between what is evil, and what is of God. Then you must go further, and warn, and teach, and if necessary rebuke and reprove those who perpetuate and allow the evil to spread. If what I have just said is true, please don’t become my enemy because I speak the truth.
Anyone who has any common sense, and knows what is going on, should know that the vast majority of those who are raising their voices, have a great love for the Church of the Nazarene. Some have never been anything but a Nazarene. That’s why we raise our voices! We are trying to be watchmen on the wall. We are doing like the Bereans whom Paul commended for scrutinizing his sermons. Imagine that, “run of the mill” Christians scrutinizing the words of the great apostle Paul!, and what does he do? He praises them!
Is anyone in our denomination claiming to be better than Paul, or Peter, and that they are above reproach or scrutiny? Do any of our leaders claim to be God’s vicar on earth, whose very words that are spoken unquestioningly represent God’s will? Does anyone claim that the very words of any of our leadership are inerrant- while some in leadership claim that the Holy scriptures are not completely inerrant? Does anyone claim that our church manual is a perfect document, and that Article IV is a perfect expression of what is taught by God’s word?
I am not a theologian or pastor, but I (and many others like me) went to the same kind of schooling Peter did. And we certainly are not hateful, or vindictive, or uneducated, or ignorant. That would be recklessly incriminating a whole lot of people in the church; laypeople, pastors, district superintendents. Let me remind many of you, that we are grieving for all of those committed Nazarene folks who have left, or been forced to leave their church, and never returned to any other Nazarene church. Let me remind you of the price several pastors that I know have paid, for standing against the emergent movement, and standing for biblical truth. I remind you also of the pastor and his congregation who severed their ties completely with the church, and refused to bow the knee to Baal. And lest we forget, we also grieve for the many students whose trust in the word of God has been completely shattered by the false teachers in our universities. Oh, may God forgive us for allowing this to happen. May God give us all His light in this dark moment. Judgment will indeed come to those who turn a blind eye to all this apostasy.
And so I ask the General Superintendents to consider an additional covenant that I will submit to them in the next week or so. It will address the area of discernment, of guarding the flock, of being watchmen on the wall, of standing against apostasy at all costs. It may cost our denomination members to do so. It may result in the loss of revenues. But all that would be nothing, compared to the tragic cost of disobedience to the Lord Jesus Christ in even one area. Full obedience to Him is the only option. Will we respond to the call for full obedience, no matter what the cost? Or will this denomination go the way that many apostate denominations have gone?
Come, let us reason together- for real. We’re ready to have a real conversation.
HERE IS THE FULL STATEMENT BY THE GENERAL SUPERINTENDENTS:
A COVENANT OF COMMUNITY CONVERSATION
Come Let Us Reason Together
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14, NIV).
The Church of the Nazarene offers a message of hope, transformation, and reconciliation to a world that is deeply divided by political, theological, and cultural differences. We are radically committed to our Articles of Faith and to our Core Values as a Christian people, a Holiness people, and a Missional people. We passionately embrace our mission “to make Christlike disciples in the nations!”
In our efforts to maintain our identity and fulfill our mission we are always open to any grace-filled respectful communication. We are grateful for the conversation with each other in the Church of the Nazarene and with other brothers and sisters in the broader Christian community. Too often, however, our communication has reflected the divisions of our cultures rather than the unity we have in the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul urges all those who claim the name of Christ to “let your conversation be always full of grace… so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:6 NIV).
In an effort to fulfill Christ’s purposes:
I. We affirm that each of us is created in and reflects the image of God. The respect we owe God should be reflected in the honor and respect we show to each other. “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness … this should not be” (James 3:9–10, TNIV).
II. We recognize that we cannot function together as brothers and sisters of the same community unless we are mindful of the way we treat each other. In pursuit of the common good in our life together, each of us must therefore “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25, NIV). “Give preference to one another in honor” (Romans 12:10, NASB).
III. We commit that our dialogue with each other will reflect the Spirit of Jesus. We are encouraged to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19, NIV). “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31–32, TNIV).
IV. We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully. We will not falsely impugn others’ motives, attack others’ character, or question others’ faith; instead we humbly recognize that in our limited, human opinions “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV). We will therefore “be completely humble and gentle … patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2, NIV).
V. We will embrace Christ’s admonition that we speak confidentially TO others prior to speaking ABOUT them to the church. “If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15, MSG).
VI. We will carefully guard our hearts and the language we use in expressing our differences. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV).
VII. We commit to pray daily for our political and spiritual leaders—those with whom we may agree, as well as those with whom we may disagree. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made … for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1–2, ESV).
VIII. We believe that it is more difficult to hate others, even our adversaries and our enemies, when we are praying for them. Together we strive to be faithful witnesses to our Lord, who prayed “that they may be one” (John 17:22, ESV).
IX. We pledge to God and to each other that we will lead by example in a time where civil discourse seems to have broken down. We will model a better way of treating each other in our faith communities, even across religious and political lines. We strive to create safe congregations that are sacred spaces for common prayer and community conversation as we come together to seek God’s will for our future together. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, NIV).
X. We commit to bear witness to Christ’s presence and the Kingdom of God in this world.
Recognizing that the world is watching, we seek to be authentic Christ followers who recognize “how good and pleasant it is when the people of God live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1, TNIV).