At the Nazarene General Assembly in 2009, I listened as two prominent Nazarene pastors promoted the emergent church movement. They defended Richard Foster, Thomas Merton, and other heretical writers and speakers. I heard them repeat what is a favorite phrase, “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” I had read that one of these pastors was a central figure in the push to get emergent ideology into the Nazarene denomination. Present at this session was Holiness Today editor, David Felter, and General Superintendent Jesse Middendorf. Dr. Middendorf was there to support one of the presenters, his son, Jon Middendorf. The other pastor was Scott Daniels, from Pasadena First Church in California (who since then wrote an article claiming that the emergent church is dead!)
The following is part of a conversation with Pastor Jon Middendorf with one of his own congregation. Here you will get some insight into the thinking of one of the main promoters of the emergent church and all that goes with it: ecumenism, mysticism, denial of scriptural inerrancy, the social justice gospel, just to name a few things. It seems that at least a few brave souls did not want to accept it all, and decided to ask questions of their pastor about his belief system. (I have highlighted some particularly serious items of concern in red, and comment on them at the end).
A Meeting with Pastor Jon
In an attempt to be as accurate as possible so as not to misquote anyone, I am writing down my questions and Pastor Jon’s responses. It is my hope that the others as well as Pastor Jon who were present in the meeting will edit this page appropriately to insure its accuracy. Please note that the dialogue below is representative of the discussion and not complete as I am not a fast note taker and did not have a voice recorder present.
Present in the meeting were myself (Monte Brown), Pastor Jon, Ms. Tina Hughes, and Mr. Michael Sykes.
Monte: After the last couple of weeks, I too have thought and rethought my position. If I were to follow the postmodern beliefs, who should I read?
Pastor Jon: I do not really consider myself postmodern, but the following books are a must.
Mildred Wineford: Foundations of Wesleyan/Arminian Theology; Theology of Love
Henri Nouwen: Life of the Beloved
Brennon Manning: The Ragamuffin Gospel
NT Wright: Simply Christian
Monte: If I were to revive the practices of the early church in my life where would I look? Is there a certain time period I should study?
Pastor Jon: Begin with our tradition which comes from the Methodist which is from the Anglican Church which is from the Catholics. As prayer goes there is “silence”. There is also “Lectio Divina”.
Monte: What is your definition of “Lectio Divina”?
Pastor Jon: Lectio Divina means sitting with scripture long enough to hear it. A means of praying scripture. Our tradition is not afraid of mysticism. Again, using Wesley we follow his four laws, tradition, reason, experience, and scripture. To Wesley scripture was considered first and most important, the other three were treated equally.
Monte: Is social justice and political activism two sides of the same coin?
Pastor Jon: Justice is the only responsible interpretation for the Hebrew word. I am not a socialist. Read Jeremiah 8 and Matthew 25.
Monte: Is the social justice that John Wesley practiced the exact same social justice we practice today?
Pastor Jon: Jesus and Paul would both agree that the gospel would reach everywhere even public office. Social justice is different as the culture is different. We are called to challenge the structure that demeans.
Monte: Whose brand of political activism should I follow Jim Wallis’s or Dr. James Dobson’s?
Pastor Jon: Jesus. Actually neither of the two. To disregard either of them would throw out too many babies with the bath water. If there is anything that really characterizes my ministry or what I am about it is this. (Pastor Jon handed me a print-out of the Church of the Nazarene Articles of Faith)
Monte: What is the significance of Soren Kierkegaard’s theology?
Pastor Jon: Can’t tell, not really significant.
Monte: Since I have heard very little Bible prophecy in the last several years, other than a few verses here and there, what vision for the future should I prepare for?
Pastor Jon: It is funny you should bring that up as we will begin a new series on June 20 concerning Revelations called “Now and Not Yet”. I believe in the second coming of Christ.
Monte: I know I have heard the Emergent Church talk a lot about Heaven on earth and getting everything right here, then the Christ will come back and lead His people.
Pastor Jon: Well it might surprise you but the Bible does talk about the kingdom is here and now.
Monte: I know it is in all of our hearts.
Pastor Jon: Read Revelations 20. Prepare for tomorrow by living faithfully.
Monte: If I were a juror on a tragic murder trail where the accused was guilty would my beliefs lean more towards life imprisonment or the death penalty?
Pastor Jon: It is up to you. Were you asking what I would do?
Monte: I ask this question because I read in the paper that OKC 1st was participating in an anti-death penalty rally.
Pastor Jon: Lance as a staff member is free to support those things he deems as important without dragging the “church” into it. He was disciplined for that.
Monte: Why were we in the Industrial Areas Foundation?
Pastor Jon: I cut that off this year. The board and I are looking into it and then at the end of the year we will vote.
Monte: Well I was concerned because of how the organization began and that “pro” Obama article, which I emailed you, clearly states that they are still using the founder’s same tactics. Those are not the ways of the church.
Pastor Jon: I will maintain a veto power for the entire area and thus have some control. Even so, we (the board) will be examining the issue using three criteria.
1. Should we be involved in the local community?
2. Would the IAF make us more effective in our community?
3. Would it fracture our fellowship?
If the answers to first two questions were yes, then we would answer question three and take our action accordingly.
Pastor Jon: During Terry’s pastorate here I wanted to begin an internet ministry and he rejected it stating that the internet was evil. And he was right as 60 percent of all internet activity is from pornography. We have even had to clean the churches computers from viruses a couple of times. But I believe that Facebook and twitter are important for reaching today’s generation.
Monte: I agree as our Boy Scout troop is just now getting our website back on line. We had a website once and somehow lost our host. Then a company in California claimed our address and would sell it back to us for $80.00.
Pastor Jon: Yes, we get 1,000 hit’s a day! There are only Nazarene churches that get more internet hits than we do.
Pastor Jon: I am concerned about that group you have. You know there is a group called “Concerned Nazarenes” and all they are trying to do is cause fractions. There was one who lost his ministry and license because he went about it the wrong way.
Monte: No need to worry about them. As the name “ReviveUsAgain” implies we are seeking just that. We are not after anyone’s job or seeking to remove anyone. We are a prayer group and we have been praying for you.
Pastor Jon: Thank you, I appreciate all of that I can get. If anyone wants to talk to me, my door is always open. I hope you will encourage that.
Monte: I do and I have.
Pastor Jon: Have I answered all of your questions? Do we need to meet again?
Monte: Yes, I would like to meet again as some of this conversation has raised a few more questions. However, these questions are not quite as urgent.
END OF CONVERSATION—–
A FEW OBSERVATIONS:
1. Out of the four books Jon Middendorf recommended, one is highly suspect at best, and two were written by outright heretical false teachers. NT Wright is a big promoter of emergent church ideology. Henri Nouwen, who is now deceased, was a Roman Catholic priest and is very popular with many Nazarene pastors, including my former pastor, and his books are used in theology programs at several Nazarene universities, or are recommended resources. Nouwen mixed Buddhism with Christianity, and was a universalist, who wrote in his last book:
David Cloud’s article Beware of Henri Nouwen is well documented and clearly shows that he was a heretic and that he should not be part of any pastor’s library.
And Brennon Manning is just as dangerous. In Beware of Brennan Manning, David Cloud has documented in detail the heresies that this man teaches, and yet again, he is also popular with pastors, is quoted often, and is used also as a resource at some of our schools. From the book that Jon recommends, here is what Manning claims about those who take the mark of the Beast:
“And he [Christ] will say to us: ‘Vile beings, you who are in the image of the beast and bear his mark, but come all the same, you as well’” (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 21).
And in the same book, Manning promotes an ecumenical stance that is destroying orthodox Christianity: that we should “listen to people in other denominations and religions” and we shouldn’t “find demons in those with whom we disagree” (The Ragamuffin Gospel, p. 65).
If you read the entire post by David Cloud, you will be amazed and wonder why so many pastors are enamored with Brennan Manning.
2. “As prayer goes there is silence.” It appears that Jon has no problem with the “new Nazarene” system of practicing the silence. This is part of contemplative spirituality, and it is unbiblical, and there is no place for it in the Nazarene church.
3. “Our tradition is not afraid of mysticism.” This was said after Jon recommended Lectio Divina, clearly equating this practice as being part of some kind of “Christian mysticism.” Is this what he is part of then, a movement to bring in mysticism into the Nazarene denomination? Some have been asking lately, wait a minute, why are all these things like ashes to the forehead, labyrinths, and other mystical practices not being introduced at General Assemblies to the people? Can anything be allowed to come in behind the scenes, and we just simply have to accept it? Where is the accountability? Who has announced to the unsuspecting masses that these things are now going to be part of the Nazarene church, including the new social justice emphasis, and environmental gospel? Have “proper channels” been observed, as they like to ask those of us who object to these new teachings?
4. “There was one who lost his ministry and license because he went about it the wrong way”. He is probably referring to Pastor Joe, who spoke out against emergent ideology. They never do tell us how to go about it the right way. I remember when we were at that session at General Assembly, and Pastor Joe asked Dr. Middendorf whether those who disagreed with emergent ideology could also have a forum to speak their views, and Dr. Middendorf replied, “that’s not likely.” We have exhausted all proper channels, and yet nothing happens, no clear answers from the Generals, and they will still tell us that we have not “done it the right way.”
I could go on about other things here. Note that Jon says that what characterizes his ministry most is the Nazarene Articles of Faith. NOT the Holy Scriptures, but the Nazarene Articles of Faith. Maybe the problem lies there. And his phrase again, “throw out too many babies with the bath water,” says that emergent pastors are willing to mix truth with error; as long as there is some truth and good there, then anything is acceptable.
Jon Middendorf is not an exception, but in fact, is a model of the type of pastor that has been coming out of our seminaries for quite a few years now. They are the young, hip generation of pastors who proudly call themselves post-modern, and who believe they are better equipped to reach the youth of today more effectively. But when these same pastors have a seriously deficient view of scripture (that it is NOT totally believable) how does that help reach the lost with the gospel effectively? The answer is, it does not, and if we continue to produce pastors from our seminaries who cannot trust completely in the word of God, this denomination will fade into obscurity, and those most responsible will have a lot to answer to God on judgment day.
Additional Resources For Further Study:
The Emerging Church DVD, by Concerned Nazarenes, discusses Jon Middendorf’s involvement in the emergent church
NTS Session 8 with Jon and Jesse: http://emergentnazarenes.blogspot.com/2006/10/nts-session-8-jess-jon-middendorf.htmlhttp://emergentnazarenes.blogspot.com/2006/10/nts-session-8-jess-jon-middendorf.html
Jon Middendorf’s Emerging Ideology: http://exnazarene.wordpress.com/2009/08/08/jon-middendorfs-emerging-theology/
Adrian Warnock’s Critique of NT Wright’s View on Atonement: http://adrianwarnock.com/2007/04/atonement-n-t-wright-attacks-both-sides/
Article discussing Nazarene social justice and the IAF: http://exnazarene.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/nazarene-social-justice-and-its-communist-connections/